Saturday, August 25, 2018

'Jewel'--a story by TAS


Needin’s easy most of the time. Wantin’s lyin’ awake at night and worryin’ yourself sick for no good reason. That’s what Daddy Bob told me once. You can have your needs all figured out and still not know what it is you really want. And that’s where you get into trouble, moonin’ after things you can’t have, confusin’ ‘em with what you need.
Guess all I ever wanted was to be loved. That’s what I thought back when I was real little, anyway. They said I was a pretty girl, all them men who kept coming and going in and out of Mama’s place. She never could hang on to any one of ‘em for very long, but they always seemed to like me well enough, even if things didn’t work out with her. S’pose that’s why she started getting jealous about the time I turned 12. Threw me out for good when I was 16. Said I was trying to steal her boyfriend even though I swore to her that nothing ever happened.
See, I’ve always been a curvy girl. Mean folks say I’m fat. But I ain’t. Not really. I’m more what you’d call ‘full-figured’—like one of them BBWs you see in the magazines—and there’s plenty of nice guys think that’s more’n sexy enough. I figure there ain’t no harm in being nice back, even if I know for sure they ain’t never gonna put their money where their mouths is at. Let’s face it, men’ve all got that one same thing on their minds no matter what comes out of their mouth. Like my boyfriend back in school. Always thought he was nice enough when he was sweet talkin’ me, trying to get me to put out. Yeah, real nice. Right up until he run out on me for some skinny blond bitch looked like she’d been put together with coat hangers and safety pins. At least the mean guys are honest.
“I like me a gal with some paddin’,” Daddy Bob’d say when things was good between us. “It’s like fuckin’ on a fancy sofa.” That was about as romantic as D.B. ever got. Old coot was all wiry and tough like some bantam rooster don’t know when to quit. Always smelled like he’d been working outside in the sun, kinda sweaty and stale. Never could look me in the face when we was doin’ it. Never would kiss me. Daddy wasn’t exactly what I’d call ‘nice,’ but most of the time he was OK for a river rat. Didn’t throw me out of bed for bein’ poor white trailer trash. Give me a job at the bar and a room upstairs after Mama’d put me out. Figured letting him have a poke every once in a while was only fair.
The fellows who come into the bar called me Jewel—I always liked that lots better than Julie Mae. They’d say ‘what’s a looker like you doin’ in a shithole like DB’s?’ and I’d just kinda shrug my shoulders. Truth is, I didn’t know myself. It got to be kind of a joke around the place ‘cause every time I’d shrug like that the top of my shirt’d pull open a ways and the mens ’d get ‘emselves a good solid peek at my nice big pillows. I knew when they was lookin’ at my chest ‘cause they’d tell me how pretty my eyes was. ‘Cept they never seemed to notice that the two are actually different colors: one’s blue and one’s green and the green one’s got some little gold freckle-sorta things in it. Mama said that was the sign of the devil in me, but the menfolk never seemed to mind.
The bar wasn’t much, just a rickety old shack with a even ricketier upstairs stacked on top of it and Daddy Bob’s trailer off to one side. Wonder the place didn’t slide off the levee and fall right into the river or burn down or come crashing in on top of people’s heads or get itself blown away in a twister. Floors were all warped up from every time the river come over the top of the levee. There wasn’t no ‘lectricity and no fancy air conditioning, just a noisy old gas genny in the back and some creaky ceiling fans hadn’t been oiled in an age. At night the fog’d roll in off the river like steam out of a kettle. It was always way too hot and stuffy and just plain miserable muggy and it was even worse when the May flies come out. You had to put blankets over the windows and sweep these great big ol’ piles of nasty brownish-green bugs that looked like sick-people shit out the front door every fifteen minutes, but you could still never stay ahead of ‘em.
Nobody ever asked too many questions about stuff that happened on Finn’s Levee. I guess the place was just too out of the way. If the law did come snoopin’ around once in a blue moon, it’d only be the sheriff lookin’ to get in on the card game Daddy Bob run in the back room after hours. And long as Daddy played it smart and stayed sober enough to let that fat old bastard win a hand every once in a while, things’d keep running smooth.
Some nights Daddy had me sit on his lap while he played. He liked showing me off to the other guys, like he was rubbing their noses in it and saying ‘Lookee here what I got, fellas! Bet you ain’t got nothin’ half this young and fresh waitin’ for your sorry asses back at home.’ Most of them men tried real hard not to look, but a few of ‘em’d stare straight at me like I was a big juicy piece of steak. Didn’t matter. I could tell they all had the same thing on their mind. Wasn’t long before Daddy Bob’d figured it out, too. I was good luck for him. All I had to do was unfasten a button or three to show off the top of my pillows and the pot’d be a couple hundred bucks before any of them fellas knew what’d hit ‘em. They’d start folding all over the place, Daddy’d rake in the pile and nobody ever said a word about it.
