Bar Fly Away
By Eileen Slovak
Nadia was no bar fly, but her roommate Tina fit the profile.
Friday nights at Joe’s Tiki bar in Miami, Tina would routinely perch on the edge of a bar stool, pitching forward, revealing her substantial cleavage, while flipping her false blonde locks at some unsuspecting fool. The dim torchlight masked the pockmarked skin and smoke-stained smile that would cause men to recoil in daylight. Nevertheless, some always sought her sort of promiscuity.
In front of the bathroom mirror in the apartment she shared with Tina, Nadia absently brushed her resplendent black hair. “I’m just not up for the bar scene tonight, T. I think I’ll stay in.”
“For cripes sake Nod, you’ll never get a boyfriend hiding in the apartment.”
I wouldn’t call your one-night playthings boyfriends, Nadia thought.“I’m tired, she said, “and I’m just not…like you, T.”
Nadia dreaded the sounds of Tina’s nightly entertainment reverberating through the thin walls. As a mid-year transfer to The University of Miami, limited housing options had led to her current residence, but as the new school year approached, she had already begun apartment hunting.
“I know,” said Tina, with her hands on her hips, “I get it. You’re not outgoing. But I can show you how to get noticed.”
What if I don’t want that kind of attention? Nadia thought looking her roommate up and down. Tina’s reptile-print, tube dress, reminded Nadia of a nature program where an anaconda swallowed a Cayman whole.
“Come on, Nod,” Tina pleaded. “You know I hate going out alone.”
“Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt,” Nadia said applying pale pink lip-gloss to her full lips. Brushing mascara on her generous lashes, she accented her chocolate-brown eyes. She dusted her cheeks with blush, although her flawless, olive skin required nothing. After adjusting the straps of her stunning black sun dress, she slipped on low sandals.
“I’m ready,” Nadia said.
“Show some skin!” Tina bellowed. “Look at me!”
Nadia resisted saying what she was thinking and instead picked up her purse and followed Tina out the door. As they walked two blocks to the Bar, Tina gulped down a liquored concoction from a large, plastic cup while Nadia looked up at the starlit sky, wishing on each burning light.
“Look out boys,” Tina snorted, “here comes trouble with a capital T!”
Steamy nights meant full club capacity with customers spilling into the streets. Jimmy Buffet’s vocals filled the acrid air. Navigating through a blur of Hawaiian shirts and scanty dresses, Nadia reached the bar, but Tina had slipped away, having found her evening’s mark, she was jigging and singing, “Wasted away again in Margaritaville.”
Moments later with a pink, frozen drink in hand, Nadia slipped to the upper deck, away from the crowd to survey it from a distance. She rested her cup on the deck rail thinking, there must be a better way.
A couple staggering toward the stairs bumped the rail sending Nadia’s drink toppling over. She reached up too late to retrieve it. A waterfall of pink slush landed squarely on a young man below.
“I’m so sorry!” Nadia called down, her long hair waving in the breeze.
Dumbfounded, the man looked up. The right shoulder of his white shirt soggy with the pink mixture, he flashed Nadia a brilliant smile.
“Where I come from,” he said, “its good luck when a beautiful woman spills her drink on you. So, if you don’t let me buy you another, I’ll be ruined. What do you say?”
“Is that really true?” she asked walking down the stairs toward him.
“No,” he said, looking into her eyes. He took her hand on the last stair. “I’m Santo,” he said. His eyes remained fixed on hers. He wore his dark hair on the long side and the now wet shirt showed off his fit physique.
“I’m Nadia,” she said.
“Well Nadia, I wish it was true. But one look into your eyes tells me I could never tell you a lie.”
“Then, I say yes,” she smiled and that was how Nadia met her future husband.
The No Sleepover
By Eileen Slovak
“Let’s raid the fridge,” Maggie said, bounding toward the kitchen in the dark; bare feet slapping on pine floorboards. Through tired rooms, lit via street light, Scarlet shadowed her best friend. Passing open windows, sheer curtains nipped her slim legs, specter-like.
