My Girl Angel is Shallow as Sin
Jenny Cutler Lopez
I meet Angel by the metal payphone outside 7-11. I stroll outside with my breakfast, a giant-sized blueberry Slurpee. It is a sugared oasis from the cod I slice and fry and serve and, after my shift ends, the cod I steal from the food court.
Angel is as fragile as a newborn bird shoved from the nest, gulping air on the edge of a busy sidewalk. She clutches the payphone. Tears drip onto her toes. I know just how she feels. Lonesome, free-falling nausea. But she also seems as vicious as the leashed feral cat at her feet, shoving it with her foot whenever it swipes at her. She looks like her cat: black hair, golden streaks, light eyes narrowed in hatred.
I hang back under the narrow awning to escape the lidless prairie sun. Two months of relentless, swollen heat. Two months of Calgary city buses to the solitary morning shift to cut up dead elk and pig at the sausage factory. Two months of slicing fish at the food-court for the afternoon and dinner crowd. Two months since I moved into an apartment with my boyfriend, mouse-ridden until I bought two kittens from a newspaper ad. And two tense months since I hitchhiked across the country with my boyfriend.
Angel hangs up the phone.
“You ok?” I ask.
“My boyfriend's an asshole,” she says.
“Yeah, they all are,” I say. I straighten my forearm to show her a bruise. “Wanna cigarette?”
I hand her a John Player Special and a zippo.
The first inhale of the day sears my throat.
At sixteen, Angel is two years younger than me and half the age of her boyfriend.
T.L. is also her pimp.
“He's on his way up here,” says Angel. “He's pissed. He had to bail me out last night.”
“Oh.” I exhale.
We discover we both pay cash-only to Trudy: the fat slumlord who cools herself behind a rattling desk fan which spins cigarette smoke and stale sweat around a cramped second-floor-apartment-turned-office a few blocks from the 7-11. Angel and I live two blocks from each other and we both live with our boyfriends. We both know of the wrinkled man who stumbles around front of the 7-11 slurring shameful comments at young girls. I ignore him; Angel calls him names.
We discover we traveled the same highway. Angel escaped Drumheller, what movie cowboys would label a one-horse town, hidden in Alberta’s Badlands 50 miles northeast of here. The same town I hitchhiked through last year. The endless burnished fields a hypnotic finale to a three thousand mile odyssey.
We share a second cigarette. T.L. saunters around the corner of the 7-11. His legs are too long for his torso, his goatee and eyebrows sun-bleached. He squints when he speaks.
“You owe me money bitch,” he says, not caring who hears.
I wonder if I dare burn him with my cigarette.
“Let me come home and I'll pay you T.L. I promise.” She twists her arm out of his fingers.
A few days later, I see T.L. and Angel on the city bus, a few seats ahead of my boyfriend and me. The bus strains up the hill when I hear words crack the air like a rodeo whip, “Hey asshole. That’s no way to talk to a woman.”
“Mind your fucking business,” says T.L over his shoulder to the farm-boy in military uniform. I ring the bell for my stop - our stop - and Angel, T.L., the soldier, my boyfriend and I file off the bus.
The soldier strides past Angel and shoves his face right up to T.L. so their noses almost touch. Rising waves of hot asphalt and bus fumes cage us.
I say to Angel, “You wanna come back to my place?”
“No,” she says, her eyes fixed on the soldier. “That asshole better not hurt my boyfriend.”
T.L. slides his leather belt from his waist. He cracks it on the parking lot.
The soldier laughs like he doesn’t care who hears him.
“I gotta go,” I say. I have no taste for blood and my heart hurts for the soldier. How can Angel see only the duel and not the chivalry? How old was she when she learned to survive?
Two days later I see Angel and her cat.
What happened with your boyfriend? She tells me the short version. T.L. got his ass whipped. I smile inside.
“You wanna cigarette?,” I ask.
“Sure.” She exhales, letting the smoke graze her lips. “You wanna make some money?” she asks. The cat lays at her feet, wilting in the sun.
“Nothing really. T.L. knows guys that pay good money to watch someone like you and me pretend to have sex.”
“I'll think about it,” I lie. I need money but I won’t sell my skin for $50. Or be the reason a cowboy fights a pimp outside 7-11.
I want to exhale this dust, escape life as a shadow.
What I want is to snatch Angel’s cat. I want to watch it sniff damp pine cones and chase shadows in the wet Rocky Mountain forests not far from here. What I want is to see the cat escape. But instead I grind out my cigarette under my heel and walk away from Angel, knowing all I will do is root for the cat, willing it to learn how to claw its way free, all on its own.
About the Writer
Jenny Cutler Lopez is the non-fiction author of the award-winning Who I Am:
American Scar Stories. Jenny’s essays and stories appear in numerous
publications which include Northern Virginia Magazine; 10 Habits of Truly
Optimistic People, Hippocampus Magazine; and the Discovering True
anthology. She writes a regular column for Reston Lifestyle Magazine. Jenny
lives in Virginia with her husband, two children, and three black cats.