“Haven’t decided; it’s about this chick who won’t marry this dude who rips his toenails off with his teeth.”
“Sounds like a nail-biter!”
“Hey, Sugar,” she leaned against the bar next to me and I looked over at her. She looked to be between 25 and 30 years old but I knew she was only 19, and I could tell right away that she leaned against the bar because otherwise she would fall down. Her eyes were half closed and unfocused; she was deep in an alcoholic haze. An unlit cigarette was clutched between the first two fingers of her right hand.
I’d seen her here before but didn’t know too much about her. I knew how old she was, and I knew that her name was Janelle. I knew that she was a barfly because I’d seen her in other local dives too. All the barmen, bouncers, and servers knew her. She’d been coming into the bars for a couple of years now and she’d slept with most of the people who worked in them, men and women alike. She knew that they couldn’t toss her out if they had been serving her for a long time or if they had been intimately involved with her. It was her way of ensuring access to her drug of choice, alcohol.
She stood there for a while without saying anything till she tried to take a hit off her unlit cigarette. She noticed me again, “Hey, Sugar,” she repeated, “got a light?”
I handed her the book of matches I pulled from my pocket, “Keep ‘em,” I said. She stood swaying, and struggling. I watched her ruin four matches without getting her smoke lit. I took the matches back from her, lit one on the back cover, cupped it in my hand, and held it out to her. She steadied herself with my arm and lit her cigarette. I shook out the match and handed her back the book, whereupon she turned a bit and fell back onto the empty stool next to me.
“Say, I wonder if you could help me out?” she asked, her words slurred past her lips in a haze. “I kinda drank up all of my money and I seem to have misplaced my drink. Would you like to buy a girl a drink?” She sat and swayed, waiting for my answer. I watched her for a moment or two then I signaled Rocket, who had been watching us from the other side of the bar, down by the old NCR. I jerked my thumb in the direction of the drunken girl and Rocket moved easily down to where we sat.
“Sorry, I’m cutting you off, Janelle.” She said, “I think you’ve had enough. Want me to call you a cab? Your momma’s probably getting worried.”
“Ahh fuck, Rocket! Not again.”
“Sorry Janelle.” She said.
“But, I got no money for a cab.” She looked at me, pleadingly. “Can you loan me ten bucks, Daddy? Rocket’s tossing me out.”
“Sure,” I said and I pulled my money clip out of my pocket. I peeled off a Hamilton and held it out. She grabbed my hand and held on as she took the money. Rocket went back down to the register and picked up the phone to call a Gypsy Cab.
“Thanks,” Janelle said then she turned back towards the bar and clutching the ten spot, put her head down on her arms. Rocket had to wake her when the driver arrived.
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