BY DAVID STILLWAGON
Copyright is held by the author.
LORETTA SHOOK her head and frowned at the sight of her boyfriend.
“Stop your pissing and moaning. At least you’re out of jail.”
“In prisoned for a crime that I didn’t commit, that fire at the Waffle house was all an accident.”
Loretta crossed her arms and continue to look at the father of her child.
“I can’t even afford cigarettes. He whined. “I’m dying for a cigarette, you got any left?”
Loretta fumbled through her purse and pulled out a pack. She threw it at him.
“What’s your fucking problem?” Luke rolled off the couch and retrieved the cigarettes.
A pounding on the door made Loretta freeze. She peaked out the window and saw the office manager waiting at the door. Her rent was way overdue like her phone bill and her electric bill and every other damn bill that the mailman delivered.
“I know that you’re in there open the door.”
Loretta unchained the door and cracked it open just enough to peek out. “I told you I would get it to you this Friday”
“It was due last Friday.”
“I’ll get it to you I promise.”
“I’m sorry, Loretta, but if you don’t have it by Friday, I’ll have to start the eviction.”
Loretta leaned her head against the door and closed her eyes. Her stomach tied in knots as she went through each possibility that being on the street would bring. She could always ask her mother for help, her fortunetelling business seemed to be doing well. She wouldn’t mind if her and the baby stayed a little while. Till she got back on her feet. Of course, Luke would be on his own.
Luke pulled on his shoes and grabbed his coat. He scooted past Loretta and headed toward the door.
“Where you going?”
“Out just out,” Luke slammed the door shut.
Little Luke slept through some of the worse battles that Loretta and big Luke had fought but this time his bawling was uncontrollable. Loretta picked him up and hastily rocked him in her arms.
“Hush, hush it’ll be okay.” Loretta seemed to be comforting herself more than the baby.
Loretta paced the floors waiting on Luke to return. He knew damn well that she had to be at work at 11. She couldn’t be late again. She hated like hell to have to take the baby to her mothers’ but she had no choice.
Ten-thirty and still no Luke. She dressed little Luke and grabbed the diaper bag. She hoped that her mother wasn’t too busy reading tarot cards to watch the baby.
As she closed the apartment door Luke came bouncing up the steps smoking a cigarette and waving a bottle in his hand. He stumbled on the last step before he reached Loretta.
“Where you been and where did you get the money for booze and cigarettes?”
“Baby I think our luck is changing let’s go back in the apartment and I’ll tell you about it.”
Luke dug into his pocket and whipped out a roll of twenties. “Look here what I got.”
“I don’t need you to go back to jail for stealing, Lord what kind of trouble are you in now!”
“I didn’t steal nothing. I found a bag with this here wad of cash in it, there must be at least 500 dollars here.”
“It is a miracle cause that’s how much rent we owe.”
Luke looked as though Loretta just deflated his balloon. “No, I’m keeping some of it. I’ll give you half but that’s it.”
Loretta counted out 250 dollars that Luke had given her. She shrugged her shoulders wondering where the money came from.
“I’m going to Momma’s before work. Take care of little Luke. And don’t party.”
Sister Cassandra Tarot Reading adorned the neon sign at the front of the house. A red light over the door was lit meaning that her mother was giving a reading. Cassandra told Loretta time and again that she shouldn’t come into the house when the red light was on.
Loretta sat on the front porch of her mother’s house and wondered if her luck had changed. She knew that Luke didn’t just find a bag of money but she was grateful to have something to pay the rent.
The screen door opened and a man stepped out past Loretta without saying a word. She didn’t say anything because maybe he was embarrassed about having his cards read.
The red light went out and Loretta’s mom stepped out on the porch.
“Hi, what’s going on?” asked Cassandra.
Loretta told her mother the story about Luke and the bag of money.
“That sounds like bullshit to me he stole that money, didn’t he?”
“All’s I know is that I need the money “
Loretta got to work late again. She clocked in and started to unload boxes onto shelves. She already began aching as each box seemed heavier than the last one.
Her boss, Mr. Sanders liked her and overlooked the occasional tardiness but she was real late tonight, it might be different this time.
Sanders approached Loretta and asked her to come into his office. She was in trouble now she thought.
“I’m sorry about being late but my son was sick and…”
“That’s fine, I have an offer for you if you are interested.”
Loretta hadn’t worked there that long and she could only guess what kind of offer that Sanders was going to give her.
“I want to make you team lead and it’ll pay a little more as well, what do you think?”
Loretta’s jaw dropped as she sat down in the office. This is just what she needed.
After work, Loretta went back to the apartment. Before she opened the door, she could hear little Luke crying his head off. She hurried in to find big Luke sprawled out on the couch with beer cans surrounding him and a cloud of smoke in the air.
