A lonely man spends his nights driving strippers home from a club, but he realizes that his life has no real destination. A brief contemplation on a life going nowhere.
This story was previously published in the Carte Blanche online literary review, Issue #5.
†††† My winter tires rumble loudly over the frozen asphalt. The cold air slaps my face through the open window. I squeeze my eyes shut for a second then open them wide again. Still awake. I stifle a yawn. Dividing lines flash by my headlights and disappear under my wheels. I remind myself not to fall into a hypnotic stare. Itís a half-hour drive to the South Shore.
†††† I play the radio low because Savannah is dozing. While she sleeps her thick red hair hides part of her face. She found Phillipís jacket and balled it up against the window for a pillow. He must have forgotten it when I dropped him off at his motherís last night.
†††† I donít like it when she touches his things. He doesnít belong in her world; my world, now. But I say nothing. The jacket wonít wrinkle, although tomorrow he might smell of Givenchy or something like that. I love the smell of her perfume. They all have their own brands; some of them pretty cheap. I donít know the name of hers, but itís my favourite. I never smell her sweat.
†††† Now and then I glance at her silver toenails, her dirty bare feet resting on the dashboard of my minivan. Sneakers lie untied on the floor. She has long legs that disappear under white hot pants, leaving half her buttocks hanging out onto the vinyl bucket seat. Buttock seat, I called it once. I donít think she got it.
†††† Look, but donít touch, she always tells me. Like thatís all she needs to stop me. I could touch if I wanted to. I mean, if I really wanted to. I guess she knows that. But I never do; not with Savannah. I hardly even look anymore. Iíve seen her dance a hundred times. Once or twice she swung her perfect ass so close to my face I could have licked her. There are long, thin scars underneath her gravity-defying breasts. Her body holds no secrets from me. Except how soft she feels.
†††† She sighs deeply in her sleep and shifts in her seat to get comfortable. I glance at her moving legs, then my eyes race up her body to her face, before I turn my attention back to the road. Ok; so I do still look. Look, but donít touch, and I get to drive her home for $35.00.† †
†††† Itís different with Chantal. She sits in the back seat, head swaying to a song only she can hear. She wears her dirty blond hair cut short, like a boy. She has a square jaw and square shoulders; too much like a boy. Touchingís ok with her. And a lot more. After our first time she wanted me to pay for her coke and I got scared. She wasnít a good enough lay to do time for. So, after another date or seven, I more or less ended it. Well, I never said she was a lousy lay.
†††† So she pays her $35, sits in the back seat and sways her head to her own songs. Even when I play the radio loud. Every now and then sheíll tickle me behind the ear, like Iím her favourite pet. Iíll laugh, because she only pays me after I get her home. I try my best to keep away from her.
†††† Every few weeks theyíll hire a new dancer. Most girls only work a couple of weeks before moving on. Some stay longer. Maybe they come from the Townships, or from Ontario. Some of them donít speak French, and they can use a friend in the big city. I like to make myself available, give them a hand. I know places they can eat for cheap, or get good costume jewelry. I know the clinics. I never pressure them. I expect nothing, I say. Iím just a nice guy. Sometimes it works.
†††† It rarely lasts long, though. If theyíre cute, and theyíre mostly cute, thereís always somebody willing to take them to eat in places that arenít so cheap. Sometimes they get real jewelry. All I have to offer them is a minivan ride home at a reasonable rate. Itís no big deal; thatís just how it is.
†††† Most nights, now, I sit at my corner table wearing my baseball cap over my receding hairline. My fingers rest intertwined on a paunch formed by inactivity. I watch them dance while I sip my gin and seven. Only one an hour if Iím going to drive, and they water everything anyway. The girls come by and say hello, tell me about their latest break-up. Iím a good listener when I have to be.
†††† In the beginning I used to stand them all drinks, Zombies and other stuff. It was how I made friends. But it got expensive real fast, and Iíve got other bills to pay. Maybe they thought I was a sucker. I probably was. Now and then, when Iím feeling flush, Iíll still treat one of them. Usually Savannah. She likes Sex on the Beach. Iíll smile and tell her Iíve always wanted to try that, and sheíll smile back, then sheíll walk away. Mostly, I drink alone.
†††† Savannah begins to snore. From the corner of my eye I see her mouth drop open an inch or two. Downtown, she was Ecstasy, but itís two years she hasnít worked downtown. Now sheís Savannah. It has a bit of a country feel, she said; works better in the boonies. I like the way it sounds when she says it.
†††† Chantal reaches past the headrest and tickles my earlobe. Irritated, I swat her hand away. In the rearview mirror I see her slump back in her seat; she looks hurt. I regret my reaction, but she took me by surprise. Iíd forgotten she was there. I think I should say something, maybe make a joke. Then I shrug and let it go. Sheíll get over it.
†††† We learn to get over stuff. My lifeís been worse. Lately, I drive most weekends, some weeknights. I make two-fifty, three hundred a week; half of that goes for gas and drinks. I eat a lot of happy hours. Itís not enough for the arrears on Phillip, but I buy him stuff when I can. Itís all under the table, so the court canít seize it. She canít seize it. †
†††† Iím not saving much money, but at least I have a job. Not a job job, but better than the two years on welfare. I call this welfare-plus. A little cash, a little company, a little nooky; in descending order of importance. A few nights a week, for a couple of hours or so, Iím a man again. If you think thatís not saying much, you just donít know.
†††† We get off the highway at the Candiac exit. Slowing down wakes Savannah. I try to look at her face while keeping my eyes on the road, but sheís looking out the side window, getting her bearings. She stretches, even her toes, then yawns. She turns and looks blankly at me, and I know for a split second sheís forgotten my name.
†††† I smile, to let her know Iím getting her home safely again. Then I brake hard as I catch a stop sign out of the corner of my eye. Her surprised eyes hold mine briefly, then she smiles, letting me turn my attention back to the road. I try to swallow, because my mouth is dry. In the rearview mirror Chantal still looks pissed at me. I donít really care.
†††† We get to Savannahís place first and she slips her sneakers back onto her feet. One time I jumped out to hold her car door open and she laughed. Laughed really loud. Now, I stay in my seat and say, ďGood night, Savannah,Ē with a little smile, a little wave.
†††† She opens the door and is quickly onto the sidewalk; then she turns and drops some cash onto her seat. Phillipís jacket has fallen to the floor, but I ignore it as I watch her lips form a conspiratorial smile.
†††† ďGínight, you two,Ē she says to Chantal and me. ďHave fun.Ē She slams the door and runs up the three steps to the large glass entrance of her apartment building. She disappears inside.
†††† I let my breath out. As I put the car into gear I look in the rearview mirror again and see that Chantal is still pouting, looking back at Savannahís building. When she turns to face the front I pull my eyes back to the road. I drive further south. After a minute I feel her breath up close, warm on the back of my neck; her finger flicks my earlobe. I decide to laugh; it comes a little late and a bit too loud, but she doesnít seem to notice. Iím still irritated, but I donít swat her hand away this time. I know the way to her home.