Click

A sudden screeching of tires caught him off guard, as he headed out to his car. Glancing across the street, he saw the shiny black Maserati crushed up against a lamp-post. Smoke drifted upwards from the smoldering scene. He watched as the door opened and a single shiny red high-heeled pump emerged, soon followed by a long flawless leg, and then the other. As the woman stood up, he was breathless seeing her beauty. A tall platinum blonde, she towered over the wreckage beneath her. Reaching in, she swiftly pulling a small glossy red handbag out of the vehicle, and turned on her heel to stare straight at him. She didn’t appear to have been injured in the incident, in fact, she seemed quite nonchalant about the entire thing. As she crossed the street towards him, it seemed almost like a dream. He was speechless at this fantasy approaching him. Click, click, click went the heels as they tacked along the pavement. A cool breeze was in the air, and as she neared him, a gust picked up, lifting her shiny tresses like a halo.

“Are you ok?”,  he asked, nervously. She pushed her sunglasses up, revealing steely crystal blue eyes, and glared at him, answering with a curt “Obviously.”  Followed by “What are you just standing there for? I need a fucking ride!” His car was sitting behind him in the driveway. He walked over to his older model silver Mercedes, opened the passenger door, and motioned her into the vehicle. She sniffed the air with disdain. He got into the driver’s seat and pulled on his seatbelt. She lit up a cigarette, inhaled dramatically, and blew a stream of smoke out through a crack in the window. “Where can I take you Miss?” he asked as he started the ignition. Classical music came on. She immediately switched the station to a techno beat. Reaching down, she slipped of her shiny red pumps and tossed them onto his lap, one at a time. He could feel the sharp heel and the weight of the shoes pressing through his lightweight trousers. Now, he became aware that she knew exactly what she was doing. She threw her head back, and laughed, “Honey, I don’t have anywhere to go now. I wrecked my car. What do you think? I need a god damned drink and I want to go relax. Let’s go get some wine and head to your place.”

He was extremely nervous, but excited at the same time. “Okay, sounds good.” He was supposed to have been on his way to a networking event, but this was a once in a lifetime situation, and he had to seize the opportunity. Unmarried, with no real options, he had been desperate for something to happen in his life. This was it!

He drove like a banshee to the local liquor store. She didn’t want to put her shoes back on, so he went in and picked up a few bottles of wine, a bottle of acceptable pink champagne, as well as a pack of cigarettes per her request. As he made his way back to the car, he could see tiny smoke rings billowing from her red lips, from the car window. She tipped her head up watching the miniature clouds dissipate into the wind. They drove back in silence, and he looked over to see her rubbing one nylon clad foot and then reaching down to massage the other. “Uh, um, I can do that for you.” He stated awkwardly.  She sighed, and slowly turned towards him. Slowly she countered, “Oh, yeah, well, you can do a lot for me.” He remained quiet until they pulled into the driveway. His hand trembled with nerves as he unlocked the door. She stood so close to him that he could smell her fragrance, a delicate balance of expensive perfume, mixed with shampoo and tobacco. Intoxicating.

As they entered, he took the bag into the kitchen, and opened one of the bottles of wine. She flopped on his sofa in her stocking feet, her tight white dress riding up to reveal the long satin nylon encased legs. He carried two glasses over, handing her one and taking a sip of his. As he began to sit across from her, she motioned him over. “Come here., you told me you would massage my feet.” He obliged. Sitting next to her, she placed her perfect legs and feet over his thighs, and he reached down to begin gently rubbing the impeccable arches, toes, heels, calves. Slowly moving upward, to test her response, she leaned back softly moaning, her glossy pink lips slightly parted…

 

Exit Plan

Living in the moment is a very lovely sentiment. There’s a lot to be said for being present. However, it never hurts to plan ahead. A bit of strategic thinking is often a wise idea. Otherwise, it can easily happen that you wind up facing retirement at warp speed, without an exit plan. Visions of working at Walmart, or getting into elder porn start drifting through the mind. This usually happens due to a lack of planning, coupled with poor choices. But, of course circumstances and plain bad luck often play a huge role as well. This is a story about a woman in such a scenario, and how she handled her situation.