Loretta shook Luke awake.
“What the hell are you doing getting high
and drunk. You are supposed to be watching the baby.”
“I know, I know but I have something good to tell you, I won over 200 dollars on the lottery tonight.”
Loretta reached out her palm and pointed to it, “give me the money”
“We talked about this before you can have half of it,” said Luke as he handed over a hundred dollars.
Now Loretta had Three hundred and fifty dollars for the rent surely that would be enough to keep them in the apartment. She hid the money under the mattress while Luke was sleeping off his hangover.
That evening before she left for work, she warned Luke that he better not get high or drunk.
“All right, I won’t get drunk…or high”
Loretta didn’t believe him but somebody had to watch the baby.
Luke only promised not to get drunk or too high. At least that’s what he told himself, he could still drink a little and smoke a joint or two. He checked his wallet and he still had about 50 bucks left. Enough to buy a little weed and maybe some beer. But getting in the way of his plans was the baby, who continued to cry. No matter what Luke did little Luke wouldn’t settle down.
He had enough. He took the baby to his mother-in-law’s.
Luke was aware of the red-light rule but he didn’t give a damn. He just wanted to drop the kid off and leave. He barged into the house. A man opened the door with his pants off. Loretta’s mom was naked in bed.
“Get the hell out of here!” cried Loretta’s mom.
“Cassandra, I didn’t know. I thought that you read tarot cards. I guess you don’t only do that, do you?”
The man had quickly dressed and ran out the front door.
“Anyway, can you watch the baby tonight.”
Cassandra grabbed a bottle of beer and hurtled it toward Luke, who ducked out of the way but spraying beer all over him and the baby.
“What the fuck are you doing you almost hit little Luke.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry let me get some clothes on and I’ll watch him.”
Luke left the house and headed toward the nearest convenience store. He took the money that Loretta had hidden and bought lottery tickets hoping that his luck would continue big time and he would have enough money left over to get his own place.
He wasn’t going anywhere. The lottery tickets were all big losers.
Empty beer cans lie scattered on the floor as Luke took one last toke off his sole remaining joint. Crying and pounding the walls Luke tried to come up with some story to tell Loretta when she got home. He could think of nothing more to say than he was a loser.
Luke met Loretta at the door and hugged her.
“I lost all the money baby, I’m so sorry.”
“Where’s little Luke?”
“I took him over to your mother’s and another thing your mama don’t just read Tarot cards.”
Luke told her what he saw.
Loretta plopped down on the couch and started to cry. She had been a fool all these years thinking that her mother was reading fortunes while she was actually a whore.
She took off for her mother’s house and found her and the baby asleep in bed. She took the baby without disturbing her mother.
Her luck was changing back.
Loretta was back to where she started, no money and just a day away from the rent being due.
Maybe she ought to read tarot cars.
She went to see her mother and confronted her about her business. She couldn’t be judgmental because she wasn’t exactly an angel herself and Luke was an ex con.
“Why didn’t you just tell me in the first place?” asked Loretta.
“There isn’t much money in reading tarot cards although I still do that occasionally. The other stuff pays the bills. “
” What am I supposed to do I can’t lose the apartment and I sure as hell can’t move in her with the baby.”
“Let’s look at the cards and see what they say.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake mother that shit doesn’t work.”
Cassandra took out her cards and laid them on the table. She quickly gathered them up and put them away in a drawer.
“You are right they’re bullshit.”
“What did it say Mom tell me,” implored Loretta.
“It isn’t good, it just isn’t.”
Cassandra sat down and put her hands over her face.
A knock came at the door and Cassandra went to answer it she thought that it was a customer but it turned out to be Luke.
“We got problems, real problems now,” Luke told Loretta.
Loretta just through up her hands and said, “what now?”
“I guess I should tell you that I didn’t exactly find that money I kind of borrowed it from a guy that deals downtown. I told him that I had an inheritance coming in and I would pay him within the week with interest. Now he wants his money back.”
“That’s your problem not mine. I got to pay the rent and I ain’t got the money.”
“No baby, he told me that it would be the whole family problem if I didn’t pay it back.”
Without saying a work Loretta took little Luke and headed back to the apartment. She needed to get ready for work, at least she had a job to go to.
Work wasn’t going so smoothly that night. Two people had called in and Loretta couldn’t keep up the pace of the trucks coming in. Loretta kept looking at the clock hopping that it would move faster.
Sanders took her aside. “Are you okay, what’s going on?”
She told him about Luke and the money that he supposedly found and how she didn’t even have money to pay the rent this month.