One day Daddy come back from a trip he took up to Keokuk. I was turning 18 and he brung me a present; this sparkly pair of danglies looked like they’d come from a fancy store.
“But... these ain’t earrings is they?” I wasn’t sure what they was at first.
“Course not!” He laughed like he was about to tell a dirty joke. “That’s not where they’s s’posed to go.” He told me to take off my shirt so’s he could put ‘em on me himself. They looked like little diamond waterfalls hanging off my teats.
“Damn girlie!” Daddy give my ass a swat. “You’re gonna make me rich!” Then he told me to get down on my knees so I could thank him good and proper for my present.
After that I’d be sitting there in one of them broad Stetson hats with my hair all the way down round my shoulders and my shirt a little more’n halfways open right when the game got started. Undo another button every once in a while, real slow and secret-like so nobody’d notice I was doing it. Then Daddy Bob’d whisper in my ear and tell me to ‘bring out the big guns,’ and I’d unbutton the last couple of buttons. Guys’d look up from their cards and I’d be right there all of a sudden with my pillows hanging all the ways out like it was nothing special. DB’d lean over and kiss ‘em for luck and you shoulda seen them mens’ jaws drop when he did. Nobody ever said nothin’ about it. Didn’t matter that it threw ‘em off their game. They was enjoyin’ the show too much to complain.
Daddy figured he needed something like that to give him an edge. Thing the old man hated more’n anything was losing at cards. Always got mean when he lost. Mean and dumb—and that was if he hadn’t been drinkin’. Throw in a bottle o’ Jack and he’d start making these wild bets that everybody knew he wasn’t good for, burn through his stake and start into betting anything that wasn’t tied down—pretty much anything come into his head—whatever it took to stay in the game. Poor son of a bitch’d go crazy like some cornered animal, all the while talking his mean-drunk trash about the other guys at the table, bragging about what a sweet piece of ass I was and how he could make me squeal when he was givin’ it to me.
Anyway, this one night there’s a fella I’d never seen before, sitting across the table, anteing up and taking his five from the dealer. Don’t know how he’d gotten in on the game, but there he was. Guess he knew one of the regulars, or maybe he just come in off the river road, waved some cash around and fast-talked his way into the back room. Called himself Jake. Smooth, good-looking fella. Might’ve been part Mexican or maybe a Indian. Had these deep dark poker-player’s eyes that took everything in and never gave nothin’ back. The way he looked at me was different—not like them horny older guys—Jake didn’t exactly stare, but he didn’t pretend not to either. I could feel his eyes lightin’ on me every time he swept ‘em ‘cross the table, sussing out the other players’ tells.
I kept wishing he’d hold still and take a good long look at me. Lost track of time just thinking about how much I wanted him to. It was like he had me hypnotized or something. I forgot everything else. Next thing I know Daddy Bob’s swatting me on the behind, telling me to get my fat ass off his lap and go fetch ‘im a bottle of Jack from out of his trailer. He was losing pretty bad. I figured it wouldn’t be long before he told me to bring out my not-so-secret weapons.
And when I finally did? Jake’s face never changed. Not one little bit. Didn’t twitch a muscle or raise an eyebrow. Nothin’. He just looked straight into my eyes and said “I’ll see you and raise another fifty.”
“Gotta be bluffin’!” Daddy Bob laughed, but it wasn’t because anything was funny. It was a ornery, low down, half-drunk kind of laugh, like the kind he’d come out with if he was getting ready to squash a bug. “I’ll see your fifty and raise you the same again. What you say to that, boy?”
Anybody with any sense had already folded a long time ago. I could see Daddy’s hand and it was a pretty good one. I just wasn’t sure he had that kind of cash to be playin’ with.
“Call it,” Jake said. “Let’s see what you got.”
They laid ‘em down and it was like somebody’d let the air out of a tire. I could practically feel Daddy Bob losing what was left of his control.
“Tough luck, old man.” Jake raked in the pile. “Wanna try again?”
“Hell yeah!” Daddy was looking around the room, real desperate-like. “I’ll bet you... these here sparklies hangin’ off my gal’s tits.”
“What’re you doin’?” I said. “You give them to me—”
“Shut up, and lay ‘em on the table. Do it now, girl.”
I took ‘em off, but I sure as hell wasn’t happy about it.
“I’d say they’re worth a good hundred a piece.” Jake tossed his money into the middle. Most of the other guys was sittin’ out the hand. Ante was too rich for a lot of ‘em and nobody liked playing when D.B. started betting the moon.