Let’s flash back to the beginning. Desiree came to LA at the tender age of nineteen. Typical story. She had been homecoming queen back in a small Iowa town, and she came to LA to become a movie star, model, or at least a tv sensation. Well, fast forward 10 years. 29 being a magic number in a mysogynistic place like LA. No longer young enough to play the “ingenue”, but she still looked good enough to continue getting roles as the ‘sexy’ so and so. Finally, Desiree landed a recurring role on a soap opera as a lonely housewife, where she was constantly getting entangled with hot young neighbors, and other women’s husbands. They say that life imitates art, or is it vice versa? I forget. Anyhow, jump ahead 5 years, and Desiree, now 34 is starting to wonder if she was ever going to find Mr. Right, amongst the string of Mr. Right Nows. Low and behold, on a commercial for vacuums, there he stood. The man of her dreams. Love at first sight. They chatted on set, he wooed her for weeks, and she knew, this was it. He was a director. Wealthy, a bit older and established. She had hit the jackpot. Not only was it love, but she, being an opportunistic gal, knew that he would be able to connect her and help her career. She was being strategic.

They married and honeymooned in Tahiti, her dream vacation. Champagne and caviar. She moved into his home in the Pacific Palisades and got so comfortable, she stopped working altogether, and focused on trying to have a baby. It seemed to be the next thing to do. Her husband, Dean, was a workaholic, but an excellent provider. He had a bit of a reputation as a ladies man, but Desiree knew that she held the keys to his heart, credit cards and castle. The following year, she had a baby boy. They named him Devon. Dean, Desiree and Devon lived their “perfect” life for many years. He lavished her with cash, gifts and cars. In return she tolerated his rumored infidelities. She had nannies and housekeepers. With more time on her hands than she knew what to do with, she felt she had achieved the life a princess would only dream of. Shopping, being pretty and well provided for. A blonde haired princess from Iowa. Just like her parents had always told her.

Fast forward 10 years. Desiree turned 39. Her years on tanning beds were beginning to surface. She looked in the mirror and noticed things she didn’t like. She began to get beauty “treatments” done by a famous Beverly Hills plastic surgeons. Just small tweaks here and there. The credit card had a high limit, and she just told her husband she needed a mole or two removed. Precancerous things, you know. Dean was oblivious, and told her to do whatever she needed to do. Their son was now in private school, and the nanny took him to his after school programs for hours. The only time they were together as a family was occasionally for a half hour or so at bedtime. Often, Dean would stay “on location”. Needless to say, Desiree started to get very lonely.

She started to go take yoga at a small private gym. This is where she met Mack. Yes, the personal trainer. So cliche, I know. Trust me, this is a scenario that plays out over and over and over again. She started to “train” daily. Her body felt better than ever, and she was glowing. One night when her husband came home, he commented on how great she looked. He made sexual advances in the kitchen, something he hadn’t done in a very long time. As he pressed her up against the counter, her cell phone received a text and then another. Her phone happened to be on the counter directly in his line of vision. Desiree wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and she had neglected to set her phone on private. Dean leaned closer to her, stroking her neck, while staring over her shoulder to view the incoming messages. Desiree squirmed, trying to get his attention. The stream of texts continued. Dean’s breathing got heavier. He pushed Desiree in front of him, grabbing her by her arms shaking her violently. He asked her what was going on. Who the hell was Mack? She started to shake and cry. She told him how sorry she was, but she had been so lonely. She cried a lot, but he just pushed her aside and stormed out, down the hall, into his office and slammed the door shut. Desiree sank down onto the kitchen floor, head in hands. She reached up to grab the cell phone and read the messages that Dean had viewed. They were completely incriminating. Explicitly sexual, and solid evidence of an affair. She turned off her phone and sat there bawling on the kitchen floor until she could drag herself to the plush white leather sofa where she fell asleep.

The next morning, Desiree woke up to her husband standing over her. He gave a weak smile and told her he understood. He confessed that he too had been having an affair, and in a way this was all kind of a relief. He had met an actress on set, and it had gotten quite serious. He was planning on telling her, but he just hadn’t had the opportune moment. Desiree felt her heart sink. She went numb. Sure, she had been having an affair, but it was just sex and she had never had the intention of getting more serious with Mack. However, her husband was telling her a different scenario. He told her that he would be going to his lawyer during the following week to file the divorce papers. He said that he was going for full custody of their son, with visitation rights for Desiree. He claimed that she was an unfit mother, focused on her plastic surgery more than on her son’s needs. He warned her not to contest it. He reminded her that he was a powerful man, with powerful connections. She was shocked and defeated. Her heart hurt. He told her she should start getting ready to move out. Devise an exit plan, he told her. Finally, he told her she would be able to have the BMW, and he would give her a sort of “severance” deal, but because she had racked up so much on his credit cards, she was lucky to get anything at all. She gasped, taking it all in.

