Oasis

By Roxanne Lynn Doty

He left her at a motel in Oklahoma City with a 1981 Dodge Charger, four-speed stick shift and $200 cash. They were heading to Phoenix from Bolivar, Missouri – a small town with dying strip malls, below average wages, and an above average tendency for summer tornados. Jack Olson had been a line supervisor at Alpine Manufacturing for the past twenty of his forty-nine years. Cindy Ann Richter had worked in the stock room for six months. They both drank too many beers and shots of Tequila at Friday’s happy hour at the Southern Star Saloon on State Route 13 and ended up in a nearby Motel 8. She had acted out his sexual fantasies, sitting on his naked lap with her long legs wrapped around his fat waist, pulling him into her. His breath was quick and heavy as he came. In the next instant she whispered into his ear, “Take me to Phoenix,” because she couldn’t think of any other way to get there and Phoenix was the closest thing to a goal she had in her young life.

“When?” he laughed, a little out of breath.

“Now.”

He was drunk enough and sufficiently high on sex that heading out to Phoenix on the spur of the moment made some small amount of sense. She hadn’t planned any of it. She had picked up an old 1976 Arizona Highways magazine at a garage sale a few months back.  A photo of the red rocks of Sedona caught her eye. What kind of place had rocks colored like that? There were pictures of Phoenix too.  Palm trees stood like sentries and threw scattered shadows all over the city and the mountains just there looming in the background and the whole place was full of sunsets and radiance and impressed upon her a world where she could find some dreams to pursue. So what if 1976 was twenty years ago, how much could things have changed? Things hadn’t changed in Bolivar since the day she was born twenty-three years ago, which is when she figured the ache to split had begun.

“I need to get some stuff at my house,” she said. So, they swung by her parents’ small three-bedroom house where she still lived. She made her way to her bedroom in the dark, threw some clothes into a small suitcase, grabbed her toothbrush from the bathroom and closed the front door. Then she remembered that the Arizona Highways was still on the table by her bed and went back to get it. She flung it in the backseat. They hit the highway shortly after midnight and drove through to Oklahoma City where they checked into an Econo Lodge. Jack relived his sexual fantasies. They were both sober this time and she couldn’t quite bring off the pretended enthusiasm of the night before.

Afterwards she felt like she had somehow lost the upper hand, and when she awoke after drifting off he was on the phone buying a plane ticket back to Springfield, Missouri, the closest airport to Bolivar. He must have had a twinge of conscience though because he left the car with the title in the glove box. The car was fifteen years old with 200,000 miles on it. It was a piece of shit, but would probably make it to Phoenix. When the taxi pulled up to the lobby entrance he put $200.00 on the nightstand and walked out the door.

“Fuck you,” she yelled after him. She needed the money though. She was being left alone again, which is where she always seemed to end up. “Fuck you,” she said again softly, even though he was already in the taxi on his way to the airport and couldn’t hear her.

She had driven a manual transmission only once before when she was seventeen and her boyfriend at the time was so drunk he could hardly walk and had handed her the keys. She was scarcely more sober than he and had nearly hit a car head on, coming close enough to knock the mirror off the driver’s side before swerving into a Dollar Store parking lot, slamming on the breaks, locking the tires, and putting the car into a mad spin.

Now, she struggled with the clutch and gearshift, but a few times around the motel parking lot and she had the hang of it, at least enough to get the damned thing on the road and onto the Interstate. She drove all afternoon and far into the night, stopping to go to the bathroom in Amarillo, Texas and again in Gallup, New Mexico. About eighty-five miles south of Flagstaff, Arizona she pulled off I-17 at the Cordes Junction exit where she saw billboards for gas and food. She hadn’t eaten since Oklahoma City. As she pulled off of I-17 she noticed a guy on the side of the highway sitting on a bucket that had been turned over to serve as a stool. A wool ski cap covered his head and most of his forehead. Something that looked like an electric grass edger was beside him, the bottom part wrapped in a white plastic bag, the long handle lying across an oversized backpack. Good luck getting a ride, she thought to herself. It was three in the morning last time she had checked her watch as she drove through Flagstaff.

“Where is the nearest hotel?” she asked the clerk at the MacDonald’s.

