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POETRY
Dry Hustle
Alexis Rhone Fancher

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“Hey, Missy! This ain’t no charity. You got till tomorrow to pay up or get out!” The landlord’s eviction threats echoed through the courtyard as I walked the no-man’s-land past his bungalow to mine. He stood, bare-chested, outside his door, illumined by the porch lamp, battered Stetson askew on his ratty curls, dusky skin gleaming with threat. I had walked this path before.

Ashley, the other relief bartender at the Disco Duck, had told me not to worry, that she was an expert at the manifestation of cold, hard cash. “It’s called the dry hustle, honey,” she’d said in her saccharin drawl. “Dry because you never have to, you know, fuck ’em?”

The landlord blocked my path. Between losing my shirt in Vegas and those emergency car repairs, the rent was two month’s behind. I swallowed my nascent feminism and squared my shoulders, breasts straining the buttons of my bartender’s uniform. I pressed against the landlord, squeezed by. He liked to cop a feel, lick me with his eyes. “Tomorrow,” I promised. He grabbed my arm. His knuckles grazed my breasts.

Ashley, at the Disco Duck, sent me to the bar at the Bel-Air Hotel, said it’s where the rich men drink. My dress was too short, too low-cut. Ashley had picked it out. “Trust me,” she’d said. “He’ll be watching your tits, not you. Do what I say. Look sad. Play with your hair. Nurse your wine. When a man comes by, offers you a drink, play it coy. Draw him out. Let him do the talking.”

That night when I got home from work, someone had been in my apartment. The door was wide open, and my stuff was gone. Not everything. Just enough so I’d lose my peace of mind. When I walked by his bungalow, the landlord was not in his usual spot.

Ashley had been quite specific. “After dinner,” she’d said, “excuse yourself. Go to the ladies’. When you come back, look distracted, like you just got real bad news.” To demonstrate she pulled her straw-blond hair back from her face, gave me a stricken look.

The old man sitting next to me at the Bel-Air Hotel bar was smitten, directed his monologue at my breasts, about how he produced movies and documentaries, how he was separated from his wife. He was on his third martini when I spilled my sad story about the landlord and the break-in and the unpaid rent. He said I looked a lot like his second wife.

Ashley’s instructions were explicit. “So then you look that rich man in the eye like a broke-winged bird,” she’d said. “Like you’re something he could fix in a heartbeat.”

The landlord would be waiting when I got home. The old man smelled like money.

Ashley had schooled me how to move in for the kill. “So he’s on his fifth martini,” she’d said, “while you’re still nursing your first chardonnay. He thanks you for being such a good listener. You tell him how sincerely grateful you’d be if you had a little less on your mind.”

“How much?” the old man cut to the chase. He held my wrist in one large hand, reached for his wallet with the other. I stroked that wineglass stem between my thumb and middle finger like it was his cock, looked at him through my long, sad lashes, and when he pulled out a wad of cash I thought fast, and eyeballed the exits before I gave him a number in the low four figures, something he could do without blinking. 


Alexis Rhone Fancher is the author of How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen and other heart stab poems, (2014), State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, (2015), and Enter Here (2017). She is published in The Best American Poetry 2016, Rattle, Plume, Nashville Review, Hobart, Cleaver, and elsewhere. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of The Net nominee, Alexis is poetry editor of Cultural Weekly. Find her at: www.alexisrhonefancher.com