“Gimme two cards,” Daddy said.
“You sure you wanna do this?” Jake’s mouth hardly moved when he talked. “Them pretties look mighty fine on your girl there. Why you wanna go breakin’ her heart?”
“Mind your own damn business,” Daddy Bob practically spit across the table. “I call.”
“Have it your way, mister.” Jake put down his cards and I put my hand over my mouth so’s not to come out with a string o’ cuss words. Daddy come out with more’n enough for both of us.
“Like hell I’m lettin’ you walk outta here with them things. They’s worth a helluva lot more’n two hundred dollars. You and me’s gonna play till I win ‘em back. Set up another goddamned hand.”
“And what you got left to bet with, old timer?”
Daddy was breathing hard and sweating even harder. For a minute I thought he was gonna have himself a heart attack or something. “OK,” he said, “how ‘bout I bet you a good time with this little bitch right here? She goes with them sparklies anyhow. What you say?”
I was holding my breath. Couldn’t hardly believe what Daddy just done. It was bad enough that he gambled away my birthday present. Now he was gambling with my pussy—and I wanted the old coot to lose.
“Not sure that’s your bet to make,” Jake said. “What does the lady have to say about it?”
“She ain’t no lady and she’ll damn well do what she’s told.” Daddy Bob was almost shouting. “You playin’ or not?”
Jake didn’t say nothin’. Didn’t move a muscle. Just nodded ever so slightly.
“And what you bettin’, boy?” Daddy leaned towards him, real threat’nin’-like, “What you got’s worth this fine piece of ass? What’re you gonna—”
“All of it,” Jake said. “Bet you everything—and another thousand dollars on top of that.”
Daddy let out a long breath sounded like he’d just took a chill. He leaned over and I thought he was gonna kiss my pillows for luck like he usually done, but this time he kind of buried his head between ‘em till I thought he was gonna smother himself in there. Don’t know but what I might’ve thrown a wink in Jake’s direction, maybe run my tongue round the outside of my lips a couple times, just so he’d know whose side I was on.
Finally, Daddy Bob sat up and told the dealer to cut a new deck.
I held my breath, but I didn’t have to hold it very long. It was all over pretty quick once they turned them cards over.
“Aw hell no!” Daddy Bob cussed and banged on the table with his fist. “We ain’t done here!”
“Give it up, mister,” Jake said, real quiet-like. “Just admit you’re beat.”
“I’ll... I’ll bet you the bar!” Ain’t sure Daddy knew what he was saying, but there it was.
“And what’d I do with this worthless pile o’ kindling?” Jake said. “Hell! ‘Nother couple years the Corps of Engineers is gonna be up here fixin’ to bulldoze this old firetrap right off the top of the levee just like they’ve been doin’ places down the lower part of the river. No thanks. And besides,” (he looked me in the eye again) “already got everything I want.”
I liked this guy a lot. Kinda felt like I should’ve been sitting on his lap right about then seeing as how we was gonna be spending the night together.
“Tell you what,” Jake says to Daddy Bob, “I’ll give you a chance to win most of it back. One more hand, all in ‘cept for the girl and that pair o’ lavaliers. Everything else is on the table. What do you say?”
Course there was no way Daddy was gonna say no to that. Old coot nearly shit himself when he actually won the hand. But I was off his lap by then, coming round the table to start getting acquainted with Jake, and the two of us was out the door and halfway up the stairs together before anybody could say a word about it.
“You’re a Kentucky girl, aren’t you?” Jake stood in front of me, real close, just inside the door to my room.
“Uh huh. We come up from Paducah after my pa run out on us.”
“Figured,” Jake said. “Prettiest girls I ever seen was from Kentucky.” He helped me take off my shirt, and I helped take off his. “Ever think about goin’ back there?”
“Not really,” I said. “A place is a place.”
“Mm.” He kissed me. I mean a real kiss, slow and gentle and sweet. Nobody’d ever kissed me like that before. Didn’t take long before we was both using our tongues, and the deeper we went the tighter we hugged each other. I liked the feel of his bare skin against mine. I liked the way he smelled, all clean and spicy like a breeze through an orange grove down south, and kinda warm, too, like he was maybe just a little excited. I couldn’t get close enough to that.
Jake’s hands was cool and steady. Nothing like the other guys I’d been with, all nervous and weak-like. When he moved ‘em across my chest, I could practically feel a fireball shooting straight up from my coochie, burning up everything in between. My sexy places was starting to sing like a church choir got a extra helpin’ of the Holy Spirit on a Sunday mornin’.