“Isn’t it mango day?” Scarlet asked, offering a gentle reminder of the Beverly Hills diet code.
“If I even look at another mango, I’ll toss my cookies. Hmmm, are there any cookies?”
“My mom only buys cheap no name brand; check in Humpty-Dumpty.”
Maggie lifted the cookie jar lid and gave it a sniff with a wrinkled nose, “smells stale, definitely not worth the calories.”
“We could make some Toll House,” Scarlet offered, uncertain if enabling was the right course.
“Yeah! Wait…do you think we’ll wake your parents up?”
Snores, muted by the carpeted stairwell, emanated from the upstairs bedroom.
“Doubt it. Just to be safe, we’ll mix by hand and time them on our swatches.”
“Right. Let’s synchronize our swatches. Or…we could just make the dough and eat it all.”
Maggie switched on the orb that dangled over the kitchen table, a strange moon from an odd planet. Yellow and orange light flooded the room.
“True.” Scarlet began pulling ingredients from the cabinets, the chocolate chip cookie recipe etched on her brain.
“Where did your mom get that light, anyway?”
“Yard sale, I’m sure.”
Under artificial light, the windows went black, reflecting the image of the two girls in their long t-shirts. Scarlet worked like a chemist, measuring flour, sugar and baking soda into a bowl. Maggie pulled butter and eggs from the mustard-yellow refrigerator. Balancing the items in her hands, she pushed the door closed with one elbow and dropped an egg, splat, on the worn linoleum floor.
“I got it.” Flour-handed, Scarlet snatched paper towels from a roll, and sopped up the gooey egg and shell. She fetched a fresh egg from the bin while Maggie rolled the wax paper covered stick of butter between warm palms, softening it, before plopping it into a bowl. She popped chocolate chips into her mouth from an open bag while Scarlet blended in the last few ingredients.
Once the dough was complete, Maggie poured two tall glasses of cold milk. Scarlet carried the gooey concoction, spoons in hand, to the sun porch and laid the bowl on the table between two opposing couches. Carrying the milk, Maggie found her friend, bathed in gray-blue TV light, standing in the middle of the sun room practicing her warrior pose on the brown shag carpet.
Taking a slurp of milk, Maggie placed the glasses on the table next to the cookie dough. She plunked down on her sleeping bag, occupying the full length of the couch, and twirled a long blonde curl around her finger. “I hate being a big girl.”
“You’re not a big girl, you’re tall.”
“No, you’re tall. I’m an Amazon.” Maggie scooped up dough with a spoon and stuffed it into her mouth.
“Okay then, an Amazon warrior princess,” Scarlet said, flexing her arms.
Maggie laughed. “Where’s Catherine?”
“She’s at her friend Stacey’s, her second home.” Scarlet, balanced on one leg and reached for a spoonful of dough. Losing her balance, she toppled to the floor.
“I wish I had a sister,” Maggie sighed.
“You can have mine.” Scarlet laughed, dropping into a squat and hopping frog-like over to the TV. She manually switched the channel. “Besides, you don’t need a sister, you have me. Oh look, Tales From The Darkside is on.”
“Will this give me nightmares?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t know…do you plan to sleep?” Scarlet asked.
“Not if you make me watch this,” Maggie said.
“So why worry? Besides, I have a better idea. Do you remember me telling you about my new neighbor, Curtis Bones?” Scarlet rolled flat on her back, knees up, hands clasped behind her head, spoon in mouth, doing stomach crunches.
“Your gorgeous running buddy? The one who thinks you’re nineteen? How could I forget? Why?” Maggie asked, reaching over the couch to scoop a small mound of dough with her spoon.
“He’s having a party tonight. He asked me to come by.”
“What? Scarlet, he totally likes you.”
“Nah, I’m pretty sure he has a girlfriend.”
“Wait a minute…a college party? Are you serious? Let’s go.” Maggie said sitting up.
“I don’t know. My parents would kill me if they found out. Maybe we shouldn’t.”
“How will they know? We’ll be back before they wake up.”
“I guess we could go for a little while. You want to?”
“Are you nuts? Of course!”