The boss motioned for her to step in the office as he closed the door. “You are in a real pinch is there anything that I could do?”
Loretta took a deep breath and wondered if it was all worth it. Her sorry life with Luke, little Luke and never having enough money to survive. Now what was she supposed to do to get out of the trap.
“I can get the money for you if you like. Would you be grateful for that,” the boss inched closer to her.
“I suppose I would be.”
“You have tomorrow night off. I’ll meet you at Summertime motel, you know where that is . . . here’s the money.”
The boss laid out $700.
Pretend that was what Loretta had to do, something that she was used to doing since her childhood. Pretend that everything was just a game. Nothing wrong was happening it was just pretend that she was taking money for sleeping with some guy. Like it was pretend growing up without a father that it all right to have multiple ‘uncles’ come over some not so nice others too nice.
She knew where the Summertime motel was. She had been there before. There were other couples hurriedly leaving their cars and going into rooms. Nobody made eye contact with her. She saw Sanders peeking out of a room window waving at her. He cracked the door open appearing only in his underwear making sure that his intent was known.
“Make yourself comfortable,” Sanders motioned toward the bathroom.
“I’ll be right out.”
When she returned Sanders was sitting on the edge of the bed naked. He looked fatter than he did with his clothes on.
Their tryst didn’t last that long. Loretta quickly got dressed and sat down on the bed.
Sanders pull out a bottle of pills out of his pants pocket.
“These keep me safe, my little nitro pills for my heart.”
Loretta didn’t really give a damn. She just wanted to get out of there.
“See you at work and don’t forget to meet me here next week as well.”
Loretta stopped and turned around at the door. She began to shake. “What do you mean?”
“The money will keep coming as long as we keep seeing each other at least once a week. You like your job, don’t you?”
Loretta didn’t argue because she needed the money.
The money helped everybody but Loretta. The thought of going to work and seeing Sanders made her stomach turn. It wasn’t any better at home either with Luke laying around the house all day getting drunk and high. The baby even seemed like a nuisance.
Things needed to change.
The only person that understood was Cassandra.
“I hate it for you but what can you do. You just trying to survive, that’s all I’m doing too.”
After a month of meeting Sanders, Bags formed under Loretta’s eyes and her weight began to drop. The thought of anything making her smile during this dark period never occurred to her. Maybe she should up and leave without a trace. But she couldn’t leave little Luke and her mother behind. If she quit her affair with Sanders, he might fire her and she would be in worse shape than she now was.
Luke was more than worthless now. His partying continued on all day and night. It got to the point where Loretta couldn’t even trust him to watch the baby.
With a joint hanging out of his mouth, Luke sprawled out on the floor of the living room. Loretta clenched her jaw and squeezed her hands into fists. Luke twisted his body toward her and smiled. “Hey how are you” he said with contempt.
“You’re a piece of shit.”
Luke started to get up but he stumbled onto the couch. “Whatever.”
Loretta had enough. She slipped quietly to the kitchen and called Luke’s parole officer. She told him what was happening and how Luke was a danger to her and the baby. He assured Loretta that he would do something about it.
Luke failed his next drug test. Luke cried as they lead him away, blaming Loretta the whole time.
Maybe her luck needed a little helping hand. Loretta knew that Sanders loved Jack Daniels, so she bought him a pint. He was really going to like this bottle.
With a smile on her face, Loretta entered the motel room. She put the bottle on the table.
“Is this for me, thank you darling.” Sanders took a swig then another one.
I’ll be right out I got to go to the bathroom.” Sanders took the bottle with him.
Loretta sat on the edge of the bed waiting for Sanders to open the door. She heard a big bang and then a scream. She peaked inside the bathroom and saw Sanders rolling on the floor.
“Get me my nitro pills. I think I’m having a heart attack.”
“Oh God no, where are they?” Loretta acted alarmed.
“In my pants pocket, hurry.”
Hurrying was the last thing on Loretta’s mind. She found the pills and put them under the bed. “I can’t find them they are not in your pants.”
“Oh, shit I must have left them at home call an ambulance.”
Loretta had no intention of calling any ambulance. She closed the bathroom door, got dressed, took the pills from under the bed and headed back to the apartment.
The next day at work Loretta was given the sad news that Sanders wouldn’t be in today or tomorrow or next week because he was dead. Some were speculating that he had been poisoned or that he was having an affair with someone and died in the middle of lovemaking.
The owner came by and told everyone Loretta was going to be in charge till they found someone to run the warehouse.
Luck is a funny thing thought Loretta. It can go from bad to worse to manageable. With the extra money rent wasn’t so hard to make. She even had a little extra to give her mother for watching the baby.
And to earn a little money on the side her mother taught her the ropes about reading tarot cards.