“About forty miles down Highway 69,” the clerk said. “In Prescott.”

“How far to Phoenix?”

“Ninety, maybe a hundred miles.”

She sat in the car eating a cheeseburger and sipping a large black coffee, considering her options. She had the $200 plus $125 of her own money. Driving to Prescott meant forty miles out of her way and then another forty miles back in the morning, plus money for a motel. She decided to pull into the far corner of the parking lot and try to get a little sleep in the car. Sleeping was impossible though. She couldn’t get comfortable, the caffeine in the coffee had given her a second wind, and she couldn’t stop thinking about what Phoenix would look like “in-person.”  She started up the engine and pulled into the Texaco station next to MacDonald’s. The air had a feel to it as it gently brushed against her skin, a feel of morning. Faint and dry. It hung unobtrusively over this new world that awaited her and smelled of vague promises of a place where people did more than just cope with a life that fucked you around over and over.  She inhaled deeply. One hundred more miles. As she was pumping gas, she saw someone walking toward her.

“You heading to Phoenix, ma’am?” It was the guy with the grass edger. He was tall, but she saw that he was little more than a kid, maybe eighteen or nineteen. He held the edger in his left hand, the bucket in his right, and the large backpack was strapped across his back.

“Yeah, why?” she asked.

“Can I bum a ride, ma’am?”

“Ma’am?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “Can I bum a ride to Phoenix?”

She hesitated, sizing him up. He looked harmless enough, but what the hell did she know? But she figured, what the fuck. She had taken off with that asshole Olson and let him fuck her twice, and what the hell had she really known about him? And when it came right down to it, what had she known about anyone, any of the guys she had been with?  It was all a fucking crapshoot.

“Can you drive a stick shift?” she asked, thinking maybe another driver might be a good thing if she hit the wall from lack of sleep before they got to Phoenix.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

“My name’s Cindy Ann, not ma’am.”

“Yes, ma’am, Cindy Ann,” he said, and extended his hand to her. “I’m Taylor.”

Weird kid, she thought.

“What the hell is that thing?” she asked.

“A lawn edger.”

“Just put it in the back seat.”

He handled it like a musician might handle a fragile musical instrument, gently placing it across the back seat. He put his backpack and stool on the floor. She was putting the gas pump back on the hook when he picked up the window cleaner, dipped it in the liquid and began to clean first the front and then the rear window.

She just looked at him and thought again, “Weird kid,” but said, “Thanks.”

I-17 was nearly empty except for a few semis that raced past them. It was dawn and the sky was taking on a light grey whisper of brightness. It was her favorite time, when the drunks and losers of the night were finally going home and normal people were about to start their day. It was hope and despair at the same time.

“So, do people call you Taylor? Tay?” she asked.

“No, ma’am. Just Taylor.”

“Fuck. Could you not call me ma’am? How old are you anyway, Taylor?”

“Just turned nineteen. Three days ago, back in Memphis?”

“Well, Happy Birthday, Taylor.”

“Thanks.”

The sun was full up by the time they reached the exit for Black Canyon City. Bolivar was a lifetime away.

“You want some coffee?” she asked.

“Sure.”

She exited onto the frontage road that led to the Sagebrush Café. A few pickup trucks and semis were parked outside. The café was small, with three booths on either side of the door and a row of stools facing the counter. The stools were full and only one booth was vacant. When they walked in, several heads turned and looked at them briefly before turning away. They sat down at the vacant booth.

“So, Memphis, what’s with the edger? Why do you carry it around with you?”

“For jobs. I might need it for doing jobs.”

“Is that what you did back in Memphis? Yard work?”

“Sometimes,” he said.

“You got a girlfriend back there?”

“Not really.”

“You been to Phoenix before?” she asked.

“Long time ago,” Taylor said. “I was born there, but my mom and I left when I was four.”

“I’ve never been there,” she said. “Never been anywhere, except fucking Bolivar, Missouri.”

He nodded.

“I’m going to get an office job,” she continued. “Where I can dress professional every day.”

“I’m going to see my dad,” Taylor said. “He doesn’t know I’m coming.”

“You gonna surprise him?”

