The smell of Don Baldwin from the night before drifted and lingered, surrounding her like some foul aura. As the trolley pulled up to the Fashion Valley station, Jean checked her huge, rose bag for the money from Baldwin that morning. The dope-sickness and the lack of sleep were gripping her skin and it stung with fierce yearning. She counted numbers in her head, and a tranquility caused by those hundreds lead to composure, and then to a mindful memory of Baldwin the day before. She had left with him the previous afternoon for a date and had fallen asleep after he’d passed out in the room at Civic Plaza in Mission Valley. She knew the rules well enough to wait until he was passed out before taking the money off the nightstand and placing the wad of cash in her bag. The stench of his seaweed nut, still drifting along the ridge of her mouth, forced her into a chaotic sleep just so she could forget what they had done earlier.
Just before heading to North County to see her kids for her supervised visit the sight of the clock pierced her already caustic senses. I’m fucking late! She wasn’t exactly surprised after being up for three days on crack. When she awoke, however, it was to the mouth-watering aroma of room service French toast and coffee. What luxury! Dazed from the first good rest in days she groggily checked her phone and found 17 messages from Burt, each growing progressively irate.
Apparently, Burt had called the connect to come over at the exact time when she was supposed to return to National City. She’d forgotten to tell him about her scheduled supervised visit with her two oldest children that day. When she wasn’t around, and he had no money, the connect threatened to cut him off and only deal with her. Knowing he hadn’t a penny, she was resignedly frustrated to realize that, yet again, her money was not her own. Not a penny for her kids and, once again, she’d be behind on her child support.
Leisurely she finished the golden triangles of breaded ambrosia and then began to stress. Burt was going to be so pissed at her and might even put her out again, keeping all her clothes to sell to the other girls for hits. She didn’t know what to do and, tired of her life, began to cry.
Rule number 76 of being a whore, she thought, cracked within the stage of that moment, never cry in front of tricks. They are paying for a good time, not drama. But Don wasn’t a bad guy. He just smelled atrociously rotten and vowed to help her. He gave her 900 bucks extra and dropped her off at the station that would take her directly to North County this morning. She was already an hour late.
The archaic sports theme adorning the stained walls seemed oppressive, aged, and blemished, as if it somehow paired itself with the chestnut haze dangling over Oceanside, California. She entered the room looking around earnestly for her two oldest children, Johnathan and Esther. She hadn’t seen either of them since the divorce from Dylan became final over three years ago. Since then, failed stays in drug rehabs – like Kiva – and the birth of her new twins, life had been a series of irrational arcs. The birth of the twins resulted in her return to Kiva after her blood work revealed the heroin she was using just before their delivery. Through her addictions, and the bends her choices created, wholly organizing her life was impossible and paying for court ordered supervised visits such as this one hopeless. This was the first visit she could afford. Maintaining a firm grasp of reality through a smog of mental illnesses was blotched by the beguiling shackles of a life she both despised, yet needed to survive. At least this is what her brain had attested and proven to her.
The sports antiquity of decaying posters lining the walls felt like some bitter reminder of recent dates and escorts she’d grown accustomed to over the past year or so. While the walls didn’t seem to reek with foulness, the space seemed to penetrate her senses. They aligned themselves within her dope-sick mind, applying that August stench of recent men. Their sweat, grunts, and demanding undulations nagged at her unnervingly. Their appetites shook her with turmoil even during the loneliest of moments in their absence. Her fingers trembled as she shut the door behind her, tremoring as she loosened her grasp of the gold, metal knob
The supervising facilitator sat in a sullied, cobalt (or was it black?) easy chair, with coils and frays seeming to come alive as the bottom draped the thinning, apple green carpeting. This young, modern woman sat in the far corner of the iridescently lit room, not seeming to notice Jean’s arrival within the small sea of other families mulling about the plainness of the tiny room.
This coordinator was thin, with pink highlights that matched the full, bright pink of Jean’s own bowl cut hair. Jean pegged her to be twenty-four…twenty-six – maybe. A fucking intern logging hours toward a credential or degree. Jean hated her already, but allowed her eyes to wander and search the room for her children, or even Dylan. As she scanned this den Jean noted the intern’s notepad, busy beneath the small, silver pen, recording each oversight and instance that would later affect the lives of the children and parents wandering the room, engaged in bland, banal activities afforded by the drabness of this managed cave.
