The Glamour

 
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Mark Jacobs

Art by John Brian King

 

Lace likes how Deed touches her tits. His hands, cupping and brushing, send electric squigglies through her body. But it’s not just that, really it’s how the touch is like talking. Deed’s touch is part of the conversation they are always having about Sausalito. They’ll live on a boat, eat fish, get tanned, fuck under the stars. They’ll be their own avatars. The pictures are so vivid in Lace’s mind, she’s pretty sure she’ll slit her wrists if something goes wrong and they don’t go there.

“So is Calhoun this son of a bitch’s first name or his last name?”

“I don’t know. I don’t care.”

Calhoun is Rhonda’s latest mistake. Rhonda is Lace’s mother. She specializes in getting things wrong. Rhonda won’t come out and say it, but she intends to invite Calhoun to move in. The dude has no job and even less personality. What he does have is bad habits. Beer for breakfast, coke when he can get any. There’s always a nasty smell in the bathroom when he comes out of it, makes her want to gag.

They’re in Deed’s Charger. It’s black, it’s sleek, it has no imperfections.

“Let’s go now,” she says.

He knows she means Sausalito. They’re in Richmond. It’s going to be a long drive.

“You’re sixteen,” he says. “You don’t understand money.”

Meaning they need more than they have now, today, this moment in the middle of April in the capital city of Virginia, before they say goodbye to their shitty life and drive across the whole enormous USA and buy their boat. More than once he has mentioned how they’re going to get a telescope. Cruise out onto the Pacific at night and look at the stars, just the two of them. No one Lace knows – she won’t call them friends, they haven’t earned it – has this or anything even close to this in their future.

He wants her to say go ahead and do what you have to do, go get your money. She says it, and they cruise. Rhonda texts her. Get your ass home right now. Lace deletes the text. It feels good. Once she and Deed are in California, she’s going old school. A postcard. Having a great time, glad you’re not here.

 

Deed drives to Hillside Court. That means Janelle. Janelle is Black and unbelievably sexy. Lace used to get jealous if Deed even said the girl’s name. That was before he told her about Sausalito.

He parks in front of Janelle’s building. “Come on, let’s go.”

“You go. I’ll wait here.”

She doesn’t like it when he gets rough with them. She understands he has to. If the girls working for him don’t take him seriously, if they’re not afraid of consequences, the system breaks down. But she feels no need to witness the moment of truth.

“It wasn’t a request.”

She isn’t stupid. He’s testing her. Can she follow orders? Can she see what’s there to see and not freak out? He’s not going to want to live on a boat with somebody who doesn’t do what she’s told. Captain and first mate. She gets that.

Walking into the lobby of the apartment building with him she is aware of what other people must see: a buff guy with long black hair dressed like the white version of a gangbanger, down to the gold chains and high-def tats. But she also knows what nobody else can: Deed is a sensitive person doing a job he doesn’t really like.

Okay. She’s not all that into the tats. They make him look like a poser, she’s not sure why.

When the time comes, she wants to be the one to name the sailboat.

He has a key. He always has a key. They go in and find Janelle lying on her back on the couch. She’s wasted. She’s beautiful, wasted. Her stand-up hair is long. Her body is perfect, her skin the color of coffee with no milk in it, not a drop. Her elegant down-curving eyes are closed.

Deed pulls her up into a sitting position. Her shoulders slump, and he shouts in her face, “What day is it, Janelle?” There’s an edge in his friendly voice. The edge would chill Lace, if she let it, but she won’t. This is part of it, part of what is.

Janelle’s mouth opens. For a moment no words come out. Then she says, “Hey, baby,” in her regular voice, which is proud and independent despite all the reasons it shouldn’t be.

There’s a sweet smell in the air, like the death of something really quite nice.

This is the first time Lace has been present when Deed makes a collection. There must be a reason why he wanted her to see it. She needs two words to describe how she feels, watching the back-and-forth with Janelle, who has a hard time focusing. Fascinated. And thrilled.

