Monday, September 24, 2007
Trust in the WInd - Vicki M Taylor
Joanne jumped as a trashcan slammed into the laundry room door. "God, I wish they'd go and get drunk someplace else."
Sheila pulled another t-shirt out of the dryer, folded it, and placed it on top of an already growing pile of clean laundry. With comic grace she pirouetted and said, "It's another lovely Saturday night here at the prestigious Arbor Meadows. Look at the A-list people milling about." With a flip of her hand she picked up the bottle of softener, held it like a microphone and gestured toward the large plate glass window next to the laundry room door.
"It's a star-studded bonanza tonight, folks!"
Sadie Matthews, their long-time neighbor, sometimes babysitter, and surrogate mother, laughed at Sheila's performance.
Clapping, she looked through the window at the scene Sheila referred to only to stop as fast as she started. There was really nothing to laugh about. She could see the usual drunken, brawling group of tenants letting off steam after a hard week's labor. She picked up her laundry basket piled high with fluffy towels.
Joanne pushed up a sigh from deep inside. She hated this place. "Damn, I wish I could afford some place better for Joey to grow up."
"Don't we all, honey." Sadie smiled as she put a hand on Joanne's shoulder and squeezed. "Don't we all." Adjusting her basket against her round and generous hip, she turned to the younger women, waggled a finger, and said, "Don't ya'll stay here too long, ya here? That group out there is fixing on getting mean real soon, and I don't want ya'll anywheres near here, ya got that?"
"Yes, ma'am." Sheila and Joanne chorused together then looked at each other and giggled like ten year olds.
"And, lock that door behind me when I leave. Don't need nothing happening to ya'll with those babies at home." Sadie clicked her tongue and stood on the outside of the laundry room door until Joanne firmly locked it. With a quick wave, she again adjusted the basket against her hip and headed for her little apartment, all the while, casting nervous, but determined, sideways glances to the rowdy group at the end of the parking lot.
Joanne turned from the door as the dryer buzzer called to her. Another load of clothes done. As soon as she finished folding this load, they could head back to their apartment and hide behind their doors pretending the noisy group didn't exist.
"Wanna come over and let the kids watch a video tonight?" Sheila asked.
Joanne pulled soft, warm clothes from the dryer and dropped them onto the tabletop. "Maybe, I dunno. I'll let you know how I feel after I put all these clothes away." Stray hairs escaped the confinement of her ponytail. She pushed the errant wisps back behind her ears.
While folding the last of the towels, she looked around the small laundry room. Paint peeled from the walls, scattered dryer sheets and a rainbow of lint littered the cracked linoleum floor. The too-small portable air conditioner mounted in the wall above the wobbly table blasted semi-warm air into her flushed face. The high humidity level didn't help. She pulled at the hem of her small t-shirt, realizing that the bright green t-shirt shouted "razz me" to the animals on the other side of the glass. At first thinking the t-shirt was cute and sufficient legal coverage for such a hot night, now brought to mind what kind of trouble it could cause her.
Trouble had a way of finding her. Keeping two steps ahead of trouble meant a lot of work for her already stressful life. Joanne wanted to pretend that this horrible place wasn't so bad and if she could just save a little more money she and Joey could move into a better part of town. Then this part of her life could go away and they'd put it behind them like a bad dream.
It would take a lot of pretending to imagine that the pitiful little apartment complex on the edge of the industrial part of town, next to the noisy railroad and the dirty Hillsborough River didn't exist.
The pounding on the window made her drop the towel she had just folded to the floor. Bending to pick it up, she glanced toward the window.
Sheila whispered to her, "Don't make eye contact. Just ignore them. Maybe they'll go away."
"They're disgusting. How can they think those gestures are attractive?" Joanne whispered back.
Sheila smothered a small laugh and shrugged her shoulders. "That's their universal mating signal. Good thing we're not from their species otherwise we wouldn't be able to help ourselves."
Now it was Joanne's turn to stifle an uneasy laugh. She tried to ignore the pounding on the glass and the taunts of the drunken onlookers from behind their only protection. "How many times have we asked for a payphone in here?" Joanne swung her arm open for emphasis. "Do you see one?"
"Come on hon, let's get our stuff and get out of here." Sheila tossed a pile of unmated socks into her basket.
The girls gathered the rest of their unfolded laundry into baskets then looked around to make sure they didn't leave anything behind.
"Walk fast and keep your head down, Jo." Sheila said with an air of confidence Joanne knew she really didn't feel deep inside. Joanne gave her credit for trying.
Even so, Joanne nodded, then lifted a basket and placed it on top of another. Exhaling, she lifted both baskets and headed for the door. Sheila did the same, and then reached out an unsteady hand to unlock the door.
"Here we go, into the lion's den."
The taunts and pounding increased in volume as the girls stepped out of the laundry room.
"Yo, mama, gimme some softness!"
"Hey baby, looking good!"
"I'd play house with you any day."
Sheila turned her head and caught Joanne's attention. "Remember, don't make eye contact, Jo."
"I don't plan on it." Joanne pulled her laundry baskets closer to her body. Biting her lower lip, she forced a blank look on her face and stared straight ahead.
"Do me? Yeah baby, let me do you!"
"Ooooo, yeah, shake it, shake it, gimme some fries with that creamy shake!"
"How original." Jo whispered.
"Shhh. . . don't start anything."