“This will keep.” Scarlet said taking the dough to the kitchen and depositing it in the refrigerator.
When she returned, Maggie was already up, wiggling into her Guess jeans. “How’s my hair? Is it crazy?”
“No, it looks great. Okay, but listen, we stay together and we stick to our story.”
“Sure, yeah, whatever,” Maggie said. “Wait, what’s our story?” She asked peering into a compact mirror, carefully lining her ice-blue eyes. “I hate my hair. I look like I’ve been struck by lightning.”
“You have amazing hair. I’d kill for your curls. Our story is…you’re my college friend, visiting from New York, where we both go to school.”
“What if they ask which one, or what our majors are?”
“I don’t know…change the subject,” Scarlet said, pulling on dungaree shorts and a black T-shirt. “No, how about I’m studying to become a writer, and you are…”
“Ready!” Maggie gripped the back door handle. “Come on, let’s go! I can’t believe it! My first college party!”
“Shhh! Keep it down, do you want to get caught?” Scarlet stood in front of Maggie, hands on her hips. “Okay, tell me I don’t look sixteen.”
“Okay, let’s see…lose the pony-tail,” Maggie said tugging it free and tossing the hair-tie toward the couch. Scarlet’s auburn hair fell around her narrow shoulders. “Better, but I hate you; you already have a tan.”
“Let’s go!” Scarlet squealed.
Caped in darkness, they ran over the wide expanse of fresh-cut grass, under maple tree giants, toward the sleeping street. Crickets sounded an unheeded alarm. A pair of approaching headlights caused the pair to dive behind a hedge, giggling and snorting until their stomachs ached.
“Ouch! I have a huge cramp,” Maggie said, doubling over. “I ate too much cookie dough.”
“Here do this.” Scarlet pressed her fingers into Maggie’s side. They edged along slowly, clinging to the tree line while Maggie recovered. Fireflies burned then faded. Scarlet snatched one before it vanished into the pitch. She cupped it in her hands, allowing it to tickle her. She opened her hands to release the bug, but it had escaped through the cracks of her fingers.
“I’m okay,” Maggie, breathed.
Above their heads Orion’s Belt shimmered against a blue-black summer sky. Music floated towards them through the air: a mystical, vibratory, rhythmic map. Scarlet jogged toward the sound, shouting, “It’s this way!”
“Wait for me,” Maggie called, emerging from behind through the trees. The house appeared before them: a beacon of light, a melody of voices, song and laughter.
Maggie hissed, “Maybe we should go back.”
“Why?” Scarlet asked incredulously.
“I don’t know.”
“Come on.” Scarlet took Maggie’s arm and propelled her toward the back of the house where co-eds hung about in various poses throughout the yard, cigarettes and plastic cups in hand. A group of boys stood in a circle under the porch light, hopping and kicking a nearly invisible tiny beanbag.
“Well all right! New babes,” a long-haired boy said, as the girls approached. He missed the ‘hacky sack’ and let it drop. Another member of the circle complained.
“Dude, what are you doing?”
“Dude, chill,” longhair said.
“Is Curt home?” Scarlet asked.
“I hope so,” longhair said, picking up the beanbag, “it’s his bash”.
Feeling foolish, Scarlet blushed to match her name.
“Hey, relax, I’m only kidding. I’m Chris. Bone’s is in the kitchen pouring shots. Keg’s out here. Hang on…I’ll get you some beers.”
Still holding her arm, Scarlet felt her friend shivering. “Are you cold?” she asked a silent Maggie.
“Look, we’ll just say a quick hi to Curt and then we’ll leave.”
“You can’t go yet, you just got here,” Chris said, handing Scarlet two cups of tawny liquid. He looked like a ‘skate rat’ Scarlet had seen once before in the beach parking lot.
“Thanks.” Scarlet ignored the comment, handed one of the cups to Maggie, and said, “Liquid courage.”
