Baby Girl–Chapter Ten–The Keys

by

The Keys

“How much money do we have,” asked Billy.  His sky blue eyes flashed over to me briefly and then back again to the road we were driving along.

“I’d say about $170 or so, give or take a silver dollar,” I said smiling, rolling the silver dollar he’d given me for good luck around my fingers.  The dollar winked sun spots of light onto the ceiling of the car.

Billy chuckled, leaned over the gearbox of the Honda and buried his face in my breasts.  “Oh, we’re gonna have a good time tonight, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Billy,” I screeched, “watch the road!”  I reached for the steering wheel, straightening it out before we careened off the side and into a canal to become alligator bait.

“Where’d you wanna go, sugar puss?”  Billy asked me.  He really was in a good mood, I was not often consulted on what or where or even when we would be doing anything.

“Surprise me.” I said beaming at him.

“All right,” he said grinning, “that’s just what I want to hear.”  Billy turned the wheel and steered the car to the South, out of Miami proper, past Homestead, past the Lake, and toward the Keys.

I leaned my torso out the open window feeling the warm air wash over me, not minding how it ruffled my hair and blew it around my face.  The sky bluer than it ought to have any right to be.  I then I thought about Elliot and I on Christmas Eve, just a few short weeks ago.  It felt like aeons ago.  I suddenly flashed on to the memory of Elliot sitting shirtless on the hood of his maroon Datsun 280 Z bent over playing his bass guitar.  I had sat inside with my feet up on the dashboard stunned to be in the Keys with Elliot.  While just seven days before that moment I had been walking down the grey slush soaked  streets of Madison, Wisconsin where I had been gloomily trying to feel some of the delirious Christmas spirit from the people doing their holiday shopping on State Street.

There I had been inundated with black ice and road salt whereas here was the smell of sea salt and the raspy tang of oysters in my nose.  A child like laugh bloomed deep in my chest, I spread wide my arms awed at my inability to discern where the air ended and my skin began.  My hand dropped into my lap dancing along the wind ruffled dress hem pulled up over my thighs.

“Whatcha doin’?”  Billy asked turning and looking at me with lust in his eyes.

“I, uh, nothing, Billy,” I said fumbling with my dress, re-arranging myself in the seat to get a better view of Seven Mile Bridge.  The longest bridge in the world, chains of pylons and pelicans floating over aqua blue and green velvet seas and white sand shoals.

“Oh, I dunno.  That didn’t look like nothin’ to me,” Billy said turning again toward me cat faced with his cheshire grin, “kind of like watching you do that.  The whole of his eyes smeared with the blue light reflecting from the sun and water and sky.  “Maybe we better get a room, Baby Girl, before you get too carried away over there.”

“Sure Billy, whatever you want to do,”  I said not looking at him but blankly forward to the horizon which seemed to have suddenly lost its color.

“Yeah,” he said nodding and licking his lips, “let’s get a room, we can just call in sick tomorrow, Mike won’t care.  Leon and Elliot can handle a day without us.  And Mike will really appreciate me better when he sees how little the guys get done without me.”

“Are you sure?  I kinda thought Mike was counting on us finishing the roof of the house off the avenue.”  I drew in my breath as Billy’s hand settled on to my thigh and his fingers dug into it; the next day there would be a welter of small bruises on my thigh like dark wilted violet petals.

“Fuck ‘em, Mike ain’t doin’shit  without his foreman.”

“Ok, ok.”  I forced a smile to my face.   “Let’s get a room, play some hooky, yeah, sure, that sounds good,” I said with forced enthusiasm.  And then I realized that I would definitely enjoy a hot shower, some clean sheets on a real bed,  a little cable TV, an ice machine even,  ah luxurious ice.  We crossed  another bridge and turned off the freeway at just after Deer Key stopping briefly at a K-Mart for supplies.

“I’ll be right back, you want anything?”