Jean’s thoughts began to flutter backward, to Don Baldwin. A nice enough gentleman in his late fifties, his afflicted and unfortunate malodor remained sealed to her clothes and skin, as if a disgraceful collaboration had formed between the idea of filth and vicious realities that formed her daily life. She could feel the putrid flavor of him braiding through her thoughts as she fought to focus on finding her children’s faces. His foul, semen halitosis had somehow found its way into her precious pudenda, slithering along her skin to annex an odor to her clothing that she wished, at this moment, didn’t exist. Looking downward, beneath the hem of her skirt, she also craved a change in footwear. She still donned the topo suede, over-the-knee, high-heel boots she wore for many of her customers. She also remembered she hadn’t showered that morning.
Through the heroin-haze of this dawn mist she spotted Johnathan, her oldest, crouched before a plum bookcase against the far wall. Just above him hung a poster of Steve Garvey, the white creased paper marking a path along his Dodger uniform and smile.
We’re San Diego! They can’t afford to at least put up a poster of him wearing a Padre’s uniform?
“Johnathan?” Her voice vibrating with apprehension. She wasn’t sure her son would recognize his own mother, with her pink hair, thrift store denim skirt, and lamentable boots.
“Mom!?” He turned and raised himself just enough to find an embrace as slight, joyed tears fueled his eyes. The salted taste of Baldwin that was still lodged in her throat dissolved slightly as she soaked in her son’s elation.
“What are you looking for here?” Her voice still shook, but the comfort of that second seemed to counter the strain of finding a question to ask. After so long, she simply wasn’t sure where to begin. Her mind raced and coiled with options and answers. How do I repair this? What have I done? What kinds of books does he like? Does he even like to read? He must. He’s a reader, just like me! What was the last book? Oh yeah! Dr. Seuss!
He’s eleven now. Don’t bring it up. He hates me.
For an instant, her mental illness and dope-fueled mind synced with fetid self-reflections as her eyes twitched around the room. These men! They’re loathsome and wondering how much and how can they get a hold me later. Maybe I can make some money…it’s all I am anyway!
“I’m not looking for anything, really. Well I was looking at this one. City of Bones. Ever heard of it? My friends have been talking about it and I want to read so bad, but my mom,” he paused. “Carol.” His faced reddened and then he collected himself within that second between the tick of the clock on the wall. “She says it’s too advanced for me. Something about murder and weird tattoos.”
“She’s a bitch, Johnathan. You should get it. Can you take books from here?”
“I don’t know.”
Before Johnathan could say another word Jean’s thin, quivering, yet sure, fingers were stuffing the worn pages of the book between stockings, clumps of jewelry, a goth wig, and dark tethered lingerie within her large, mahogany bag.
“Is that a large rose on the bag? I love roses!” Johnathan remembered their yard in Rancho Penasquitos. Within a sprinkling stage of time a portrait of Jean planting roses near his bedroom window filled his eyes just enough to allow meaning to breathe between them. A mere flash of sturdy connection between mother and son that consecrated and stretched seconds into something uniquely infinite.
“Roses are my favorites! Your grandmother loved tuberoses.”
Before she could correct his understanding of genealogy she felt the firm, grim presence of Dylan behind her. Esther was nowhere around. Jean didn’t have to ask and, at the site of her tremoring frame, her ex-husband explained frankly. “She didn’t want to come. I wasn’t going to force her.”
She wasn’t surprised, but the heartache was there. She could sense the facilitator’s pen working madly behind in that horrid easy chair. (Mother is clearly dope-sick and supervised visits should continue with reduced occasion and diminished time allowed considering the inconsistent visitations that have already occurred).
She didn’t know this young lady, but she abhorred her instinctively. As the three of them made their way toward the door, with her fingers behind her, just above the line of her denim mini-skirt, Jean offered the facilitator a definitive finger. Fuck you!
The memories flooded forward in her mind as they walked outside. The rehab that Dylan had dropped her off at in East County; the divorce paperwork arriving within the week; her first hit after fucking that youngster who had the black she made a bee line for. In that twinkling moment all accountability for her actions became authentic and tormenting beneath the August sunlight that pierced her eyes once outside the dingy, stucco office complex.
