On our third date we did some petting. She said she didn’t mind my nose that drooped like burnt wax and was porous with puss. She coiled her hands into my chest hair which was whitening with the withering days. I couldn’t afford to pay her much, hence she only gave half-assed blowies. Out of pity she called this encounter a date. She knew I was dying, and I knew I needed to put that pity where my pennies weren’t.
“Is this too strenuous for you?” she asked, foolishly sincere.
“You’re the one plonking sweat onto my balls.” I said.
“You’re so spritely considering your state.” she said before she candidly returned to giving me toothy head.
All women are morbid. They get wet at the idea of being in close proximity of death. Maybe it’s because they see life into this world, it’s fitting that they should see it out. I didn’t mind. I was an ugly motherfucker with a life that had already curdled before an expiration date. My left arm was leathered from trucking, my pockets were empty from the horse tracks. I let the bills from chemo accumulate on the sofa that was quilted in sweat and condiment stains. Who is going to collect your dues when you’re dead?
She let her cheaply dyed hair fall over the hump of my belly. It smelled of cigarettes and looked like a melted red popsicle. Her fake moans were repulsive, made even more so by a pimpled mouth etched with cheap lipstick. She twisted my penis like it was a hose with a kink in it. Her thighs were dimpled with cellulite, yet strangely smooth even when she was wedging her shorts off. She used to be a friend of my granddaughter but got hooked on crystal far too young. She’d fake loyalty every once in a while, saying, “you should call your granddaughter sometime.” My granddaughter didn’t want that. I would nod with great vigor until she would change the subject. Usually she would inquire about the state of the sofa, and in particular, if anybody was sleeping there. Her name was Cheryl or Cindy, something vague and dated for a twenty-something year old.
I liked strays. I had a cat with teeth that were shaped like diamonds that I would leave food out for. Her coat was always matted, and I could see fleas bouncing from her misshapen ears. She was mostly black with tuffs of white. Her ribs were sullen but her belly lay loose and low from multiple pregnancies. I wondered what gutter or pound her babies wound up in. I wondered if the father cared as little as I did about my seed. She purred even when she wasn’t been touched, even when she wasn’t being fed. Her whiskers were kinked and her eyes were crusted. She seemed happy with whatever scraps I could throw her way.
“You still here?” Cindy blabbered.
“Ho Hum.” I said. My dick had wilted like a cactus warped by a sandstorm. My old, saggy balls were longer yet somehow sadder than my flaccid dick.
“Must be the cancer.” I said.
Her breath smelt like Ovaltine. Her pubic hair was unruly in all the wrong places, a botched landing strip of tumble weed. Festering razor burn bordered her pussy. It saddened me that this was her profession, only because she was terrible at it. I slide her fifty bucks, and thankfully she unmounted me.
“What’s this?” she gushed.
“I pay my workers.” I assured her, as if she didn’t know the routine.
She bounced off me, her next fix now obtainable. I wondered what it was like to be young, to have things be wholly new. A time when even getting high didn’t have a predictability about it. I watched the river of veins run through my sun-stained hands. All these callouses, with nothing to show for. Another night I can’t get back.
I awoke the next day and ambled down the street to Vick’s, my shadow and oxygen tank in tow. They had a senior discount: two eggs, two sausages, two pancakes, for five bucks. They also had Chablis on tap. I never could resist a breakfast wine. Freda, the old Romanian hag, looked like a bullfrog. Her mouth curved as much down as her eyes bulged. She always served me coffee when I didn’t order it, charging me for the tip I never gave. Her saggy tits would nearly knock me in the face when she’d crane down to serve it.
“Going to the tracks today?” She asked.
“Ho hum.” I said.
She rolled her cow eyes and waddled away. There’s something to be said about menopausal waitresses. It sounds like a punchline to a joke, whose opening I never knew. The pancakes tasted off, I wondered if Freda had hocked a loogie in it. It was sunny out, and yet still the windows of the diner were framed in frost. Hopefully the whore hadn’t frozen to death in the night, she did leave her coat at the apartment. I watched the grease from my sausage-stained lips make oil swirls in my Chablis. I wrestled change from my pocket and went on my way.