It doesn’t take all that long. Deed smacks Janelle in the face with the palm of his hand, once, but not really all that hard. She cries a little, but it seems to be an act. She’s doing what she thinks she’s supposed to do under the circumstances. There is something sexual between Deed and Janelle, Lace can’t help but see.

Ten minutes later they’re walking back to the Charger and Deed has most of the money Janelle owed him. Lace is jazzed. Somehow what just happened makes Sausalito seem closer. To get to pretty, she tells herself, you have to go through ugly. It’s some kind or rule.

“Let’s set a date,” she tells Deed. “If I don’t get out of this fucking city pretty soon I’m going to go crazy.”

“You got to learn what patience is.”

In the closed space of the car there’s a smell about him. Call it dirty steel. She recognizes it from other times he’s made his rounds to collect what’s owed him. Now she knows where it comes from, it comes from the practical actions he takes to get his money. Does she like that smell? She’d better like it.

 

Oakwood, Broad Rock, Maymont. This is where the girls live. She’s getting to know the city in a specific unusual way. Her spirits rise and sink, rise and sink, won’t stay in one place. It’s like waking up, over and over, waking and skying up. It’s Monday night. The girls know Deed comes by on Mondays, so they know what to expect and they’d best be prepared. Lace has met a few of them. Hos and Mo’; that’s the name she’d give his business if he let her. He doesn’t have the right sense of humor for that, which is kind of too bad.

Two more times that night he makes her go inside with him when she would just as soon wait in the car. One of them he calls a stupid cunt and has to hit her twice because she sasses him, pretending she doesn’t have any money in the apartment. Driving away Lace asks him if he’d ever do that to her. The question offends him, or he pretends that it does.

“What the fuck, Lace. The thing you and me got, it’s different. It’s a whole goddamn different thing. You got nothing to worry about. Nada. Got it?”

It’s late when he drops her at her mother’s. Calhoun is there. His fat black motorcycle is parked out in front of the house, helmet on the saddle making a picture that is as close to art as Calhoun will ever get.

“Shit. The asshole’s here.”

“Keep your mind on Sausalito,” Deed advises her.

“I’ve got an idea.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“It’s about how to get us there faster.”

He studies her. She wishes she could guess what he’s thinking. He fingers the nipple of her left breast. Squigglies.

“Tomorrow,” he tells her. “Tell me tomorrow.”

She’s pretty sure he’s making her wait for a reason but is not sure what the reason is. He’s not smart, you couldn’t say that about Deed, but he’s cunning.

Inside, Rhonda and Calhoun are on the couch, feet on the coffee table, sharing a spliff. The music is loud. Old stuff, back-to-the-beginning stuff, Lynyrd Skynryd. She doesn’t hate it. What she does hate is the sight of Calhoun’s scrawny bare feet on the table. He’s long and lean, with freckles up and down his arms that are probably not his fault.

He’s a mismatch with Rhonda who is a good-looking woman, not yet forty, with ashy blonde hair and the face of a cheerleader yet to experience disappointment. She takes good care of herself and is proud of having kept her shape.

“You got school in the morning,” Rhonda reminds her. “I’m on midnights this week so you got to get yourself up and going.”

Rhonda works at a 24-hour Quik-Mart on Hull Street in Midlothian. She has learned how to operate a cash register. They give her thirty hours a week, sometimes thirty-five; rarely forty, because then they’d have to consider her full-time and pay her benefits.

Lace says nothing. What’s she supposed to say? She goes to her room. She checks her phone for messages from her nonfriends. There’s some mean shit going on lately. People are ganging up on a girl named Liza. Liza wants friends. Well, who doesn’t? But she’s going about it the exactly wrong way. She’s practically begging, which opens her up to attack. Slice and dice, and there’s blood in the water.

School is a shark tank. You have to stay alert and swim low.
 

Lace feels an impulse to text Liza and say something friendly. She thinks about that for a few moments. Decides no. She’ll only get dragged into the bloodshed. And Deed’s right, she needs to keep her mind on Sausalito. That’s job one. She puts a pillow over her head to drown out that really long guitar solo in “Free Bird.” Calhoun hoots. She thinks some more about Deed making her wait until tomorrow to tell him her idea. He’s something of a mystery to her. She understands that’s part of the appeal, but not exactly how it works.