“I guess so. My mom died two months ago back in Memphis. Thought I’d head out here. Look up my old man. Haven’t seen him since I was four.”

“Shit,” Cindy Ann said.

She looked at him closely. Only the first signs of light, fuzzy facial hair were visible around his jaw. His wool cap was yellow with a red band, pulled down nearly to his eyes; his eyes were a turquoise blue, deep and liquidy like that river water in the Arizona Highways photo. They almost made her dizzy.

“That must be tough for you.”

“Yeah.” For a second he appeared a little lost and she briefly wondered how he made it all the way from Memphis. But physically he looked like he could take care of himself. He had taken off the denim jacket he was wearing and slim but muscular arms were evident under his black t-shirt. Still, she thought there was a gentleness, a vulnerability to his appearance.

They descended gradually into Phoenix and the flow of morning rush hour. Sprawling housing developments stretched to the base of the surrounding mountains, the rooftops a huge pallet of red tile spread over the earth. Billboards and strip malls, endless ribbons of highways and overpasses traversed the future in front of her. For the first time since she left Bolivar she thought of specifics of her new life in Phoenix. What now?

“Hey, where do you want me to drop you?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Where does your dad live? I can take you to his place.”

“I don’t know. Like I said, I haven’t seen him for a long time.”

“You don’t know where he lives?”

“No.”

“Jesus.”

“You can just let me out when we get into town. Whereever you’re going, I’ll get out then.”

“Okay,” she said. Phoenix spread out in all directions as far as she could see.  She could have driven through Bolivar a thousand times before they even got to the downtown area. The exit said Van Buren. It seemed as good a place as any. She drove east for a few miles heading to what looked like the center of town. Boarded up motels and run-down bars lined the street. The scenery became brighter, cleaner, and more modern around a large sports stadium and a convention center. She kept going for a few blocks and more cheap motels appeared, some boarded up, some still open. She had noticed a Budget Inn a couple of blocks back that looked like a possibility. She pulled into a vacant parking lot to turn around.

“You can just let me out here,” Taylor said.

She pulled over and stopped the car. Taylor got out and opened the back door to get his backpack and lawn edger.

“Good luck finding your dad, Memphis,” she said.

“Thanks.”

She turned the car around and headed to the Budget Inn.

Ten units arranged in an L-shape faced a waterless swimming pool framed by a cracked and chipped deck; the tiny room smelled of vomit and rug shampoo. But at least the door lock worked. From the bed she could see the top of the pool; she closed her eyes and imagined it full of water. She awoke to the afternoon sun blazing through the window, her hair damp with sweat. She decided to walk around downtown and get to know the city a little.

The streets were lined with bars, small restaurants and pawnshops. Down the side streets old bungalows in various stages of disrepair stood alongside new home structures under construction. The center of town was just a couple of blocks away. There were numerous office buildings. She looked at them and imagined that she might end up working in one of them. She thought of Linda Miller and Carolina Walker, the two girls in the front office back at Alpine Manufacturing who always made her feel cheap and unworthy. Their very presence, their perfect clothes and hairstyles and manicured nails with clear, shiny polish, the whole professional way they looked, made her feel like a pile of dog shit in jeans. They acted so superior with their stupid certificates from a two-day office management class at the community college hanging on the wall above their desks. She knew they probably thought she was trashy. She bet Jack Olson would have never even approached them. Fuck him. Fuck them. She got to Phoenix didn’t she? Fucking A – yes she did and here she was in her sun-drenched promised land on the verge of starting her new life.

The only clothes she had brought with her besides jeans, t-shirts and tank tops were a black skirt and pair of dressy sandals.  She found a Ross and bought a light blue long sleeve blouse and a grey blazer. Then she picked up a local paper and a pack of Winstons and went back to her room to look through the classified ads. She circled a few possibilities to call in the morning. After paying for the motel, gas, the clothes, and some food, she was down to $200.00.

She used the phone booth just outside the motel office and called five companies with jobs advertised. Three were already filled, but the other two were taking applications. One was in West Phoenix about ten blocks the other side of I-17. The other one was just a couple of miles south of the motel in a small industrial park. She took a shower, washed her hair and put on her new interview outfit. She examined herself in the bathroom mirror, one thin swoop of light green eye shadow and a little mascara and lipstick. Keep it low key, she told herself. She pulled her long brown hair into a low ponytail, thinking she should probably cut it.

