Baby Girl–Chapter 15–Home



“Get the fuck out!”  Dawn stared at me, “you’ve got to be kidding me.  Hold on, wait, jesus fuck,” she fumbled in her purse and pulled out her pack of Moores.  “I gotta have a cigarette if I’m gonna hear anymore of this.”  She shook one out from her pack and I did the same.  We both lit up and inhaled.  “Ok, shoot,”  she said, “but quickly, we have to get on the bus soon and I got a lot of questions I still want to ask you before we get to Pittsburgh.”

I flicked my cigarette, paused dramatically and said, “the short cut really was a short cut.”

“What!?”  Dawn shook her head incredulously.  “Jesus, I was having some sort of out-of-body experience there, you are so, so, so, lucky.”

“I am, it was the worst ride of my life, the longest too,” I said, “bar none, the longest ride of my life.”

I breathed long and deeply when the Grey Hound pulled out of the station at Elizabeth City.  The man in the navy Chevelle was still sitting at the edge of the parking lot; perhaps he was still hoping I would change my mind, leap off the bus and give him a blow job before I headed back to Wisconsin.  He had gotten us to the station with ten minutes to spare.  I purchased the ticket that was being held for me, made a quick visit to the bathroom, and chain-smoked two cigarettes before boarding the bus.

Maybe the short cut was really a short cut, maybe he had been planning on trying something and lost the nerve, I do not know.  I will probably never know.  I just remember how the trees were a matte black and draped in moss, the roots exposed above the water, which were also black, but shiny; there was the occasional flick of yellow eyes that would pop in and out of the darkness.  I did not appreciate the view, but kept my face pressed to the window, engrossed in the scenery in my attempt to avoid conversation with the man.  My body was as far away as possible from the thick white hand furred with coarse looking black hair laying casually on the seat divider.

I will never fucking hitchhike again, I will never fucking hitchhike again, I will never, ever, ever hitch hike again, I prayed feverishly.  Thank you God, for getting me to the bust station, I will never hitch hike again, please God, just get me out of North Carolina, please.  My Greyhound turned a corner and I nestled further into the nubby grey seat with its burgundy stripe running through the center, a mock racing stripe for the paradoxically named bus.  I sat my black canvas bag on the seat next to me, leaned my head back and closed my eyes.  I was up front near the driver, his presence bestowing a semblance of security.  I fitfully slept.

The bus smelt faintly sweet with the cloying scent that all institutions seem to use while cleaning to mask the smell of urine.  I had $48; six packs of cigarettes, Camel Light 100s in a box, some Pringles, beef jerky, and an orange the clerk at the Greyhound station had handed me when I purchased my one-way ticket back home.  I had taken the orange silently with the ticket, not questioning why I had been given one.  I had six and one half days to look forward to riding the bus.  First, it would trundle slowly up the coast to Washington DC, than across to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, where it would then head to Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and finally end its long journey at the Badger/Greyhound station in Madison, on the corner of West Washington and John Nolan Drive.

I wanted a cigarette, I wanted a cigarette badly. I tried to sleep instead.  I figured the only way to make it on a long bus ride was to sleep as much as humanely possible.  When I awoke we were not in North Carolina any longer.  I did not know what state it was, except that for it being a state that celebrated fireworks; they were many advertisements lining the highway, they were legal to buy.  It was after midnight and I was not in North Carolina and I was alive.  I was alive and going home.

I ate the orange.  I really wanted a Hardee’s Frisco Burger.  Hours later, in the early morning the bus pulled into a freeway stop.  It was my first chance in thirteen hours to stretch and work out the shape of the seat ingrained into my back and thighs.  I had a cigarette out and perched at my lips before my feet even got off the rubber tread steps and onto the asphalt of the parking lot.  We were somewhere in the mountains, which were more like hills, old worn down nubs covered with trees shrouded in grey fog and mist.  The sun was tucked tightly behind the clouds.  I burnt my finger a little in my eagerness to fire up, my hand shaking slightly in the chill morning air.

