Just before she slid beneath the anesthesia, Laney decided if she survived, she’d write the great American novel.
She’d never written anything: a story or a poem or even a ‘thank you’ card. Those things seemed like a waste of her time.
But, most of Laney’s new life was spent thinking about her Great American novel. Ideas came and went while she put away the shoes at the bowling alley. While she disinfected the shoes. While she put the shoes in the corresponding wooden bins. While she listened to the balls go thundering down the lanes, exploding into the pins. Many ideas.
She swore that she was always on the verge of her finest idea, when some drunken customer would come stumbling up and say, “I’m done. Give me my real shoes, Shoelady.”
Shoelady. In her novel, the main character, the heroine, oh—she’d have a better name. A better life. She’d have adventures. She’d have mischief. She’d have lust. She’d blow shit up. She’d get fucked on a waterfall on Mars. She’d have a neon Dragonbird with enough room on it’s back for a good looking warrior named Trog or Slig. He’d have ripped pecs, abs that Laney could eat ice cream off of, a massive sword that would glow with magical fire and could make the main character reach an orgasm in one tenth of a second.
“That’s what everybody wants,” Laney told Molly in the parking lot, walking to their separate Chevy’s.
“You’ll be a millionaire,” Molly said, waving goodbye to Laney. Climbing back into her car, going back to her husband, her kids, her house on the block with the picturesque Christmas lights. Not that Christmas lights mattered now, Laney thought, it’s June. But it did matter.
Since she wasn’t such a great writer, Laney spent most of her time in her apartment painting pictures of Slig, or Trog or Fjord if she was feeling in the mood for a blonde warrior sidekick love interest for her heroine.
Next to her easel, was a fish tank with a single tropical fish in it. A tetra with no name. It’d been Pete’s goddamn fish. Pete was gone.
Laney would say top Pete’s fish, “What do you think? Did I make Fjords package accentuated enough? Did I paint whoever I’m gonna call her’s breasts big enough?”
The fish said nothing. The bubbler went glug glug glug.
That fish made her so angry.
Laney put down her paint brush. “I’ve worked long enough on this book cover for a book that doesn’t even exist,” she said to the fish, who wasn’t even listening, much like Molly.
She decided to go out to the store and buy a fancy leather bound notebook. Some real fancy pens. Some other … “What else will I need for my novel?”
It was late, but the CVS was 24 hours. In the stationary aisle she threw the notebook and pens in her plastic hand basket. She wandered around, as if in a museum.
The makeup aisle was met at the end perpendicular to the condom section. Lubes. Small battery powered butterfly vibrators. Pregnancy tests. Spermicidal film that could kill any sperm that slipped past during the act.
The mascara as well as the rubbers, they were both equally dangerous to her. She got herself a Reese’s peanut butter cup and a mix CD called Blast from the Past from the boy at the register who looked right through Laney as she stood before him. His plastic nametag said Andy.
He was cute. Young, but cute … Andy. She remembered her youth, when there had been a lot of them just like him, all over her. Back when the CVS had just been a vacant lot behind the marina. When she would drink with them from red solo cups, high school, poisons that weren’t made immune through regular sampling. Had she lost her virginity to Pete there? In his Chrysler? She thought back …
“You alright?” the kid at the CVS register asked, his pimples glowing redder, throbbing.
“I’m not alright, no.” Laney said.
“I know you,” he said, grinning.
“Yeah?” she said, tilting her head.
“You’re the Shoelady.”
“Oh! Oh! Fuck you!” Laney said, storming off into the parking lot. She went to her Chevy and sat in the car. She was overreacting. Sure. But life was fucked. It’d all been downhill. She thought about Pete again, how she hoped that he got cancer, too. He couldn’t deal with hers? Well, she hoped his balls swelled up with black cancer and they had to cut both of them off. Cancer of the dick too.
Seventeen: Laney recalled being on the hood of his car, him down between her legs, she was drunk, looking up at the water tower. She remembered Pete licking her in an odd and uncomfortable way that she wanted to like but ended up having to tell him, “Hey stop doing that … that’s all wrong.”
She started to sob.
Andy had abandoned the register and followed her out, he knocked on the window, clutching the plastic bag with Laney’s forgotten notebook, the fancy pens, the CD … a cigarette dangled from his mouth, “hey,” he said through the window, “you left your bag.”
Laney sobbed. Andy didn’t go away. He walked around to the passenger side of the Chevy, popped inside, said, “Don’t cry.”
“It’s a free country, I’ll cry if I want.”
“Hey, can I ask you a personal question?”
“I saw you staring at the pregnancy tests, are you pregnant?”
“NO!” she said, “What a weird question? I was not staring at the … well, I was, but I’m … why?”
