(a story about fighting, gambling, dreams, sickness, health, justice, and general purgatory)
copyright, 2014, Joshua Floyd
“Oh my God, we’re never gonna get there.” said Kay. Her eyes scanned frantically back and forth across the four-lane intersection. Cars zoomed by in both directions. Innumerable faces with the same wild, wide eyes. Strangers.
Her eyes were blue, bright, worried. Her hair was dark and hung taut and curly down her neck. She turned her head back and forth, and the coastal sunlight bounced away brightly from her small earrings.
The engine of the little red sportster idled roughly, impatient. It growled long and slow at the matching red glow of the ever-lasting traffic light. Its dented panels grew hot and uncomfortable.
“I don’t think we’re goin’ the right way,” said Kay in a rather hopelessly.
“I know we’re not,” came from the backseat. “You’re in the straight lane and you need to turn right…but its too late now, you’re stuck.” The deeper voice scolded her.
“Shut up, son. I brought you into this world and I will take you right out of it.” Kay said mockingly, turning her eyes to the young man’s reflected in the rear mirror. They shone back at her, darker and more laced with green than their mother’s.
“Don’t give me that look, Ma. I’m just tellin’ you you’re goin’ the wrong way.”
Cars whizzed by. The traffic signal hung heavy from the lines. The red sportster’s radio was quiet and indecipherable behind the growling engine.
“Don’t be so mean, David. I mean look at all these damn people,” Daisy chimed in from the passenger seat. She smiled as she spoke, revealing tiny, youthful dimples. “Give your Mom a break. We might get smashed on the way across any second.” She giggled nervously, and her brown eyes danced coolly in their sockets.
“Thank you, Daisy,” Kay seethed sarcastically. “Now quit your backseat driving, boy. Don’t make me come back there.”
David smiled. The traffic moved like an endless serpent.
“Don’t do it while you’re crossing that deadly intersection,” he said.
“Oh I will,” his mother chided. “Just you wait.”
Daisy composed her smile into her best faux-serious face.
“She will,” she said solemnly. “She’s crazy. Totally.”
“Bad start to a vacation,” Kay warned. Her eyes narrowed to devious slits in the mirror. David squinted his back. Voices with no mouths. Another vehicle flew by, directly in front, letting off a ringing blast of its horn. All three jumped, turning their sights back to the chaotic stream of vehicles. The light turned green.
“You’re going the wrong way,” David muttered as the car’s engine snarled, grabbed gear, and shuddered across the intersection with the other faces of strangers. His mother’s earrings made tiny clinking noises against themselves. Daisy’s anxious, beguiling smile hid just underneath her shining eyes. Apprehension and excitement intermingled in unknowable ways as the sportster crossed the parted sea of traffic, bearing its three souls.
They traveled as a covenant. Since Kay had met Daisy, she had regained a sense of daring and adventure that, prior, she felt had escaped her. Something about the desperation of late thirties turning quickly toward forties had a dangerous edge to it. In one instance, it could spur a person into renewed vigor; in another, it could send them inexorably down a spiraling decay. Kay had always seen it as a coin toss.
Then, on a single dreary day in her mundane factory job, Daisy had changed everything. She had opened a door to friendship and youth. She was beautiful, and Kay loved her for it. They hit it off immediately, sneaking smoke breaks together, quietly insulting the inferior state of things. They drank together on the weekends. David hadn’t been old enough to join them, but was always good at taking care of himself. Over the years, the three of them had become like family. Daisy filled the gap where David’s absent father should have been. Though she hadn’t raised David as a child, she was fond of him. She had never had a child of her own, and, instead, used Kay as her guide to maternal feelings. She would shake her head in theatrical-mock-amazement at the entire concept.
“There’s no way I could imagine birthing someone with a head that big!” She had said. David would scowl at her—not more than a sulky teenager—and she would poke fun. “Being pregnant with a head that big would ruin my figure!”
She grew quite attached to the sense of family that Kay and David brought. She saw Kay’s strength. She saw the beauty of futures—of potential—in David’s dark, blue-green eyes.
When Daisy had said that they could escape the factory, Kay was cautious, but excited. Excited more than anything. It could mean a new life for all of them. Daisy had mentioned coming to the beach as a young girl. The Pavilion was her daydream of beauty and hope. Her beauty beguiled Kay—persuaded her. She invited Daisy into her and David’s lives fully—enticed by a sense of trust and power that came only from gods and devils.
“With his skills,” she had said to Kay, under her breath, so long ago, “I know we could finally shake things up. We could start a new life. Us three.”
