by jesse s mitchell
illustrated by rhoda penmarq
She couldn’t smell it but she knew the air outside was beautiful, a smoky cedar scented air. Crisp and lingering like bad dreams, the free air outside the door haunted and taunted her…haunted and taunted…she liked the sound of those words together and she repeated them over and over in her mind. She breathed in deep. She breathed in deep but only got the air of cloistered indoors, dust, dying skin cells, stale bits of vague memories of percolating coffee…
exquisite things out the door, making the diaphragm in her belly twitch…precious air outside the clunky-never-opening heavy glass door, haunted and taunted her…haunted and taunted.
The radio bored her. She could almost feel the tears in her eyes, more and more with each and every passing song…all the same. The crackle, the hum, the hiss, not even a spark of originality in the random imperfection of duct taped together, out of fashion technology.
A wounded Sioux warrior slumped half-hearted on the back of a grimy bay horse on the far edge of the front desk counter. She knew the feeling, the awful feeling.
The eyes along the walls peered into her…she could take no more. Her legs aching. Her feet numb. She might atrophy away…atrophy and fade into nothing…into nothing like a ghost…a ghost…and then all she could ever do…all she could ever do would be haunt..haunt and taunt.
She took a cigarette out of the half-crushed red soft pack in her front jean pocket. She was not allowed to smoke at work but she didn’t care…her boss never ever showed his precious face down here at this dive. She lit the cigarette and watched as the end glowed red…red and yellow and orange.
She watched as the fire slowly moved down the paper shaft, consuming chunks of stringy tobacco and tar stained paper…eating it all up whole…spitting out wasted wisps of smoke. She ashed the cigarette in the floor and rubbed it in the carpet gently. The ghost picture eyes have burned holes in her, like cigarette burns…like at the end of a reel of film…time to change reels.
Mary Jo slid out of the chair and walked behind the counter with the butt clinched in her teeth, both hands free. She rifled through the drawers, found the keys to the car, stopped a minute, looked around, keys jingling as she swung them around her finger. Opened the drawer back up and pulled out the metal box close to the back. Locked.
The poor injured Dakota tribesman would have one last adventure. She lifted the statue up and slammed it down on the lock of the box.
The statue burst into a thousand pieces, she jumped back surprised, flickered her cigarette, laughed. It worked, the box was split wide open. She grabbed all the money and stuffed it in her pocket. Walked out the door. Tossed the cigarette down. Stepped on it.
Got into the car. Let it roar to a start.
Pressed her foot all the way down on the pedal, and listened to it growl, throwing chunks of asphalt and gravel high in the air like the blast of fireworks, mortar blasts, dying explosions, and drove like a fiend, swerving down the highway…going west.