The rest stop was at some sort of cafeteria that appeared to be affiliated with Greyhound, as there were little whippet dogs running around the wall paper, greyhounds dancing on duffel bags and wrist bands.  Everything seemed washed down to the same flat dull grey color of the bus.  I could see a Hardee’s beckoning across the overpass, I looked longingly at it.

“Excuse me,” I said to the bus driver who was chatting up the cashier in the cafeteria, “could we possibly stop over at the Hardee’s across the way?”

“No, sorry kid, not in the contract, we stop here and here only,” the driver said brusquely.

“Oh,” I said a little crestfallen.  “You can’t make one little exception?”

“Nope, and you better get some food if you want it here, because the bus isn’t stopping again until we get to DC.”  The driver dismissed me and turned back to flirt with the cashier, who was providing the only flash of color in the cafeteria, her grey uniform was edged with neon orange at the sleeves and on the hem of the dress, her lipstick matched as did her eye shadow.

I ordered and ate a bowl of tapioca pudding that was the cheapest thing available for purchase at four dollars a serving and stared out the tinted windows to the over pass.  French fries and a Coke, a big burger dripping with grease, bacon, tomatoes, cheese, and mayonnaise on sourdough bread.  I wanted comfort food.  I needed comfort. I put my head down on the table next to my bowl of tapioca and tried to cry, but nothing came out.  The bus suddenly honked out loudly.

I startled up and quickly ran to the bathroom and washed in a sink, that although cracked, was at least porcelain and had hot running water.  I lifted my hair up and rinsed off the back of my neck, washing away some of the fine sand of the Outer Banks.  I wanted a hot shower; I wanted to scrub and scrub and scrub my body raw. I did not want a single particle of North Carolina on me ever again.   I splashed more water on my face and rubbed my pointer finger across my teeth.  The bus honked again more insistently as I scurried out of the bathroom.

Outside the door to the bus four of us gathered grimly together, hunched up to the side smoking furiously.  The next stop in DC was a long eighteen hours away, this was our only chance to get nicotine into our systems.  I slept most of the way there. I  occasionally awoke to stare unthinking out at the wan hills and trees rolling along outside the window.  It was a long dreary desolate drive.  Upon arrival in Washington, DC we had to transfer buses, most of the people I had ridden with from Elizabeth City headed out of the terminal into the rest of their lives, I had not spoken to any of them aside from the surly bus driver.

I was too afraid to leave the terminal, even to explore the capital mall, too uncertain that I would be able to find my way back, even with six hours to kill before my bus left.  I found a Hardee’s in the food court of the station, but it was too early to buy lunch so I settled on two cinnamon raisin biscuits with white icing and a large hot chocolate.  They reminded me of sneaking off Junior year in high school to get biscuits at the Hardees in Windsor by Highway 51.

“And that’s when I found you!”  Exclaimed Dawn.

“That’s when you found me,”  I repeated with a smile.

“Wow, girl, who would have known that you had that kind of story going on!  I just wanted some company while I waited for the bus!”  Dawn smiled brightly at me.  My new friend leaned in and hugged me.

We both laughed, then Dawn leaned back and exhaled a long plume of smoke.  One last cigarette before boarding.

“How can you smoke menthols?” I asked, “aren’t they like, super bad for you?”  I said with some irony, realizing that I had just regaled some strange girl with my tales of crack smoking in southern Florida for the last five hours.

“No, they’re refreshing,” she said inhaling again and exhaling through her nose.

“Ugh, doesn’t that hurt,” I asked.

“No.  Hey watch this, I just learned how to do this recently.”  She exhaled through her mouth than inhaled the same smoke through her nose, finally exhaling g the smoke out of her mouth again.

“What the hell was that?” I asked very impressed.

“French inhale, my mom taught me how, easy peasy.”

“I’ll pass,” I said with a laugh, “I don’t think I need to learn how to smoke anything new anytime soon.”

