JULISKA THE GYPSY
“Loosie” is a common word in the neighborhood, and nobody hears it more than Juliska the Gypsy. A “Loosie” is the street name for a single cigarette, and Juliska sells them for fifty cents each.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out how this breathtaking Romanian beauty missed the boat to Hollywood. Everyone loves to watch her anytime and anywhere, no matter what she’s doing. She stirs the imagination and wears colorful, crinkled gauze skirts to hide her long, fabulous legs and an ass and breasts that could make the whirling dervishes stop spinning dead in their tracks.
Her hair sometimes crosses in front of her face and hides the subtle humor lines around her eyes. but when her hair flows gently out of the way, as if a breeze whispered her name, her penetrating emerald eyes open and close with each breath she takes. When she breathes, it’s but a fragrance through her wide, soft mouth and perfect teeth. Juliska makes sure she wears a whisper of bright red lipstick to make one want to taste her.
THE STORY OF VIKTOR AND JULISKA
The one and only thing Viktor and Juliska cherished more than singing, dancing, and playing with their kids, was stealing. They loved to steal, and it didn’t matter if they stole diamonds from the rich or bread from the poor; stealing was stealing, and they loved it.
They wandered the countries of Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and the like; swindling and ripping off everyone they met. Regardless of whether they picked pockets, played the old shell game, or came up with an elaborate scam, Viktor and Juliska remained as two lighthearted, non-violent nomads filled with laughter and stories of adventure. However, their carefree demeanor bred carelessness, and Juliska seduced and clipped the pocket watch of an off duty police chief. When Viktor showed up to bail his wife out of jail, the police arrested him and sent his two horses to the glue factory. The authorities confiscated the covered wagon overflowing with stolen trinkets, some of it being junk, but a lot worth a write-up in the crime section of the local newspapers.
Being a master manipulator and smooth talker, Viktor refused a lawyer and legal advice. He defended Juliska and himself, and managed to have most of the charges dropped while accepting minimal charges on stolen goods. After doing 90 days in a European jail for petty theft violations, Viktor and Juliska gathered their hidden assets, and made their way into the mountains where their family had been hiding the children.
Viktor and Juliska may have been blissful, carefree, and careless, but they weren’t stupid. Sure, the police killed their horses and took the wagon filled with a bunch of worthless shit, but they had no idea that Viktor stashed away a ton of money, and bought passage to America.
Packing only the clothes on their back, and a few bucks in their pockets, Viktor and Juliska stood hand in hand with their children on the coastline and looked toward the city. Cement dust, steam, and smoke billowed from the streets; tall buildings pierced the skies, people of all ethnic backgrounds brushed by them. They took a solemn oath to each other to put the past behind them and work hard with no scams, or con games, or robbery.
“Where do we begin?” Juliska sobbed with uncertainty.
Viktor hugged the children and whispered in Romanian to his wife, “Ma simt suntem nimic mai mult decat capuse pe fundul un caine,” saying they are nothing more than a tick on a dog’s ass.
Viktor and Juliska had no skills other than commandeering their wagon through the mountains and grassy knolls of Europe, and selling stolen trinkets and junk jewelry for bits of Lei, lev, and forint. Now in America, Viktor struggled as an unlicensed street vendor selling fake vomit and plastic dog poop for nickels and dimes from corner to corner. They laughed in the face of poverty, but after months of shaking hands with a joy buzzer, getting squirted in the eye from a lapel flower, and sitting on hundreds of whoopee cushions, Juliska decided she’d had enough; she had to take the bull by the horns.
Juliska assumed the role as the breadwinner of the family; starting out by cleaning office buildings. She knew she had always been a seductive temptress, and wore the clothes to prove it; skimpy, revealing blouses exposing her shoulders. Her long black hair lay unkempt and uncut, draped over her soft shoulders and curved to the shape of her breasts, especially when she worked on her hands and knees scrubbing floors; she looked spent, used, and hot; the way she wanted to look.
Juliska quickly escalated her cleaning business from office buildings to the private houses of the office bigwigs. It was no surprise Viktor suffered a heart attack during an argument with his alluring wife.
