We measure our nights by the rooms we give in. Dark alleys to whiz because fast girls like us don’t wait for toilets. And when it’s last call, the last place we go is home, a bushel of broads crowding the street outside, pairing off, avoiding morning.
Tonight a cigarette rep offers a complimentary pack, and we smoke too quickly, waxing poetic: name-dropping degrees and novels we skimmed through once, school assignments from our past lives. Truth: we’re waitresses, temp. filing clerks, bar maidens, nurses in convalescent homes. Nights like tonight end in 3am declarations of San Francisco in the summer, Chicago winters living poor without heat. So when someone says, Speakeasy around 4am, there is no hesitation because our nights always end the same on some couch, for we are never tired, and there is always a nightcap to be had.
A shaky cab drives us to the 710. Toxins from port pipes puff while we ask the driver to play some jams. His finger flips the dial and beats swell into the cabin making our sweaty bodies sway. Between the scratchy bass, the cigarette rep tells me his parents are deaf. My hands up in the small space, wavering to the sound like dead autumn leaves in wind. He puts his palms up like mine, says, This is the sign for applause.
Speakeasy instructions: Drop off by the 24 Hour Café, walk one block, cross the alley tangled in weeds, ring bell, no password. We foxtrot between dormant semi trucks, passing alleys the sickest strays would avoid, and suddenly there is a moment when I realize we could be in some kind of danger. A girl named Shelia meets us outside, and the cigarette rep whispers, Bait in my ear. I don’t hear it, but he mouths the words, Don’t and, Worry. He tells me he took a Mighty Man vitamin this morning so he can take any bad guy lurking behind wood palates in the lumberyards we dance past. We are at the edge of this city, between the ocean and the machines, a place I’ve only been lost in once. The neon sign from the café is the only indication of life or light but still—we unfold our wallets and give bills to Shelia when her hand blooms.
Past the door lies a vacant warehouse. One couch and red orb candles pick-pocketed from cheap Italian joints decorate the vast empty. My hand reaches for the cigarette rep’s. I want to say, I’m nervous, but my mouth can’t make the sound, so I smile and say, What are we drinking? Two drink tickets means two more beers because we’ve all had too much liquor.
The Speakeasy is a mix of crack den meets artist’s lodge, and I can’t decide if I love it or if I’m afraid. The cigarette rep brings up music, and I have the same feeling. The liquor pulsing inside my veins. The early morning attacking my head. I yawn and my body shudders, applause. Someone says there is a secret shower upstairs, spray paint tags and pencil drawings of sad clowns hang on the wall. Naked plywood nailed to plywood: a makeshift bar. The music only seems to get louder and I say, Tell me more about your parents. The cigarette rep says, They are exactly same as yours. I think about sleeping.
I feel small inside the metal garage, the groups of twos on the couch, swallowing whiskey, puffing ports, the toxic concrete jungle of freeway surrounding us. My eyes close, and a million things are racing: we measure our nights by the rooms we give in. I think: fast girls, fast girls, fake girls. I think, this city is far too small. I feel too big inside a dollhouse, arms and limbs growing out past windows and through doors. It’s all noise, endless talking and talking. I take my fingers to quiet. I ask, Why haven’t I met you before? The cigarette rep puts his lips to mine and they break, surrounding me in smoke. My tired body begins to tremble: applause, applause, applause.
About the Author: Southern California native Katrina Prow lives and writes in West Texas. She is a PhD student at Texas Tech University, where she teaches literature and serves as an Associate Fiction Editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. Her writing has recently appeared in scissors & spackle, CHEAP POP, Literary Orphans, and Passages North. She tweets (@katprow) almost exclusively to Rupaul.
Story Song: "Animal" (Mark Ronson Remix) by Miike Snow
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone