BY JERROD EDSON
Jerrod Edson was born in Saint John, NB, in 1974. This is an excerpt from his novel, The Dirty Milkman, published by Oberon Press (2005), and posted here with Oberon’s permission. Copyright is held by the author.
HER NAME was Prin. She was long and narrow with bony legs and pointy elbows. She was only 19 but her face was hardened beyond its years, prettied with makeup thick around her eyes. Her hair was thin and fell flat down the sides of her face. This brought out her nose, shining oily in the dim light of the bar and adding a certain kind of dirtiness to everything about her.
Charlie White was sitting at the bar. He saw her as soon as she entered, and he watched her as she stood a moment near the entrance, then made her way toward him, her legs running up long under her short skirt, proud with each step, as if she knew something nobody else did. But it seemed that what she knew was nothing of importance, nothing worth mentioning, and because of this there was a slight awkwardness in her step, as if her heels were broken and she walked on her toes, trying not to show it.
She sat beside him and ordered a rum and Coke. She smiled and drank. When Charlie paid for her drink she smiled again. She knew what he was after. She knew right away, the minute she saw him drinking alone. It was her business to know and recognize such opportunities.
Charlie kept buying her drinks. She drank more and smiled more. They talked of unimportant things strangers often talk about, then, at the end of the night, after the bar had emptied, Prin stood up and walked out. She smiled when she left. Charlie finished his drink and went out into the street after her. He was happy and drunk and confident.
The city was quiet and still. A light drizzle fell. A lone car passed through the intersection and up the steep ascent of King Street. It was the only car on the road as it sped up the hill, the engine’s lonely sputter roaring off the old brick buildings that lined the street and descended like a staircase, each building a step lower than the next. At the base of King Street was an intersection, level with the water, at the very heart of downtown. Dormant restaurants lined the Boardwalk at Market Square. The Hilton stood tall on the waterfront, and beyond it, arching across the St. John River, shone the blurred orange glow of the Harbour Bridge. The rattle of the car’s engine was way up the hill now, at the top of King Street, near King Square, until it disappeared around the corner, quieting the night once again.
Prin hurried along in her high-heels. She skipped across the street and onto the sidewalk. Her heels click-clacked on the cement. Charlie stayed close, peering out in front of her when he spoke.
“So that’s it? I buy all the drinks and then you leave?”
“I have to work,” she said without turning around.
He hurried to get beside her as she walked. “It’s the middle of the night,” he frowned. “Where do you work?”
“Over on Dorchester.”
Charlie stammered, regained his thoughts and caught up to her.
“How about some breakfast?” he asked. “I know a place on Rothesay Avenue that’s open all night.”
“Sorry, but I can’t,” she said, hurrying her pace so that her back was at him again.
“But you’re drunk,” he said. “Isn’t that bad for business?”
“Of course not.”
“But I bought all the drinks,” he said. “Can’t they go toward some kind of credit?”
She stopped and twisted herself around. “Are you serious?”
Charlie followed her through the intersection at City Hall, then up Chipman Hill by the police station. They crossed Union Street and turned the corner. Dorcester Street was dark, the rooftops glowing from the lights of downtown. The drizzle had stopped and the night was dull and wet.
“You don’t have any money,” Prin finally spoke. “Do you?”
“I’ve all kinds,” he said. “What makes you think I don’t?”
“You wouldn’t have offered the drinks as credit.”
“I’m good with my money.”
“Not when a girl smiles.”
She had a way of making him feel small with a simple comment. Charlie had felt this when he’d first met her in the bar; she had called him Charles instead of Charlie and it somehow refined her, and everything she said, no matter how ignorant, brought about a slight feeling of inferiority within him. And I bet she’s not even 20, he thought.
“You got drunk on my money,” he said.
“And now I should fuck you?”
“I think so,” he reasoned. “There wasn’t a drink special tonight. You think I like paying for someone to talk to?”
“You seemed to enjoy it.”
“There was an agenda.”
Prin stepped back. “Ah—the agenda,” she said. “And that was?”
“To get laid, of course.”
“Have you no morals?”
Again a broken refinement echoed in her words, and again Charlie felt defensive, as if needing to prove himself of something, he didn’t know of what, but of something.
Prin put her hands on her narrow hips, her elbows sticking out. “Why didn’t you just ask me out?”
“You should have just asked me out, Charles,” she said. “You could have saved a lot of money.”
“I’ve got more.”
“Where do you live?”
She tapped her finger on her chin in thought. “Okay then,” she said after a moment. “Let’s go.”
Charlie smiled. He had won. And by god, he was starting to think those drinks were worth it.