Both places overflowed with women, from her age to her mother’s, filling out applications. As she was filling out the applications she thought again of Linda and Carolina back at Alpine and under “previous employment” she wrote “administrative assistant” and under “education” she wrote, “high school diploma, some college, and office management training program.”  She wrote these things out so carefully and deliberately in the blank spaces provided that she began to think of them as true and experienced herself as a new and different person, who had spent her days at Alpine Manufacturing in the front office. She felt far from who she had been less than just a week ago. But as she was driving back to the motel, she began to think the whole thing was a crapshoot. Just like everything else.

When she went into the motel office to pay for another night, the manager told her about a little efficiency unit he thought she might be interested in.

“If you’re looking for long term,” he said. “It’s the last unit, #10. Used to live there myself as part of my job, but my girl wanted me to move in with her. You can have it for $250 a month. Owner don’t ever come around. He doesn’t give a shit.”

Cindy Ann figured that $250 was probably the cheapest rent she would find. Trouble was she didn’t have $250 at the moment. She hesitated.

“Think it over,” the manager said.

“I will,” she said and then, “Hey what if I give you $100 now and the rest when I get paid.”

“When would that be?”

“Real soon,” she tried to sound convincing, to him and to herself. “I’ll be getting an office job soon.”

“Okay. I’ll take the $100 now and $150 when you get paid.”

The room was about twenty by twenty-five feet with a chest of drawers in the corner and a sofa bed against the wall.  A small table with a hotplate on it and two chairs were next to a sink and mini-fridge. The bathroom contained a shower stall, a small sink, and a toilet. There was barely enough room to turn around. When she turned on the light in the bathroom, a roach scampered into the crevice behind the toilet. When she turned on the water in the sink, three more fell from the faucet. Cindy Ann opened the screen-less window in the bathroom and the one in the front to air the place out. The window in the bathroom opened to an alleyway filled with litter, broken bottles and an old mattress propped upright behind a large garbage bin.

Later in the night when she was closing the bathroom window, she looked out and saw the mattress was now laying flat on the ground with someone sleeping on it. The figure was wrapped in what looked like a sleeping bag or quilt. Then she noticed the wool cap, yellow with a red band. She saw the edger sticking out behind the sleeping figure. Her heart jumped like she had found an old friend.

“Hey,” she called. “Memphis.”

The figure stirred.

“Memphis! Here at the window. It’s Cindy Ann.”

Taylor sat up looking around him and then to the window.

“Hey,” she said again. “It’s me, Cindy Ann.”

“You get that office job?” He smiled.

“Not yet. Come on around to number ten,” she said. “My new apartment.”

In a couple of minutes Taylor was at her front door, sleeping bag draped over his shoulders.

“How long you been sleeping out there?” she asked.

“A couple of nights.”

“Ever since I dropped you off?”

“No,” Taylor said. “I hitched over to North Phoenix, to the last address I had for where my dad worked. He was long gone, so I just hung out over there. Slept behind a strip mall. Then went to a shelter just south of here, stayed one night. It was dirty and crowded and there were some scary dudes there.”

“You got any money, Memphis?” She noticed a bruise under his left eye, a cut on his lip.

“A little,” he said. “Like fifty bucks.”

“Well, you can crash here for a while if you need to.”

“Thanks,” he said. “Cool.”  He seemed relieved to be off the street. “Oh, and you don’t have to worry about me.”

She looked at him.

“About me bothering you or anything.”

“Bothering me? Are you a serial killer or something?”

“No,” he said. “I mean, like hitting on you, stuff like that. I’m gay. So, you don’t have to worry about me bothering you.”

“Oh. Well that’s good news Memphis. I think,” she said and laughed. “I won’t worry.”

She smiled and added, “You know what they say. All the good guys are married or gay. But, all the married guys I know are assholes and I’ve never had a gay friend, at least not that I know of.”

“Well, you have one now,” he said.

The next day she used the phone in the motel office and called the two places where she had filled out the applications. Since she didn’t have a phone there was no way they could contact her. The first place had already hired someone but the second place told her to come in that afternoon for an interview.