During the next few weeks, she spent her time going through her clothes, and jewelry, bagging it up for consignment shops. She sold what she could, stashing the cash for emergencies. She started to look at apartments, and living situations, but they were all so expensive. She would only be able to survive for a few months on her finances. She had no concrete job skills, and no connections left. At this point, the idea of going out on auditions, facing rejection, seemed terrifying.

One day, while getting the mail, she saw a paper leaflet on the ground at the end of the gravel driveway. She picked it up. On the front was a photo of a handsome long haired man. “Divine Heights, A New Lifestyle” was printed in bold purple script. She opened the pamphlet and read inside. It described a permanent “retreat”, in the countryside, where it cost nothing, but you were provided with everything. A healthy cooperative community. Welcoming to all, no matter what financial status. There was a phone number at the bottom, underneath a photo of a group of laughing people in a tent. She went back inside, glanced around the huge luxurious white living room, walked over the the giant fur chair, plopped down and dialed the number.

A woman’s voice answered. Hello, Divine Heights, Althena speaking. Desiree paused. Then she started to ask questions. Where was this community, what was the lifestyle, and what was the cost to become a part of it. The woman explained that it was a healthy community in the hills of a remote town in central california. They welcomed all. Depending on budget, there was a nominal “buy-in”, but once in, the only cost was labor and participating in events. The founder, known as Chino, was a leader and a man of many talents. They practiced daily meditation, along with coop gardening, and cooking.

Desiree decided to take the “tour”. She drove her BMW up the coast and headed inland towards the dry desolate looking mountains. It seemed like a very long drive, hours and hours. Finally, down a long dirt road, she saw ahead, a compound. Looking like an old military camp, she noted people milling about, doing repairs. She parked at the end of the drive and got out of her car. A tall dark haired familiar looking man looked in her direction, waving her over. She walked towards him. As she got nearer, she noticed that this was the man on the cover of the pamphlet. The man introduced himself as Chino, reaching out his hand to hers. He gently pulled her in for a hug, whispering “welcome”, softly into her ear. She smiled. She told him she was there to take a look at the Lifestyle. He invited her into the building where there was a simple set up of rustic furnishings. He guided her to a small wicker couch and sat down right next to her. He was wore jeans and a loose fitting shirt. His scent was masculine and deep. He pressed his knee against hers. She felt chemistry. He was a powerful man. She liked him. He put his arm around her, holding her close. He told her he knew she was searching. He knew she needed shelter and love. She had to look no further. She smiled, and felt his lips kiss her neck. She pulled away. He looked her in the eyes, and told her she was welcome here. There would be no charge for her. She thought to herself, this was it. He got up and took her hand. He lead her down a long hall towards a small room. Through the tiny window, enough natural light streamed in to see a clean and simple setup. A single bed, sink and toilet. He told her this would be her personal quarters. The rest of the place was shared. He told her he felt the connection too. She smiled. It was her moment. A culmination of her life’s choices. This was it. She had her exit plan.

Trader Joe’s Gigolo

Ever since he could remember, women had fawned over him. As he grew up, all of the schoolgirls liked him. He was a real head turner, and he knew it. The ladies loved him, and he loved them back. Again, and again. And, again. Years passed. He fancied himself a player for life. Love ’em, and leave ’em was his motto. Even if it meant shacking up with one, while managing a few on the side. Sure it became work, but he preferred to consider it a “lifestyle”.  A few more years passed, and eventually, juggling so many women began to consume him. It became a full-time job. So much so, that his actual career as a science lab manager went into a downward spiral. He wound up with a menial job at a pet store, where he got fired for trying to seduce a customer by putting a snake inside her blouse. Fortunately, he was still living with a clueless “girlfriend”, and she was all to happy to support him, since it gave her some sort of sick sense of self-control. Self-control was the very thing he lacked. Not long after he lost his job, she came home from work one day to find him in bed with a wealthy elderly neighbor. Needless to say, she kicked him out immediately. He vanished without a trace.

