At Our Stories we believe in rewriting. We built our literary journal with the philosophy of always giving something back. Every short story that is sent to us receives feedback. We are committed to all of our writers, not just the ones we decide to publish. The next step we see in this process is to do a live review of a story that we believe in. Every quarter we will pick one story that has magic but isn't finished. Every member of the Our Stories staff will give their own thoughts on the story, on how it can be improved--suggestions for a rewrite--and then we open it up for your comments and opinions. When the writer is ready, after they've synthesized all of these thoughts they will work on another draft. Finally, after all is said and blogged and our writer has rewritten their piece and both the staff and the writer feels proud of it, it will be published with Our Stories.
This quarter's story is Make it So, enjoy.
GOLLD'N'S CAR WAS ON EMPTY WHEN THE TWO OF YOU, OUT OF CASH AND WITH A MAXED OUT CREDIT CARD, REACHED THE BORDER PATROL STATION ON THE ARIZONA-CALIFORNIA LINE. You told the Border agent your impending problem and asked for directions to the nearest gas station. It was around midnight, so the agent led you to a nearby truck stop. You don’t think he understood that without cash or credit, you couldn’t actually buy the much needed gas. Your hope had been that the Border agent would act as a gas emergency fairy and just give you enough gas to make it home. That offer was never made and the agents didn’t appear to have a magic wand or wear a tutu, so you guessed that free gas was not going to appear.
As you followed behind the Border patrol jeep, you hatched a new desperate idea with Golld’n. The two of you had a receipt from your dinner in LA with the private detective Golld’n’s mother had sent after you that had the detective’s full credit card number listed. If you could get the gas station employee to punch in the numbers without the actual card being presented, you could get some gas. It wasn’t actually stealing because the P.I. would eventually figure out the charge and bill it to Golld’n’s mother, assuming that the detective was worth the large sum of money Mrs. Himmings was no doubt paying him to find you. You decided that if you ever dropped out of college and ran away again, you weren’t going to take someone with you that came from money because then you had problems like private detectives tracking you down.
Golld’n sent you in to the station to try to talk the attendant into your scheme. Her theory was that you were better looking so you would have a better chance of cajoling the worker into doing what you wanted, assuming the employee was male. When you walked in to the fried chicken grease and smoke laden air of the truck stop, you saw the guy behind the counter and knew that your plan wouldn’t work. You didn’t have a lot of experience with drugs or people on drugs, but you could tell from twelve feet away that the young employee was not going to be able to say hello to you, much less figure out how to manipulate the credit card machine. You were desperate, though, so you tried anyway. Eyes glassy, a little drool leaked out the corner of his mouth and it had nothing to do with your good looks. You presented your problem and showed him the receipt. He looked at you and over at the credit card machine and shook his head. He didn’t even try. You couldn’t really blame him. If you were that high and strung out, you wouldn’t have tried either. Defeated and beating back a severe anxiety attack, you went back to the car. “It won’t work,” you told Golld’n.
She started to cry. Through her crocodile tears, she blubbered, “I can’t sleep here. I can’t even go to the bathroom. We have to fix this. I can’t be homeless.” Seriously, the situation was bad, but she didn’t need to be a drama queen about it. You leaned back against the navy velour fabric seat and tried to think. You had always been taken care of and had a dad, a brother, one of dad’s employees, or a friend that would bail you out of bad situations, so this was a new experience – to be desperate and alone. You were fully aware of the irony of the situation – you ran away because you were being smothered and now you needed the very people that smothered you.
“Call the apartment complex and see if someone will help us,” Golld’n sniffled.
“What, exactly, would they do?” you asked her. “We don’t know anyone there. It’s after midnight and we’re four hours away.”
“OK….let me think,” she closed her eyes and took deep breaths. Golld’n had lived a rougher life than you. Her parents had plenty of money, but she had dabbled in drugs and was sexually active in high school. You were pretty sure she was dealing drugs from the kitchen at the Olive Garden where she worked, but you needed the money so you weren’t going to ask. Paying rent and utilities was taking almost everything, so any extra money was used for food. The two of you were currently living on Bisquik and dollar store peanut butter. Oddly enough, despite the surgeon general’s recommendations of four food groups and a balanced diet for healthy living, you were losing weight on your carb and cheap fat diet. While you liked the way you were beginning to look, you suspected that you might have an eating disorder. However, you didn’t really have time to worry about that while working three jobs just to survive.