“Hey, Memphis. You got some scissors in that backpack?” she asked when she returned to the room.

“Nope. What do you need scissors for?”

“I was thinking of cutting my hair. To look a little more professional.” Her hair hung in thick dark brown waves half way down her back. “Don’t you think it looks a little wild like it is?”

“I like your hair,” Taylor said.

“Well, it doesn’t look professional.”

“I don’t know what professional looks like,” he said. “But it looks pretty.”

Cindy Ann smiled. The word pretty sounded innocent coming from Taylor.

“Here,” Taylor said, pulling something from his backpack. He handed her a large silver hair clip with a dark blue stone in the middle. “You can put your hair up.”

“This is beautiful,” she said. Where did you get it?”
“It was my mom’s.”

“Wow,” she said. “Isn’t it a little special to you?”

“Yea, sort of. “ Taylor said. “But you can borrow it.”

Cindy Ann combed her hair, pulled the front sides back and secured them with the clip.

“That looks very professional,” Taylor said.

The interview was at a small producer of components for aircraft communications called Oasis Manufacturing. It was located in an industrial park just a couple of miles south of Van Buren. She was interviewed by Mike Bradley, the manager of the purchasing department which consisted of himself, a file clerk, and who ever got the job she was applying for.

“When can you start?” he asked.

“Right away,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound overly eager or desperate.

“Well, Cynthia,” Mike said. “In that case I’ll see you tomorrow morning, 8:30.” He extended his hand to her.

“Shit,” she thought to herself as she left his office. Her heart was racing. He hadn’t even asked her how fast she could type or if she could type at all. She liked that he called her Cynthia and not Cindy Ann. She couldn’t remember anyone ever calling her Cynthia.

Mike’s office was a large room with a huge wood desk covered in glass. Two big, high back chairs were in front of the desk and a leather recliner stood off to the side. She was in another office next to his with a desk, typewriter, computer, phone and file cabinets. Cindy Ann answered the phones, kept track of Mike’s appointments, and made coffee in the pot in the kitchen/eating area next to her office. A woman named Marsha shared this office and was the file clerk. Vendors and potential vendors came in frequently. They took Mike out to lunch, wanted to show him a good time, get his business. Sometimes Mike was away most of the afternoon on these lunches. Then it was just Cindy Ann and Marsha in the office.

Marsha seemed to be in her mid to late forties or maybe even older. To Cindy Ann she looked more like a barmaid than a file clerk. She wore thick jet-black eyeliner and lots of foundation. Her shirts were always low-cut with gold or silver bangles hanging around her neck to match her big hoop earrings. Her hair was a mass of jet-black curls almost to her shoulders. Her voice had the raspiness of a longtime, heavy smoker. She didn’t make Cindy Ann feel like a low-life shit, the way Linda and Carolina had. Mike seemed the ideal boss. He held doors for her, thanked her for her work, wore a smile every morning like he was thrilled to see her, like she was going to make the whole workday worthwhile. He was handsome, a little slick and sexy. She put his age at about forty. She never acted like she thought he was sexy, though, and diligently avoided saying or doing anything that could even remotely be considered flirting. The office made her feel professional, respectable and classy. About a month after she started the job one of the vendors came to show his wares to Mike and take him to lunch. Mike asked Cindy Ann and Marsha to join them.

Cindy Ann had never been taken to lunch before. By anyone. Unless Taco Bell drive-through counted. Lunch was at the restaurant in the new Holiday Inn just around the corner from the office. The place looked elegant to Cindy Ann. Mike pulled out chairs for Cindy Ann and Marsha.  She was feeling very classy which is why the thing that happened took her aback a little. During lunch there was a fashion show. She had never seen a fashion show before, but didn’t think too much about it. It was just girls walking down the runway modeling summer clothes. Then they switched to lingerie, skimpy and a little revealing.

“You could do that,” Mike said to her. He turned to the vendor. “Don’t you think so?”

The vendor smiled and looked at Cindy Ann and nodded.

“Leave the kid alone,” Marsha said to Mike and the vendor.

