Homey Don't Play

Elise Glassman

He turned, brows raised, anxious, crumpling the paper in his hand. Then he relaxed. “Yo Gooch.” He wore a basketball jersey, and knee-length shorts. “The acoustics are filthy in here.”

“Swifty’d love to hear that.” The old guy was old school Seattle libertarian, drove a Hummer and blared Tom Leykis from his office all day. She looked around. Light leaked in through the fabric strips. The interior was a maze of metal poles and rods and a conveyor track for car tires and a rack of listing water jets. No brushes though. Maybe the cops had impounded them. “What about the dead body? Doesn’t it weird you out to be in here?”

He shrugged. “Heard it wasn’t for sure even a dead guy. Or maybe a suicide.”

“Why would you kill yourself in a car wash?”

“Why would anybody kill theyselves period?”   

She could think of reasons. Leaning against a post, she said, “Keep going. I’ll be quiet.”

He zipped up his backpack. “Nada. You have to pay a cover like all the other heads.”

Damn, she’d forgotten again to look at his poster. “Friday,” she said, with conviction.

“Shoreline Community Center, eight sharp. We’re opening. Blink and you’ll miss us.”

***

A siren whooped as she jaywalked across the street, back to the center. The officer from the other day watched her from a patrol car. Flirty Cop. “Howdy.”

“Howdy,” she said.

“Trespassing is a citationable offense. As is jaywalking,” he added.

“Luci?”

They looked toward the center’s doors. Her boss Dennis stood squinting into the sunlight. She looked at the cop. “You better get back to work,” he said, not smiling.

Dennis met her at the front desk, holding a clipboard. “You did morning sign in, Luci?”

“Hey Den. Yes, I did.”

He ran a hand over his salt-and-pepper crew cut. “You checked in Sophie Kincaid.”

The little girl who’d snuggled her dad. A little ache bloomed in her stomach. “Yes?”

“She’s four, Luci. She should have been with the Snowflakes. Instead she got in with the Cheetahs and when they went to Classroom B, she wandered off out front. Another couple of seconds and she’d have been in the street.” Dennis’s face was pale and sweaty. Visions of a dead kid, she supposed, of lawsuits, a revoked license, two cubic yards of paperwork.

“Shit! I’m so sorry. I got distracted I guess.” She looked around. The After School Specials were camped out on the visitor’s chairs. All three girls not looking at her, listening hard.

Dennis leaned against the counter, sagging. “It’s not personal, Luci. It’s—”

“I know,” she said, cutting him off. “It could have been worse.”   

“No. You need to be here,” he said.

“I was here,” she said.

***

Homey Don’t Play/Mastah Funky/EnnYCee

July 22

Shoreline Community Center

All Ages

“Five dollars, ma’am,” said the kid working the door. He wore a Cookie Monster band-aid on his left index finger.

Ma’am. Sighing, Luci handed over the money, waited for her wristband. Moms by the snack bar checked their iPhones, looked bored. Two boys shouldered past her. One clipped the wall and they collapsed into laughter. Inside she saw a strobe light, heard thumping beats. Suddenly, sharply she missed Thomas. They’d gone clubbing a lot early on, dancing until they were sweaty and giddy, grabbing taco truck on their way home.

“Gucci Luci.” Here was Durell, sweat beading his lip, lugging an armload of equipment, a turntable and a box jammed with cords and speakers.

“Hey! I can’t wait to hear you guys,” she said.

He offloaded everything but headphones and some albums to a waiting guy in dreads and a red stocking cap. “I already spit my beats,” he said, continuing past her.

Blink and you’ll miss us. She’d gotten stoned after work and dozed off, waking up just in time to put on lipgloss and rush over. “Durell—” She hurried after him. “I’m sorry. I got busy.”

“Painting?”

“Yeah, actually. I’m in the middle of this really—” She faltered, unable to finish the lie.