These days, you can find him lurking around Trader Joes parking lots. Wearing a fitted t-shirt and jeans,  pretending to be on his phone, he looks slightly lost and confused. As soon as he sees a single lady headed to her car with grocery bags, he shifts into high gear. Giving her his “intense” stare, he heads over towards her with a studied swagger. With hungry eyes, and a slight smile, he pauses, then says, “excuse me, but you are so beautiful, I just had to tell you.” Usually, the woman swiftly slides into the vehicle, and backs out at high speed. But, occasionally he has a lucky day, and she pauses long enough for him to engage her further. He runs his fingers through his albeit thinning hair, like he’s seen men in cologne ads do. He’s still got it. Trader Joe’s parking lot has been good to him. There are lots of single ladies. and they definitely have food and a car. Soon, he might need to find a new location. He’s considering Home Goods or TJMax.

 

Winter Wanderland

Philadelphia. Circa 1989. Mid-January. Massive mounds of filthy, encrusted snow lined the slick streets. The air was numbingly cold. Valerie wished she had worn an extra pair of socks. Her feet were starting to feel the burn of the cold by now. Heading into the frigid wind, she pushed her thick scarf up over her mouth and nose, with an awkward mittened hand. Her eyes watered, and her nose was starting to run. Miserable. It was miserable. The depths of an East coast winter. The aftermath of the holidays. Dead and cold. Bitter and cruel. Monotone and lifeless.

Valerie had moved there 2 years earlier to take a job at a prestigious university library. It was really her first professional job, and she loved it. However, the pay was meager, since she was entry level, and there wasn’t much room for advancement in the near future. Needless to say, between her rent, bills and basics, she was always strapped for cash. In addition, she had a looming college loan to pay off, and it was already starting to accrue interest. Every Sunday she would scour the paper, looking for odd jobs to supplement her income. Occasionally, she would find a one-day gig cleaning someone’s closet, or doing housework. She even had a job painting apartments on weekends for a couple of months with an artist from Croatia (Yugoslavia). But these were all temporary, and inevitably she ended up back at square one over and over again.

This Sunday, she was on her way to interview for a job at a day spa. The ad said that they would train the right person to do massage. She thought this sounded perfect, since the hours were flexible and there were cash tips to be made as well. When she had called, the woman had sounded eager to meet her, and they had set up the interview for the same afternoon. She headed there with mixed feelings of curiosity, hope and a bit of trepidation. She had been walking for 15 minutes, which felt like an eternity in the frigid air. Finally, she could see the building ahead. It was located above a laundry mat, just like the woman had told her. She could see the delapidated building, with its grimy fluorescent lit laundry-mat glowing at street level. Dim lights were flickered in the upper windows.

As she crossed the street towards the address, she saw the small entryway. As the heavy door swiftly slammed with a vacuum seal, she welcomed the blast of hot air surrounding her. She pressed the ancient metal buzzer that said “Day Spa”. There was a static noise, and a woman’s garbled voice told her to come upstairs. The latch released, and she pushed open the second door to enter into the dingy hallway.

She suddenly felt broiling hot. Taking off her mittens and scarf, she stuffed them into her backpack, before heading up the rickety wooden stairway. A musty smell permeated the hall, along with a hint of Lisol. Once she reached the landing, with it’s faded and torn wallpapered hall, she saw a faded red door at the end of the hall that just said “spa” in small uneven vinyl blue letters. As she walked over, the door opened. A very young woman, maybe 18, looked her up and down. “Valerie?, You are here for job?”, she asked with a heavy eastern European accent. Valerie told her yes, and that she had an interview with Marie. The girl lead her into the waiting area, which was lit only by one tiny cheap looking table lamp. Next to the lamp was a lopsided miniature Christmas tree with strands of multi-color lights sloppily wrapped around it. There were a few holiday greeting cards under the tree and one awkwardly stuck between the branches. The young woman told Valerie her name was Irene, and that she would need to wait for the boss, Marie.