“Cause I wanted to offer to buy you a drink, since I made you cry.”
“How old are you Andy?”
“Well, I’m 49 and you can’t even get into the bar, so …”
“So, this,” Andy said, pulling out a bottle of Goldschlager from the plastic bag. “I keep it stashed behind the register.” he said, “if you’re not pregnant, then you should totally get drunk with me here. Right now.”
“Give me that,” she said, unscrewing the top, sucking the liquor into her mouth.
They drank like that. Sitting in the car, listening to the CD, Blast From the Past. Buddy Holly sang, “That’ll Be the Day That I Die”, eating handfuls of honey-nut Cheerios from a large “family-size” box, though either one of them didn’t have a family of any kind to speak of.
She told Andy things that she wouldn’t normally tell anyone, because it didn’t matter. He was just a kid. Nothing would seem ridiculous to him. He wouldn’t know yet. The world was too new for him. No bearings.
She said that she’d been married, in another life, she called it, to a dentist. Yes, in another life, she had been very important to the survival of the practice. She said that she’d never been to Venezuela or Nepal, two places she wanted to go to and she wasn’t sure if it’s just because she liked the way they sounded. She said that she was tired of being called Shoelady. She confessed that she was wearing a wig.
He said: I want to go to college somewhere far away from my uncle cause I’m afraid I’m gonna do something crazy like blow his brains out in his sleep. He said: I crashed my car but it wasn’t my fault. I sneezed. He said that he liked Laney’s wig. That it was sexy. That he also liked that she didn’t have on any makeup. “You look real.”
Andy put his hand on her hand on the stick shift.
“Is that weird?” he asked.
“I’m old enough to be your mother.”
“I never had a mother,” Andy said, “I was raised by my Uncle.”
“Why you look so worried?”
“Couple things,” Laney said. “I’m nervous that somebody will drive up to this drugstore and you’ll be too trashed to work the register.”
“Oh, doubtful,” Andrew said. “I’m drunk here every night. I can always operate the register. No one comes anyway. It’s lonely. I sell Advil on the edge of the world. It’s more of a nightwatchman position.”
He said that he took the job because he thought it would give him time to work on something. A project he’d been thinking about.
“You’ll think it’s dumb,” he said. “I want to like, invent shit.”
“I can relate completely,” Laney said, but she didn’t talk at all about her Great American Novel. She decided right there that she wasn’t gonna do any more planning or thinking or yammering on about it. She was gonna leave and go home and start to actually write it in that stupid notebook with the fancy pens.
Unexpectedly, Andrew leaned over the center console and he kissed her neck. Laney didn’t stop him. She was without reaction. As if it wasn’t happening to her.
She felt the kid’s hand reach across and grab her breast through the clothes. Well, she would have felt it. But it was gone. She’d lost it in the operation that’d taken that breast and Pete too because he couldn’t handle it.
“I’ll show you a trick,” Laney said, moving the cashier’s hand to the other side, “Try this one. It works better.”
She could feel the warmth of his hand through her clothes now. There was no prosthetic there. The Cd changed to Creedence Clearwater, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”
Laney turned it up full volume with her knee, leaning back in her seat, smiling for the first time in over a year and a half. It felt good.
The ride home was rough. They’d finished the bottle. The songs had looped around their heads a million times. She ate the peanut butter cup and drove home extra careful, the drunkest that she’d ever been.
She stumbled inside, flipped on the light. Immediately, she went to the fish tank and she scooped out the nameless fish that belonged to Pete and brought it to the bathroom, flushed it down the toilet.
Laney sat down on the couch, with the notebook and the fancy pens and she began to write. The sun was coming up. She had to be at the bowling alley at nine o’ clock, the Dragonbird appeared out of the clouds with the nameless heroine riding topless on it’s back. Her breasts were massive, like two over-filled water balloons, Laney made the nipples be small poisonous daggers, she decided that the warrior riding behind her was the only one immune to the poison, it would kill anyone else. She named the warrior Andrew. He’d invented a magical sword that could make the heroine quiver. She made his Uncle the king of the Underworld. She made everyone’s blood be Goldschlager and everyone’s breath smell like Reese’s peanut butter cups. They were on a quest to bring peace to the land. The nameless woman with the full undestroyable tits that could save the entire realm, raised her hands above her head, felt the sun beating on her chest, she aimed the Dragonbird over the jungles of Venezuela, feeding it Honey Nut Cheerios as a reward as they crossed the shimmering sea below.
Bud Smith is a writer from Washington Heights, NYC. He’s written a book of collected short stories called Or Something Like That and has a car that’s on the verge of catching on fire, so that is all he dreams about–putting the car out before it explodes. www.budsmithwrites.com