BENEFITING: The Naqaqa Giving Foundation
I sat with elbows propped up on the driver and passenger seat of the Honda. The middle seat in the back row was a bit less comfortable than the others, but the lap-only belt allowed me to lean forward. The coffee-white bark on the trees lining the street was peeling, a sign of summer’s end. Placing my forehead in my palm, I closed my eyes.
“How much longer?” I asked Meredith.
Meredith half turned from the front seat, not moving below her neck. The sun tinted her deep hazel eyes green. She turned back without saying anything and pulled ChapStick from the glovebox, applied it and made a kissing sound.
“You know how long this takes.” She rarely looked me when she talked, and when she did, she tried to play the role of disciplinarian. The age difference was right, but she is far from my mother.
“Got a butt?” I asked, still staring at the floor.
“Jonathan Jackson! If your father knew that I was giving you cigarettes he’d have you back in Wilkes-Barre before supper time!” She pronounced my name like Jonuhthin Jaxin.
“Mike always lets me smoke when we’re running numbers in Philly, I don’t see how this is any different,” I countered, looking up.
“While I ain’t Mike and this ain’t Philly,” Meredith replied, not looking at me, but looking at the house. Meredith was not what one would call attractive, but she never had trouble finding a man. She originally came from Reading, PA - so she said. No one in the gang could confirm if that were the truth. All we knew is that she met Mike in ’85 at the Bucket of Blood.
She entertained about four male customers a day, and Mike always came in fresh off the midday shift at the lumber yard, always at 8pm. At 8:30 ol’ Bart Matthews kicked out the whores because Reverend Smith always came in for a drink at 9. The Reverend had a taste for whiskey, but for whores he had just about the opposite of a “taste.” Mike liked to have a hop with Meredith, and most times, unless the wife was sick or Meredith had another customer, Mike would sit on the chaise that looked out onto the street and tell Meredith stories. He would tell her about the lizards in Chile (Cheelay), the wall in Berlin and about life in the chinee row house.
Staring at the floor of the black-blue carpet I wondered how Mike was able to bullshit all those stories to Meredith. She wasn’t the sharpest of former-whores I met, but she could knock out the NY Times Crossword in twenty minutes. “I red a lot,” she would always say. Craving a cigarette, I was glad to hear the driver side door open, Mike plop onto the seat, and the door slam shut. He didn’t say anything to either of us, jammed the keys in the ignition, turned his wrist, said, “son of a bitch” a few times and the engine turned over. We drove about ten minutes before anyone said anything.
“Well?” offered Meredith.
“Well what? You know damn straight when I don’t say nothin’ that I didn’t git nothin’. This neighborhood a bunch a cheap skates, won’t buy any damned insurints but got two cars in their garage!” Mike stared straight ahead, not breaking the sightline with the path ahead.
“I told you, this neighborhoods full of workin’ class folk, ain’t none of ‘em gonna buy no insurance,” Meredith returned. As she said this, she pulled out yesterday’s NY Times and a black Bic pen.
“You didn’t tell me shit,” Mike said, averting his gaze from the road, lookin at her face, then dropping his eyes down to the crossword. “You don’t know shit, except that damn crossword.”
Meredith didn’t say anything, acting as if she had heard nothing. Mike had not turned around and looked at me or even glanced up at the rearview, like he normally does to check if we were being followed. We drove about five more minutes before Mike spoke up again.
“Mary, baby, let me have a cigarette.”
Meredith reached into her purse and pulled out a pack of Parliament 100s.
“JJ, you want a butt?” Mike asked, acknowledging my presence for the first time since we got to the Hofsetter residence.
“Yessir,” I said, looking towards the forward of the moving car.
Meredith’s left hand swung vertical, two cigarettes perched between her middle and index finger. I plucked one out of her hand and cranked down the back left window.