They ducked inside, maneuvering through an intoxicated crowd. In poorly lit rooms, odd smoky odors rose to meet them, patchouli oil, incense and something else. Heads looked up and then away as the girls passed. Thundering music vibrated up through Scarlet’s sneakers, making her legs wobbly. Maggie, close on her heels, gave Scarlet a flat. A boy sitting on the arm of a chair looked up at them and smiled while Scarlet fixed her shoe.
“Do you know where the kitchen is?” she asked.
He cupped a hand to his ear. “WHAT?”
“THE KITCHEN!” she shouted.
He nodded, took a drag of a cigarette and hooked his thumb backward, indicating the hallway behind him. Fluorescent light from the kitchen spilled out into the hallway. They followed it. Perched on the counter sat a darkly tanned Curt in ripped, faded jeans, Hawaiian shirt open to the waist. He hopped down when he saw Scarlet.
“Scarlet, I’m so glad you came.” He pulled her into a hug, a warm mix of friend, mentor and forbidden. He stood back, dark penetrating eyes fixed on Maggie. “And who is this goddess you’ve been hiding from me?”
“This is my friend, Maggie…from school.”
“Like Maggie May…in the song.” Curt sang a few bars before kissing her cheek. “So, Maggie May, how long are you in town?”
“Awhile,” Maggie managed.
“Excellent! We have parties almost every weekend. Come on, you need to meet my friends.”
The girls mingled like tourists and sipped their beers slowly, unaccustomed to the skunk odor and bitter flavor. When no one else saw, the girls exchanged wide-eyed glances and silent screams. They watched a round of beer pong and tried their skill at pool. Finally, when the crowd reached a pinnacle of drunkenness, Scarlet looked down at her swatch.
“It’s two a.m.,” she said to Maggie, alarmed. “We have to go!”
“Let’s find Curt so we can say goodbye,” Maggie said, pushing through the crowd, asking new friends for the host’s whereabouts.
“Curt’s comatose,” Chris said. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
Maggie followed him to the bedroom, while Scarlet wove frantically to keep up.
“Maggie! Wait!” she shouted. Another girl staggered, spilling her beer on Scarlet’s shirt.
“Sorry,” the girl said, using the wall for support. Beyond her, standing in a doorway, Maggie peered into the bedroom: a secret garden of clothes piles, stereo equipment and surfaces littered with empty beer cans and pizza boxes. Fully clothed, Curt lay strewn across the unmade bed.
“Maggie, let’s go,” Scarlet said sternly, pulling Maggie back from the threshold.
“I’m ready,” Maggie said. “Scarlet…he sang to me,” she whispered.
“I know, but let’s get going…before we get in trouble,” Scarlet said.
As if they had never fled, the girls slipped quietly back into Scarlet’s house. They talked the sun up and then fell asleep just before dawn.
Waking early, Scarlet’s mother Mary came down stairs and closed the sun room windows. While covering Maggie and Scarlet with blankets, she noted the smoky smell of her daughter’s hair. She moved to the pile of clothing on the floor, lifting up the individual pieces, reeking of stale beer.
She looked at her daughter, clutching her pillow like a once-loved stuffed animal. Then, Mary picked up the two half-filled milk glasses and moved to the kitchen to tidy the remnants of the girls’ evening escapades.
Once the room was satisfactorily clean, Mary made a pot of coffee. She sat at the kitchen table, cup in hand, bracing for the next round in the mother-daughter battle, where with each new day she was losing precious ground.
For more Scarlet O’Brien tales see:
Passages of Youth and Progressions
By Eileen Slovak
The Pick Up Line
By Eileen Slovak
Sprinting through the neighborhood, Caryn completed her daily four-miles in record time before sending a quick text to her sister, Kim: Will B ready 2-power shop in 15.
Back in her apartment, she showered coffee in hand, then, dressed hastily as her cell phone chirped signaling Kim was waiting. Moments later, Caryn climbed into the minivan. Kim handed her sister a homemade scone.
“Thanks, I didn’t have time to eat.”
“That’s why you’re so thin and I’m well, me,” Kim moaned.
Caryn shot her sister a look, “You’ve had two children and you’re too hard on yourself. So, what’s the emergency today?”
