Jan 14, 2009

from Clapping Carnival Rasp

She stood on the edge, up on the ledge of the bridge on the edge of the city, and she threw it away. She threw it far and it fell in an arch from the bridge. It turned and it tumbled and fell. It fell as fast as anything falls and the sky was turning morning purple and Cindy’s skin was pink in the wind. She noticed this, and then it hit and went in and was gone.

Morning came. The river gulped. The gun was gone.

Cindy went to Atlantic City the spring she was 19. She was supposed to be in school but got sick and was failing and she went to Atlantic City. She thought of it as time off. An adventure. A break. She was going to school to be a psych major. She said she wanted to know why people were like what they were like, but the whole first semester she only drew pictures and never took notes. She drew pictures of her teacher while he talked, drawing the way his glasses went into his eyebrows and his lips hung down to his chin, and pictures of her boyfriend Billy before he left at the end of the weekend. She drew pictures of the food she didn’t eat, pictures of Billy’s cat, and pictures of Rachel and Monica and Phoebe from TV. She drew the TV, but the straight lines were never right.

The first semester she failed both her classes because she was sick and the second semester she only took the one. She got sick again and so she just left. Her parents were moving again and she said she’d go to Aunt Linda’s, but she went to Atlantic City. Aunt Linda lived in Ohio and was deaf and never answered her phone and Cindy drove all night to New Jersey. It wasn’t technically running away from home, because she was 19 and she didn’t have a home. The whole length of the turnpike, she thought of what she’d call herself. Not Cindy. Maybe Audrey or Katherine. Maybe Gwyn. Or Tiffany.

Anyway, she never really liked the name Cindy. And now she could be whoever she wanted to be.

She met Tim at the grocery store on Rosa Parks Parkway where she was shoplifting. He was a cop and he caught her, but he just told her to stop and he took her home. Tim had a broken nose and a classical face and she loved that. She stayed in bed and learned to smoke cigarettes. It was good until she wouldn’t do what he wanted her to. He broke a chair and pulled a gun, said he gave her everything and told her to get out.

For a minute, when the chair went through the air, she thought she was going to die. She wanted to be like a femme fatale, but she didn’t want to die. She wanted to be in black and white, the mysterious woman with her hair up and her cigarettes lit by suit-wearing men. She wanted to be Hepburn and she wanted to be friends with gay men who would say she was fabulous and be nice to her. She wanted to drink classic cocktails on a balcony, before coming down with a sweep down the stairs.

She got a job as a waitress working for an old Egyptian man. His name was Muhammed and his three sons’ were too and he always swore at them in Arabic and chased them around with a knife. She asked the middle Muhammed what his father said when he swore. When he was really mad and he grabbed the biggest knife he had this really long curse and she asked what it was, but the middle Muhammed wouldn’t say. The older one said it meant May Allah go back in time, you dog, to cut off your grandfather’s balls, so as to be better with you never born. He looked at her to see if she was shocked.

She made enough money, most nights, to buy a pack of cigarettes with tips. She always ate at the diner – the youngest Muhammed making her pancakes with strawberry syrup – and it was mostly OK. That was the first part of the summer she was 20. Maybe even most of it. A couple of months. She was there ‘til the oldest son sort of pulled her into the back closet when she was wearing a skirt, and then the father screamed and screamed something like “meat,” the son screamed “meg noona,” which means “she’s crazy.” Then she didn’t work there anymore.

She wanted to dance in a burlesque show and she wanted to be a tour guide at the Lourve. She wanted to learn Italian and cello. She wanted to learn to drink tea and like opera and she wanted to be an airline stewardess with an older boyfriend in every city and she would wear one of those uniforms, like for Pan Am in the ’70s.