“Yes!” Juliska argued, “Yes, I did clean their bathroom. Yes, I did clean Mr. Vandervender’s pipes. He gave me this!” Juliska slapped two one hundred dollar bills into Viktor’s palm.
Viktor studied the bills. He maintained his composure while twirling one tip of his moustache. “You did no such thing,” he said softly; elegantly, “This is normal compensation for the humiliating work you are doing.”
“Humiliating?” Juliska objected.
“Yes, humiliating and degrading,” Viktor answered, “You would never see me on my hands and knees, scrubbing floors.”
Juliska snatched the money from his hand, “This is one night’s work,” she ran her tongue across her lips, “On my hands and knees,” she added. She gently touched the side of her husband’s face. “Tell me Viktor, how much did you bring home last week from your pathetic little pieces of plastic dog shit?”
“My income is of no importance here.” Viktor didn't move, but his eyes followed Juliska as she strolled around him. “We are a partnership.” He sweated under her fingertips, “We have been….and Always will be. It does not matter who brings home how much money. We are to combine our income and invest it properly for ourselves and the children.”
Juliska kissed the Viktor’s neck. “I agree,” she sighed sensuously.
Viktor and Juliska never again argued about her income, but they had knockdown, drag-out fights over what to do with their newfound wealth. Viktor insisted on a computer store or a bookstore, but to the blue-collared Juliska, “If you’re going to sell computers and books in this city, you might as well try selling refrigerators to squatters in the Alps.”
On a morning when Juliska went grocery shopping, Viktor and their two children, Viktor Jr. and Miranda, sat at the kitchen table. The bank account grew daily, which made it easier for Viktor to pay the bills and come up with a business plan.
While watching her father balancing the checkbook, Miranda giggled. The giggling grew contagious, and father and son laughed with her. During a string of giggles, Miranda pointed at her father, “Poopie man,” she laughed innocently.
Viktor’s laughing subsided to a smile. “The poopie man?” He asked, “Whom did you hear that from, Miranda?”
Viktor, Jr. chuckled, “Mommy said you’re the poopie man.”
“Oh, I see, “Viktor stood from the table. “ Well, my children, what else has your mother told you?” The children stopped laughing while Viktor rubbed his chin in thought, “Well?” He asked, “What else did your mother say?”
Viktor, Jr. lifted his eyes to his dad, “It might be a bad word,” he sighed.
“There are no such things as bad words,” Viktor philosophized, “They are only bad when they come from the mouths of bad people.”
“Mommy’s not a bad person,” Miranda corrected her dad.
“No, she is not,” Viktor reassured her while at the same time defending himself, “Your mother is the most wonderful person in the world.” He paused for a moment. “Mommy calls me the poopie man because of the cute little items I sell every day. Stuff like fake pens, and flowers that squirt water, and yes, even little fake plastic pieces of doggy doodie.”
“That’s not it,” Viktor, Jr. shook his head, “Mommy said you have shit for brains.”
Though startled, Viktor hid his discontent.
“Is that a bad word, daddy?” Miranda asks.
“Yes and no,” Viktor stammered, “Do not repeat that to anyone else; we will keep that to ourselves.” Viktor sat at the kitchen table again. He held his children’s hands, “You can always tell daddy anything.”
The kids nodded.
Viktor snapped his eyes back and forth to each child. “Well?” He asked, “Is there anything else?”
Before he realized what he had said, Viktor opened a Pandora’s Box filled to the brim with English and Romanian curse words and scorn: bastard, inutil bucata de rahat, pussy, cica, no good, nem jo, shit for brains, rossz az agyvelo; the list seemed never ending.
“Stop it! Stop it!” Viktor screamed, slapping his hands flat on the kitchen table.
The children’s chatter subsided with Viktor, Jr. disclosing his mother’s plans to open a convenience store.
The kitchen fell into silence.
Viktor leaned heavy on the table. “What?” His breathing shortened; his words quivered, “A convenience store? Did I hear you say your mother plans to open a convenience store?”
“Are you okay daddy?” Viktor, Jr. asked.