Possible starvation was one of the reasons you agreed to meet Mrs. Himming’s PI. When your uncle, the only member of your family you were talking to, called and set up the meeting with the P.I., he said the P.I. offered to buy you dinner and you weren’t going to turn down free food. Your brilliant idea had been to have him meet you as far away from your actual location as possible. That’s how you ended up having lunch with him in LA. Your apartment was in the ghetto section of Phoenix, and in your supreme ignorance, the two of you thought the P.I. wouldn’t figure that out. That was kind of his job, though.
Golld’n put her hand over yours and patted it. The crocodile tears had stopped. “I have an idea, and I need you to listen before you object. We’re in a bad situation, and we’ve got to do something to get out of it. I would never ask you to do this normally, but I think it might work. And you don’t have to do anything really bad, just enough to get $20 or $30 so we can make it back to Phoenix.”
You looked at the eighteen wheelers around you and pondered the merits of hitch-hiking.
“Hang out by the front door for a while and see if anyone talks to you. If they do,” she said, “and they aren’t too awful, why don’t you offer them a few minutes of your time?”
You looked over at her to see if she was kidding. She wasn’t seriously asking you to prostitute yourself. Really? REALLY? No. Nope. No. That was not in your realm of possibilities.
“You really want me to go sleep with some nasty trucker?” you asked her.
“You don’t have to actually sleep with them. There are other things you can do for that amount of money. Usually you would make at least a $100 for actually sleeping with them and we don’t need that much.”
You didn’t want to know how she knew something like that. Maybe she just watched too much t.v.? Golld’n’s face was only illuminated by the light from the car’s digital clock, but you could see that she wasn’t looking at you as she talked. She should have been afraid to look at you. She was your best friend, and that was her brilliant idea to save the two of you. You felt the need to vomit, preferably on her.
“Um, no. No. I’m not going to do it. If it’s such a great idea, you do it. You’re more experienced at those things anyway.”
Golld’n didn’t seem offended that you had just implied she was a slut. “You’re more the type that would be picked up here. I’m more of an acquired taste.”
The crappy, crappy part was that she was probably right. She was 6’1 and 15-20 pounds underweight with gorgeous ebony skin and extremely short dark curly hair, closer to a buzz cut than any Hally Bery inspired look. On first impression, most people labeled her gay. Whether she was, wasn’t important, especially not then. How big a hole do you have to be in to be disappointed and bordering on heart broken that your best friend can’t pimp herself out?
She started crying again, and you got out of the car. You’re pretty sure you weren’t going to go find someone to pay you for night time services, but you’re not sure what you were actually going to do. You had the credit card receipt in your jeans pocket. Maybe you were going to try the gas station attendant again and try to beat into his head how dire it was that he helped you.
Even at that late hour, eighteen wheelers and cars were moving in and out of the pump lanes with surprising consistency. A black Rolls Royce with dark tinted windows pulled into the pump closest to the station door. Staring at the car under the flickering neon lights, you decided that if you had to be with someone to get gas, it was going to be the Rolls Royce person. You figured that someone with the money to get that kind of car would probably take regular showers and have enough self respect to not have any communicable diseases or at least be medicated if they did have some nasty rash or unhealthy bumps. You couldn’t really do it, though. The idea was so awful that it couldn’t fully penetrate your head.
You aren’t sure how long you stood by the gas station door trying to separate yourself from the noxious smells and disease-ridden expectations around you, but it was long enough to make Golld’n get out of the car to join you. “If you’re just going to stand there, you’ll miss out on the fast money,” she complained to you.
You stared at her. Who was this person?
“I’ll find someone for you,” she told you. “Just keep standing there and close your mouth. You look special or something.”
You went into the station to get away from her. You were guessing that the devil would be sucking her into hell soon and you didn’t want to fall in with her. Through the greased streaked door, you could see her talking to a man, dingey blue suspenders bowing around his bulging stomach, that had just gotten out of an eighteen wheeler. You would rather stab yourself in the eye than have dinner with him, and dinner wasn’t what Golld’n was most likely setting up.