We were both turned so that our backs where against the wall where we could see the buses boarding.  It was just about that time and I was antsy to get moving.  A security guard walked past and eyed us up.

“Hey girls,” he said, “time to move on, no loitering.”

“Fucking pig,” murmured Dawn under her breath, but she grabbed her bag.  “Come on, we might as well get in line, we can pick out the best seats.”

And then we are on the bus.  The bus is headed toward Pittsburgh.  Dawn and I are as thick as thieves.  We had chosen to sit directly behind the driver, both of us figured there would be little chance of being hassled then.  We regaled the entire bus with our adventures, roaring with laughter and loudly snapping our gum, since we could not smoke.

“So what happened next?”  Asked Dawn.

I looked out the window and smiled, it was dark we were somewhere in Pennsylvania, rolling slowly down the freeway in the slow lane, a car or two passed by on the left side of the bus, their ghostly outlines briefly illumined by the running lights on the side of the bus before the red flash of their tail lights sped past and disappeared.

“Oh, my god,” I said my mouth full of Big League Chew bubble gum, my jaw full and achy from chewing it so long.  Dawn had whipped it out of her purse earlier when I had been jonesing for a smoke,  “I couldn’t, like have sex for three days.”

“Oh shit,” said Dawn, “Billy must’ve been livid.”

“Yeah, he was not pleased,”  I said nodding my head vigorously.   “It took awhile to finally convince him that I was really ill.  It felt like some one had shoved a hot poker inside me, and when I peed, ugh, it was horrid.  After the third day of refusing sex, Billy was ready to take me to Planned Parenthood to figure out what was wrong.”

“Damn, what was wrong?”  Dawn grimaced in sympathy.

“Well, let’s just say I discovered something unpleasant in my panties right before he was going to take me into a clinic.”

Dawn’s eyes widened.  “Bugs?”  She whispered in a low conspiratorial voice.

“Worse.”  I said, dropping my voice down low too.

“What,” she asked leaning into me, the whites of her eyes shining from the overhead dome light.

“A strawberry.”

“A what?”  Dawn asked in even greater hushed tones.  “I don’t think I heard what you said.”

I dropped my head and whispered into her ear.  “A strawberry,” I said and I could not help but to smile and giggle just a little bit.  “A grey, shriveled, desiccated strawberry, it was so washed out from color I didn’t even know what it was at first, man I freaked out in the bathroom, like some gigantic bug had laid eggs on me.  I thought I was going to get hysterical, then I realized it was just a little strawberry laying there.”

“Oh, my gawd!”  Dawn said crumpling with laughter against my shoulder. “Leftovers!”  She shrieked, “from when you guys had sex with all the fruit and whipped cream!”

“Shhhh!” I nodded affirmatively.  “I had to agree with Billy when we were finished, it was a bad idea.  Awful mess to clean up.  So sticky, whipped cream is not sexy.”

“This was a bad, bad, bad, fucking idea,” said Billy, trying to rub off the tacky whip cream from his body.

I was high and laughed.  Billy had decided to play out a fantasy of his and had picked up a pint of strawberries and a can of whip cream.  I had decorated his cock with the whip cream and taken pictures of it with a disposable camera we had picked up.  I giggled trying to focus the camera.

“Shit girl, this is not fucking funny,” Billy shoved up and away from me, “this shit is too gross, I need a fucking bath.”

“Get your ass over here,” he said, propping himself up on the bed.

I crawled over to him.

“Clean me up,” he said pushing my face into his crotch.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll think twice before playing 9 1/2 Weeks again.”  Dawn said with a smile and snapped her gum loudly.  I saw the driver wince at the sound and look up at us in the rear view mirror, but he said nothing.

Lodi, Wisconsin, November 1977

“No Papa, no Papa, no.”  I sobbed wrapping my arms around his knees.  He was all I had.  We had fled California, Mama, and baby Cissy were still there.  My grandpa was no more, but I still had horrible nightmares.  And I missed my Mama too.  When would we all be together again?