There were no “goodbyes”. Johnathan’s tears were stalled in the presence of his father but, as they clasped one another with wide arms, Jean expertly slipped the copy of City of Bones in his small, delicate hand and gently whispered: “Hide this. I love you so much.” She never wanted to let go, but she knew what she’d done to him already. It was time to go.
She turned in silence, and found the road leading toward the bus stop that would take her to the Coaster Connection back to South County, and then to National City and Burt. The visit was barely fifteen minutes long.
As she boarded the Coaster that would turn a quick 40-mile trip into a protracted series of scheduled rail stops. She found a seat as far away from any of the prying eyes of men as she possibly could so that she could soak in and saturate the brief visit with Johnathan. She felt her heart cut, a blister of disfigured memories fuming within a flash of gloom and grief.
Johnathan had treated her like a stranger, as if some new neighbor he’d only barely met, discreet within the vicinity of his father. God knows I still love Dylan! Why am I such a fuck-up! The tears sang through her mind like a forceful, booming bell, coalescing with the syncopation of hunger for a renovated history.
As the line moved quickly South toward Del Mar, and then La Jolla, past the point where Linda Vista stood to the East, she contemplated her reluctance to love her twins – Ally and Chase. She noted her fears and her knowledge of herself and the life she CHOSE. She could feel the restless hesitance to offer the twins the love they deserved for fear of losing custody of them someday. She needed to spare them the pain of losing their mother, just as Johnathan and Esther had. She knew that if she loved the twins any more than she did – and lost them – she would find no reason to continue living. The tense authenticity of this truth bit through her with a strangling emanation.
The train approached the stop where she’d transfer, returning to National City to deal with Burt, the twins father. She lumbered for a moment in her suede, heeled boots, as the brakes of the car she was stood in halted with screeching assertion. She waited an hour for the trolley to National City. The putrid scent of Don Baldwin from the night before was still hovering around her. She loved this because she knew Burt hated the smell of Don and wouldn’t want to fuck her for at least a couple of days. As the trolley pulled up to the 24th Street station, she checked her huge, rose bag for the money from Baldwin that morning. Still there. At least Burt wouldn’t punch her square in the jaw for that and, maybe, he’d be in a good enough mood to hook up some hard white to stave off the dragon. The dope-sickness was draining her and she was out of darts. Her thoughts were beginning to amble and the crowds of men that sashayed past her on the station’s platform triggered a concussion along the crust of her skin as her eyes hunted for somewhere to run.
Surrounded by men and the stink of Baldwin still fastened to her skin, she began her regimen of counting to find calmness and peace in the elongated intervals that passed until the trolley’s arrival. Once in National City, after the long trip from seeing Johnathan, Burt opened the door of the apartment to Jean audaciously fluttering $700.00 bucks in his face.
“What you got, kid?!” his elderly, Trinidad accent exacerbated and disgusted her every time. One of the many reasons she left his name off the twin’s birth certificate.
“I need an eight ball now! Get to work!” With Jean’s demand, the other girl living there shot a weary look with comatose, bloodshot eyes. Jean hated living with Burt. She hated that deal of having to fuck him and give him half her earnings from dates, but she had no other options open to her right now. The tincture that is my fucking life!
She was tired and drained from the visit with Johnathan, seeing Dylan, the absence of Esther, and Don’s stink. The dope-sickness was settling in with a traumatic crash. Thanking God that she wouldn’t have to fuck Burt, she made the bed in the middle of the studio by throwing the other girl’s discarded clothes on the floor so she could sit down. This girl (what was her fucking name?!) feigned shyness and went into the closet to dress, or so she thought.
That bitch! She’d come out wearing a brand-new dress Jean hadn’t even gotten to wear yet, a birthday gift from Kenny – Jean’s pimp, and basically Burt’s boss. When Jean protested and screamed at Burt, he simply allowed her to shriek. Or maybe age had caught up to him. Jean eventually pried off the dress from the powdered skin of this delirious and drugged girl, half ruining it in the process. She eventually ran off this worked over girl, watching easily as she cried. Probably because she didn’t get to smoke, Jean thought. The mini cat fight had aroused the bastard and Jean’s heart sank.
But the epiphany of Don materialized through her dope-sick mind. Burt hated any reminder of what she did to get the money through Baldwin and was getting the dope he expected anyway. She still stank of Don. Even though the smell wretched her own stomach, she refused to shower all day long. Burt kept his distance from the whiff of that nomadic odor for two days.
Thank God for passive aggression!