“Pack of Camel Light 100s in a box,” I replied not knowing that it was the last time in weeks I would smoke brand name cigarettes.

“Sure thing, Baby Girl.”  Billy mashed his face against mine, rubbing his thick brush of a mustache on my mouth for a good-bye kiss.   Then he sauntered away through the parking lot, his tight butt twitching in his overalls.  He didn’t have a shirt on underneath his bibs and he pulled up the front and buckled them up before disappearing into the store.  After I saw him go in I fiddled with the radio dial.  My eyes unexpectedly welled up as a Jethro Tull song floated out of the speakers, a band Elliot had introduced me too.  I closed my eyes and remembered the last talk about music I had with Elliot before becoming Billy’s old lady.

“Quit messing with the radio,” said Elliot leaning into the car window.  I was sitting in the parked car at the Lake reading through the worst heat of the day.

“What,” I teased, “you know I love that song.”

“Well I’ll just have to get you the new Whitney Houston for your birthday next year.”

“Ick, you will not.”  I grimaced and stuck my tongue out at him.

“I’m going to put in an album now.”  Elliot rifled through the tapes and put in Aqua Lung.

“Not bad, I suppose.”

“Well, if it bothers you, you can get out of the car.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

“You always gotta have the last word, eh, Martines?”

“Yup.”

“Ugh,” Elliot grunted.  Then he closed the door.

He walked away, disappearing behind the car and into the burn of sun.  I dropped the visors down in the car trying to angle away the glare of the sun and picked my book back up.  I read for a few pages then set the book down again.  I leaned my left elbow out the window of the Datsun and lit a cigarette.  I slid my feet out of my flip-flops and pulled my knees up onto the steering wheel and stared at the sky meandering by.  The straps of my dress fell off my shoulders and I ignored them to drag slowly on my cigarette.  I did not hear Elliot sneaking up behind me.

I felt a warm, soft, breath on my arm and turned just as Elliot leaned over and kissed my elbow.

I was startled and turned toward him.  Elliot was now crouched down along side the car at face level with me.  He looked into my eyes and opened his mouth, nothing came out.  His pupils dilated.  I heard the squeak of coral underneath his boots as his weight shifted.  He leaned into the open window, then suddenly he stood up.   He wiped his hands down on the thighs of his jeans and walked silently away as I sat and savored the sensation of his mouth still warm on my skin.

“Quit your daydreaming!” Said Billy slapping my arm as it hung out the passenger’s side working a farmer’s tan.  “Jaysus, Baby Girl, somebody could have come and fucking stolen the car and you wouldn’t have even noticed, where’d you go?”

“Nowhere,” I said rubbing my elbow.  I sighed and then lit a cigarette from the pack Billy tossed in my lap and brought my attention back to the present moment.

We drove down to Key West.  Billy showed me the sights, the bars he used to hang out in when he did construction there, the concrete curb he poured for the first Kentucky Fried Chicken in the islands. I nodded my head dumbly through the story wishing we would actually stop and look at Key West rather than drive around it.  But we stopped nowhere, Billy deemed the Key too expensive for us to play on.  I could have sat for days on one of the open-air verandas lining the streets, just sat and watched people walk on by.  Billy circumnavigated the key and we headed back toward Key Largo looking for a cheap place to spend the night.

“This looks good,” Billy said pulling into a dilapidated pink stucco lodge on the back edge of Key Largo.   We got out of the car and walked into the dim hotel.  I spun the wire rack of postcards on the counter while Billy checked us in.  I pocketed a postcard on the hotel back in its obvious heyday, circa 1965 or so, when the clerk was distracted counting out the bills Billy laid out for the room.  The lobby was covered with cracked flagstones and the wrought iron stair rail that appeared to be tethered very loosely to the steps.