Valerie followed her through the waiting area, down a dreary hall, into a fluorescently lit laundry room, where there were a couple of other girls. One sat on the dryer, smoking a cigarette, and the other sat on a stool folding towels. They both looked tired, barely acknowledging her as she walked in. The one with the cigarette, glanced up long enough to give Valerie a dirty look, and proceeded to blow smoke in her direction with a hard stare. Irene, opened a mini-fridge in the corner and took out a can of Tab. She passed it to Valerie, and told her to sit down and wait until Marie came out. Valerie sat down, sipping her soda. She took her scarf from her backpack, and folded it slowly, wrapping her mittens inside of it. Mostly because she wanted to seem busy, and avoid eye contact with the other girls. The air was tense. The only sound was the dryer, and a small radio playing top 40 hits from the 80’s.

Finally, she heard a door open down the hall and footsteps, along with the sound of a man and woman talking and laughing. Then the front door opened and shut. She heard the sound of heavy heels on the wood floor, and looked up to see a stocky blonde woman, wearing a cowboy hat. Her shirt was unbuttoned to reveal an ample cleavage sprinkled with freckles. It was tucked into a pair of tightly belted high-waisted jeans. Everything was very snug, accentuating her curvaceous figure. She looked unnaturally tan, and this was set off by her frosted pink lipstick, and heavily lined sparkling blue eyes peering out from under the brim of the hat. Valerie got up and the woman laughed, and said, “Hi, I’m Marie, sorry you had to wait, but you know how it goes.” She smiled and flashed a smile revealing a diamond imbedded front tooth. Valerie reached into her backpack, and pulled out an envelope, handing it to Marie. “This is my resume.” She told her. Marie laughed loudly. “Honey, I don’t need that! Follow me, and lemme tell you about the job.”

Valerie followed her through the waiting area, down another darkened hallway. Marie’s clunky platform wooden clogs lead the way along the floorboards. She opened a door to the left and let Valerie into a windowless room, which was all white. There was a massage table in the middle, and a bamboo screen on the side. On another side table stood a container of Clubman talc, and a large bottle of generic baby oil. Marie hoisted herself up onto the massage table, letting her clogs fall loudly to the floor. She looked at Valerie seriously, “Okay honey, listen. This is a massage parlor. You gotta give a good massage. I could interview you, but what I need to know is can you give a decent massage. So, basically, what I’m saying, is, you gotta give me a massage, and then I’ll know if you can do the job. After you finish, I’ll give you one.”

Valerie felt like leaving, but it was so cold out, and what could it hurt to give this lady a massage anyhow. She quickly justified the odd interview request, deciding that it might be worth it if she could make some money here. Anyhow, Marie was already taking her shirt off. Then, she took off her hat, stuffing the shirt inside of it, and tossed to the far corner of the room. Next, she stood for a moment, swiftly unfastened the tooled leather belt, and peeled off the jeans, throwing them over the bamboo screen. She kept the high-cut shiny red panties and giant matching brassiere on. Valerie let out a barely audible sigh of relief. Marie climbed onto the table, flipping onto her stomach, saying, “okay sweetheart, go ahead, gimme all you got.” Valerie, pushed up her sweater sleeves, and reached for the baby oil. She warmed it between her hands and took a deep breath. She massaged Marie’s thick freckled shoulders and neck, being careful to move the bleached blonde hair out of the way. Beneath the hair was a large faded tattoo of a rabbit on rollerskates, with the name “Lou” beneath it. Valerie kneaded deeply and slowly over the dense upper back, being sure to take her time. Marie moaned, and said “Oh, yeah, baby. That’s what I’m talkin’ bout. Mmm hmmm, you know what? You’re a natural. I can tell. Can you just massage my legs a bit and then we can switch.”

Valerie, massaged her thighs, with long sweeping strokes, steering clear of the panty line area. Meanwhile, she asked Marie, “so, um, how does it work in here? I mean, what kind of massage do you offer clients. Do I have to learn Swedish, or other types? How do they pay?”  Marie sighed. “Oh yeah, I practically forgot about the fact that you’re here about the job, I was gettin’ so relaxed up in here. Well, basically it’s up to you how much money you gonna make, you know.” Valerie asked what she meant. Marie laughed. “You know, some guys they like you to dress up like a nurse, or whatever, you know. You can say yes, or no. But, if you really wanna make the big money, you know what I mean, um, yeah you can do what you want. You know. I can’t tell you, ‘cause it’s really up to you, but you know what I’m sayin’.”