“You ready, honey?” He laid me down on the bed. I was gonna turn over and give him my back side like I always done for D.B. but Jake said “No, baby. I want to look at you while we’re makin’ love. I want to see them pretty eyes of yours go all wide and sparkly, maybe see if the blue one starts glowin’as bright as the green one.”
“You caught that?”
“First thing I noticed about you,” he said, “and, gotta tell you the truth here, honey, just a little secret ‘tween you and me; I could see the old man’s cards reflected in them eyes of yours. That’s how I could beat him every single time.”
“But you lost that last hand—”
“Sure I did. But it’s like I said, already had everything I come for.”
Jake leaned down and kissed me, real long and serious till I thought I was gonna explode from wanting him so much. Then he started sucking on my neck, good and hard the way I like. He give my pillows a squeeze and run his hand down to my cooch, stroking and pressing, getting me all nice and wet. He kept whispering to me, real low and rumbly, telling me how sexy I was and how he’d wanted me right from the minute he saw me in the back room. The way he talked made me melt like ice in the summer sun. And then...
Oh sure, a fella or two might’ve fucked me before—and I’d include Daddy Bob in that number just to be polite—but nobody’d ever made love to me. Not the way Jake done. He come into me all strong and quiet, taking it easy and slow till I was begging him for it. I wanted him in me as deep as he could get. He took my legs and propped ‘em straight up against his shoulders and when he started up again I nearly fainted because it felt so fine. I let it all out, bellerin’ and screamin’ and breathin’ all fast and heavy. Didn’t care who heard, I was loving it so much. Jake just looked into my eyes and smiled. And when he finally got there and started into firin’ off his load, I lost it for real and fainted dead away.
Must’ve been a few minutes later. I woke up, and Jake was lying beside me, running his hands up and down my arms and sides, kissing me all over. Finally, he got to my pillows. “That reminds me,” he said, “jewels for a Jewel.” He handed back my danglies and we made love again while I was wearing ‘em. The way they went flying back and forth every time he gave me a good hard shove fired the both of us up something fierce.
He was gone before the sun come up. I lay in bed for a long time, kinda dreamy and breathless, thinking about him and how he’d made me feel. The sheets still smelled like him, and I wanted to remember that smell for as long as I could. I wasn’t ready for things to go back the way they’d been. I wasn’t looking forward to going downstairs and facing Daddy Bob.
The old man slapped me a good one across the face when I tried to give him back the danglies. “What’s this?” he said. “I don’t take charity from no damned whore!” Didn’t matter that them pretties had never really belonged to me. Didn’t matter that it was his idea to bet ‘em in the first place. Didn’t matter that he’d come out of the game a lot better than he’d gone in what with that extra thousand dollars Jake let him win. I finally saw Daddy for what he was, a ornery old bottom feeder who only cared about money and never did nothin’ less it’d help him get ahead, to hell with everybody else.
Guess you can figure out what happened after that.
Couple nights later I was sitting by the side of a cornfield ‘long the highway, hoping somebody’d come driving along and maybe gimme a ride. It was all fogged up and spittin’ rain. Couldn’t hardly see twenty feet ahead of my nose. I smelled the river in front of me and I heard a barge going through a lock over on the Missouri side. Train was blowin’ its whistle, coming over a bridge into Illinois. Figured I must’ve walked about five, six miles from Mama’s place that morning. I’d tried going there first, but she wouldn’t take me back in. Called me a whore just like Daddy Bob had. Spit at me and slammed the door in my face. I wasn’t sure where I was going or what I was gonna do once I got there, but I was too tired to care one way or the other.
“Well, hey, pretty girl. Fancy meetin’ you out here in the middle of nowhere.” I must’ve fallen asleep sitting there on my suitcase. Never heard the car pull up. The driver asked me again, “Where you headed to, honey?”
“Don’t much matter,” I said. “Ain’t got no place to come from. Ain’t nobody care where I go.”
“Well maybe I’m askin’.”
“Where you goin’, mister?”
“Could be just about anyplace,” he said. “Heard about a game in East Dubuque might be worth a card player’s time.”
“Are people nice up there?”
“Some of ‘em,” he said. “Some of ‘em not so much—it’s like anyplace you go, I reckon.”
“Can I come with you, mister?” I was almost bawlin’. “Will you take me with you, please?”
“That I think I will, darlin’.” He held the door open for me. “C’mon. Get in. Put your grip in the back.”
“Jake?” I recognized that good smell soon as I got in the car, before I even seen his face.
“Hey there, Jewel.” He smiled at me and I threw myself into his arms. Couldn’t help it. I was crying like a baby now. But Jake just held me, strong and steady, kissing away my tears. “It’s alright, honey,” he said. “I come back lookin’ for you. Everything’s gonna be OK from now on.”

And you know what? It was.

No comments:

Post a Comment