But Mike made a point of calling one of the models over to the table when the show was over. Her name was Sunny. Up close she looked older than the other girls, mid to late thirties. She was wearing baby doll lingerie with a nearly see-through top. Apparently Sunny was the boss lady. She gave Mike a hug like they were old friends.

“This is Cynthia,” Mike said nodding toward Cindy Ann. “Cynthia, Sunny.”

Sunny extended her hand. Cindy shook it. Sunny excused herself, but returned to their table about fifteen minutes later dressed in tight jeans, a tank top with fake diamond studs along the breast line, and stiletto heels. She handed Cindy Ann a business card.

“Give me a call if you’re interested,” she said.

Cindy Ann took the card.  She smiled and nodded, but didn’t even look at it before putting it in her purse. She felt a little disappointed. Complimented if you looked at it a certain way, but sort of insulted at the same time because she was wondering why Mike was thinking of her modeling underwear like that. That didn’t really seem professional to her. But then she figured he probably just meant it as a compliment.  It didn’t mean that he didn’t respect her. He treated Sunny with respect didn’t he? And besides it was Sunny who gave her the card, not Mike.

All afternoon she pondered how Linda and Carolina would have thought of the situation. Would Mike have even made a comment to them about modeling? She decided to just let it slide. How much was she going to let a silly, innocent thing bother her new life anyway? She just put it out of her head.

“Do you remember anything about Phoenix?” Cindy Ann asked Taylor.

They were sitting in a couple of lounge chairs he had found in the alley and pulled over by the empty pool. The city was settling into dusk.

“Not really.” Then, “Maybe the zoo.”

“The zoo?”

“Yeah. But I don’t know if I really remember it or if I just think I do because of the picture my mom gave me. I’m three years old and my dad is holding my hand in front of the zebras. So, maybe I’m just making up the memory in my head.”

“Hmm.”

A man with shoulder length, straight black hair, wearing dark jeans and a threadbare winter coat was pushing a dolly with two cases of bottled water down the street in front of the motel. A pair of rosary beads dangled from his left hand. He waved to Taylor. Taylor waved back.

“Who’s that?” Cindy asked.

“Manchego. He lives in the alley.”

Manchego turned into the motel driveway, pulled out two bottles of water and passed them to Taylor and Cindy Ann.

“Thanks,” Taylor said.

“This your lady?” Manchego looked at Cindy.

“I’m his best friend,” Cindy said.

Taylor looked at her. Manchego nodded and wheeled his dolly back out to Van Buren.

“He thinks he steals water from the Purple Mountain Saloon when they leave the back door open. But I’m pretty sure they know he takes it,” Taylor said.

“Maybe it doesn’t even matter.”

“What, the water?”

“No. Whether you remember the zoo and your dad or just think you do because of the picture.”

“Oh.”

“Either way, you got a memory in your head. That’s what counts right? It’s yours no matter how it got there.”

“I like the way you think Miss Cindy Ann, Ma’am.”

A few weeks later the vendor was back in town and Mike again asked her and Marsha to join them for lunch. It was a Friday; things were slow. The factory workers worked four day, ten hour shifts, so the whole place was empty except for Mike and Cindy Ann and Marsha.

“You girls up for lunch?” Mike asked. “After, you can just take the afternoon off.”

“Cool,” they both said at the same time and Marsha winked at Cindy Ann.

They went to the Holiday Inn restaurant again, but there was no fashion show this time.

“It’s only on Wednesdays,” Mike said.

She was glad there was no show so the topic of last time wouldn’t come up again. The vendor had ordered a pitcher of Michelob beer.  Cindy Ann hadn’t been drinking much since arriving in Phoenix, mostly because of the money or lack of it.  The beer tasted good. She pulled out a cigarette. Mike was quick to light it, practically the instant she got it to her lips.

“You’d be good,” he said, nodding toward the empty runway. “You’re as pretty as those models you saw last time, just as sexy.”