Marie let out a heavy smoker’s cough, saying, “You can stop now, it’s my turn, lemme show you how its’ done.” Valerie quickly answered, “no, thanks, it’s okay, I got it. I have to get going.” Marie smiled, “oh, yeah, well, baby, it’s your loss. Anyhow, if you want the job, you got it. And, did I mention it’s all cash? Yeah, honey, in this business you can walk out of here after every shift with a fat wallet if you play your cards right. You know what I mean. Alls you gotta pay out is a house fee flat, or do a 50/50 cut, the choice is yours. Most girls pay the house flat fee. You keep the rest. Tips are really up to how happy you make the client. You know what I mean.“ Winking a heavily lashed eye, she laughed boisterously, as she fluffed out her big blonde hair. Valerie, laughed too, and told her that she would think it over. Marie, got back into her outfit, adjusting the cowboy hat on her head. She climbed into her clogs and opened the door into the hall, allowing Valerie to exit first. As she walked into the hallway, the young girl who had answered the door, Irene, passed by, headed towards another massage room, followed by a client, a 60 something man, with a large protruding stomach and thinning hair. He had sunglasses on, which she found odd, considering how dark it was in this place. As they got to the waiting area, Marie excitedly whispered to her, “that guy there, well, you know who that is, right?  He spends a shitload of cash up in here. He’s one of our top clients. We got plenty, honey. Politicians, cops, traders, rockstars, all kinds of famous rich guys. I’m telling you, kid, you can do real good in here. Might not look like much, but what you see ain’t always what is seems, you know. You think it over, and call me. You won’t regret it. I can guarantee it.”

Valerie thanked her, as she pulled on her down coat, and wrapping the scarf around her head. She grabbed the mittens out of the backpack, making sure she was well protected before heading down the hallway towards the stairs. She could see it was getting dark out already as she reached the foyer of the building. Exiting to the right, the frigid wind pelted her cheeks with icy rain. It was sleeting again. She stopped at a corner deli to get a coffee for her walk home. Her mind raced. She needed money and Marie had been convincing, but the girls there sure didn’t look like they were doing very well. She sipped her coffee as she walked as fast as possible along the slick sidewalks. Finally, she saw her street. The light shining from her brownstone entry had never looked more welcoming.

Opening up the door to her apartment, she smiled and looked around. She didn’t have much, but it was cozy and homey. She felt grateful as she flopped down on her second hand sofa. Her tabby cat, Pierre, came over and purred against her leg. She noticed the blinking light on the answering machine, and picked up her home phone to listen to the messages. One from her mother, the usual Sunday check in, and one from her boyfriend Nick. She smiled as she listened to his message. He said he wanted to come over later, and he would love to treat her to a relaxing massage.

 

Calzones

Rene had just turned 18, and was living on her own in Boston sharing a grimy one bedroom apartment with a mentally unstable roommate, but that’s another story altogether. It was the early 80’s, and although some people might have been benefiting from Reaganomics, Rene and her friends were definitely on the other end of the spectrum. They scraped by to pay a meager rent in the roach infested one-bedroom apartment. Not having much job experience, Rene set out to find herself a restaurant position. Maybe she could work as a waitress or hostess. Even a dishwasher. At this point, anything would do.

Someone recommended she try the North End, where there were plenty of small Italian cafes and restaurants. So, she decided to go check it out on foot. Walking through the quaint neighborhood, she saw a handwritten sign in the window of a small place called Café Pompeii. There were a couple of guys sitting at a small metal table in front, smoking and drinking espresso. They gave her the once over, and she looked down at the ground while walking in. She was very shy and awkward at 18, and extremely self-conscious. She forced herself to stick to the plan. Inside, the place was classic Italian, from the red and white checkered tablecloths, to the counter case with its shelves full of fresh pastries. The cafe also offered some of the best gelato in Boston. She quietly asked the girl at the register if she could apply for a job. The girl told her to have a seat, and she could get her an interview immediately for the waitress position.

Rene felt her heart beat faster, as she flushed with nervousness. Of course she would wait for the interview. She was excited and scared, since she had never actually waited a table in her life. But, she needed a job, and how hard could it be anyway?

A large masculine looking woman sauntered over. She introduced herself in a husky voice. Elena was the house manager. She asked Rene some brief questions about her experience. She seemed to understand that this was to be her first time waitressing, and told her she could have a day of training. She said that the job was pretty simple, and she was sure that Rene would catch on quickly, since she seemed to be such a smart girl. Not like the last girl, who was, according to Elena, a total dimwit.