At school the next day she can’t concentrate in any of her classes. Her idea scares her. But it has some advantages. The big one is, it gets her out of school for good. The other big one is, it gets her out of the house before Calhoun moves his shit in and stinks up the bathroom seven days a week. Before lunch she sees Liza in the hall. The girl looks at her with pain in her eyes. It’s like she’s drowning, she’s calling for help before the waves take her under. Lace gives her an honest smile, a clean one with nothing hiding behind her teeth. That’s as much as she can afford, right now.

Deed’s out front to pick her up at the end of the day. Not something that happens often, but she likes it when it does. Her nonfriends can hardly stand it. It’s the black Charger, it’s the driver behind the wheel of the Charger, it’s everything they don’t have and wish they did. If her big idea wasn’t taking up all the available space in her head, she’d invite Liza to ride with her and Deed. That would give people something to buzz about.

Keep it simple, girl.

Deed drives her to Chester Park. The trees are their friends in that particular park and hide them when they wish to be hidden. Squigglies, and there’s a hilarious bright feeling in her pussy when his finger slides in the first time. A cop car goes by slowly, looking for trouble, but they are not it. What they are is planners and dream-makers and people who will one day soon be inspecting stars from the deck of a sailboat in the Pacific.

When Deed finally allows her to lay out her idea he says nothing, just takes her head and jams her mouth down on him. It might be nice, at another time, it might be intimate and pleasurable. Now, when she’s waiting for his answer, it makes no sense. It’s, what, a distraction? But she can’t help being pleased with the skilled way she makes him cum. She knows what he likes.

He gets up from the grass afterward, walks around a couple minutes, hands in his pockets, frown on his face, comes back to where she sits with her back against a worn-out tree with gnarled bark that makes her think of a discouraged old man.

“I don’t know, Lace.”

“It’ll get us outta here faster, right? Every dollar I make, we save. Tell me it won’t.”

He’s looking at her as though he doesn’t trust her. What’s that about?

“You think it’s glamorous, don’t you? You think it’s fun. It’s just a fucking job, Lace. And I don’t want no bitchin’ and moanin’ first time some creep does something that freaks you out.”

“I won’t complain.”

“It happens. I’m telling you, girl, bad shit happens. Comes with the territory. You’re not tough enough. Like Janelle, let’s say. Janelle is one tough bitch. Ain’t nobody gonna get upside her and not pay a price.”

“How do you know what I am?”

 

She wants him to take her seriously. She wonders if he thinks maybe she’s not sexy enough to do this thing. But that’s not it, it can’t be that. She knows how men look at her. She thinks, with an odd feeling of detachment, about what it will feel like, fucking other men, and doing it for Sausalito money. Different. There will be good sensations, for sure, but what they do to her will be totally different. She’s not dumb.

It’s not like she’s a virgin.

She’s expecting him to get past his reservation about letting her try. But when he drops her later that night at Rhonda’s, a.k.a. home, he has not said yes.

“Go in and do your homework, little schoolgirl.”

That’s cruel. It’s uncalled for. She slaps him. He grabs her hand, bends the wrist back just hard enough to hurt. A little.

“Tell me the truth,” she demands.

“The truth is, I want to get out of here as bad as you do.”

She leaves it at that, although there’s something in his voice that makes her think, and think again. Her ability to understand him has its limits.

Next morning out in front of school she runs into Randolph. Randolph is a junior, a Black guy with big hands and feet, and a distinctive way of slowly pronouncing every word he says as though he thinks you won’t catch his meaning. He wears his hair cut extremely short; it makes him look like a saint. Lace always gets the impression that he has lost something important, and the loss makes him sad. He’s so good-looking it hurts.

She asks him, “You got any tests today?”

He slowly shakes his head.

“You got a car?”

“Got my sister’s. Where you want to go?”

“Someplace else.”