She took a long sip of her beer, not knowing how to respond. If it had been Jack Olson back in Bolivar she might have told him to fuck off. But this was a whole different thing. She wanted Mike to like her and think she was attractive, but she also wanted him to be full of respect, overflowing with respect in fact. Maybe she was being too sensitive. What was wrong with him telling her she was pretty and sexy? Maybe she was thinking about this thing all wrong. She finished her beer and Mike immediately refilled her glass. And when she really got down to it she actually was feeling a little sexy and pretty anyway, and a little sophisticated here in this fancy lounge on a Friday afternoon with the attention of an attractive man on her.  And damned straight, she could model that lingerie if she wanted to. She could do a fucking good job; walk right up to Mike in skimpy little bikini bottoms and a tight sheer tank top, so close that she could feel his breath on her. She could do that if she wanted to.  But she didn’t want to. She had a new life now. So she just smiled at Mike and said “Thanks” and took another long drink of beer.

There was another pitcher on the table. Cindy Ann’s glass always seemed to be full. Food was ordered, but she was feeling full from the beer. Food seemed a bother. She had a few bites of something; a sandwich, fries, chips. Marsha and the vendor were laughing. Marsha looked over and winked at her. Then the vendor was pulling out a credit card and paying the bill. Somehow it had become 3:00 pm.  They moved from the restaurant to the lounge where it was dark and cool and so different from outside where summer had suddenly slammed into Phoenix. They sat in a circular booth in the corner. Another pitcher of beer and a steady stream of gold liquid flowed into her glass. Someone put money in the big jukebox by the bar. “I love that song,” she said when she heard Willie and Waylon singing “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” “Man, that song just follows me around,” she added. A warm arm slid itself around her waist. She thought it was Mike’s but didn’t bother to look over at him. Maybe she was just imagining it. Marsha’s raspy voice seemed louder than usual. Cindy Ann noticed the vendor’s right hand on Marsha’s left thigh. Marsha winked at her again.

“How you doing, honey?” Marsha asked Cindy Ann, like they were on an adventure or something. Her voice sounded a little slurred but Cindy Ann couldn’t be sure. Maybe her hearing was a little slurred. They had switched to a mix of beer and margaritas. It tasted like lemonade on a summer day. Cindy Ann couldn’t remember how many she had drunk; maybe she was still on her first, maybe her second or third.

“I’m doing just fine,” she said to Marsha and tried to wink but it must have come out a little crooked because Marsha laughed – probably a bit louder than was warranted because the couple at the table next to theirs turned around to look at her. Mike and the vendor were talking about something but Mike’s arm never left Cindy Ann’s waist and she felt his hand slowly rubbing the skin on her lower back. She felt like she could sit in that booth in the cool lounge forever, like maybe they had already been there forever.

Then they were all getting up from the table and going out the door into the late afternoon sun. A translucent net of heat seemed to have draped itself around the city. Cindy Ann experienced it as a staggering intensity as if something brilliant and blinding had exploded all around her shooting tiny sparks of fire into every pore on her air-conditioned skin. She fumbled in her purse for her keys but only retrieved a cigarette for which a light instantly appeared as if by magic, like had been happening all afternoon. She immediately regretted the cigarette because it seemed to exacerbate the heat and she let it drop to the sizzling blacktop of the parking lot.

“I think you left your car back at the office,” she heard Mike say.  The world took on a surreal quality. The office? Just where was the office? The glaring sun overwhelmed her.

She was in Mike’s car. The cold air-conditioner was blowing in her face and it seemed they were instantly back in Mike’s office. She thought it was a little odd to be in the office when she was drunk.  She briefly wondered where Marsha and the vendor were and were they going to have a party here in the office because Mike was pulling out a bottle of Tequila from somewhere behind his desk. He filled two shot glasses about half way and passed one to her, which she drank down immediately not even thinking if she wanted it. What happened next was a bit of a puzzlement. Or not. Maybe it was inevitable. It all depended on how you thought about it. She was dimly aware of Mike coaxing her into the leather recliner chair in his office, sliding his hands around her panties and pulling them down and she was thinking that Marsha and the vendor probably weren’t coming to the party. The front of her blouse was unbuttoned and his lips were on her breasts. Somewhere in her mind she thought she tried to tell him to stop, thought she should say no because this was not seeming professional at all.

“Don’t be a baby,” Mike whispered. “It will be okay. Everything is alright.”