Our room was dingy yellow with the smoke of cigarettes and moldy smelling from the recent rains.  Billy peeled off his overalls and draped himself across one of the beds. I went to explore the bathroom.  It too was small and pinched, drab with yellow and brown water stains bleeding down the walls.  It was no Ritz Carlton, but it had running water.  I rinsed off my arms and hands and then peeled open the white paper wrapped mini bar of soap next to the plastic covered drinking cups.  I washed my face and scrubbed the grime off.  I was about to strip down and take a shower.  When Billy called for me.

“Baby Girl, come here!”

I looked longingly at the bath tub then snapped off the light in the bathroom and padded barefoot out into the room.  Billy was lying on the bed naked, his body shaking with laughter and the vibrations coming from the bed.

“Hot damn, check it out, they vibrate!”

“What,” I said, playing dumb, the entire room seemed to be shaking from the hokey bed.

“Come here,” said Billy patting the bed.

“Make me.”

“Girl,” he growled flipping over onto his stomach and getting up on his hands and knees, “don’t make me make you.”  His cock was suddenly erect and dangerous.

“Make me,” I replied stood at the end of the bed eyes downcast and defiant.

Billy growled and leaped off the bed, I whooped and ran giggling around the room.  Billy bounded after me, leaping from one bed to the other, howling in the back of his throat.

“Oh shit,” I said gasping with laughter.  We were stymied on opposites sides of one of the beds.  The bed stopped vibrating.

“Quick, Baby Girl, get a quarter out of my jeans pocket.”  His jeans lay in a crumpled heap on the floor at the foot of the bed.

“Truce!” I called, looking up at him from underneath the fall of hair in my eyes.

“Truce,” he said waving the white flag his underwear.

I slowly edged to the foot of the bed, easing down to reach for his jeans, not taking my eyes off him and his wide grin.

“What?”  He said, eyes crinkled with laugh wrinkles.

“I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you.”

“I ain’t doin’ nothin’.”  But his grin grew larger and the dimples in his cheeks deepened.

I reached out with my toe and grabbed onto a belt loop, dragging the pants toward me.  I heard the tinkle of change splashing out of the pockets; saw the river of silver roll under the bed.

“Oh, shit,” I said leaning down to grab the quarters.

Billy pounced.

“No fair!”  I squealed and dove under the bed.  Billy grabbed my ankles and dragged me out.  He flipped me over and crushed his mouth on mine.  He covered me with his body and ground his hip into mine.  I ground right back, my skirt rising up my legs, the carpet Indian burning my skin.  Billy’s hands reached up into my hair pulling my head back and pinning it against the foot of the bed.

“Now go plug the bed,” he said.

“Nope.”  I said with a crooked grin of my own.

“Ohh, does somebody want it bad?”

I suppressed a smile and bit his mouth very softly, just barely sinking my teeth into his lower lip.  Then I shook my head back and forth.  It was as aggressive with Billy as I had ever been.

Billy sucked in his breath and raised his right hand drawing my head up, all my hair caught in his fist.

“Go on now,” he mouthed into me directing my body toward the mouth of the coin slot mounted to the vibrating frame.

I back pedaled up the bed; Billy crawled with me, his other hand fumbling under my dress, pulling down my panties, as he pushed me up the bed.  The box was screwed into the headboard just left of the brass lamp protruding from the wall.

“Put in all the change, you’re gonna get it, bad.”

Three hours later I asked for a potty break.

“Make it quick,” he said rolling off me.

I went to the bathroom.  I squatted, avoiding my reflection in the mirror over the sink.  My knees creaked, I could already feel the bruises blooming, and the tops were a bright raw red, even in the low light.  My shoulders ached and I tasted blood in my mouth; I tongued the coppery spot of it away from the inside of my cheek.

“Hurry up in there, Baby Girl!”

I wiped myself and winced.  I washed my hands again and wet down my face.  I did not bother with a towel, letting the water sluice down my shoulders, feeling it sting along the scratch marks on my back.

“Damn, you took long enough.  Come here, I want to finish you up.”  Billy was sitting on the edge of the bed stroking himself.