“Please, please, pretty please, don’t go.”  I wailed.  The floor felt cold on my feet, I missed the warmth of California and the greenness of it.  Everything here was sullen and washed out grey and dark and wet.  Icky, it was an icky place to be.

“Shhh, baby, it’s alright,”  my Papa’s voice tried to assure me.  But his voice, it was too loud, too boomy, his breath smelled too, like sweet smoke and beer.

“I’ll only be gone for a teensy, tiny, little bit.”  My father continued, stroking my hair.  “You’re a big girl, you can be alone for a little while.”  He patted my head and tried to push me back to bed.

“No!”  I stomped down on his foot with my bare one.

“Baby girl,”  he said.

“I can’t fucking leave you alone, can I?”  Billy screamed at me.  “You fucking whore?  Who the hell has been over here?”  I had just come up from the Lake where I had been washing out my hair.  I had worked all day long hauling roofing shingles up and down a metal extension ladder propped against a coral colored house in a suburb of Miami.  Eight long hours of picking up a stack of shingles, heaving them up to my shoulder, climbing the ladder while balancing the shingles, then walking them carefully over to the middle of the roof.  After which I would climb down and repeat the process.  It was hard labor and I had to stop quite a few times and close my eyes and will myself to go on.

“Billy, what’s going on?”  I was quiet and tried to be calm.

“What do you mean, ‘what’s going on?’”  Billy hollered at me.  “Answer my fucking question, who the hell have you been with?”

“Nobody, honey, I went to work with Elliot and now I’m back, and here’s the money from the job.”  I handed him $70.  He ripped it out of my hands.

“Where is the rest of it?”  He demanded rifling through it quickly.  “There should be more.”

“There is no rest of it, that’s it.”  I said meekly, “well, there was five more, but I spent that on getting lunch.”

Billy quickly counted on his fingers.  “What kind of happy horse shit is this?  You’re worth more.  I thought you were making $15 an hour?”

I shook my head negatively.

Billy stopped fiddling with the money and reached into his pocket.  “I know you made more than that and I can prove it.”  He pulled out a small plastic baggie and threw it at me.

“What is this?”  I asked mystified.  It looked like a tiny bag meant for the smallest   peanut butter and jelly sandwich ever.

Billy glared at me, “it means you’re fucking around on me.”  He whirled around, climbed into the Honda, and roared off.

I was exasperated.  “What the hell was that?”

Elliot poked his head out from the hooch.  “It was a crack bag, Carmen.”

“How the hell do you know that?”  I asked him shooting him a dark look.  We were not exactly on the friendlies of terms.

“Well, Billy parties a lot, it’s probably one of his, or maybe it’s Leon’s.  They come and go with a lot of scum bags you know.”

“No, I don’t know.”  I stated.  I looked at him standing in the door way to the hooch with his sailor’s cap cocked low on his head.  Being at the Lake had changed him. He was still quiet, but when he spoke it was edged with a hardness that had not been there when we had left Wisconsin.  It was like the Florida sun had burned out all the boy from him, he was now a man.

“Are you doing that shit too?”  He asked me coolly.  “Do you smoke up too?  You do, Carmen, don’t you.”

I could not nod yes or no.  Tears pooled up in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks.

“Baby Girl.”  My father leaned over and looked at my tear-stained face.  “That is no way to treat your Papa.”  He picked me up and swung me into his arms.  “Now, say you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry.”  I sniffled.

“Please.”  Said Elliot.  “Enough with the crocodile tears, Martines.”  He snorted through his nose.  “I don’t even know why I bothered asking.”  He grimaced at me, the turned and went back into the dark mouth of his hooch.

“Don’t go.”  I said.  “Please, don’t go.”

“Baby girl, it is no place for a little lady to be.”  My father cradled me in his arms.  “I won’t be gone for long and you’ll be asleep and before you know it, it will be morning and I will make you pancakes for breakfast!”

“Take me with you,” I whispered.

