the outside of this place

I turn a few pages, seeing photos of her at beaches, at parties, at formal gatherings, with relatives. There was one that showed a white guy with a big mustache kissing her neck from behind and pushing up on her breasts with his hands. It embarrasses me for some reason, arouses me maybe…”

 

by kevin sampsell

 

Last week, I noticed my hair was falling out in unusual fashion. As in the location of my body of the falling out. As in my arm pits and crotch.

I began to suspect our upstairs neighbor. We saw her once washing the concrete steps with chicken blood. Some kind of voodoo routine.

This lady got unpleasantly pissed off at my wife and I when we first moved in and couldn’t produce a wine-opening corkscrew for her. She seemed agitated while watching me annihilate the cork with a Philip’s screwdriver.

My wife has not noticed a change in the health of her hair. She shaves her whole body anyway. Except her head of course. It has always been my preference that she is smooth.

Another tenant recently told us that she has seen the inside of Voodoo Lady’s apartment. There was construction paper laid out everywhere with all sorts of chicken parts spread out on top. At least it looked like chicken. There was a bucket of blood on the dining room table, placed neatly between the salt and pepper shakers. This tenant told us she only saw the place that once, while borrowing the telephone.

I am in bed, crawling over my wife, trying to locate her left nipple in the dark. Her right foot is gently massaging my groin. I become large. She says in a concerned voice: “Fuzzy.”

I nearly lose my concentration but keep on licking. Her body so hard and smooth.

“Stubble,” she says, under her breath. My body starts to numb and I look at the glowing numbers of the clock. 4:12 AM.

“I need a drink,” she tells me as her fingers click on the bedside lamp. Standing beside the bed, she pauses. Her body is spotted with three dark hairs in the shapes of an S, a 6, and a C. She lightly brushes them off. She looks a little concerned.

She exits the bedroom and I stare at the bed and the floor beside it, the troublesome nests of hairs.

My wife comes back in with a glass of Kool-aid that we share. Upstairs, we hear the lady turn her vacuum cleaner on.

I go upstairs the next afternoon and offer her a ribbon-wrapped corkscrew. She opens the door with some kind of strange robe on — the bottom half is some kind of red velvet, but above the waist is more like a see-through pink chiffon. Her large brown breasts rest just above her deep belly button, which looks about the size of a bathtub drain.

I look at her nose when I talk to her. “I got you a present so you don’t have to use my Philip’s screwdriver again.”

“And where’s the wine, sweet man?” She tests the sharp point of the corkscrew with her index finger.

“Sorry,” I tell her. “I have to go to work.”

“I thought you worked at nights,” she says.

“What do you mean? I don’t think–“

“I can hear you working come night time down there.”

I start to understand what she’s getting at, and she smiles like a psychic.

After she burrows around in a kitchen cabinet for a few minutes, she brings out a bottle of dark red wine.

I sit in an overstuffed chair in the living room and watch a soap opera I have never heard of.

“I think this will be adequate for starters,” she says, rubbing the bottle against her chest. By this time, I have surveyed the area and find nothing too unusual about her place. There are some lurid Aztec-looking pictures on the wall and a crowded bookshelf with all sorts of religious books. Everything from Buddhism to Mormonism. Her vacuum cleaner is leaning in the corner but the carpet still looks dirty. We drink and she tells me her name is Brenda.

She sits on the couch and opens a photo album in her lap. “Come look at this picture over here,” she tells me. I sit beside her and see a photograph of her standing in front of a familiar building.

“That’s what the outside of this place looked like ten years ago,” she says. “It’s a nicer shade of blue and the shrubs look a good dose livelier.” She puts the heavy album on my legs and then straightens her posture, holding her breasts up for a second. “It’s funny how ten years can wear shit down.”

In the photo Brenda looks almost like a teen-ager; 20 pounds lighter, skin darker, her back straight as a board. On the opposite page there is a photo, taken more recently it looks like, of her holding a snake.

“How old are you?” I ask.

“I’ll be 40 in the year 2000,” is her answer. “Look some more if you want.”

I turn a few pages, seeing photos of her at beaches, at parties, at formal gatherings, with relatives. There was one that showed a white guy with a big mustache kissing her neck from behind and pushing up on her breasts with his hands. It embarrasses me for some reason, arouses me maybe.

After about an hour, a tall young girl comes out of one of the bedrooms. She looks part Hispanic and has a word or something tattooed on the side of her neck. She seems to make a deep sound in her gut as she sits down in the chair I sat in earlier.

“What kind of shit-juice is that?” she asks right off the bat, indicating my wine glass.

“Some kind of red wine,” I say, trying to sound friendly but tough.

She stares at it with a grimace, looks in the kitchen at Brenda, who is looking for more wine, then looks at my shoes. “I don’t drink,” she says. “I got a job.”

I start to lean forward for my glass, but catch myself and pretend to wipe dust off the table instead. “Where do you work?”

“Safeway,” she says, in a tone of voice suggesting I should already know. “I take groceries out to your car.”

“Doesn’t it get boring?”

“I do lots of shit there. It’s cool. We play the radio loud at nights when we’re stockin’ the shelves.”

It makes me feel intrusive, but I ask her anyway: “Do you live here?” I drink the last drops of my wine and Brenda comes up behind me with another bottle.

“I’m just staying for a little longer,” she says. “M makes me feelsafe.”

“M?”

“That’s what she calls me,” Brenda explains.

“What do you mean by safe?”

The girl looks at the clock and yawns before answering. “A couple of weeks ago this big fat guy raped me in the back of a van after I took his groceries out. He was a guy I remember because he tried to pick up on one of my friends the week before at a party. I didn’t want to go to the police, so I came to M. She can fix guys without even touching them.”

I don’t know what to say. Sometimes I get the feeling that sympathy is useless. I start to feel uncomfortable and wonder if my wife is home from work yet, if she is wondering where I am.

“I want romance,” the girls says, somewhat out of the blue. “Guys don’t seem to understand the general idea of being decent. I think they can be decent without waving a gun around, don’t you?”

“Nice guys don’t light fires,” I concede. “They can’t seem to explode. They’re not exciting. We, as a species, have to capture your attention by getting carried away. Most of the times in a vicious manner.”

Brenda pours more wine in my glass and hers, then shakes her head. “That’s why magic is on our side. That’s why feminine power is everywhere. Maybe invisible to some, but everywhere- like God.”

“Men are forgettable; they don’t linger,” says the young girl. I notice that her tattoo says: Hybrid or maybe Heartbreak. The letters are written in a leaning, Victorian-style cursive.

Brenda intervenes on the subject: “I’d like to see what men would do if the tables were turned, if we were in the position of material power and they had to walk scared at night.”

My head starts to feel light and I rub my scalp instinctively, it seems to shuffle around like a wig. I subtly scan the room for a phone, but don’t see one. I hear the sound of a shower turning on. The young girl is gone from the room in what seems to be a split moment, stretched out like taffy. I notice Brenda by the door, fastening the latch, and then locking the door.

 

Originally published:
Issue Three
November 2000

 


Kevin Sampsell writes, publishes, promotes, sells, and writes reviews for books in Portland, Oregon. He has also taught 8th graders how to re-mix James Tate poems. When he’s not thinking about books or watching cartoons with his 6-year-old he follows the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team with a religious enthusiasm. More from Kevin can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

 

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