On Sundays they have Dollar Days at the tracks. It was to get people out to the races during the winter months. Parking is a dollar. Entry is a dollar. Beer is a dollar. The track was a long cry from Kentucky. The horses were sinewy and a railroad track ran just west of the stadium. Horns and smoke from the coal trains would pepper the event, but us bottom-barrel gamblers didn’t seem to mind. A tart with a bouffant took my dollar and waved me in. She didn’t have the capacity to look at me, just another sad, broke sack throwing his pennies at manured dreams. I always placed money on the ornery motherfuckers, with names that didn’t sound too faggy. California Gulch, Railman or Sunday Slew always seemed to do the trick, although you hardly would see the same horse week after week. Use, abuse and then ship to the glue factory. The odds were never in their favor.
I also only hung out with the unruly folks — the natives and Mexicans. The brown people knew what they were and why they were here. They could only afford to come on Sundays, and their attire and broken English reflected that. There was nothing to really talk about — drunken chuckles, celebratory yelps, and deflated sighs were a language of their own. I spoke it fluently. Besides, I was sick of feeling that I had to speak to and of things that reflected my geriatric shell: cholesterol, financial exploitation, politics.
There were always twatty college students that would stroll through on Sundays too. They would wear ironic derby clothes. The girls in punchy florals and jewel-colored hats that fanned out their ringlet hair. The boys wore douchey blue suit jackets, the same leather oxfords and too much pomade. They would turn to the bitch-faced girls and say, “Buy anything you want! I’m a big spender today!” or “Throw it on my tab!” This was their idea of slumming. This was their idea of irony. As we scouted horses, they scouted the dirt under the nails of the Mexicans and the braided locks of the Indians. They’d stare at the mustard stain on my beer belly or choke on my whiskey cologne. They were what people did before the realities of their lives set in. I wanted to snuff out their entitled smirks, but I knew that time would eventually do it for me.
I brought my flask to my lips and chased it with cheap beer. I shared with Cricket. I called him Cricket because he would whistle a high pitch that was as alarming as it was soothing. He was this short Mexican that used to be a jockey. My oxygen tank was half his size and the majority of his weight. He had red doll hands. He’d been in a lot of fights but bore no scars, which is telling for a midget. The bottle of whiskey I had been funneling into the flask was a bottle gone too soon. The races hadn’t even begun, and Cricket and I had already polished it off. Like clockwork, Cricket slid me a little buttery, baggie of coke.
I parted the sorority and fraternity seas as easily as a leper. I relieved myself in one of the stalls that still had a door. My urine was milky and had some blood in it, but I had myself a good, slippery, beer shit. It wouldn’t be long till I was gone. The coke was angular and clumpy. I feebly tried to break it up but eventually just threw what I could up my nose and the rest in my gums. My eyes squinched from the burn. I sat on the piss-soaked seat, closing my eyes. I reveled in letting the room spin. I hope I had left some food out for the cat. I had doled out some milk. If she was a human, she’d be as tattered and broken as me. I hated how the high created a fog of recollection. It made me sentimental about a rose-colored past that had probably never been. I only had five bucks left to put on the horses.
With my hands in my pockets and my cheeks aglow with jaundice, I squandered thoughts of charcoaled histories and ambled out to the fence. The retro TVs fumed above, seas of horses states away. Churchill Downs, parallel worlds with the same basic bets. My crew never sat in the stadium. There were holes of bachelor parties, horse breeders, and executives with their mistresses that watched from above. 13-1 were the odds for my horse, Liberty Chrome. The epitome of a black marker. She was a surly three-year-old Arabian- deep chest and sabino in color. Bristling with electricity, she kept nipping at the lead pony that was trying to get her to the starting gate. She reared her head, turning ninety degrees to face the crowd and in turn taking a glance my way. Black eyes, that both pleaded and said, “fuck off” to me in a second’s time. Scabs dotted her backside, her hide rubbed down from the whip.