“Was that really the last thing Elliot said to you?”  Dawn looked over at me.

I nodded my head, tears falling down into my lap.  “Yup. Yes, it was. The absolute last thing he said to me, the last time I saw him.  I don’t think I will ever, ever forget it.”  I broke out into quiet sobs.  “I really miss him.”

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry.  That really blows.”  Dawn patted my hand.  “Sounds like that was probably one of your worst days.  Billy takes all your money and then Elliot makes you cry.”

“It wasn’t my best.”  I snorted through my tears.

“What was? You have to tell me quick, we’re almost in Pittsburgh,” Dawn shifted in her seat and looked out the window, “yeah, maybe ten, fifteen miles til we’re there.”

Coming back to the Lake the last time before we left for North Carolina.  Just knowing that we were leaving all the messiness behind.  Billy was in high spirits and ordered me off to the dock to wash up.  When I came back I could see that Billy had set up a chair, a blue plastic bowl, a towel, and a can of shaving cream, Barbasol Menthol, on a card table.  I padded up the dock leaving wet footprints that almost sizzled off the wood on contact, evaporating in the hot sun.  Billy was sitting perched in the chair, rocked back on two legs.

“Come here, Baby Girl,” he said and smiled crookedly at me.  “It’s time you learn how to shave my face.”


“You heard me, come here.”  He patted the seat in between his legs.

I approached him slowly.  My dress was almost dry and the wind snickered in between my legs, pulling it up and off my body with a slight sighing sound.  My hair lifted off my neck drying in a corona of curls around my face; I pushed the damp ends behind my ears and then settled my hands behind my back.

“Watch,” he said taking the can of foam and shaking it vigorously, he sprayed a handful of blue gel on to his fingertips, and then rubbed it into a white foamy circle on the left side of his face.

“Now you,” he said, reaching for my hand.  “Hold out your hand.”

I held out my right hand and he sprayed the foam into it; it felt warm and soft, heavier than I expected.

“Rub it on my face.”  He said patting the cheek without foam on it.

I did so.  Billy’s hand rose to mine, guiding it across the plains of his face.

“Leave the mustache alone, I’ll show you how to trim that later.”

I foamed his face, careful to avoid the mustache.

“Now take the razor and gently pull it down my cheek, like this,” he demonstrated the stroke to me.

I hesitated when he handed me the razor.  I was standing between his legs, the hem of my dress drifting across his knees.  The sun was straight overhead.  I was nervous and did not know exactly how to begin.

“Stop,” he said firmly.

I stopped and looked down into his blue eyes, they twinkled at me.  He smiled.  “You’re not gonna hurt me, I trust you.”

I smiled brightly at him.  “C’mon Papa, take me with you.”  I bounced in his arms.

“Baby Girl, you need your sleep.”  My father admonished me.

“No I don’t.”  I shook my head.  “I’m wide awake.”

My father chuckled and rubbed his nose against mine.  “Carmen, it’ll be boring.  You’ll have more fun here.”

I got sullen.  “No I won’t.  Bad things happen when you leave me alone.”

“I ain’t gonna leave you if you cut my face, but I might think about it.”  Billy said in a growly voice.

I drew in a breath.

“Baby Girl!  I am teasin‘ you.”  Billy squeezed his legs together and put his arms around my waist.  “I ain’t ever gonna leave you.”

I smiled and started shaving his face.

“Ok, well, forgive me for interrupting, but how is that like the best day?”  Dawn stared at me.  “I don’t get it, Elliot doesn’t talk to you again and you’re shaving Billy?  What gives?”

“Because Layla said good-bye to me.”  I said softly and looked out the window into the dawning day, we were just exiting the freeway into Pittsburgh.  “And I knew it was Elliot saying good-bye the only way he knew how, saying I was forgiven, at least that’s what I tell myself.”

“She said good-bye, how?  I was wondering about that, I mean, like, what happened to her, you know, like you suddenly have Jake and don’t mention Layla again.”

