Wednesday 18 April 2018

Slipping Off

by John T Biggs


John smiled at the security camera while the ATM kicked out fifteen twenty-dollar bills.  Photographs put ten pounds on you, but he’d lost thirty so he’d look pretty good in the video.
He fiddled with his wedding band. Looser now that he was thin. It slipped off his finger easily. That had to mean something didn’t it? Something deep and important about marriage and losing thirty pounds. When a man got skinnier, his fingers got skinnier too, but his wedding band stayed exactly the same size. John had a lot of deep philosophical thoughts these days, especially when his calorie count ran low. He put the ring into his pocket. Stephanie would never forgive him if he lost it.
Now for another transaction. He needed $600 for a pair of diamond earrings, a terrific fourteenth anniversary present for Stephanie, and the Seven Eleven’s ATM would only give him $300 at a time.
He reached into his front pocket, where he carried his wallet since he’d lost weight. Too much pressure on the sciatic nerve if he put it in a back one. John smiled at the security camera one more time and concentrated so hard at looking good that he almost didn’t hear his wedding band bounce on the cement floor.
While the ATM spit out fifteen more twenties, John bent over to retrieve his ring. His butt brushed against something soft. He could tell right away what that something was. A man never forgets what a pretty woman feels like.
“Lose something?” Pretty girl’s voice—it sounded like laughter, and music, and the promise of things John hadn’t thought of since fourteen years ago this coming Saturday.
He hadn’t seen her yet, but he knew what she looked like. She’d be the perfect height. Long hair or short; color negotiable. Well dressed, in clothing that accentuated her ideal figure. Pretty girl face, pretty girl eyes, pretty girl smile—file footage from his youth. Stephanie still looked like that in the dark, but after fourteen years, sometimes it had to be very dark.
Her shoes were the first things John saw. Black mat finish with straps over the instep, three inch stiletto heels. Probably Italian. A man can tell a lot from a pair of shoes.
Her smile was the second thing John saw. Lips the color of a ripe red apple. She moistened them with the tip of her tongue.
John stuttered a little when he told her: “Thirty pounds at weigh-in this morning.”  But too much time had passed since she’d asked if he lost something.
She looked confused—good look for a pretty girl. Her features reconciled themselves with John’s fantasy. Five feet nine, way too tall for him. Blond shoulder length hair, way too soft for him to touch. She wore a white top and a gray pleated skirt—halfway between a cheerleader’s outfit and a Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform. Way too young for him.
Confusion could be good. Maybe she wouldn’t figure all the way-too’s out. Not until it was way too late.
“Dropped some change.” He gave her a nervous laugh, in case she’d seen the ring. He stuffed it into his pocket, rolled it between his fingers. It felt like a meaningless piece of gold, hot and awkward, just like him. Maybe she saw it and didn’t care.
John turned to leave before he did something he might regret—not morality so much as the lack of a workable plan.
“Don’t forget what you came for.” She pointed to the tray of twenties he’d been about to abandon.
“How nice. Guess I owe you one.” He figured she was about nineteen years old and well aware of the effect she had on men. He sucked his belly in and tried to look a little more fit, even though he didn’t have to do that any more. No telling how long his new, improved look would last.
“Better make the most of it,” John said out loud without meaning to. The girl looked confused again, but not repelled.
“What?” The look on her face told him everything he needed to know. He was an older man, with six hundred dollars in his pocket. She’d believe him, no matter what he said.
“Perfect in so many ways.” Out loud again, damn it.
He took a deep breath and looked for judgment in her eyes. When he couldn’t find it he told her, “You look exactly like a girl I’ve seen before.” The line was stale enough to grow penicillin mold, but maybe she hadn’t heard it.
“Where did you see her? Maybe it was me.”
“In my dreams,” John told her. “Maybe it was you.”
He got ready to dodge a slap, but she gave him another smile instead.
“I’m waiting for a cab,” she said. “If you’re not doing anything, you could take me where I’m going and tell me all about your dream girl.”
“Okay?” He said as if it was a question.
“Los Hermanos Motel,” she told him. “Do you know the place?”
“What a coincidence. My favorite motel.”

