Homey Don't Play

Elise Glassman

“Yo—ma’am. Can I get the key to the bathroom?”

God, she hated ma’am. Reaching under the counter, Luci produced a traffic cone, a silver door key dangling like an appendage.

The kid looked at the cone. He was little and sharp-faced, in a sideways ball cap and Seahawks jersey. “For real? This’s wack.”

“It may be wack but it’ll be back,” she said.

Shaking his head, he grabbed the cone and headed for the bathroom.

Three girls clattered into the center, all legs and slouchy boots and plastic neon jewelry. “Well hello, After School Specials.” Luci slid the sign-in sheet clipboard across the counter.

Keysha lisped around her orthodontia. “Luci, did you see the car wash? It’s all blocked off with cop cars.”

“You mean Swifty’s? What happened?”

“We heard they found a dead body,” Dineen said, breathless.

“Calm down, bitches. I seen like four dead bodies.” Marz signed in with her own purple pen: Maritza Isabella Lopez.

“Language,” Luci reminded her. Community donations kept the youth center going, but the private money came with caveats, like Bible classes and clean language.

“What else I’m supposed to call my homegirls?” Marz said.

“How about ‘homegirls’?” Luci said.

The three giggled. “You’re cool, Miss Luci,” Keysha said. “Whatever you did, it’s cool you’re here.” The kids all knew the scuttle on her community service. The three sauntered across the linoleum to the couches to start their homework.

“Shoe’s untied,” Marz called. When Luci looked down, she giggled. “Made you look.”

“Wack’s back,” the young kid said, setting the traffic cone on the counter.

“Thank you one and all.” Luci checked in the key and went to look out the front doors. Across the sun-blistered highway, cop cars were parked at rakish angles to Swifty’s Auto Wash. Yellow police tape fluttered in the afternoon breeze.

***

“It’s not your fault. This is about Thomas, not you,” her sister Lanni said, over a mocha at Zeitgeist Coffee. Killing time before she hopped Amtrak back to Portland.

Luci nibbled a crust of maple doughnut frosting. “I know that.”

“Are you okay? I’m worried about you.”

She ducked her sister’s concerned glance. “I’m fine.”

“You’ve lost a ton of weight.”

“I’m fine.”

“You posted on Facebook at three a.m. the other day. On a work day, Luci, really?”

“You know what, maybe you should stop fucking Internet stalking me.”

A tourist family looked over, four heads swiveling in identical ball caps. Luci had the urge to punch them all in their bovine faces.

“Oh, sis.” Lanni rifled through her purse and came up with Chapstick.

What was it to feel so smug and satisfied? All Luci knew was loneliness. It sliced through her night and day. She went over it again and again: what had she missed with Thomas? What if she’d been thinner, sold more paintings, what if they’d gone out more or the sex had been better?

What happened, she’d asked.

He’d shrugged. You were always someplace else.

What the hell does that mean, she’d pressed, but he’d never been able to explain.

***

The 7-11 door alarm chimed. Refrigerated air chilled her skin. “Hey Durell,” Luci said.

The lanky black kid at the register looked up. He wore tortoiseshell glasses. Bulbous headphones clasped his neck. “Yo, Gucci Luci. What up.”

“I’m good. You? What are you working on?” She reached into the cooler by the porno magazines, pulled out a protein drink. She hadn’t slept in weeks. It felt like her body was wearing out, nails splitting, face breaking out in zits. Something feathery whispered in her lungs.

“Rhymes, baby, always.” Durell slid a notebook into a pocket of his jeans and scanned the bar code on the protein drink. “Four thirty-seven, please. You’re coming to my show, right?”

“Oh, yeah.” She handed him a five. “Friday night, right?”

“Check out our poster over at the center. ‘Homey Don’t Play.’ It has a owl playing the tuba.”

“Definitely, I’ll be there.”

He withheld her change in his fist. “What about you? How’s the painting?”

“Oh—it’s going. It’s good. I’m getting a lot done.”

“You hitting it every day?” he pressed.

Why had she ever mentioned art, painting, her studio? She hadn’t put a brush to paper in weeks. She doodled on her bills and old receipts and the sample pads at the office supply store, but when she sat down to paint, her fingers froze and she stared blankly at the empty canvas.

The door chime went. A cop came in. He wore a gray uniform and snug cutaway gloves.

“Change, yo,” Durell said softly.

The cop turned away from the racks of soda bottles. “Come again?”

“I’m just giving the lady her change,” Durell said. With the barest razor-edge of hostility.

Luci said, “What happened at the carwash, Officer? I work over at the Height Center. We heard they found a dead body.”

The cop made his way over, taking his time. A big swinging dick. His shoes made no sound on the scuffed linoleum. “Did you ever see anything funny go on over there?”

“No, but we can’t really see it from where we’re at.”

“I may have to ask you some questions later. We’ll be detecting for a few days.” He grinned and dumped Sun Chips, smoked almonds, and a Mountain Dew on the counter.

He was flirting with her, she realized. She smiled and felt like crying.

“And you, son. What’s your story?”

The soda rolled close to the edge and Durell waited until the last possible second before scooping it up and scanning the bar code. He seemed to be moving against his will, with a slow clumsy grace. “My story,” he said, slinging the stuff into a plastic sack. “My story is school. Beats. Work. That’ll be eight fifty-nine.”

“Thanks, brother,” the cop said, slipping on mirrored shades. He took his time leaving, stopping to scan the headlines on the newspapers stacked by the door.

“What a tool,” Luci said.

The boy looked out the window after the cop. “Just doing his job. Like I do mine.”

***

She woke to the dreary monotone of NPR. In one motion she rolled over, popped a pill, swallowed it dry, waited for xanaxical relaxation to ooze through her body. Lately she’d noticed the effect was less marked. Her chest burned. She was probably still loaded from last night. The guy at the bar had really wanted to come home with her.

She floated through work feeling as though she were underwater. Morning drop-off was a well-oiled machine, moms and the occasional dad, sleepy kids, some teary good-byes. Luci’s job was to manage the sign-in sheet and assign numbered hangers at the coat closet.

“How are you?” one of the single dads said. He seemed nice: pressed khakis, good smile.

“Well, I’m here,” Luci said.

“Hey, some days that’s all you can ask,” he said.

Smiling, she wished that she could leave with him and get into his Audi or his Subaru and or whatever bourgeois ass-mobile he leased and be chauffeured off into his comfortable life.

His daughter ran over and wrapped her arms around his neck. He said, “Have a good day, Sophie. Bye-bye. Daddy loves you.”

Luci looked away. The purity of the hug—open, unabashed—made her angry. Sad. So tired. At lunchtime she locked the cash register and went outside. The weather was hot for Seattle, in the mid-80’s. This time of year, high pressure parked just off the coast, shimmying in weeklong heat waves. A bunch of kids scattered across the parking lot in a swirl of cigarette smoke. She picked up an empty Marlboro pack. Ma’am, she thought, and dropped it.

Watching for a break in traffic, she loped across the street. No cop cars sat nosed up to Swifty’s today. The yellow tape hung limply in the still afternoon. She picked her way across the cracked blacktop, crunching on broken glass and peanut shells and gravel. The car wash was a stucco shell open on both ends, fringed with lozenges of fabric curtains. A whitish powder coated the pavement. Someone had masking-taped a garbage bag around the metal box where you punched in your code. She stopped. Sounds came from inside the structure, a regular, rhythmic chant. A little scared, she poked her head between the fabric sheets. “Oh. Durell.”


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