“Jeff forgot to tell me about his boss’s dinner party tomorrow night. It’s been months since we’ve been out for anything other than fast food and aside from jeans and t-shirts, everything in my closet is two sizes too small.”
“Hmmm,” Caryn said nibbling on her breakfast. “Okay, how about Anne Taylor or Nordstrom?”
“I was thinking more like Marshall’s or TJ’s.”
“Fine, but no clearance racks.”
“Not even a little one?” Kim asked sheepishly.
“Caryn, clearance means no one wanted it enough to pay full price.”
“Maybe it means no one saw its’ great potential.”
Caryn shook her head no, adding:
“So…you need me to babysit, then?”
“I hate to ask again, but if you don’t have plans…”
“Do I ever?”
“Speaking of plans…how about dinner at our house tonight?”
“Jeff and I would like you to come over, that’s all.”
Caryn raised an eyebrow, “Kim, you know how I feel about being fixed up.”
“Jeff’s friend Carl might stop by for drinks and we think he’s perfect for you.”
“Just give him a chance.”
Caryn sighed and asked, “So, what’s his story?”
“He’s single, new in the area, employed and in his mid-thirties.”
“I’ll think about it over shopping.”
In the fitting room’s three-way mirror, Caryn modeled a cute pair of jeans and a sweater, secretly hoping, despite herself, that Carl might be the one. Kim peered out of her stall, complaining.
“If department store owners had any sense, they’d install low lighting and fun house mirrors to make women look twenty pounds thinner. Help, I think I’m stuck!”
“What did you do?” Caryn asked helping free her sister from a dress that would not budge over her hips or her shoulders.
“Maybe try wiggling out of it,” Caryn suggested.
“Let’s go look at shoes, at least my feet always stay the same size,” Kim laughed. “Is that what you’re wearing tonight?”
“I guess. You win, I’ll meet him.”
After dinner, Caryn helped Kim put the children to bed. When the doorbell rang, Caryn felt a twinge of nervous anticipation. On her way downstairs, she observed the man standing with Jeff: handsome, tall, fit…so far, so good. Then he began talking.
“Well, hello there. Carl Waters, pleasure to meet you Caryn. Wow, I see fire behind those gorgeous green eyes of yours.”
“Oh…well, it’s nice to meet you too,” Caryn said shaking hands.
“Let’s have a drink,” Jeff suggested, leading the group into the living room.
While Kim poured wine, Carl’s eyes wandered all over Caryn.
“Fine vintage, Kim. I don’t know if Jeff told you, but I’m a bit of a wine connoisseur. Let me tell you a quick story about a little tour I took around Napa…”
An hour later, Carl was still expounding with expertise on every subject from baseball to hunting to mountain biking, while periodically throwing comments Caryn’s way:
“Caryn, I hear you’re a runner? Well, let me tell you, you’ve been running through my mind all night.”
At nine o’clock, Caryn discretely sent a text. Ten minutes later, she reached for her coat.
“Kim, Jeff, thank you for a wonderful dinner. Carl, it was nice to meet you. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
“What?” Kim asked incredulously.
“Kim, I’ll call you later.”
“Where are you off to so early? I was planning to take you home,” Carl, droned.
“Oh, no Carl, I wouldn’t dream of it, besides, I have a cab waiting. Goodnight all!” She called over her shoulder, making her escape. Breathing in the relief of the fresh outdoor air, she read the name on the door of the cab and laughed aloud: The Pick Up Line, Cab Company.
“Where’re you headed?” the driver asked.
“Far, far away,” she said hopping in the backseat.
“Sorry, never mind. The Willows Apartments please, on…”
“It’s okay, I know it well. I live on the second floor.”
Caryn looked at the driver in the rear mirror and said:
“I’m embarrassed to admit, I work so much I hardly know any of my neighbors.”
“Same here, I teach at Washington High during the day and drive the cab a few nights a week, you know, paying off those student loans. I’m Jay Stevens.”
“Caryn Ross. I run past Washington High every morning.”
“So, you’re the runner. I see you every day on my way to work. I run too, but usually after school.”
