She used to like to go to the Wal-Mart down at the end of the highway in the middle of the night. I’d run into her sometimes when I was getting off my shift. She’d be standing out in the lobby, plunking quarters into Big Klaw 1000, a ripped up red flannel shirt knotted around her waist.
“What are you winning, Winnie,” I’d say. “Fabulous prizes, fabulous prizes” she would chant softly, kind of with a lisp, just a little bit on the zees. I’d ask her if she wanted to go get a beer and she’d laugh. She never said yes, never said no. Just laughed.
One time she came into the Papa John’s and said she wanted a job. “You’ll have to be a phone girl,” I said, which isn’t quite what we called it, but I wasn’t gonna call her the b-word. The corners of her mouth turned down and she pushed her messy brown hair up on her head, then did one of those twisty moves that girls do where they have like a rubber band or something on their wrist and then somehow it turns into a ponytail. “Do I get free pizza,” she asked.
That’s really the whole point of working there. Nobody works at a pizza place because of the glamor. You work there because it’s not really that hard and you can get real drunk at work and nobody will even notice. Every night we would send a few pepperoni pies over to Cheers next door along with some empty Bulldog Deli cups. They’d send the cups back filled up to the edge with foamy yellow Budweiser. One cup was like a liter. I don’t know how many beers that was but it was plenty.
During the summer she would leave early, because there weren’t enough students calling to really need somebody just answering the phones the whole time. On really hot nights she would say “Give me some money.” I’d say no, because I always said no. “I’m gonna go buy us a swimming pool.” Then I’d say yes. We hadn’t really hooked up but we had kind of made out once, at a house show on Oktoc.
On a good night I might snag forty dollars in tips, plus maybe a six pack or a couple of pills from fraternity row. I’d give her whatever was in the center console in the Datsun, which was like the leftovers from a few nights. She’d go back into the store and call some friends to pick her up. I never saw her drive in all those months. I don’t even know if she could drive. I never saw her get carded or anything, either. Maybe some places would but we ever only went to the Dark Horse and they don’t card good looking girls. They don’t even really card just okay looking girls. It’s a good policy if you think about it.
There was this place on the way out of the county, maybe they built it with the idea that one day the city would sprawl out west, or that football would get really big again and there’d be alumni from Meridian and Pascagoula need places to stay, but it never happened. Maybe once it was nice but not any time we knew about it. There was a giant faded sign in the shape of a brown hat out front, with all the neon busted out like the teeth in a rotten jack O’lantern. You could get a room for thirty dollars. The rooms were kind of scary, but the point wasn’t the room. It was the pool.
So her gang, which is a silly word to use but there was a whole group of girls, and they were pretty much like a gang, not the kind with matching jackets, but the kind that always does stuff together, they’d go and buy a room so they could use the pool all the next day, until the old fellow in the office would finally run them off.
The last time I went there, I remember coming around the corner. I had the windows down because the a/c was always out. It stunk in that little car, stunk like melting plastic, like a twenty years of people smoking in it, spilling Jim Beam in the floorboards. It wasn’t a bad stink really, just that old vinyl smell. Even the one good thing about it was all messed up, where my little sister had put a Jane’s Addiction sticker on the back. I didn’t like Jane’s Addiction, but she thought Perry Ferrell was good looking. I guess she liked the music alright too, but I never got into it. Anyway all that was left was just a half moon that said JAN ADDIC on it, and people were always asking me about it and I was sick of trying to explain that it was just some dumb band I didn’t even like.
So I come around the corner, and you can hear this song bouncing around off the walls of the old place. It’s mostly abandoned, like a horror movie I guess. It was a song my folks used to play all the time when I was little, one of the Motown songs they were always dancing to. “A taste of honey is worse than none at all,” it goes.
So I come around the corner, and I’m not saying I didn’t like her, but she was standing there wearing a yellow bikini top, with that long hair all put up on top of her head, and one of those other girls in that gang was laughing real loud, and that ratty old flannel shirt was knotted all around her waist, and the sun was shining real bright in my eyes, and I swear I dang near bit through my tongue.