He held the door for her with his foot, politely, pointedly. “Another time.”

“When’s your next gig?” She should have been here. She felt it. She’d let him down. He was a kid and showed up on time for gigs and here she was an adult and a pathetic flake.

He said, “I’ll let you know.” Turning, he headed for the Ford sedan waiting in the loading zone, wipers going, hazards flashing. “Moms. Pop the trunk.”

A petite girl hurried out, red hair tied up in two ponytails, followed by a kid in a ski cap. They slid into the back of Durell’s mom’s car, the girl bouncing excitedly on the seat as though it were a ride and Luci felt as though something were squeezing her chest.

***

Durell asked about her painting. As though he had a right. As though he knew anything, as though he didn’t know that art was a jealous ex, that painting was a cop determined to catch her out. When she painted her mind went still and all she could think about was her old house, the way Thomas had held her chin when he kissed her, his breath after he sneaked a cigarette. He wanted to be friends, he said. There was no reason not to be civilized. She tried to paint her way out of the ugliness, but everything became the same thing, charmless, graceless, unrefined, a confusion of grays and browns, a camouflage of vomit. 

And hell yes there was every reason to be uncivilized. What could be more wounding than this? Thomas had rejected her, dismissed her, sent her packing. She felt swelled up with sadness, with loss, the absence of him so strong that it was nearly palpable. But she didn’t cry anymore. Now she shut herself in her closet and screamed into a towel until her throat burned and then she drank vodka until it didn’t hurt anymore and then she screamed some more. She medicated too. Pills had zero calories; they didn’t scour the liver or bloat her stomach. She counted them out each night, three white lozenges or two little blue discs, one ushering her into dream land, another easing her into the jagged morning. Pills eased the landing and muffled the blow. Her beautiful wonderful pillows.

***

Marz could blow bubbles the size of her head, which was something being that the chica had a noggin the size of a regulation basketball. Rumor was among the boys that she had other blow-related skills but they clammed up about it when Luci was around.

Today she stood outside the office door, snapping her gum while Luci typed last week’s check-in sheets into the computer. Dennis had been throwing beaucoup paperwork her way, anything to keep her away from parents and little kids. As an unreported concession, she’d decided to take only half a xanax during working hours. Her newfound sobriety meant that Marz’s gum cracking now sounded like pistol shots. Exasperated, she leaned back in the office chair. “Don’t you have homework to do?”

The girl grinned. “Keysha’s doing my maths. I already finished my spelling.”

“Oh, fantastic,” Luci said.

"Lighten up, Gucci Luci. I been getting a A in math all year.”

She hated these kids sometimes. She hit Save on the spreadsheet, waited as the ancient PC labored. Then it hit her. Gucci Luci. “Marz, do you know Durell?”

“We all know Durell.” Now Marz was fidgety. “You know his cousin was the one who got died at Shorty’s, right?”

“What? Are you serious?”

“The cops found Durrell’s fingerprints in the car wash and took him downtown. His moms is trying to bail him out right now.”

“What the hell—“ She hurried out to the counter, found Sal, the octogenarian cashier, playing solitaire on a little handheld game. “Hey, is Dennis around?”

“At lunch with the B.O.D.,” Sal said without looking up.

The Board of Directors met quarterly at a buffet joint on Aurora Avenue, where Dennis presented the financials and drank too much Chardonnay. “I’m taking a break,” she said.

A brisk walk across hot pavement. The 7-11 door handle unnaturally cool. An A/C blast to the face. The door chime went. Vijay poked his head out of the back room. “Hallow, Luci.”

“Have you talked to Durell? Is he okay?”

Vijay came into the store, wiping his palms on his apron. Dust sprinkled his moustache and glasses. “Durell’s shift ended one hour ago. He packed up and—zoot. Gone.”

She leaned against the counter. The pill had worn off. She felt heartburn, felt claws needling her arms and face. “Someone said the cops picked him up.”


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