John talked while he drove. He filled the air with words so the girl wouldn’t have a chance to tell him he was old and, out of shape, and ought to be ashamed.
She didn’t say any of those things. She told him her name was Lantana.
“Like the flower?”
She laughed. He wasn’t sure Lantana was a flower name but it was too late to take it back.
“That’s my favorite kind of flower,” he told her. Then it was time for John to come up with a name.
“My name is Charley G. Littlejohn.” There was a little truth in that. He wondered if there was a God somewhere writing all this down. He’d been thinking things like that ever since he started going to Weight Watchers.
“What’s the ‘G’ stand for?”
“Glad I met you,” John told her, just like that.
Her laughter sounded like a wind chime. It struck notes he hadn’t heard for years, but he recognized the melody. He knew what was supposed to happen next, and for a few seconds he was pretty sure he’d find a reason to back out.
He started to tell Lantana about his wife, Stephanie, and how they were celebrating their Ivory anniversary—the big number fourteen. But Stephanie wasn’t into killing elephants, so Ivory was out.
He started to tell Lantana about his son, Phillip, and his daughter Angela. He started to tell her that his parents were watching the kids this weekend so he and Stephanie could break out of their parental roles.
Instead, John said, “This is Los Hermanos,” as he turned into the motel parking lot. He put the car in park, and walked around to open Lantana’s door for her, like he almost never did for Stephanie anymore. He watched Lantana stand up, filing away every detail so he could feel self-righteous later on when he remembered how he didn’t sleep with her.
But then she said,” My room number is 96. Would you like to come in for a while?”
“Ninety Six.” The year he and Stephanie got married. That had to be a sign.
“Sure,” John said, ignoring a clear and concise message from the creator of the universe. “Why not?” A man was entitled to a meaningless affair, just once in his life—and he was pretty sure it would only be this once.
He put his hand on Lantana’s back, just above her pleated skirt, and nudged her in the direction of room 96. John resisted the temptation to slide that hand a little lower. That might come later. The important thing was to keep her moving. Nineteen-year-old girls in motion stayed in motion. Even John knew that much physics.

Lantana tapped on the door of number 96, “So we don’t scare the maid.” But there was no maid inside the room, just a queen size bed with rumpled covers.
“I need to freshen up.” She walked to the bathroom door.
John noticed the bathroom door was closed, like someone might be in there already. But he lost that train of thought when Lantana told him, “Take off your clothes. I want to see you naked when I come out.”
He almost forgot how to work buttons and zippers, but not quite. He folded his pants and shirt over the back of a chair. He put his socks and underpants on top of his shoes. He looked at himself in the full-length mirror on the bathroom door, trying to figure out which was his best side.
He couldn’t wait to match the girl up to his fantasy. He hoped for a smooth, evenly tanned, well-toned body without scars, birthmarks or tattoos, but right then he would settle for anything. Well . . . as long as things didn’t work out like The Crying Game, or one of those other nineties she-male dramas. And that couldn’t happen, because Lantana’s hands were too small and she had no Adam’s apple.
He’d have to shower after they were through, leave no physical signs for Stephanie. Maybe Lantana would shower with him. John had just fleshed out that image in his mind when a man walked out the bathroom door. A large black man in jeans and a muscle-shirt and a Tazer in his hand.
“Don’t taze me bro,” slipped passed John’s lips while he was deciding whether to hold up his hands or cover his genitals. He never thought of them as genitals unless he was feeling especially vulnerable in that department.
He didn’t know which was worse, the Tazer in the black man’s hand or the look in Lantana’s eyes. She stood behind her armed companion with her right hand on her hip. “Guess you realize, your dreams aren’t gonna come true.”
John was too naked to think of an adequate response, so he fixed his eyes on the man with the Tazer and hoped for the best.
“Sir . . .” That was the best word John could come up with at the moment.
The man with the Tazer smiled—handsome, like Denzel Washington’s psychotic younger brother. His biceps looked like they’d been carved out of a block of frozen prime rib. People probably called him sir all the time. The weapon was a professional courtesy, so John wouldn’t feel obliged to get the crap beaten out of him.
Lantana went through John’s pockets. She took his wallet and his keys. Her partner held out his free arm, and she draped John’s pants and shirt over it.
“You can keep your underwear and shoes, Charley.” After she slid the watch off John’s left wrist she pressed something round and solid into his palm.
“Keep the wedding band too.” The ring still held her body heat. Almost too hot to touch. It was bigger than he remembered. Shinier too.
No clothes. No money. “What am I supposed to do now?”
“Sorry, Charley.” Lantana held the door open for her muscular companion. She gave John a finger wave, then shut it.
John slipped the wedding band back on. He practiced telling Stephanie that, “Nothing really happened in room 96. Except a robbery, of course.”
“Still faithful after fourteen years,” he told himself. “That’s the most important thing. Isn’t it?”
He wondered if local calls were free.

About the author

Don’t bother trying to classify John T. Biggs’ stories. They are a genre stew of speculative fiction, anthropology, mystery, and humor written in a mainstream literary style. Native Americans play a significant role in most of John’s narratives. He reworks traditional Indian legends and sets them in modern times, the way oral historians always intended.
Sixty of John’s short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies that vary from literary to young adult speculative fiction and everything in between. Some of these stories have won regional and national awards including Grand Prize in the Writers Digest 80th annual competition, third prize in the Lorian Hemingway short story contest, and a Storyteller Magazine’s Peoples Choice Award.
John has published four novels: Owl Dreams, Popsicle Styx (Oklahoma Book Award Finalist) Cherokee Ice (Oklahoma Book Award Finalist & OWFI Best Published Fiction Book of 2015), and Shiners as well as a linked short story collection, Sacred Alarm Clock, which includes the OWFI Crème de la Crème winning story, “Twenty Percent Off”.  His series post-apocalyptic novellas, Clementine a song to end the world will be released by Oghma Creative Media in mid 2018.

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