They chatted away until the cab pulled up in front of the building. Caryn was quiet and then said: “Jay, if you’re free next Saturday, maybe we could run together.”
Jay turned to face her, jotted his telephone number down on the receipt and said:
“That would be great. I’m glad I picked you up.”
“So am I,” Caryn smiled.
A story written while riding a bus is Naples, Italy
by Eileen Slovak
“E PAZZO!” Jenna shouted, shaking her fist at the driver of a rusty Fiat, who cut her off, sending her hurtling toward the trash-mounded roadside. It’s your own fault, you know better than to make eye contact. After two years, she had grown weary of treacherous driving in Naples and today she was even less adept in the bumper car, no rules traffic.
The interior of her late-model Mercedes resembled her surroundings; littered with empty plastic cups, paper bags and cigarette cartons. She spotted a half eaten cornetto sticking out of one of the bags. Her stomach growled. Better not risk it.
The constant shifting required in the stop and go made her sore inner thighs ache. She wanted to get home and take a hot shower before work as the scent of her own skin brought on nausea; a toxic mix of Paolo’s lingering cologne and the vino bianco emanating from her pores.
Her sunglasses were missing, a casualty of the previous night. Squinting into the sunlight, she saw the Italian police car, a Gazzella, with the word Carabinieri emblazoned on its side. The officer standing next to it held up his “lollipop”, a red reflector used in traffic stops; ironic considering the brutal reputation of the Carabinieri. She knew better than to dismiss it; according to rumor, people got shot for less. Then again, in Naples, rumors were as plentiful as pizzerias.
Jenna pulled over in front of the Gazzella. She removed her identification from her purse, rolled down her window and waited. The Carabiniere adjusted his pants at the crotch and moved slowly toward Jenna’s Mercedes, a make and model often driven by the Camora, Naples mafia, a common misunderstanding. As he approached, she noted how well he wore the distinctive navy blue and red uniform. He peered into her open window darkly handsome with fierce brown eyes.
“Is there a problem Officer?” Jenna flashed her best California smile. Choosing not to show off her fluent Italian and, instead, playing the ignorant American.
His face showed no sign of amusement; viewing her as something he had just stepped in.
“Your documents please?”
He asked extending a well-manicured hand and dashing Jenna’s hope that a translator would be required to complete the stop. She handed him her military ID, San Diego driver’s license and the Italian translation of her license. Wordlessly, he took the documents and returned to the Gazzella. Jenna watched him in the rear-view before catching a glimpse of what he had seen—her disheveled hair and smeared make-up.
Great! She tapped her fingers nervously on the steering wheel. Come on! I’m so late!
He took his time.
Returning, he braced on the open window peering in and allowed the slightest glint of a smile as he restored Jenna’s documents.
“Prego, Signora, your insurance documents please?”
“Yes, one moment.”
Relieved, Jenna rifled through the contents of the glove box. Bills spilled out among the litter, along with a photograph of a man wearing fatigues in a desert background. Looking at the photograph, she paused, then…
“Here it is.”
She seized the insurance printout and their eyes locked simultaneously on the unexpected object–a small black revolver. Bile rose in Jenna’s throat.
“That’s not mine! I—I don’t know how that got in there.”
Then it clicked. The night before Paolo had gone looking for a cigarette lighter. The officer straightened, taking a long step backward. His right-hand on his holster, he used his left to open Jenna’s car door.
“You will step out of the car please?”
It was not a question.
Jenna’s mind raced. Who do I call? What was Paolo’s last name? They’ll call Commander Grey! Oh, God, Jamie! The man in the photograph stared up at her from the floor mat, her soon-to-be ex-husband, due home in two weeks.
“Signora! Subito! NOW PLEASE!”
He was now without patience and Jenna minus feeling in her legs. She gripped the door jamb and window ledge for support. As she started out of the Mercedes, a rush of nausea overcame her. She vomited all over his shiny black boots.
“Che Schifo!” In disgust, he hopped backward, nearly losing balance. With a fixed scowl, he escorted Jenna to the Gazzella.
She would be more than a little late for work.