“What about your boyfriend?” Kay had said, sounding both curious and scared. For a minute, she wasn’t sure why. She had never met the fellow. She and Daisy had done their fair share of partying together, but whenever Kay had tried to bring up the subject of her sweetheart, Daisy had bashfully declined to go into much detail. Kay chalked it up to the dramatic cliches of being young. Besides, girl time was girl time. Kay left the worrying about men to Daisy. All it had ever gotten her was David, and that was more than good enough.
“What about him?” Daisy replied, flicking down a cigarette butt. “Sometimes you have to cut loose the dead weight and make a break for it.” Her eyes were like little stars, sparkling in the dim light of the factory break-room.
Kind of cruel, Kay thought. Rock on.
“I’m in,” she had said, feeling like a genuine rebel. Her son’s fighting spirit, after all, had not come from anything in the order of the Y chromosome.
After another hour had passed, and a stop for gasoline and a roadmap that turned out to be nothing more than a poster on the wall of the station (and couldn’t be taken away with), the sportster was again idling.
“Ma,” David said. “This is the same intersection.”
Daisy immediately began laughing, nodding her head.
“No its not!” Kay said shrilly. “No way!”
“Yes, way.” David said flatly. “Look over across the other side. That’s where we were an hour ago.”
Daisy’s laugh rung about maniacally.
“Shut up, Daisy,” Kay spat, then let out a small laugh herself. David’s face cracked into a smile.
“I-told-you,” he said in a sing-song voice. “Wrong way, no way, look, hey! Its the wrong way!”
It was unmistakeable. The opposite side might as well have still borne the shadow of the sportster. The light was red. Ten million cars motored by in both directions. Everyone became silent. A car blew its horn in the distance.
“Fuck,” said Kay.
Daisy carefully dotted water from her tear ducts. Kay scowled at her.
“Its not that funny!”
Daisy laughed again, breaking the silence into sun-soaked shards.
“No, no!” she assured. “I just forgot my sunglasses at the gas station. It’s so bright out.”
“Liar.” Kay said quietly, shaking her head. She crossed her eyes in the mirror at David. He rolled his back.
“If you don’t quit it, I’m going to puke.” Daisy said in a choked voice, trying her best to sound serious.
“Just let me drive,” he said. “You’re driving me nuts.” Daisy laughed again. “And shut up, you,” David said in his best pretend-angry voice. “You should remember how to get around, Miss ‘I-Been-Here-Before.’” He smiled, covering up a salty undertow of contempt. He had trusted his mother inasmuch as she had trusted Daisy, even though her girlish-cuteness had begun to wear on him. He knew that they had all invested their hopes in a giant roll-of-the-dice, and now was not the time to bring her down a notch.
Daisy contorted her face into a scowl.
“As a girl.” She said, trying to sound confounded.
“As if you aren’t one still.” David mocked back, letting a little of his distaste break the surface. Daisy scoffed, but managed to reassemble her smile, albeit somewhat less convincing that before.
“I gotta pee,” Daisy said listlessly as the sportster rolled on.
. . .
Yellow paint wrinkled and peeled alongside the aged ocean-side hotel. Slender brick pillars propped the heavy, sagging roof three stories into the air. The thin walls were interspersed like cubicles, dividing identical room from identical room. Narrow stairwells ascended and descended the interior, divided from the inner courtyard by patterned blocks of concrete, which contained hollows as to form a screen. Light flickered between the tessellated openings, scattering the corridors with spots of brightness. The effect was disorienting, labyrinthine. Daisy, in her petite heeled shoes, climbed carefully along with the others.
“This place looks like shit,” she said grabbing the rusted handrail. “I’ve really gotta use the bathroom.”
“Again?” Kay asked rhetorically, turning a bend in the skinny stair. “And don’t be such a pessimist. This place isn’t half bad. Wouldn’t wanna raise a kid here, though,” she conceded. Daisy laughed, sounding halfway between amused and annoyed. “We’ve got five hundred dollars to make this work. And I’m betting we can.”
Their footsteps echoed flatly against the concrete. Nearly to the third floor, David scoffed. It bounced around the corridor, fading out.
“Get it?” Kay said.
“You bet,” David retorted. “Very punny.”
“What have we got to lose?” Her blue eyes were out of sight, but David knew how they might have looked. How they spoke a different language than the comic-relief or her sarcasm. How underneath, she was dead serious.
“Everything!” He said lightly, knowing it would sound dark instead.
Daisy watched her foot placement, and dared not smile this time.
“I hope there’s not roaches,” she mumbled to herself.
The sound of Kay’s fumbling for the door key reverberated through and between the mosaic concrete screen along the salty smell of the hall. Distantly, the gentle splashing of waves was captured and entangled in the sounds of automobiles, alien voices, amusement rides, seagulls, and music.