Saturday, July 19, 2014

What You Are—fiction published in Left Curve

Short story appearing in LEFT CURVE way back in 2003. Still an active print journal, mixing poems and fiction with essays on politics, they've taken two of my stories.



She walked out the front door of her apartment building and walked over to Third Avenue and hailed a cab. When she got in, the cabbie looked at her in the mirror. Where to, Mademoiselle?
She liked that and smiled. She liked New York cab drivers, they were always so interesting and quirky. She told him the hotel on Central Park West.
The cabbie was black, she didn’t know what accent he had. Where are you from?
I? I from Senegal, Mademoiselle.
Oh that’s interesting. Do you like it here? She liked to talk to cabbies. With the way she made money, she didn’t get to talk to real people very often.
He looked at her in the mirror again, then swore and swerved around a bike messenger, who flipped him off. I like it, yes Mademoiselle. I like it.
Do you miss Senegal?
Oh yes. Of course I miss Senegal. It is my country, you know.
You don’t consider yourself American?
Oh I American too, yes Mademoiselle. But I also Senegalais. You can not leave where you were born, you know.
She thought about that. She thought about Jackson, Michigan with its empty car parts factories. I guess so. Though you can try.
The cabbie kept looking at her. Pardon me, Mademoiselle, but you are whore, no? I do not mean to say bad thing, but that is what you are, no?
Confused, but sensing he really meant no harm, she said, I guess I like to call it being an escort.
A yes, escort. You see, I tell by your clothes. Very sexy. Not businesswoman. He smiled. Is ok, no shame. We are all whores, non? I am whore, driving taxi for rich whites. My daughter, she work now at McDonalds. She is whore. I do not like this, but is life, no?
Oui, c’est vrai.
Oh, parlez vous français?
Oui, un peu. Uh, j’ai etudié uh, dans l’école.
Très bien, Mademoiselle.
Can’t your daughter go to college?
Ah no. C’est très difficile. It is difficult. In America you say any person can do any thing, but is not true if you are poor. You see, this is why we are whores. We are poor, and the rich make us like this. I like America. Many, how you say, opportunities. And they are better than in my country, than Senegal. But you know, I leave Senegal because there is no job. There is big American company, E____, you have heard of this company?
I think so. Oui.
They sell gas. Gas? Petrol?
Gas I guess.
Why they call it gas?
Well, short for gasoline.
Yes but why call it that?
Actually, I think they’re called oil companies.
Oil! Yes. But you know, this company come to my country, my city, and they make big factory, promise many jobs, but they bring many people with them and those people get jobs and we stay poor.
That doesn’t seem fair.
No, it is not. And you know, this factory has smoke, has...pollution. It comes in our houses and smell bad. Our children breath it. And night we see fires from the factory. We can not see the stars.
You can’t see them here in New York either.
Vous avez raison, Mademoiselle. Is same thing here in New York. Rich people fuck poor people, excuse my words, but is true.
Yes, I know.
Ah mademoiselle, I am sorry, I did not mean to say that. But, is true, is why we are whores. My people are whore to E____. I tell you, if I could, if I had gun, I go back to my country, I find the boss, you know, the president of E____ and I shoot him. I do not care if you call me terrorist. What is terrorist? Is man who kill innocent people. This company kill my people.
They arrived at the hotel. She reached in her purse and handed him money, tipping him twenty dollars. Here, um très intérressant parler avec toi.
Oui Mademoiselle. Merci beaucoup. It is all we have, non? to be friendly to each other. Adieu! She felt she should laugh and smile, but instead she got out and waved as he drove off. What was his name? She hadn’t asked.
The doorman let her in, tipping his hat but saying nothing. Likewise the elevator operator. She’d learned to ignore their looks. They knew why she was there. But, so what? We are all whores. She thought how horrible to be an elevator operator, trapped inside that box all day. Whore.
The man, her ‘client’, opened the door and smiled. Ah, excellent excellent. You look wonderful my dear. He was old, of course, with a thin line of white hair looping around the bottom of his otherwise bald head. He wore a tuxedo, and she noticed right away the bright gold wedding ring.
Come in dear. And what’s your name? Ah wonderful. You know, your agency has the best looking girls. I always call them when I’m in town. He invited her in. This is my ‘New York suite’ as I call it. I always stay here on business. I’m from Houston actually. Have you been to Houston? Would yo like a drink before we leave? Cocaine? I myself don’t use it but sometimes the girls like it. I like to please my guests you know!