I crawled up on the bed and buried my face in a pillow.  I dug my fingers into the edge of the mattress where the bed sheet had pulled away revealing a sky blue faux satin quilted top with frayed and unraveling plastic threads.  Billy caressed my back, my ass, my thighs, stroking them, raining his fingers along the inside perimeter, trailing his hand along the outside palming the small of my back.  Taking measurement.

“You ready to take it like a woman?”

I nodded my head into the pillow.

He slapped my ass, “I asked you a question.”

“Yes.”  I raised my face out of the pillow just high enough to clear my mouth so that he could hear my affirmation.

“Yes.”

An hour later I sat in the bathtub, tears rolling down my face.

“Why are you crying,” asked Billy walking in on me to use the toilet.

I wiped off my face and breathed in my nose, out my mouth before answering.

“You can’t use shampoo as lube, Billy, it has alcohol in it, it stings.”

“Oh shit, Baby Girl, I didn’t know, you were just so damn tight, I didn’t want to tear you up.  I’m sorry honey; I just thought I was helping.  I don’t want to hurt you, baby, not you.”

“Ok Billy, alright.”  I sighed softly.  “I know.”

I leaned my forehead against the cool porcelain lip.  Billy sat down on the toilet nest to the tub and massaged the back of my neck.  I closed my eyes.

“You’re so beautiful,” he said stroking my arm, “I got the best looking old lady there is, I ain’t gonna hurt that.”

“Shush Billy.”

A momentarily contrite Billy suggested we go out to a bar that he knew.  The bar from the road looked like a Corona ad, but as we got closer, it appeared dilapidated and dusty. It was still hung with Christmas lights that had yet to come down and cob-webbed nautical gear.  It opened up onto a wooden deck that redeemed its cheap tourist allure by overlooking the beach and the full moon riding the waves.  The bar was more than half empty, the suddenly silent jukebox made the room appear even emptier.

“I’m gonna plug the jukebox,” said Billy, after ordering himself a beer and me a wine cooler,  “whaddya wanna hear?”

Dance, Dance, Dance, by the Steve Miller Band.”

“What is it with you and the Steve Miller Band?”

“Nothing, “  I could not tell him that it reminded me of Elliot, talking about Elliot was always a way for me to get into trouble with Billy.  “I just want to hear it that’s all.  Play whatever you want.”

“No, no, I’ll play what my old lady wants to hear.”  Billy scooped up the change on the bar and left me sipping my Bartles and Jaymes.  The jukebox suddenly roared to life, Merle Haggard, spilling out into the room.

I sighed and played with the label on my wine cooler, peeling it slowly off the bottle.  A few men sidled by eyeballing me.  I ignored them and lit another cigarette. The label was a shredded pile on the bar as I nursed the final few drops of my pink lemonade cooler down.  I finally went looking for Billy.  The bar was lined with local bikers and women whose skin attested to the fact that they never left the Keys, leathery and wrinkled with time.  They were sparsely dressed in short cutoffs and fluorescent neon Ron Jon bikini tops.  Their hair done up in bleached blonde pony tails and spiky bangs trying to hide the crows feet at least until the last call lights came up.

“Billy,” I said pushing myself between a woman too drunk to notice that Billy wasn’t paying attention to her and the man to her left he was in a conversation with.

“Billy!”

“Baby Girl,” he said, snaking his arm around me, burning my eyes with the fumes tumbling out his mouth.  He must have had a few shots while I was waiting for him to come back.

“Oh man, you weren’t shittin’ me,” said the large man in black leathers sitting next to him.  He looked me up and down twice.  “You’ve got one helluva old lady.”

He smacked my ass.

“Hey!”  I startled back.

“Baby Girl, meet Bear,” Billy introduced us, ignoring the spanking I had just gotten from his new acquaintance.

“Pleasure, I’m sure.”  I leaned into Billy’s opened legs, settling myself against his crotch, protecting my backside.

