I should’ve never answered that Craigslist ad.
I’m bunkered in this motel room leering out a window with my fingers between the blinds while staring at the dark and counting the rain drops. The evening bleeds into the night. The night offers no cover.
First it was 10 pm. Then 11. Then 12. Then 12:15 and now 12:30 and I see a shadow, an eclipse with shoulders, pulling a V-shaped torso out of a black town car into the room next door. I know that torso. I can pick it out anywhere. I’m expecting another shadow—smaller—to appear out the car. It doesn’t. That’s how I know tonight is going to be bad. That’s how I know tonight’s going to be bad news.
Faith makes a living with her mouth. They pull her hair as she licks and spits and sucks and slurps. By now she should be infected or be wearing a map of bruises or be half blind from sleeping one eye open or be wrinkled with worry, but no. She’s had the best luck in the world. She’s had the best bad luck in the world. All she owns is this retarded kid she’s conceived with some other retard and this retarded kid now points at me and cries. So I stop paying Faith for her mouth and she stops seeing me. I hesitate to leave. Faith doesn’t say she wants me, but then again, she doesn’t not say it either.
Tonight Faith’s legs are crossed. She’s in bed all clothed. “It’s true,” she says, plucking petals off a rose. “He’s yours.” Meaning the retard. Somehow I believe her. Maybe because plucking is her way of showing me she wonders if I love her and wants me to know. Or because I know the kind of people she works for and I want to go down swinging. And that I’ll wait for whoever it is that’s going to come and do whatever it is they’re going to do to me.
Or maybe I believe her because of the most obvious thing. I’m not thinking. The tan line around Faith’s waist turns her torso into a cinnamon halo. Into a symbol. A symbol for sex. For freedom. For freedom to have sex with anyone she wants to have sex with but me. A devil sits on both my shoulders. I’ll believe anything until I hear this kid’s voice.
The hospital’s his second home if you rank motel rooms first. I wipe the drool sliming down his chin. He mumbles. I think to myself, What’s his name? What’s he got? I ask but he doesn’t answer. I check the visitor’s log. Not a soul. But he recognizes me. He remembers. I can tell. I can tell by the way he squeezes my hand.
And I owe Faith money. I don’t feel bad about it because she ignores me but then it’s just me and this kid and the room we’re in.
Faith thinks I’m trying to get in her pants. “Take the money,” I tell her. She shakes her head and bites her lip. “I don’t have time for this,” she says.
This kid—by existing—did something to Faith’s body and now Faith can’t make a living with her mouth anymore. I want to tell her, “Get a job,” but Faith’s got a criminal record. I’m thinking to say, “Up your life insurance,” but Faith is uninsurable.” I’m tempted to say, “Steal,” but Faith would rather sleep with her boss.
“Oggie,” she goes, plucking petals once more, “His name’s Oggie.” This time she drops them to the floor and grinds them to ashes with her heel. Her calf muscle bulges out like a peach. That’s when I know. Oggie’s not just retarded. His type of cancer is like the people she works for. It doesn’t forgive. It won’t forget. It won’t let you forget because it won’t change its mind. Cancer doesn’t change its mind.
Faith will never stop slipping in and out of by-the-hour beds so I’m back where I started. In a motel room. Peeping and ducking and waiting to flee with the boy in my arms. It’s either him or them, them or me. From the fog I emerge and march toward room 209 ready to raise hell. But all I see are Faith’s heels clunked together on a stained mattress.
Faith lied. I’m in the cancer ward and Faith lied. The kid isn’t mine but I don’t care. I decide I want him anyway. He’s standing in front of me with a cluster of petals all mushed in his tiny little palm.
I pull my phone out to text her:
I miss you…[erase]
I love you…[erase]
Can we talk?[erase]
I want to remember Faith as best I can. I do. I am. I’m trying. But if I said she was all better, that she came back, I’d be lying. I’d be lying to myself. That’d be too easy. I’m the only one left. There’s nobody left to lie to.
The ceiling is the floor and the floor is the ceiling. You try to be better. You buy a gym membership. You read. You pour soup in a soup kitchen. You seek therapy. You talk to God. Faith vanished. She was never going to change. I knew this the instant I heard Oggie’s name. You can fight who you are but you can’t fight forever.
Faith knew. She could’ve hauled Oggie off to wherever she ended up, but Faith had knowledge. She let him be. I don’t doubt Faith anymore.
Office executives and construction workers and teachers and athletes—they stare. When they look at her they see lips and tits and legs. When I look at her I see a woman.
—Penn Javdan has lived in Northern California, Toronto, Paris, NYC, and Boston, Massachusetts.
His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Whiskey Paper, Gravel Magazine, freeze frame fiction, Unbroken Journal, and The JJ Outré Review, among others.