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These Women
Author: Ivy Pochoda

Feelia 1999

HEY. YOU WANNA PULL BACK THE CURTAIN, LEMME SEE YOUR face. All I hear is you breathing in the dark. In out, in out like one of them machines. One of them beep-beep motherfuckers. And we got enough of them in here. Breathing for you. Beating your heart for you. Pumping your goddamned blood. Beep, beep. In, out. In, out. In, out. That’s all I hear in this place.

So you’re not gonna pull it back. You too sick to pull it back? Me, I’m all beat the fuck up. But I’m not ashamed. I’ll let you see my face. You—well, it’s not on me to invade your privacy. Leave the fucking curtain closed. Sit there in the dark. In, out. In, out. Beep fucking beep.

I’m gonna open the window. Place smells like death even though they’re supposed to be keeping us alive. Isn’t that just the fucking, what-do-you-call-it. Ironic. That’s it. That’s what it is. I’m gonna open the window. And don’t mind me if I smoke. Let’s just hope you don’t have some fucked-up lung disease or something. Let’s just hope. Well, one cigarette secondhand won’t do you worse. You’re in here already.

You’re just gonna sit there in silence. You’re not gonna say a goddamn word. You’re gonna let me ramble. You’re gonna let me go on about my business. You’re not gonna tell me what’s up with you, how come you’re laid up in this place. You just want to hear my story. Nosy-ass motherfucker.

It’s all about how we do in the dark.

You know about that? You know anything about that? You know the streets? Do you? You’re really not going to say anything?

It’s a hard game out there. There are rules. There are things you do and don’t do. Everyone’s got to pay to play. Even me, I got to pay it up the chain. Game of skill and luck.

They say you’re lucky if someone slows on your corner. Lucky you get to lean into the car window. Lucky if someone takes you for a ride—up around to one of the dirty alleys off Western or down to one of the smaller streets in Jefferson Park. Luckier still to a hotel. Luckier to be returned in one piece.

I’m lucky. I know the streets. At least that’s what I thought. Let me tell you—you have to be diligent. That’s a big word. Hard to say. But it pays to know it. Diligent. Get knocked up again, that’s what I’ll name my kid—diligent. Diligent Jefferies.

But fuck if I knew you have to be diligent off duty. When I’m just up at the Miracle Mart on Sixty-Fifth getting a fifth of Hennessy and some Pall Malls. Not even working. Just standing there on the corner, lighting up, enjoying shit, you know. Because the weather’s cool for once. And isn’t that a fucking miracle. Cool day, cool night. Wind in the trees, you know what I’m saying? Making the trees dance. That’s a pretty thing.

Want to know what’s fucked up? South Central—everyone says it’s ugly, that it’s messed up. You ever take a step back and take a good look at it? A really good look. This is a nice fucking place. We got tidy little houses. Yards. Front and back. We got space. Not that I live in a house. I’m in an apartment but all the houses around the way—they’re nice. I get to look at them. Also, we got trees. Have you ever noticed all the trees? The ones with pink flowers and the ones with purple flowers. You probably think they’re the same. You’ve got to pay attention.

So this is what I’m thinking about as I light my cigarette and lean against the wall of the Miracle Mart. You know that place? Man who works there is from Japan. And me, I’m from outside Little Rock and he’s selling me stuff and I’m buying and we have a nice conversation each day about this and that. And that’s what’s just happened before I go outside and light up and have my think about how damn nice South L.A. is if you ignore all the people. Or at least most of them. If you look at the tidy houses, the cars in the driveways, the plants, the gardens, the kids playing outside. Squint and you could be staring direct at the American dream.

How come dudes can tell just by looking? You ever wonder that? How come? ’Cause it’s not like I’m the only lady out on Western in heels, short skirt, top cut down to there. There’s me and there’s them like me and there’s all the others who dress just the same because that’s how they dress. But dudes know.

You know that corner by Miracle Mart? It’s dark. That’s why I don’t work it. Can’t see who’s who and what’s what. But I’m not working, right? So it doesn’t matter. Anyway, this car pulls up and I’m not paying attention because why should I? I’m smoking and staring up at those trees that are dancing like a couple of drunk girls at a party—sway, sway, sway.

Window goes down. Hey beautiful, or some shit. I just nod and keep smoking. I’m not on the clock. No one’s watching to make sure I make my roll.

But then there’s another hey beautiful. Man’s got an accent, sounds like. I don’t give it much thought. Because the trees got me thinking about how everyone’s always saying they need to get up and out of this place and I’m thinking—why the hell would you want to do that? You been to Little Rock? You been to Houston? Go enjoy what you have in L.A. Go to the fucking ocean. Or just sit and look at the trees and the flowers when you got a moment. Which is exactly what I was doing when I hear this hey beautiful again and I’m snapped out of my thinking.

Yeah, I say.

What are you drinking? I don’t look at him because I don’t want to make eye contact, don’t want him to think I’m interested, that I’m looking to trick. So I take a sip of my Hennessy and stare up at the sky.

But the car’s still there, rumbling like it’s gonna pull a getaway or some shit. And I can feel this guy staring at me and still I’m not looking. Because. Because. Because.

Come on, you don’t want to be drinking that stuff.

Now I’m paying attention. Because he’s not saying the same shit most dudes say—the Hey let me see that ass before I decide to buy. You want to give me a little taste so I know what I’m paying for? You’re gonna want to get on my thing for free. You’re gonna want to pay me. He’s not saying those things. He’s talking at me polite. Like I’m a person.

That type of liquor will just make you drunk. That’s what he says. And it makes me laugh, because, isn’t that the fucking point?

Yeah, I say. I’d feel ripped off if it didn’t.

Then he says, You ever had a South African wine?

They have wine in Africa? I say. Because that has to be some kind of fucking joke. Like zebras and giraffes and wine. But when I look over he’s holding a cup out the car window.

Here’s the part where I wasn’t fucking diligent. Here’s when I don’t take my own goddamned advice.

Hold up. I need an ashtray. I also need some water. You got water over there? Or should I press this button. They’ll smell the smoke, but fuck it if I care. This whole place smells like death and worse.

SHIT. SHE’S GONE. YOU think she thinks she’s better or worse than me because she’s foreign? What do you think? And she took my smokes. Stole ’em more like. Why’d she come here if she lived somewhere tropical? How come?

Little Rock I understand. You’d been to Little Rock you’d understand too. You’d understand why I left. Any job in L.A. is better than a life there. And so what if my job isn’t exactly, what-do-you-call-it, white collar? It’s fucking no collar. No collar, no fucking shirt. Not even pants. And so what? At least it isn’t in Little Rock. Hell, you might not like what I do, might not understand it. But at least I get to be outside. At least I get to walk, to choose my streets, to take it all in—smell the goddamn flowers, which is more than I can say for most folks around here. They don’t stop to smell, just cruise on by in their cars, windows up. Me, I smell.

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