The smell of his cologne was overpowering and he was unzipping his pants. Then he was inside of her and it was like so many other times in her life when she couldn’t say precisely how one thing led to another.  When it was over, she lay back on the recliner with her eyes closed. Hazy memories broke over her.

Mike was shaking her shoulder like he thought she had fallen asleep or passed out.

“We’ve got to get going,” he said.

She opened her eyes. He was buckling his belt, smoothing his hair.

“You’re okay aren’t you?” he asked.

She sat up and reached for her purse, which was on the floor by the recliner. The silver barrette had slipped out of her hair and was lying next to the purse. She picked it up and pulled her hair back and clipped it.

“Yeah,” she said. “Sure. I’m fine.”

She felt almost sober, a little nauseous.  Her car was parked where she had left it that morning. It was an oven inside. She let all the windows down and hot air blew into the interior as she drove through South Phoenix to the Budget Inn. It was 8:30 pm. Her room was sweltering. She switched on the small AC unit. It blew out coolish air, sputtered, and then stopped. “Fuck,” she said and kicked it. She opened the bathroom window and the front window and left the door open. “A cigarette,” she thought and looked for her purse. She must have left it in the car. She found it on the floor in the back. As she picked it up she noticed Taylor’s stool. He had put it there back at Cordes Junction when she agreed to give him a ride to Phoenix. Then she saw the Arizona Highways laying on the backseat where it had been ever since she left Bolivar. She picked it up and brought it in the room. She lit up a cigarette and lay down on the bed, surrounded by the distant white noise of the city and the sounds in the alley behind her room where people were always drinking and carrying on and doing God knows what.

Thoughts flooded into her head. Maybe Mike was drunk too. Maybe that was why it happened. Things just got a little carried away. It wasn’t hard to see how that could happen, was it? But, the thing she wished she could be sure of was that moment when Mike was coaxing her into the recliner. Did she say “no” or was she just thinking “no” or what? She turned it over and over until her head hurt and she still couldn’t figure out for sure how that part had gone down. She had a sense though that regardless this time was different from, and worse than, the other times in her life. Because she was in her promised land, which was the one damned goal in her life she had achieved, and it all seemed a little off track now.

She dozed off and when she awoke Taylor was sitting in a chair in front of the open door. He was smoking a joint.

“Where did you get that?” she asked as she got up and pulled another chair outside.

“One of the guys that hangs around out back,” he said. He passed the joint to her. She took it.

“And something else,” Taylor said. He was smiling, like a kid who was proud of something he had done. “I met a guy in the café across the street who has his own lawn business and he hired me starting Monday.”

“Way to go!” Cindy Ann said. “You and your edger?”

“Yeah,” he laughed.

Heat still filled the night air, but it had become bearable, way more bearable than inside with no air-conditioning. The city was quite now. Only sporadic sounds came from the alley. She gazed at the empty pool and the street beyond.

“Phoenix is a lot different from how I thought it would be,” she said. “It doesn’t look anything like the pictures in that magazine.”

“What magazine?”

“That Arizona Highways.” She nodded toward the table in the room where she had set it.

“Things always look different from the photos,” he said.

“Such wisdom, Memphis. I mean it’s not such a paradise like it looks is it?”

He shook his head, “But you got your office job, didn’t you.”

“I did. I sure as fuck did.”

“You know what I was thinking?” Taylor asked.

“What’s that, Memphis?”

“After I get some money together, maybe we could get a real apartment. Share expenses and stuff?”

She looked at Taylor for a long time.

“That might be a plan,” she said. Monday was far away, but it was already lurking in her head. Then she thought, how much was she going to let Mike spoil everything for her, after coming all this way?

“Fuck you, Mike Bradley,” she whispered. Then, out loud. “Fuck you, Mike Bradley.”

“What?” Taylor asked.

“Nothing.”

She thought of those red rocks of Sedona on the cover of Arizona Highways and wondered if they really looked like the photo.

___

Roxanne Lynn Doty teaches at Arizona State University. She is currently working on several short stories. One of her stories was recently published in the inaugural issue of Four Chambers literary magazine and another another flash fiction piece has been accepted for publication in I-70 Review. She lives in Tempe, Arizona with her dog, Kassie and cats, Pita and Rum Tum. She writes short stories, poetry and some short memoir pieces.


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