It’s that easy. This way, she doesn’t have to embarrass herself in math class. The teacher knows she hasn’t done any work and likes to point it out to everybody else.

She pays no attention where Randolph goes, heading out of the city. They wind up somewhere in the country. He parks next to a field of black cows, and they get out. He hands her a bottle of sweet tea; leaving Richmond, he stopped at an inconvenience store to pick up one for each of them. The tea is still cold.

“Angus,” he tells her, swigging, then pointing with the bottle. “They’re not the kind you milk, they’re beef cows.”

“Hamburger on the hoof.”

Sometimes she can do that, come up with a joke without trying. She’s pleased when he grins.

 

“That dude you ride with,” Randolph says once. “They say he runs girls. He’s a pimp.”

 

It turns out that Randolph’s family moved to Richmond from a place called Broadhope County, in the center of the state, where there are lots of Angus cattle. They sit in the grass and study the animals. It’s better, nicer, than she would have thought, just sitting there in the middle of nowhere. The air is full of chattery bugs. The clouds are thin, moving in rows like soldiers. Now and then, a breeze freshens their skin.

“That dude you ride with,” Randolph says once.

“Deed, his name is Deed.” John Deed, but Randolph doesn’t need to know that.

“They say he runs girls. He’s a pimp.”

She sits up straight, offended. “You don’t know him.”

“Don’t have to. Don’t want to.”

“You some kind of holy man?”

“He’s bringing you along, isn’t he?”

“What does that mean?”

“You know what it means. Right now he’s real sweet, I bet. Because he wants you to be one of his girls.”

“What if he does?”

“Don’t go down that road, Lace.”

“I got to take care of myself. Nobody else is going to be looking out for me, that’s for damn sure.”

“Are you saying you’re thinking about it?”

Something about Randolph, a vigilant depth, tempts her to tell him some of what she has so recently experienced: beautiful Janelle blasted on the couch, the sweet death smell in her apartment, Deed’s punishing hand. But she’s afraid Randolph will get righteous on her and spoil the sympathy between them. That matters to her, for some reason it really matters.

It’s complicated, which makes her want to get mad at Randolph. But she can’t. Partly it’s him, who he is, and partly it’s the place, the moment in the green grass, the unconcerned way the cows are chomping their lunch in the field so close to where they sit.

Sexy is clean on Randolph. She waits for him to make his move. She is curious about how she’ll respond when he does. She has this ability to watch herself do things, as though she were two people at once, she’s always had it. She’s not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But there is something old-fashioned about Randolph, something kind of formal. She waits.

 
 

That night Deed texts her before coming by to pick her up. Calhoun is in the kitchen making angry bear noises and banging a pot. Rhonda steps out onto the porch with Lace and seems to want to say something but winds up not. There’s a moment. It goes where dead moments go. Rhonda goes back inside, and Lace puts her hand in the pocket of her jeans. Her fingers find the five new twenties there. The money feels good. It’s money that means something even if she’s not sure what.

Never does Lace tire of getting into the Charger, being so close to the car’s throaty roar she’s practically part of it, going someplace fast, anywhere that’s not here.

Deed is semi-high. That makes him chatty, and he doesn’t let her get a word in edgewise until they’re in his crib. You can tell a single guy lives there. The place is a mess, clothes and junk lying everywhere, sink full of dirty dishes. They do some poppers, and she starts feeling sexy. Him, too; she can tell. He jacks up the music volume with the remote and puts his arm around her. The bass finds a point of entry into Lace’s brain and pounds cold nails there.

She says, “I know what it is.”

His very strong hand is directing her mouth southward to the spot he wants it to go. “What what is?”

“You think if I have sex with other men it will ruin our thing.”

His eyebrows go up and down fast and furiously.

“You got a pretty high opinion of yourself.”

She shrugs. He lets go of her head and grabs her by both wrists. “Well you should, god damn it. There’s every reason in the world you should think that.”

It’s his way of saying she might be right. She would like to keep talking, get him to say okay, we’ll try your idea, see how it goes. But he’s slippery, and distracted. He’s thinking about something else; somebody else?

