An empty strip mall off the side of a freeway, sits in heat. The smells of hot concrete and tar blanket the buildings, and hover. Hot plastic banners tied to roofs and windows sag, advertising naked women in one building, and pizza, in the other.
Windows holding lips with lollipops instead of glass fall under the banner advertising women. And behind the banners, behind the walls, is April.
April's tired and yet again trapped amidst the stench of old beer, damp carpet, and her conscience Her fingernails are bitten down to the quick. They're pink, raw, and swollen like a knife slice in a sausage. Her hands are hard with a shell like layer, and she smells like bleach.
She’s a bartender today. A welcomed change from the usual degradation of crawling around on her knees. Today she crawls upright, like regular people. Today, she gets to sling drinks to the bastards, instead of spreading her ass for them.
She does, however, still find herself in a titty bar. It’s a new titty bar though, and it has a full liquor license and a granite bar top. It’s brand new, glossy, and waits like a wolf in the grass.
It waits for prey…
They’re all the same though, no matter the wrapping. Under the bows, the music, and perfume, live the scales of a sea creature. A creature that never sees light. A parasite that devours everyone, and everything in its wake.
A water feature and glass shelving frame a giant wall of medicine. Rows of glass bottles filled with remedy and relief. Bottles holding glass after glass of ego vitamins, philosophical answers, and an extra few inches in height.
Everything is shiny and new. Somehow this makes all the ugliness a little prettier, at least, it will when the lights go out. The granite and glass also hold forgiveness in the minds of those that come here. Like a coin to a Magpie. If it’s shiny, it’s clean. If it sparkles, we want it. The beasts can also sit at a bar, and pretend it’s not a house of ill repute, but an establishment. A man’s institution, and a nod to their primal rulebook, unspoken, but agreed to by all.
April tells herself it’s all going to be ok. She calls herself April here. Certain selves work in certain cells because it takes all kinds to survive. April is best suited for this place.
This place called, “The Wet Spot”
Armed with bottles of Pine Sol, Bleach, Windex, and rags, she enters the men’s bathroom. Propping open the door with a rolling bucket of steaming hot water, she slips on a pair of bright orange rubber gloves and starts fishing out the balls of chewing gum, stuck in the drain of the urinal.
The gloves rubber squeaks against the porcelain trying to pull the gum someone has shoved into the drain weave out. Like cheese gets stuck in a cheese-grater, or spackle fills a nail hole. April retrieves toothpicks and pokes at the gum pellets, imagining how much of an asshole you have to be to poke your finger into a community piss bowl to find humor. Or worse, to punish a stranger, just because.
“One can only hope it was his gum.” She thought…
There is piss everywhere. Dry glossy dots and spray paths. The markings of an animal claiming territory. The markings of an animal that doesn’t care. Walls and floors covered with misdirected castoffs. Men pointing weapons like toys in a numb hand. Reckless, filthy, childlike. Fighting the walls, and disconnected from the boy, directing.
April pours hot water over the black tiles, throws a rag on the floor, and pushes it around with her boot. Steamy piss clouds circle her face as she holds her breath, trying not to vomit.
Another urinal, only this time it’s cigarette butts. Soft, wet, and bleeding rusty water from the leftover tobacco. Urinals are just another trash can for human waste. Both manufactured, and procured.
“Woman are animals, but men… Men are filthy animals.”
April didn’t think like this, or talk like this. Because this wasn’t April talking. This was another woman. The woman who lived in a different life. The woman that took naps, and read books. The woman who hand washed her underwear in the shower and never wore heels. The woman that spoke out and had opinions. April didn’t have opinions. April smiled, made drinks, and complimented shirt choices. April asked dumb questions to make way for applause. She was easily delighted, never offended, and a completely made up character.
“The women we become in these places…” She thought…
“We feed a war we are fighting against. At times it’s a war won, but only in dollar bills. Revenge felt for only a moment, like a drug.”
Spraying Windex on the mirror she sees herself and she wonders if spreading her ass is so bad after all.
“What’s worse, cleaning up the piss and vomit of the men who pay the strippers, or being the stripper?”