Bear kissed my hand with a hot mouth juicy with spit.  I blushed and tried to not wipe my hand off immediately.

“Check it out,” said Billy gesturing toward the bar.  Spread between the two men were various assorted metal roach clips twisted into names, palm trees, beer bottles.  Billy pointed at the one that had caught his eye, “whaddya think?”

“Definitely that one,” I concurred with his choice, a roach clip twisted into the shape of a motorcycle. Billy frequently talked about getting enough money together to get a hog.

“She’s got taste, too,” said Bear, “but taste comes at a high price, my friend, that one there is twenty.”

“Bullshit,” said Billy, spraying spittle from his mouth with vehemence.

Bear calmly wipe the spit off his forearms, shining up the tattooed mermaid leaping and dancing on the waves of muscle.

“Ten.” Billy countered.

“Hell no.”

“Fifteen then.”

“Fifteen it is.”

Billy slapped down a ten and a five, the last of our money, as I found out later.

“Come back and do business again anytime,” said Bear, scooping up the money, “y’all enjoy that now hear.”

“Let’s go, Baby Girl.”  Billy shook hands with Bear and led me off.

We drove around Key Largo, blasting the stereo, howling at the moon, running with the wind.  Billy pulled over alongside one of the black brackish canals that lined the roads and dug out his sack of weed from the glove box.  He rolled up two fat joints and sucked them down just as fast.  I climbed out and fished a six-pack of Bud out of the cooler in the trunk and two bottles of Boones Strawberry Fields.  Billy had stocked up the cooler before we had left the KMart.  We killed it all.

We sat with the windows wide open, the moonlight and mosquitoes streaming in.  I randomly slapped at the mosquitoes, but slowly my hands fell to my sides as the sweet wine sunk further and further into my system.  I slumped down in my seat and soon fell asleep.  Billy woke me up slapping a mosquito on my arm.

“Ow!”

“Damn, Baby Girl, you’re crawling with bugs, we got to get you outta here.”

“‘Kay.”  I nodded slowly, rolling my head back against the head rest.

He wheeled out, kicking up dust, which settled thickly in my mouth with the hot sugary strawberry flavor of the wine.  I hiccupped.

“Billy, I don’t feel so good.”  He reached over and pushed my head out the open window without slowing the car.  I vomited along the car, moaning, I passed out with my head hanging out the window doing what must have been 65 miles an hour.

Later in bed, Billy rolled me over and tried to have sex with me from behind.

“No.”  I mumbled thickly.  I could not handle another round of sex.  I would throw up again.

“Whaddya mean no?”

“I mean no, Billy, I’m sick,”  I stumbled to the bathroom.  I splashed water on my face and sank down onto the cool tile.  Every part of my body itched.  I had mosquito bites on the bottoms of my feet, behind my knees, in the whorls of my ears, in my scalp, between my fingers, underneath the crease of my thighs, even on my eyelids.  I cried while I rubbed my shoulder blades against the sink cabinet trying to relieve the itchiness on my back.

The next day we drove back silent, except for the rasp of my nails scratching at the 128 bites on my body; I had counted.  We pulled up to the Lake late afternoon on Monday, just bare moments after Leon and Elliot drove in.

“Where the fuck you been, man?”  Leon asked Billy as he climbed out of the passenger’s side of Elliot’s Datsun.

“Went down to the Keys, had a little party,” said Billy reaching for the six-pack of Bud Leon held in his hand.

“Uh, huh, man, this shit’s mine, I worked long and fucking hard for this shit, no thanks to you two assholes.”

“Whatever, I’ll catch you back tomorrow, you know I’m good for it,” Billy said again reaching for the beer.

“Ain’t no tomorrow, motherfucker,” said Leon cracking the pull tab loudly on one of the beers.  He drank a long pull of the foamy beer, then wiped his mouth off with the back of his hand.  He belched loudly then looked over at Billy while handing him a beer,  “Mike done fired your asses.”

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