Cindy almost didn’t finish filling out the application at the casino when she saw their uniforms. They weren’t classy. They were kind of funny looking. Like two triangles of sick red. But she was most of the way through the form so she bit the end of the pencil, where the metal met the wood, and she finished it. And then when they called she was thinking about shoplifting some bacon, the thick kind, and so she took the job. It was OK. The tips were good. When the old men won they’d give her something. Sometimes like a $20. But they were all kind of lecherous too, grabbing her ass and calling her sweet cakes and baby girl and honey pie. But their tips were good. The mean old women who played the slot machines never tipped anything. They gobbled up classic cocktails and left olives and onions wadded in napkins stained with spit and lipstick. They smoked 100s and their laughs were withered with wrinkles and remarks about men’s dongs. They always thought she was trying to cheat.

Cindy was working there four months, or five, when she realized she didn’t have any friends. All the wait staff ever talked about was sex and they smoked cheap marijuana by the broken down boxes and said how they fucked or would if they could or they lied. She was friends with one of the busboys, a little kid named Romo Rafell Ramirez. He made her laugh, the way he rolled his Rs and the way he always got excited and stuttered and hopped on one foot. But then he went back to Mexico. So she was lonely. That’s why she went out with Frank.

His name wasn’t even Frank, it was Conrad, but he was the Sinatra impersonator and he wanted her to call him Frank. She didn’t know enough about Sinatra to know if Frank was any good. Everything he did was impersonation, though. He wore suits and he sang songs and he was always confident about everything. He took her home and they watched old videos and he talked the whole time, telling her everything about the Rat Pack and Las Vegas and the mob and the old days neither of them were old enough to remember. He thought life was better then. She liked the way his mouth moved, and so she kissed him. He didn’t call Sinatra “Sinatra” but used all the other names, Ol’ Blue Eyes and The Chairman and The Voice. Every night he sang and she served cocktails and he started calling her his girl, dedicating one song to his girl every night, near the end, when the lights went blue.

She didn’t know his real name until the water bill came like a month after she moved in. At first she thought she loved him and later she would say maybe she did, but he was obsessed with his thing. He never asked her anything, and he never talked about anything except Sinatra. It’s like, she would say, he was all mask and there really wasn’t anything underneath.

She thought she loved him though and it was fun and glamorous maybe, serving cocktails at the casino and Frank Sinatra singing to you, and that’s what it was like all that fall and then Frank had the scheme. He wanted to go to Las Vegas and he gave her the gun he got from a friend of a friend. He wanted to go to Las Vegas and he said Elvis was just low class. She wasn’t going to do it and she said she wasn’t going to do it but then she did.

She was serving drinks to a booth of old ladies who were stealing the glasses, stashing them in their purses. The one old lady with a frown and pearls said she wanted mimosa on ice. She wanted the cubes and complained when they were broken and Cindy had to get her another one, even though they were free. So she was setting down the second drink and Frank was singing Come Fly With Me and somebody won at roulette and the woman said excuse me, excuse me, but I asked for whole ice cubes. And Cindy decided she’d do it.

She got the gun from Frank and she followed the man from the roulette wheel and when he stopped at the board walk to smell the smell of the salt in the air, she did it. She stuck the gun in his back. She said she was robbing him. But the man laughed. It was a really nice laugh and he smiled and he asked her her name. She started to cry, though she never cried, and he said it’d be OK. He would have given her the money, he didn’t want the money, but he had just finally thrown it away. He didn’t want the money because it was settlement money from when his wife got sick, and he put his hand on her shoulder and said hey, hey. She never cried and she hadn’t cried since Billy’s cat died when they were 12 and that’s what Billy said too. Hey. It’ll be OK.

She took Frank’s gun and his car and she threw all the Sinatra CDs in the parking space she left behind. She drove fast with the windows rolled down and listened to the sound of the roar of the wind. She let the radio play and she sang she’d go her own way, Rocket Man, she don’t have to wear that dress tonight. She stopped at the bridge at the edge of the town and she got out into the winter cold. She didn’t have a coat and the wind made her eyes water but she got up on the ledge and threw the gun away.

She thought she would be different now, and it was a new day, and she thought to herself, this is a happy birthday. And she was 22.