They managed to wrangle her in gate eight, not bad. There were a couple seconds that lingered in the air before the shot rang out. I lived for that moment that suspended itself into everyone’s chest, even the cheeky boys and paisley girls. Out of the gates they flooded. The duding of the ground flew up dirt, their socked ankles ripping through the earth. Ten Furlongs. I preferred races of endurance; you got more bang for your buck that way. My girl was hanging back, the jockey hunched over her, cutting the air as a windshield. They wound the bends tightly and danced through the straight-a-ways. Tails whisking, their necks thrusting forward as they rounded the lap. She began to surge on the backend. Her stringy muscles were beating with the cadence of a steam engine. I looked at Cricket, gripping his wrist with ferocity. I could feel the winnings, awaited the spiked endorphins when I’d cash in the pilled paper ticket. Hell, I could buy the next baggie or two with the winnings. Cricket clenched the fence, as if he were in the reigns again, my gut rattled.
The horses clambered back toward us, their clacking hoofs barely touching the ground now. Frothed mouths and weathered breaths on and off the track. On the home stretch it was just the front runner and my gal. The jockey was urging her into the limits of her ability. She bounded forth on the inside. It was a narrow pass, and I see now that the jockey underestimated the girth of her backside. The other horse nicked her. I saw Liberty Chrome roll the outside of her left rear ankle.
Before the chorus of gasps could commence, she was splayed out on the pitted soil in front of us. She was a misshapen letter M, her leg bowing upwards to the sky. She looked like a child’s crayon drawing. I grit my jaw, unable to make a sound. She was thrashing, the river of veins that choked her neck became wider and wider. The jockey sat his hands on his hips and cleared the space for the ambulance. His two-digit frame unscathed and seemingly unfazed. Steam fumed from her nostrils. Her mouth stirred and eventually her lips pulled tight over her big, yellowed, teeth. Her large tongue sliding in and out, in and out. Sweat poured from her eyes, perhaps they were tears. The gleaming white of the bone stood in stark contrast to her dark freckled ankle, now mangled. She floundered with either complete confusion or confidence of what awaited her. They pricked her ass with a shot, a sedative. It took a few minutes for her squirming to slow, a slovenly surrender. The tan tendrils of her mane fell over her face. A black marble shown through the strands. Her wild eye pleading with me one last time.
I didn’t stay. I dropped my ticket where I stood and walked out of the stadium. Goodbyes were lost in my throat. Noodled girls hung off their drunken boyfriends in the parking lot. Dead ponies ruin parties. My tank and I rolled home. Water welted in my peripherals; the temperature must have dropped. The sun totted low in the sky, brushing the horizon. The bullfrog’s back was turned to me as I walked by Vick’s. She was wiping the counters with a strength that made her arm fat jiggle. I could use a breakfast Chablis for dinner, but instead I kept walking.
The lights weren’t on in my window. The girl must not need a place to crash. The milk in the dish hadn’t been touched. The ring on the bowl showed its evaporated age. I stood there imagining the cat’s purr, the touch of her gleaming black sunlit hair. I unbuttoned my opalescent snaps of my shirt declaring the day over. I thought about the dinky cat throwing her stringy body against my ankle, doing figure-eights between my legs. The normalcy she had brought to my parcel of a deck. I knew she wouldn’t return, she hadn’t come by in over a week. That’s why I liked cats, they didn’t cower in shame. They didn’t hold out hope for the bitterness to eventually turn sweet. They knew when death was ready to receive them and went off to the woods to find it. I snapped my shirt back on and meandered back into the dark. My oxygen tank idling on the porch and the whore’s coat in my hand.
Image by Jean Louis Tosque of Pixabay
4 thoughts on “Strays by Annie Moore”
Congratulations for creating as odious a prick I’ve ever read on this site. Still, I like the rat bastard, in a way. I despise horse racing. Yet even with the odious prick and the ponies I enjoyed this anyway.
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Wow, Charles Bukowski’s doppleganger, but in this case I don’t think the guy wrote any good poetry. Does not appear to have any bluebird inside of him. I liked the bit about the horse races. That’s the one place where the guy is truly affected.
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It takes skill to stick with a character and write consistently about them.
It takes skill and courage to stick with the unpleasant.
When we read some of the bland, we often say that we don’t care about the character. Not caring isn’t good for a reader, but feeling empathy, sadness or disliking shows that the writer has done their job well.
I wish everyone would have that courage.
I enjoyed this!
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Hi Annie, I LOVE your story. You portrayed the ugliness and almost depravity of this situation so well without either overdoing or stepping squeamishly around the nitty-gritty, gross details. It’s not pretty, it’s incredible. Reminds me of 1984.
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