She can’t think about that now. April has to finish the opening list of things to do, before the boss gets in. She's working the day shift here, and will move to another club once the sun sets. Like a centipede with bellies for legs, the underworld constantly feeds. Day, and night.
April vacuums the carpet and imagines the dirt tap dancing, excited to be leaving, excited to see the light. She plays music as she cleans. Music, a way to escape, a way to breathe…
She picks the leaking trash bags up and kicks the back door open, a heavy steel door, a door made to keeps secrets.
The sun pours in and blinds her momentarily. Los Angeles Valley, 11:00am and the summer sun is already hard at work. The sun feels good on her face but the valley in the summer is brutal. The air is thick with dirt dust, still, and it sticks to you.
April walks across the parking lot, trash bags in hand, and approaches the corner where the big blue trash bin sits. As she gets closer she notices a man asleep in some rolled up carpet. She glances at him wondering how drunk you have to get to sleep in this blazing heat. Then tosses the bags in the can.
As she turns to make her way back a hot wind brings with it an overwhelming stench. The trash she just threw in the can was not worthy of such a foul odor, and she stops. Slowly lifting her head, she realizes what the smell is, and turns to head back towards the trashcan. As she walks she stares at the man sleeping. She gets closer, looks closer, and realizes, he’s dead.
The smell of death is something you never forget. And it always smells the same, but different. Metallic, rancid, death. It smells like death, and it’s a smell unlike any other.
She walked closer pulling her shirt up over her nose. She crouches down beside him, leans into his face, and stares. He’s a young man probably in his early thirties and he looks Hispanic. Although, he could be black, his face is so bloated and purple it’s hard to tell. His head is cocked to the side and a trickle of blood has seeped out of his ear and is now dried and cracked on his cheek. The side of his face closest to the carpet is rotting, this has a lot to do with the smell. His arm, also rotting, is tucked underneath his body and his hand has atrophied, so his fingers have curled under themselves, like a claw. His eyes are open and they are looking right at her. April stares into them, searching, almost waiting for him to speak, to tell her what had happened, and to explain how it is that he ended up here.
She wanted him to open his mouth and tell her what it felt like. If it really was as peaceful as she truly believed it was.
“How did he get here? How did this man’s whole life lead him to this moment? Was someone wondering where he was?”
She crouched there for what felt like a long time, just staring at him. She wasn’t frightened. It wasn’t like he was the first dead person she had ever seen. And besides the stench, she wasn’t disgusted, at least not visually. She was interested, curious, and tried to fill in the story that came before his final sentence. Before the period that became the final punctuation in a chapter closed.
This man had lived his whole life to become this moment. Everything he'd done, every word he'd spoken, had led up to him rotting in pieces of rolled up carpet. Lying dead in the filthy corner of a parking lot, behind a titty bar called the Wet Spot.
As she looked at him a man from the pizza parlor next door walked out.
“This guy’s been dead a while”
April said this, then re-covered her face. She cocked her head in the same direction as the dead man’s and looked into his eyes. Nothing, not a thing. His eyes were gray now, any color had been stolen along with his life. It was all gone, he was all gone, but there she stood.
She turned to walk away as the pizza man, rattled, was calling the police. She had to get back to work, although she knew it wasn’t going to be very busy once the cops, coroners, and onlookers arrived.
“Another day.” she thought, “Another death.” she thought…
Tomorrow no one will remember, because he won’t be there to remind them. The strippers will arrive and the drinks she will pour. The men will hear the story and everyone will have a purpose for a while. They will ponder life’s meaning and talk about how valuable it is. And while some will make jokes to deal with their being uncomfortable. His face will hang on a Polaroid in the office. Under a pushpin, besides other polaroids, of dancers, also gone.
Next week, things will go back to "normal". We will once again become the whores, the drunks, the lost and the tired. And many more will be left for dead, or just waiting to die. They will forget, but April will remember. That’s part of Aprils problem, she remembers.
He is now a part of her life and will die again with her some day...
She heads back through the door, into the glass medicine chest. A customer is already sitting, waiting. Unaware of what lays just outside he says…
“What’s a guy gotta do to get a drink around here? And when does the entertainment arrive?”
April smiles and thinks to herself…
“Aint life grand.”