After that night she doesn’t hear from him for a couple of days. Then three. This isn’t the first time he’s ducked out of her life, and she’s not all that bothered by it. He has business to attend to. She wants to think he’s considering her idea. It makes her feel good, it’s strangely satisfying, not to freak about Deed’s absence. She feels mature.

She can’t get the pictures of Janelle out of her mind.

At school there is one of those things you can’t make happen, you can only take advantage of them when they do. There’s a small interior courtyard with eight spindly trees, two rows of four, the runts of the forest litter. Sometimes the school unlocks the doors and you can go outside for a couple of minutes and think about whatever you care to think about. Somehow Lace is there at the same time that Liza and Randolph are.

Liza is still drowning, and Lace throws her a rope. They talk about the principal, an enormous woman with frizzed red hair who has never smiled in her life, not once, it’s a proven fact. Randolph sees that Lace is trying to make Liza feel better with conversation, and he does his part. Liza, for once, handles it correctly, not making too much of the moment. She is not pathetic. Lace senses her gratitude, though. It oozes from the pores of the girl’s skin.

 

That night, Deed calls.

“You at home?”

“Yes.”

“By yourself?”

“I can be.”

“Go out on the porch, why don’t you?”

She does. Calhoun’s bike is there, parked behind a U-Haul rental truck. She would like to slice the tires, but that would mean he’d be around even longer, getting them fixed.

“I’m outside,” she tells Deed.

“Your idea.”

“What about it?”

“There’s this girl from Petersburg. Black chick, big hair. Marsha. You know who I’m talking about?”

“Maybe.”

“It don’t matter. She disrespected me.”

“How?”

“Took off. Disappeared. I done some checking. She went to New Orleans.”

“You going after her?”

“Get real.”

“Then how come you’re telling me?”

“You could move into the place where she was staying. The lease is still good for a few months.”

“Say it. I need to hear you say it.”

“All right, I don’t mind. You want to start working, it’s okay by me. We’ll put the money aside, every goddamn dollar. We’ll add it to what I already got squirreled away. Six months, tops, and we’re in California.”

She pictures Sausalito. She has googled it a hundred times. The harbor, the sunlight, the shops, the boats with sails like birthday candles bobbing on the blue water. Every day is a holiday in Sausalito, every day is special.

“Lace?”

“I’m here.”

“I ain’t pushing you. You know that, right?”

A breath. Another breath. One more, so that her heartbeat stabilizes. She can’t help seeing herself on a couch in Marsha’s apartment. She’s lying there, messed up, knowing all the dangerous things she always wondered about, knowing them in her body and in her soul.

“I’ll do it.”

“Right on. Tomorrow. I’ll come by. Can you get a bag of your stuff together without your momma noticing?”

“Yes.”

“Eight. Let’s say eight o’clock.”

“Okay.”

“You’re sure you want to do this?”

A good question.

“I’ll be ready,” she tells him.

 

She goes inside. There’s no point doing her homework, not now, not any more. She feels free. Now she knows: you can feel free and scared at the same time. She has an urge to text Randolph. There’s something between them now. Yes. But she’s afraid of what he’ll say.

She has a hard time sleeping when she goes to bed. In the living room Rhonda and Calhoun are having an argument. It’s one of their loud ones. She can tell when Calhoun hits her mother. Probably not all that hard. Just doing it is the point. Rhonda’s whine of outraged hurt is an old, old song.

She tunes them out. She won’t miss that shit when she’s gone, not even a little. She has two choices: think about the work she will be doing in Marsha’s apartment in Petersburg, or think about living on a sailboat. You’d think it would be easy, picking sailboat, but her mind is just as good at picturing the other.

In the morning she decides she will go to school. She has no desire to say goodbye to her nonfriends, but it seems like a good idea to talk to Liza for a few minutes – it’s the right thing to do – and she manages that. She doesn’t want to see Randolph one last time, but there he is in the hall, looming up after lunch.

“Hey, girl.”

“Hey.”

“You look worried.”

“I’m not, I’m just thinking.”

“About what?”

