Antoine Pintout CC
Here Are Your Heroines
The two girls trace index fingers through their hair, curling strands up to a peculiar climax of habit. This is the fifth motel in eight days.
Four motels ago, there were three girls. The third girl, a skinny one from Florida, fought like an animal. The man was surprised at first, lost a step and had to regroup. But it ended the same way it always ended. This had been in Ohio, ten miles or so outside of Cincinnati at a gas station. All the girls were excited to be out of the vehicle, to feel sunlight warming their skin, to hear the rip-speed of trucks from the nearby interstate. Inside the gas station a man with gray hair and thick, black glasses filled two cups with ice from the fountain drink stand, two boys picked Gatorade from the back cooler and then switched them for two cans of Pepsi. The world turned.
Back in the van, heading west now, they tore into the bags of chips, the cold drinks fizzed to life. But somewhere about fifty miles out from Cincinnati the man grew angry all at once. The skinny girl from Florida had started pulling food away from the others. He stopped the van and had her come to the front. Then he made her eat all the food while the rest watched, drink all the pop and juice. He told her if she threw up she’d have to eat her mess off the floarboards.
After something like that, after what he eventually did to the girl from Florida, whose name was Beth, the last two girls now told each other stories to help forgot the last two weeks, their decision to stay late at softball practice, for example. Stories that changed time and history. In this way, morning, noon, and night could almost feel normal.
In some stories they’re on a long, exciting vacation. The motel ice machine is full and it’s another beautiful day. But closing their eyes against the poolside sunlight, they know he can see the lavender veins across their eyelids, his attention clean and focused through the window.
Later, after the pool, there’s the room. He has to force them inside in the hushed way a parent will try to scold a child in public, waving them to go in, watching everything around them, mindful of curious, fellow travelers. The nervousness was electric shock, moving from the man to everything around him. Lights appeared to blink on and off, cars started and then stopped and started up again all across the parking lot. Even a custodian, who appeared from the stairs with a broom, shuffled to a halt, staring blankly at the man outside Room 211.
Six motels ago, if you can believe it, there were seven girls. One for each day of the week.
The last two girls sit on each side of the single bed. They’ve become close while helping each other forget their circumstances for short periods of time, such as poolside, when a pool is available. In the sun, reclined, wearing sunglasses and spreading lotion, they even find themselves humming songs they enjoyed before this new life.
This new life, the problem with it is simple: it’s too short. Or, in the end, it will have been too short. Luckily, both girls are still teenagers and are mostly incapable of conceiving of a darkness such as death. Their world is one of stories, imagined moments of escape or of the man falling dead with a heart attack, a janitor or some cleaning personnel showing up unannounced and all the possibilities that could result.
They comfort themselves with these stories and have done so for such a long time now that if any small opportunity did present itself, the chances they might daydream right through it had become the likely outcome.
During the first hour after they are all in the motel room he ties them to the bed and busies himself with his recreation. Small punishments, nothing they can’t shake off and bounce back from when he desires more play. The girls imagine police cars pulling in, knives hidden under pillows, knots loosening after the man has gone to sleep. They are building a world inside their heads while he works their bodies and breathes fire.
But the two girls didn’t live in fairy tales for long. The next evening, skin warmed from poolside sunning, they decided to charge and attack the man together. They overtook him, and, breathing fire of their own, beat him to death with the motel phone.
Because you will need to know for the retelling, their names were Pamela and Tiffany. The man will always be nothing more than the man.
Sheldon Lee Compton is a short story writer, poet, and novelist from Kentucky. He is the author of three books of fiction and an upcoming collaborative chapbook of poetry. His most recent fiction and poetry has appeared in Wigleaf, BULL, Mannequin Haus, and Vending Machine Press. You can find him @bentcountry on Twitter and by visiting bentcountry.blogspot.com.
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