Saturday, July 2, 2016

Shooting Star (Inspired by Elton John’s “Island Girl”)

(Here's another short story I wrote for the ezine, In Sixteen bars. It takes place on a hot summer night and features fireflies, shooting stars, and a young man's heart's desire. I'd love to hear what you think.)

Shooting Star (Inspired by Elton John’s “Island Girl”)

I’m waiting for Dicky and Bobby to pick me up, and there’s Geena D. hanging out in front of the E-Z Mart watching four little girls jump double Dutch under the light of a streetlamp and chant:

Gypsy, gypsy
Please tell me.
What's my sweetheart going to be:
Doctor, Lawyer, banker, thief,
Sailor, soldier, Indian Chief?

She taps her red stilettos in time to the song, and I can tell she wants to jump in. I’m burning one and hoping she goes for it. It’ll make her knockers bounce. She has a nice rack. She’s tall, too, like a tree I wouldn’t mind climbing. Red leather pants cover legs that go all the way up, and her purple tank top shows cleavage. She sees me checking her out and smiles at me. I smile back, but we both know I can’t afford her.

Dicky and Bobby are late as usual. The sun has set, but it’s still hot as hell. I can feel the heat coming up off the pavement through my sneakers. One girl jumps out, another jumps in, but she snags the rope and gets tangled. They all laugh, and the girl takes the rope ends in her hands, punishment for breaking the rhythm. Arms move like beating wings as the slap slap slap of nylon on the sidewalk resumes.

A pimpmobile pulls up, the jumpers falter again, and Diggs rolls down the driver’s window.

“Get in the car!”

Geena and I turn our heads to look at him at the same time. She has a pissed off face looking at him, but she walks over to the car and gets in the front seat. For sure, Diggs has got some John waiting for her somewhere, or he would have never picked her up. I’ve seen him slap Geena before, and it makes me want to kill him. Dicky and Bobby just laugh when I say so.

“Diggs would bury you,” Bobby says.

“He’s a fuckin’ bad ass. He’d kill you slow,” Dicky agrees.

“He don’t got to treat her like shit,” I say.

“She’s just a dumb whore.”

“Fuck you!”

I get mad when they call her names. They don’t know her like I do. Geena lives across the hall from me and Granny’s apartment. Sometimes, the smell of jerk chicken wafts out from her doorway into the hall. Sometimes it’s the sound of smooth reggae. Once I heard her crying after a John left. The next day she had bruises all over her face. She tried to cover it with makeup, but I could tell. I’d take her away from it if I won the lottery. I’d punch Diggs in his ugly fat face, take his car, and we’d drive the hell out of town, me and Geena D.

I’m picturing our get away, watching Diggs’ pimpmobile drive off. But then Dicky and Bobby pull up in Bobby’s old, beat up sedan and shout, “Hey butthead, get in!” I flick my coffin nail in the gutter and climb in the back seat. Bobby swings the car back into traffic and we roll.

“Where to?” asks Bobby.

“Dino’s,” says Dicky.

Bobby says, “Naw, I lost my fake. They’d never let me in.”

“Arnie’s then,” Dicky suggests.

“Fuck Arnie’s,” I say. “I ain’t drinking coffee all night.”

“Where then?” Dicky asks, sounding pouty. He hates to be told no.

“I wanna see stars,” I say.

So Bobby drives to the edge of town and hops on the highway, heading west. It takes thirty minutes of fast driving to shake the city lights. They glow behind us, bleaching out the sky. Ten more minutes and we are in the black. No streetlights, no moon, no nothing. The highway now cuts through fields of corn, soybean, and peanuts, only occasionally passing a farmhouse set far off the road. Some of the curtained windows flash; TVs, I guess. Bobby turns down a dirt road. Car-window-high rows of corn flank both sides. We see a house in the distance, but we ain’t going that far. Bobby cuts the headlights and engine, and we get out of the car.

It sounds nothing like the city. The din of crickets, louder than sirens, fills my ears. Lightning bugs flicker in a tree at the edge of the field, and it looks like Christmas, all blinking. I light a cig and lay on the warm hood of the car, stretched out with my back against the windshield. A sky like a velvet Elvis spreads before me. A zillion stars glimmer; the cup of the Dipper’s so full I can barely find its outline.

“What’s that white shit smeared across the sky?” Bobby asks.

“It’s the Milky Way, you dumbass.” I say. “It’s your fucking home galaxy.”

Dicky fires up a joint, and we pass it around. The darkness thickens and even more stars fill the sky. One of them shoots across in a fiery blur, and I make a wish.

Then we hear it, the sound of a motor starting up. It’s coming from the house at the end of the road.

“Shit!” Bobby says. “Get in the car!”

Dicky’s still toking, and he looks pretty stoned. He giggles a little, but he doesn’t move. I grind my cancer stick under my heel; Smoky the Bear would be proud, even if this ain’t the forest. I grab Dicky by the arm and pull him off the hood.

“Get in, dumbass,” I say, pushing him into the passenger seat. Then I climb in the back. Bobby cranks the engine and puts the car in reverse. We see headlights coming our way. Bobby keeps his beams off and backs down the dirt road in the dark, finally pulling out onto the empty highway. The car points toward the city and all the damn lights.

We end up at Arnie’s anyway because now we all got the munchies. Between us we’ve got ten bucks. It’s enough to split a short stack and a side of bacon. I chain smoke and think about my wish, the one I made on the shooting star. Dicky finishes the last bite of bacon, and it pisses Bobby off. They start shoving each other in the booth, and it’s all fun and games until the napkin dispenser hits the floor and bursts open in a flurry of white paper. Then the nightshift waitress tells us, “Get the fuck out!”

After Bobby drops me off in front of Granny’s and my building, I go upstairs and through the living room window out onto the fire escape above the street. There’s four cigs left in my pack, and I want to smoke them all. The pimpmobile pulls up in front of the building; loud hip-hop is booming out of the windows. After a minute, Geena steps out onto the curb. Diggs burns rubber as he peels away. She’s walking slow, like something hurts. The top of her head vanishes from beneath my feet as she disappears into the building. A few minutes later, from across the hall, I hear her apartment door close.

Above me, the Dipper’s outline shines. Its cup is empty -- all these fuckin’ lights. There’s no sign of the Milky Way either. Geenas’s home. She’s safe ... for now. Shooting stars are the shit -- grant your wishes every time.

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