She shakes her head. She will not tell him what she is going to do.

“If you don’t see me for a while, I’m going on a trip.”

“Where to?”

“California.”

“No shit. You moving out there?”

“My mother got a job. In Los Angeles.”

He does not believe her because it is not believable.

“You know why I gave you that hundred dollars, right?”

She shrugs. Suddenly she is uncomfortable. She’s back by the black cows in the field out in the country, and Randolph is lettting her know without saying a single word that they are not going to have sex, not now and probably not ever.

“It’s magic money,”

“What’s magic about it?”

“It will keep you safe.”

He leans close and kisses her cheek. It’s like being kissed by a preacher, not that she ever has been. "Good luck, Lace.”

She holds his hand for longer than she should.

At home, Calhoun’s motorcycle is parked behind the same U-Haul truck that was there yesterday. He and Rhonda are in the middle of something, but they break off the conversation when Lace comes in.

Rhonda says, “Welcome home, little girl. I made some mac and cheese. It’s on the stove. Go ahead and fix yourself a bowl.”

“What are you two arguing about?”

“It ain’t nothing you need to worry your pretty little head over,” Calhoun says.

He’s from Alabama and makes her think of a Confederate soldier after the battle is over. His side lost, by the way. They were totally outgunned. There’s always a whine at the back of his voice. Give him half a chance and he’ll tell you how the Yankees shafted them.

 

She splashes Tabasco sauce on her macaroni and cheese and eats it staring at her phone waiting for something to happen, she’s not sure what. She finds a can of root beer in the fridge and drains it. Then she goes to her room. She throws some clothes, makeup, her phone charger, a few other things she can’t live without, into a bag. She opens the window in her bedroom and drops the bag out. It lands by a bush. Nobody’s going to notice it. She is nervous about what lies ahead and eager to be gone. She lies down in bed, on her back, hands folded on her belly like a dead woman on display.

It’s not like she’s a virgin.

In a while she hears the front door slam, and then the selfish piggy sound of Calhoun’s motorcycle engine being gunned. Suddenly Rhonda is standing by the bed. Tears glisten in her eyes. Lace turns toward her. There is something different about her mother in this moment.

“Hope you told him don’t bother coming back.”

“He’s a good man, Lace.”

“Good men get jobs. They work, they don’t live off their girlfriends. They don’t hit women.”

“He’s got a job. That’s the problem.”

“Oh yeah, what job is that?”

“You notice that truck out front?”

“What about it?”

“It’s full of guns.”

Lace sits up. “What kind of guns?”

“All kinds, I don’t know.”

“Stolen. Illegal, right? Am I right?”

Rhonda chooses not to answer the question.

“That ain’t a job,” Lace points out, “it’s a crime.”

There is a purpose behind the statement. For some time now she has wanted to know what her mother knows about Deed. If Rhonda comes back at her with what Deed does for a living, she’ll know. But she doesn’t, which means the woman has been so wrapped up in her own trials and tribulations she has failed to see or to learn anything at all about the slightly older dude who picks up her daughter in his muscle car. Lace believes she ought to be disappointed, but she’s not a hundred percent sure she is. Well, she’s not a hundred percent sure about anything.

“What happens if the po-po show up and open the back of that truck?” she asks her mother. “It’s parked right in front of your house, thank you very much, Calhoun.”

Again Rhonda prefers not to answer the question. Possibly she doesn’t hear it.

“He has got to deliver the guns, Lace. Rifles, some of them. The kind that shoot a hundred bullets in a minute. He has to drive them to Atlanta. The clock is ticking. That’s what he said is, the clock is ticking. If he doesn’t do what he said he’d do, he’s a dead man. They’ll kill him.”

“Then the sooner he takes off, the better, sounds like.”

“He wants me to drive the truck.”

“What?”

“He thinks I’ll look more innocent, I won’t draw any attention from the law on I-95. He’ll go with me on the bike. When we get close, he’ll take over and drive. He’ll leave me at this Waffle House where he knows some people, so I don’t have to be involved in the drop-off.”