Viktor slumped in his chair. “Yes,” he gasped, “Where’s your mother? Hurry, go find your mother” He made eye contact with his son. “Are you sure mommy wants a convenience store? Hurry Miranda, find mommy.”
“Mommy has a lot of papers.”
“Yes, go find mommy,” Viktor repeated.
Miranda didn’t get the chance to leave the room. Juliska opened the door and carried the groceries into the kitchen. She smiled at the children, and then looked at her husband. He sweated profusely while holding his chest. “Viktor?” She gasped, “Viktor?”
Viktor stared vacantly.
“Oh my God,” Juliska tried to maintain some composure. “Children,” Juliska talked quickly, “Go next door and tell Mrs. O’brien to call an ambulance.” The children ran from the kitchen. Juliska cradled Viktor and pulled him slowly to the floor. “Oh my darling Viktor,” she cried.
Viktor looked into her eyes, “My beautiful Juliska,” he whispered.
“My wonderful Viktor,” Juliska sobbed.
“Promise me,” he tried to catch his breath, but the oxygen began leaving him.
“Yes, my love.”
“I want the children to learn,” he panted, “I want educated children. I want them to read books of all languages. Promise me, my love.”
“I promise,” Juliska quivered.
“A book store,” Viktor gasped, “A place where children come and learn; a place where children learn to teach as well as be taught.”
“Yes,” Juliska cried Viktor slipped away cradled in her arms. She kissed his forehead, “For you my husband, for our children, I promise.”
Juliska the Gypsy’s Convenient Store, while not a modern supercenter with polished shelving and signage, carried a wide range of supplies for anyone who stopped in. Although small and cramped with narrow aisles, a person could find everything they needed or wanted - but they had to pay! Juliska sold everything from a single aspirin for 15 cents, to a single Ziploc bag for 50 cents. She even sold clothing in pieces, such as 75 cent for one sock, and the matching sock for only 50 cents. Food, fresh and canned, would also be unpacked and sold separately. For a dollar, you could work out combinations to fit any lifestyle.
Juliska opened the doors at dawn and did not close until the last customer spent money and left, no matter what time of night. She claimed greed played no part, but if anyone wanted to spend money, she’d make herself available. Juliska maintained a solid position in the community, because she provided the less fortunate’s with all they needed to survive, and done so with minimum money.
I’m saying, “She took no shit from anyone.”
Over the years, not one single person owed her money. She absolutely refused to give anyone credit, and never once veered from her pricing. If the customer didn’t have the cash, they’d get nothing from her.
Juliska’s had her spot behind the opening at the counter with the cash register on her left, and an eight-foot deli display case on her right. She kept the loosies under the counter directly in front of her in a brown bag. She displayed the perishables in the deli case, and in the racks mounted on the wall behind her, she stored bottles and boxes of medical stuff like aspirins and witch hazel; opened and sold separately if they were not liquid.
Juliska’s children, Viktor, Jr., and Miranda, 10 and 7 years old respectively, work behind the scenes in Juliska’s Convenience Store. When the cigarette stock comes in, Juliska keeps the kids in the back room where they dismantle the cartons and empty all the packs. Juliska keeps an ample supply of loose cigarettes in a brown grocery bag under the front counter. Loosie’s cost 50 cents each. Brand doesn't matter; when anyone buys a loosie, they take what Juliska gives them; no questions asked.
Still fed up and disgusted with that friggin’ punk who smoked my last cigarette, I take a deep breath, place my coffees on the counter, and look at Juliska. I mutter a pleasant hello. She stays focused on the only customer in the store, reacts to my greeting, but then turns her nose up and away from me.
What the hell did I do now?
I could see her growing angrier by the second while watching an older Spanish woman staring into the deli case. The woman raises a nimble finger and points to an empty bowl while Juliska fidgets at the counter. She gives me a glimpse; a “look to kill.” She even snarls at me, clearly angry about something, but I have to wait my turn to find out what’s bugging her. The customer continues waving her finger at the empty bowl in the deli case. Juliska spreads the makeshift curtains leading to the back room. “Miranda,” she yells, “Hurry up, Damnit.” Miranda comes from the back room and gives her mother a bowl of loose Vienna sausages.