The gas station worker was going to have to come down from whatever drug induced high he was on fast because he was going to have to save you. You put the receipt on the counter, warmed by the heat lamp in the glass display case filled with day old hot dogs and fried chicken with skin thickened by congealed grease at least a week old, and pushed it toward him. “Ok,” you tried again. “I need you to try this, please. Work with me.” His eyes rolled in your direction but his skeletal face didn’t turn toward you. “Can you please, please, punch these numbers in the machine over there? I’m out of gas and this is all I’ve got.” You heard your voice crack and you could hear your thoughts like they were voices outside of you, apart from you. Desperation was burning your stomach and filling your lungs with thick darkness, causing your breathing to be rapid and shallow. Maybe you would hyperventilate and pass out. Then you couldn’t perform any soul damning actions.
Your vision narrowed and you might have been close to blacking out except that you were still aware of the smell of the sweaty attendant and the exhaust from the idling trucks. Then you felt a hot, heavy hand clumsily pat your shoulder. You didn’t turn around. You couldn’t. You didn’t want to see what man Golld’n had sent in for you. It couldn’t happen.
“Go get the gas,” the man said. With those words, all of the hope, safety, warmth, and breath evaporated from your body. You couldn’t breathe, but you couldn’t find the thoughts or energy to care. You couldn’t focus on any thought and you weren’t sure if it was because your mind was racing or if your brain had just shut down.
Despite the overwhelming despair taking over your body, you still had enough muscle control to turn around and face your tour guide to a world where being a good Baptist girl that graduated at the top of her class and went to church every Sunday was not exempt or somehow above this seedy situation.
You knew immediately that the guy was in the mob. He fit all the stereotypes – greasy, over-weight, gold chains, purple velour jogging suit, slicked back, thinning black hair, and hairy knuckles. Your dad had once run a trucking company that was owned by the mob in Detroit, so you knew the type. People say the mob is gone, but that’s a lie. Not only was it a lie, but you were about to be sold to a member of the mafia family. Maybe you could be a mob princess. You bet that when mob princesses run out of gas, they snap their fingers and some goon shows up and takes care of everything. They never have to talk to drugged out, skinny, nasty smelling gas station attendants who don’t have the brain power to properly use a credit card machine. They probably…okay, focus. Focus. The guy was looking at you like you might be slow. You were feeling a tad slow, so it was appropriate.
Hell. Hell. Hell, hell, hell. You were being pimped out by your best friend to a mob guy. You probably didn’t even know how to do any of the things he would expect, even for $20.
“Go get the gas,” he said again. “I’ll pay for it after you fill up.”
Curse words flooded your brain but you managed to ask, “What do you want?” You knew the answer was going to be your soul even though he probably wouldn’t call it that. Your life was about to become an after school special on the dangers of running away and having a drug dealer as a best friend. You hoped the dark headed chick from Saved By the Bell would play you.
If you sold yourself due to desperation, was it still a damnable sin? But, then, were you actually, really contemplating damning your soul to hell for a tank of gas? You were sure that if you were rational, well fed, and not sleep deprived that you could come up with a better solution. Right now, though, you couldn’t figure it out. You guessed that you really needed a more noble reason than a tank of gas. Noble desperation canceled out unimaginable acts, right?
The man shook his head at you and pulled out a roll of money held together by a rubber band. “Just get the gas and go. If I see you again, you can pay me back.”
You tried to hand him the credit card receipt. “Write down your address and I’ll send you the money when we get home.” You didn’t want to owe him. You knew from watching Al Capone movies that it was a bad life decision to owe the mob.
He shook his head again and repeated himself. “Just get the gas and go. If I see you again, you can pay me back.”
You should have questioned why the man was willing to pay, but you didn’t. He was saving you from having to take up the oh-so glamorous and upwardly mobile profession of prostitution, so you did what he told you.
You joined Golld’n in the car. She tried to say something, but you told her not to speak to you. You filled up the car, not explaining to her, and looked back to see the mob guy in the gas station before you pulled away. You wanted him to know you weren’t just some deadbeat kid that bummed money off of strangers on a regular basis. You came from a good family. You had good manners and suspected that this situation required a special kind of thank you note, but you didn’t have his address. You wanted to at least wave, but when you looked back, the strung-out station attendant was alone at the counter.
--- Caroline B.