Elena showed her the menu, and explained the system, pointing up the ceiling where there was a table number correlating with each table on the dining floor. Rene must have had a worried look on her face, because Elena quickly emphasized that after a while, the numbers would become second nature,  but until that time, you just needed to look up to make sure you had the right order. Rene was hired to start immediately.

The next day she got up extra early, put on her makeup, along with the requested black pants and top. She hopped on her bike and rode across town, taking side streets to avoid traffic, all the way to the North End. She locked her bike in front of the café, so that she could keep an eye on it. It was her only means of transportation, and she was fearful of ever losing it. Looking up, she noticed storm clouds rolling in. In her excitement about actually making some money, she had forgotten to check the weather report.

As she entered the café, the place was buzzing. There were already customers at tables, most of them men. Loud conversations overlapped. Mostly in Italian. Elena motioned her to hurry up and put her backpack behind the counter, since they were already backed up. As Elena briskly pushed by Rene, she told her go take an order from table #6. Panicking for a moment, she looked up to the ceiling to find the number #6 table location. She looked down to find a table shared by two older Italian men. They gave her the eye and smiled as she walked over. Caio bella, che carina. They chit chatted, but she had no clue what they were saying. They seemed to be ordering, but she still didn’t understand. They asked for “doo caltz” and she had no idea what this meant. Just as they were starting to get annoyed, Elena intercepted with a quick offering of fresh bread, and grabbed the order form to scribble down 2 calzones. Rene tried to breathe and just focus. Elena barked at her to get to table #3. She had to look up again to the ceiling, and as she searched for table #3, Elena yelled at her to follow-up with table #6, then go give bread to table #9. Rene started getting flustered. She felt dizzy from looking up and down. The place was loud and customers were glaring at her. Mostly men, with the occasional younger woman. One of the men started calling her stupid in Italian “stupida”…this she could understand. She felt the tears welling up in her eyes. No, no she didn’t want to cry! Her face turned red as she walked over to the counter to compose herself.

She sniffed, and looked up to see a tall dark-haired, handsome man standing behind the counter reaching for her hand. He told her he wanted to talk to her and she needed to follow him. His name was Arturo. He was the owner’s son. As she walked with him, he told her he knew that the first day would be hard, it always was. He led her by the hand through the small café, past the mural of Naples on the wall, to the far left side, where just below the painting of Mount Vesuvius, was a door. He opened the door, waited for her to go in front of him, then slammed it shut and locked it. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust. She looked around a dark large room painted black. There were two pool tables where a few young men were arguing over whose turn it was. The air was laden with smoke and smelled musty. There was music playing from a juke box in the corner, and a few guys sat around on leather sofas deep in conversation. She couldn’t understand a word, since it was all in Italian. Arturo led her through this room. As they walked through, 2 large dobermanns ran around them once, pausing momentarily to sniff her leg, and continuing their rounds. Arturo opened another door, this time he entered first. She looked inside to see a large 1960s painting of a naked woman on the wall. The woman had a huge blonde bouffant hair-do and was barely covered with a fur wrap. She forced a come hither stare under baby blue lids, along with her parted hot pink lips.

As her eyes shifted down from the painting, she saw an older man with thick grey hair and a mustache, easily over 70, seated at a large elaborately carved wooden desk. He smiled at her and told them to come in. He dismissed Arturo with a hand gesture, and Rene felt a twinge of fear come over her, as she was left alone with this stranger. His name was Joe. He told her to come over to sit by him. She obliged. He pulled her close to him on a chair and put his arm around her in a fatherly way. He proceeded to tell her that if she wanted to stay here, she would want for nothing. If she ever had a problem, he would take care of it. If she needed any money, all she had to do was ask. He offered her full protection. She was really not sure how this all happened so fast, since she had been such an epic failure as a waitress. But, he seemed sincere and very convincing that she was worth it to him.

She got quiet, and really didn’t know what to say. She was young 18. Naive. Maybe another girl would have jumped at this opportunity, but Rene felt uncomfortable with it. He told her to think about it and let him know. She said ok. He pressed a 100 dollar bill into her hand and closed her fingers around it. He then picked up his phone and called Arturo, who reappeared to take her back to the restaurant. By this time, it was getting late. She continued to try to wait tables, and actually began to get the hang of it. The kitchen staff began to leave, since the place was closing now. Elena told her she just needed to help reset the tables for the next day. As she set up the last table, she realized that everyone had left, and she was suddenly all alone in the dining area. She could hear the rain coming down and she looked out to see her bike being pelted with raindrops. The street looked black and slick.