“I left her with Elliot.  I couldn’t keep her, she wasn’t mine to keep.  I never would have adopted her, and he needed her more than I did.”

Billy was clean-shaven, I was washed, Jake was snuggled down at my feet.  We were finally leaving.  Leaving Florida, leaving the Lake, leaving the crack and all the problems inherent with it.  We were going to North Carolina, where Billy had family friends, job connections.  We would start our new life together.

As we pulled around a pothole I looked out the window to take in one last look of the Lake.  I saw a black and white blur in the passenger side mirror and my heart leapt into my mouth.

“What the fuck is that?‘  Billy said suddenly, looking up and into the rear view mirror.  He turned to look over his shoulder.   I sat silently.

“Hey, look at that shit, Baby Girl, do you know what that is?”  He asked, swiveled around in his seat.

My father was silent.  “Ok, you can come.”  He gave in with a sigh.

“Yay!”  I said.  “Where are we going?”

“Down to the Lake.  There’s a bonfire tonight and some friends of your mom’s are gonna be there.  I said I would swing by.”  He set me down onto the floor.  “We’ll c’mon, sweet pea, if we’re gonna go, let’s go.”  He took my hand.

I knew what it was, but I remained silent.

“God damn, it’s Layla!  We should take her with us.”  Billy said.

“No!”  I said loudly,  turning around to look at Layla running behind the car.  “No.”  I said again, softer.  “She’s not mine to take.”

“That’s bullshit, that dog loves you more than she loves Elliot.  That dog is your dog.”  Billy started to slow the car.

“No.”  I said again and touched Billy on the knee.  “She belongs to Elliot.  I’ve got you and Jake.”

I looked down at my knees, watched the wet spots on my blue jeans blossoming.

“Wow, you left her for Elliot? Aw, honey.”  Dawn hugged me fiercely.  We were in the terminal at the Greyhound station in Pittsburgh.  Dawn stifled a yawn and stretched her arms over her head.

“I think Elliot loved you too.”  She said, after a moment.

I just nodded.  I did not have a lot of words left in me to say anything.

“Wow, holy moley, I can’t believe we’re actually here.”  Dawn gathered up her bag and hopped up from the seat.  “C’mon let’s get off this bus.”  She bounded down the steps of the bus and into the bright Pittsburgh day.  I followed her off the bus.  I blinked my eyes, and rubbed them briskly.  It was morning, the nightmare seemed to be ending.

“Carmen, I have got to fly.  But you are amazing.  I’m so glad we got to hang out.  You sure made the time go quick! Thank you so much for telling me your story, you’re just like, totally awesome!  Make sure you write me.”  Dawn said and thrust a piece of paper into my hand.  “Really, we could be great pen pals.”

I smiled at her, “OK.”

“I’m gonna jet, I don’t mean to leave you high and dry, but you’re bus is gonna be here soon and I so want to go take a hot shower.  But I’m really serious, write me.”   We hugged one last time and then she walked toward the road, turning once briefly to smile and wave back at me.  I returned the wave, then headed into the bus station terminal.  I had a few minutes before  I had to get on the next bus headed home.  I wanted to pee in a real toilet. I located the bathroom in the huge terminal and bee lined it over to the door.

I was finally next in line.  I think every one on the bus must have held it until they could use a real bathroom.  I walked up to the stall and pulled it, the door stuck.  I yanked it again, then looked down, it was a pay to piss stall. I laughed out loud.  One quarter needed to be deposited to be admitted.  There was no one else in the bathroom.  I caught my eye in the mirror.  And smiled.

“Let’s go then,” my father side and shifted me onto his hip.

“Alright, if that’s what you want, Baby Girl, let’s get the fuck out of here,” said Billy and he spun the steering wheel to the left and we exited The Lake for the last time.

“Go home Baby Girl.“ I said to my reflection in the mirror.

I looked around the empty bathroom with the sunlight slanting through the high windows, sighed deeply and dropped down onto the floor and crawled underneath the toilet stall.

 The End

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