“You told him to fuck off, right?”

“He’s had a run of hard luck is all. It ain’t pretty, but this is what he needs to do to climb out of the hole he dug himself. He’s a good man. Maybe you don’t see it, but he’s a good man.”

“He’s a worthless deadbeat piece a shit.” Lace picks up her phone. “I’m calling the cops.”

Rhonda knocks the phone from her hand. It clatters on the floor. Lace picks it up, hands it to her mother. “Call Calhoun. Tell him you won’t do it.”

Rhonda takes the phone but does not call. The phone pings. She looks at the screen.

“Your boyfriend.”

Lace takes the phone and reads, I love you baby see you soon. Six months max.

“Let’s go somewhere,” she tells her mother.

Rhonda shakes her head. She’s having more difficulty than normal, taking stuff in.

“I mean it. Let’s you and me go somewhere.”

“Where?”

Lace shrugs. “I don’t care.”

 

It’s seven o’clock. In an hour, her life changes.

“When you start out,” says Rhonda, “when you’re young and don’t know a goddamn thing about anything, all this shit looks good.”

“What shit?”

“It’s like everything is glowing, everything is good, and you want it bad. Real bad, right? You’re hungry and you’re thirsty, and you want it. Then, after a while, what you thought you saw, you realize it’s not real, not now, and probably it never was.”

“Call Calhoun,” Lace says again. “Tell him you won’t do it.”

“I don’t want to be alone,” her mother says. “A woman my age, she does not want to get old all by her lonesome. The thought of it scares the shit outta me. I do him this one favor, and things will be good between us.”

“You really believe that?”

“Yes,” her mother insists with spirit, but they both know it’s a lie.

Lace works on her some more. Time is passing faster than she wishes it would, but she keeps trying hard anyway. She can’t convince Rhonda to call Calhoun, or to say out loud that she won’t run his guns to Atlanta for him. The most she is able to get from her mother is a promise to do some thinking. Lace sees that the promise is her way of putting an end to the conversation. They feel close, way closer than they usually do. A tension that is almost always there between them has drained away, and they’re not enemies. Under different circumstances, Lace would tell her mother she loves her.

When Rhonda goes to the kitchen for a bowl of macaroni and cheese, Lace slips out the front door. She glares at the U-Haul truck as though the fault lies there, with a thing that is not alive. She walks around the side of the house to the bush under which she sees her bag lying in the grass as planned.

 

Another text from Deed. Start googling telescopes.

Next to the bush she stands still. Stands. Still.

She feels the thin bulge of Randolph’s magic money in her pocket. Then she deletes the text. She has saved most of the messages he has sent her, from the very beginning. Sometimes at night, in bed, she reads them over to herself. It’s like telling a story. Now she deletes all of them.

When she finishes, it’s quarter to eight. In fifteen minutes she won’t be gone, she’ll be long gone. It’s not going to be all that big a deal to block Deed’s texts, his calls, his invitations and sweet nothings and threats or whatever else he decides to send her way.

She picks up her bag. Goes down the sidewalk. She is careful not to step on the cracks, has no wish to break her mother’s back. Now she knows: you can be sure, you can be absolutely fucking sure, that you’re going somewhere even if you don’t have a destination.

She’ll spend the night with one of her nonfriends. Tomorrow will be tomorrow.

She’s got the name. Must have been there all the time and decided to come out now, which is odd but makes a certain kind of sense if you think about it. If she ever does have a sailboat, the name on the side will be Clean Breeze.

The End

 
 

Fall / Winter 2023



Mark Jacobs

Mark Jacobs has published more than 175 stories in magazines including The Atlantic, Playboy, The Baffler, The Hudson Review, The Southern Review, and The Kenyon Review. Stories of his have won the Iowa Review Prize, the Eyster Prize, and the Kafka Prize from the Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review. His five books include A Handful of Kings, published by Simon and Shuster, and Stone Cowboy, by Soho Press. His website can be found at www.markjacobsauthor.com.



John Brian King 

John Brian King (b. Los Angeles) is a photographer, writer, and filmmaker.



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