She declined. He dialed a number on his portable phone and told his chauffeur to have the limo ready downstairs.
May I take you arm? Wonderful. I love that dress. You have a lovely figure. I hope you have a good time. It’s casual, you know. Boys night out and all that.
They went down to the limo and got in. He sat next to her and put his hand on her thigh. You don’t mind, do you? No? Excellent.
Because it was expected of her, to make conversation, she asked him what he did in Houston.
Oh, lots of things I suppose. Primarily I work for an oil company.
Really? Which one?
E____.
That’s so weird. I was just talking about your company with a cab driver.
Really. He looked out the window. Here we are. You see? Not far.
They got out and he led her through the front doors to a medium-sized room filled with other men in tuxedos, many with young women like herself. She recognized Jenny from the agency, who smiled and waived. She waved back. Her client led her immediately to a group of his friends, and she felt them look her up and down. He introduced her as his date.
After a while she was able to slip away and made her way over to Jenny. They squeezed hands. Which one are you with? That Japanese guy over there. Japanese guys always want blondes. Or else redheads.
They didn’t have much time to talk; dinner was served and she went back to her client.
During the meal she sat straight-backed and smiling, making sure to laugh when a man made a joke. Her client soon got in an argument with a man across the table. She couldn’t quite follow that they were saying, but as a joke, the man across the table said, well, why don’t we ask your date. What do you think of drilling in the Arctic Refuge?
She felt people staring at her and smiling. Well, I don’t know, but if they treat it the same way they treat Senegal, in Africa, then it’s probably not a good idea.
There was a moment of surprised silence. Then everyone laughed. The man across the table pointed at her and told her client, where’d you get that one? At Barnard?
Her client turned to her and said, my dear, you’re starting to sound like my wife! More laughter.
After dinner the men stood in another room and smoked cigars. She got to see Jenny again. I can’t believe you said that. Aren’t you scared he’ll tell the agency or something?
I don’t know, I was talking to this cabbie on the way over and he was from there.
Was he black? I had a black guy from Africa once. They like blondes too. What were you saying?
Oh nothing. I mean, what does your guy do?
I don’t know, I didn’t ask.
They left and drove back to his hotel. He took her up to his room and closed the door. You’re sure you wouldn’t like a drink? I have everything. Coke? No? Well then let’s get on with it.
She took off her dress. Lovely, lovely. He took off his clothes quickly, fumbling with his pant legs and shoes. He sat down on the bed, holding his penis. This the most difficult moment of the night: telling the man that she liked his penis, even if it was small and thin and shriveled.
She smiled and said, ooh, while looking at it. Men seemed to like that, and then she ddn’t have to say anything. She knelt in front of him, took him in her right hand and began to earn her money. We are all whores.
She said, have you ever been to Africa?
Oh yes god yes you’re a white slut aren’t you? You like black cock don’t you you little whore. I’ve got a hundred dollars for that sweet little mouth of yours and he pushed her head down. We are all whores.
I find the boss, you know, and I shoot him I do not care if you call me terrorist. She thought about her teeth and how soft he was there, wondered how hard she would have to bite. Would she get arrested, would he tell, would he die. She thought about smoke, thick and oily covering the sky and a girl breathing it.
And then it was over and she coughed. Yes yes swallow it all you little slut.
He got up and went in the bathroom. She put on her dress and looked at herself in the mirror. He came out still naked and got his wallet. And here’s the money, plus the extra hundred for being a good girl. I really liked what you said. I confess I like to see a white girl getting fucked by a black man. There’s something exciting about it. I’d love to request you next time I’m in town. Do you think we could arrange something like that? Maybe we could go downtown and find someone. No? He came up behind and touched her ass. Do you do anal?
She grabbed her purse and left. But she would not cry. She was past that. She felt it inside her and stopped it.
In the elevator the operator looked at her and mumbled something.
What did you say?
I said, did you have a good night.
Shut up, just shut up....


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