Music was still playing. It was classic Italian romantic music, which she hadn’t really noticed until after the crowd had died down. The soft mandolin and vocals were a relief to her ears. Her mind drifted as she laid down the last utensils and straightened the tablecloths.

Finally, it was time to go. She took her backpack from behind the front counter, and set it on a chair. Pulling out a rumpled jacket, she put it on. As she brushed her long hair into a ponytail, she heard the back door opening. A man cleared his throat and she looked up to see Joe heading in her direction. Tesora? Where you go?  Why was she leaving him, he wanted to know. She told him she needed to ride her bike home, and it was getting late. He was carrying a bottle of champagne and two glasses. He told her he wanted her to stay and have a toast with him. She started to feel trapped. No, she said, she had to go. He insisted and came closer to her. He touched her arm and told her he needed her to stay. She reached for the door, and looked out into the rainstorm. He asked her why she was going to leave him. He just wanted to spend time together. Something propelled her to rush out the door to her bike. He stood in the doorway, watching her fumble with her bike lock. The rain was torrential, and within minutes, she was drenched. Wiping the water from her face, she pulled up the hood of her jacket, awkwardly glanced at Joe, then hopped onto the bike and rode away in the downpour into the dark streets of Boston.

Occasionally,  Rene looks back at that moment as a missed opportunity, but ultimately, she knows in her heart that she probably dodged a bullet.

 

Little Genie

Paris, 1921. After midnight. An icy bone chilling rain fell relentlessly. Her soaked satin dress clung to her skin as she ran as fast as she could. Tearing around a corner, down a dark slippery alley, her heel got caught in a cobblestone twisting her ankle. She had taken the turn too fast. Sliding down to the ground against the dank wall, she cried out. Tears blended with the rainwater streaming down her face. She could hear them getting closer. She pressed her hand against the drenched stone, and tried to leverage herself up, but it was no use. She was too weak now. There was more shouting as they got closer. She looked up at the strip of sky above the alley, as the rain came straight downward. She closed her eyes tight. They were near now. Suddenly, a dark shadow came over her, and she felt the grip on her shoulder. Looking up, there stood a man and a woman. They were soaked as well, but they were protected with coats, hats, and boots. The woman commanded her to get up. She begged the couple not to kill her. She told them she would do anything they wished for.

The woman leaned down and shook her shoulders violently. Looking into her eyes, she told her in a harsh voice that there was only one way she could be freed. Then she reached down into a satchel, retrieving a stone. Just an ordinary looking small rough stone. Holding it into the girls face, she told her that if she could turn the stone into a precious gem, then, and only then would she be freed.

The girl held out her muddy hand, and watched as the stone was placed in her palm. She closed her hand around the stone and shut her eyes. The man and woman stood over her ominously. She squeezed the stone and released it. It was still a stone. Then she placed the stone between her thumb and forefinger and pressed it. She was pressing so hard that her entire being seemed to be focused on the stone. Suddenly, her face relaxed and she opened her eyes. She released her fingers, and a perfectly faceted diamond appeared. It glowed in the dark night. The couple gasped, and the woman grabbed the diamond out of the girls hand. She held it up, looking at it against the night sky above. The rain began to taper off. The woman smiled at the man as she placed the diamond in her satchel. She told the girl that she was free to go, and they turned to walk away.

It was by now, the cusp of dawn. The rain had tapered to a fine mist. The girl shivered on the ground. She took a deep breath and managed to pull herself up this time. She headed down the other end of the alley to where a small light had just gone on. As she got closer, she saw that it was the back exit of a bakery. A man appeared at the door and saw her tragic figure. He offered her to come in and warm herself. She entered the kitchen, savoring the warmth and inhaling the intoxicating aroma of freshly baked bread. He motioned her to have a seat on a large burlap sack of flour. The man brought her coffee and a large fresh roll, which she immediately tore apart and devoured. He brought her another one before he left the kitchen to go into the bakery. As she sipped her coffee, she smiled. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a small glittering ruby and placed it on the empty plate.