“How many do you want?”
The woman holds up two fingers.
“Do you want them on a napkin or in a paper bag?” Juliska rushes her.
The old lady continues holding up her two fingers.
Juliska turns to Miranda, “Get back there with your brother,” she says, then returns her attention to the old woman, “Come on Goddamnit, I don’t have all day. Do you want them on a napkin or in a paper bag?”
The woman hesitates.
“The napkin is five cents, the bag is ten.”
“Servilleta,” the old woman decides on the napkin.
Juliska uses a plastic fork to remove two Vienna sausages from the bowl. She places them on a napkin on the counter, “That’s a dollar eleven.”
The old woman tosses a bunch of loose change on the counter. Juliska slides the total to herself, and then slides the remainder to the woman, “Have a nice day.”
The woman nibbles on one of the sausages.
“Hey you,” Juliska shouts, “Eat that outside; this is not a goddamned restaurant.”
With the customer gone, Juliska rests her elbows on the counter. She draws a deep breath. “Matty, I love you honey, but you’re killing my business.”
“How am I killing her business?” I chuckle under my breath. “What did I do?” I question myself, but don’t acknowledge her accusation.
“I watched you give that bum a cigarette,” she slaps my wrist, “and don’t say you didn’t; I saw you. He comes in here every day and buys at least three Loosie’s from me. Now you give him a cigarette.”
I think about the absurdity of her accusations - Does $1.50 make or break her business?
“Are you listening to what you’re saying?” I laugh, “Just give me the usual unopened pack of smokes in a soft pack.”
Juliska tosses a full pack of cigarettes on the counter, and grumbles, “My children work like dogs, and now you are taking food out of their mouths.”
I put the cigarettes in my pants pocket, “Do you sell air fresheners?”
“I have Christmas trees.”
I put money on the counter. “Let me have ten of those Christmas trees.”
Juliska puts the air fresheners in a brown bag, “Anything else?” She arches an eyebrow.
Suddenly, the day turns into a soft, tantalizing night. Juliska steps from behind the counter. She presses her hands below her breasts and caresses herself to her hips. I heard the movements of her full-length, pea-green, crinkled gauze skirt. She crosses and re-crosses her legs as she sits on the counter in front of me. She jiggles a jewel-encrusted gold slipper loose and dangles it from her toes. A blade of moonlight crosses her eyes, making everything else a silhouette. She reaches out and touches the side of my face while she fondles my hair. Then she runs her tongue across her lips while running her fingers along the top edge of her blouse. “You want coconuts?” She whispers, “I have coconuts for you.”
I snap out of the rapture and wipe the beads of sweat from my forehead. “Thanks but no thanks, Juliska, I don’t have time today.” I wipe my forehead with my sleeve to make sure she knows she made me sweat. “Anyway, I don’t want to wake up howling at the moon with a pentagram burned into my palm.”
Juliska laughs, opens her mouth, and snaps her teeth shut as if to mimic a bite.
I wiggle my eyebrows and talk like a Transylvanian vampire, “I’ll be back before the full moon.”
Juliska leans toward me. She puts a cigarette between her lips and lets me light it. “Do you know what you should do, Matty?” She says. Her eyes close as she exhales the cigarette. She leans forward over the counter and gives me an impromptu kiss on my lips. “You should leave that body shop; and then leave your money-hungry wife. She’s no good for you. All she thinks about is money.” She takes another deep drag of the cigarette, “Think about it, Matty; you and me. We can do well together.”
“I’ll think about it,” I respond while trying not to stumble, “Right now I’m going back to the shop. The coffees are getting cold.”
Juliska touches my lips with her index finger. Her nails accent the soft texture of her hands. “Yes, you think about it,” she sighs.
Suddenly, she switches gears; her mood changes, “Oh yeah, by the way, you owe me ten cents.”
“Ten cents?” I laugh and kiss her finger.
She points to the bag of Christmas trees. “The bags are ten cents.”
I toss a dime on the counter. I poke my head out of the store to make check on the homeless. I look in every direction, tap my pocket to secure my cigarettes, and then grab the coffees and leave.