The crowd moved in unison toward the women. Joanne checked behind her. The loud taunting voices surrounded them. The rough looking pack closed in, blocking any escape.
"Stay close." Sheila said.
The jeering crowd tossed expletives and vulgar comments.
Joanne searched the faces leering back at her. Men and women alike laughed at her discomfort. She shuffled her feet backward and stumbled on loose gravel.
Wobbling sideways, Joanne braced herself to fall. Determined not to make a spectacle of herself, she strained to keep her balance. Wincing, she tightened her grip on the plastic laundry basket even though the handle bit into the sensitive skin of her palm.
For the first time, fear threatened to overwhelm her senses. Joanne pushed aside the rising panic and concentrated on not provoking anyone in the crowd into attacking them.
"Hey, little mama, let me carry that basket for you." A large, unshaven man reached out to pull the basket from Sheila's hands.
"No, thank you."
The large, greasy hands pulled at Sheila's basket.
"I don't think so." Sheila firmly held the basket in both hands. "I don't need any help."
"Hey, me too, let me help!"
Joanne grimaced and turned away from the tall, shirtless man with strange tattoos covering his back. His dirty hands grabbed at her laundry basket.
"No, I can handle it myself."
"Oh, come on, pretty little girl, let me carry it for you. Then you can show me some appreciation."
Joanne pulled her laundry basket hard. She tugged against the stronger man's hold. "No! Give me my basket!"
Clothes flew threw the air and scattered about the ground.
Anger replaced her fear. "Shit, you son-of-a-bitch! Look what you did!" Joanne couldn't hold in her disgust any longer and let loose with a string of curse words that would have made her mother faint dead away.
Raucous laughter burst from the crowd watching the exchange.
Kneeling on the rough asphalt, Joanne pressed her lips closed so she wouldn't make any more outbursts that she might regret.
Without bothering to fold the scattered clothes, she shoved them into the basket as quick as she could. From nowhere, she was lifted to her feet and crushed to a foul smelling body.
"Let me go!"
"Oh, come on baby, you and me just need to get to know each other."
Joanne swallowed hard past a large lump. Bile rose in her throat. She wanted to vomit from the combined stench of sour sweat, cheap whiskey mixed with stale beer, and the foul breath of the man holding her.
"Hey, Jerk-off, let her go!"
"Sheila, get back. Go get help!"
"Oh, no you don't. You're gonna stay here." With that, Sheila's arms were pulled behind her back.
"Get off me!" Sheila kicked out. Her little plastic flip flops made no impact against her captor's leather boots and heavy jeans.
Joanne's mind raced. They wouldn't really try anything out here in the open, would they? Not with everyone watching? She had to convince these jerks to turn Sheila loose.
"Hey, let her-" sirens drowned the rest of her words. Wide-eyed, she watched several police cars with flashing blue and red lights pull into the complex from various directions, converging on the group. Bright lights lit up the dark. She heaved a sigh of relief as the smelly thug that held her close pushed her away.
Rubbing her arms and trying to wipe away the grime, she watched several uniformed officers round up the crowd. Two officers made their way to Sheila and Joanne just as Sadie hurried toward them. "Are you girls okay?" Sadie called out. "I knew there was gonna be trouble. I just knew it."
"Are you the one who called the police?" an officer asked.
"Yep, that's right. I did." Sadie clucked like a mother hen over her chicks as she checked first Joanne then Sheila for injuries.
"You poor things. Honestly, I don't know how this place got to be so bad. Why, when I first moved here we didn't have any hooligans running around like they owned the place." Sadie gave the officer a reproachful look that could have meant it was their fault her neighborhood fell to ruins. "Are you girls sure you're okay?"
Joanne and Sheila both assured Sadie that they were fine.
Two more officers moved forward as Sadie took a breath. "We're going to need statements from all of you. If you could come this way."
"Sure, no problem," Sheila walked with the female officer toward the laundry room door.
"Miss, if you could come this way?" another female officer motioned to Joanne.
"Of course. Let me just pick up my laundry first." Joanne knelt next to her basket.
Roy separated himself from the noisy crowd from which he had been gathering statements and watched silently as the small girl in the bright yellow t-shirt knelt down on the ground and gathered clothes that were strewn about. On impulse, he hurried over and offered to help.
"Here, let me get that for you."
"No!" Startled, Joanne reacted. She looked up to find a pair of kind gray eyes watching her carefully. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm still a little jumpy from all this." She motioned toward the crowd.
Roy stood then put a gentle hand under Joanne's elbow and lifted her effortlessly to her feet. He took both laundry baskets and strode toward a small bench outside the laundry room.
"Hey, where are you going with my clothes?"
Roy didn't bother answering her; he only cocked his head toward the other officer and asked if she'd taken the young lady's statement yet.
"I was just getting to that, sir."
"Okay, why don't you head over to see if Davis needs any help. I'll take over here."
"Yes, sir, Officer Bonham, sir." The female officer saluted then turned on her heel and moved quickly over to the group to give a hand.
"Is that how you get through life, just taking over?"
Roy carefully placed the baskets on the bench and turned to respond. All words escaped him when he looked down at the feisty spark in the young girl's blue eyes. She stood next to him; her arms hugged her thin body. He could see the writing on her t-shirt -'Dew Me' in bright neon green.
He smiled when she flipped her ponytail then crossed her arms over her chest as if knowing he was reading her t-shirt.
"What are you looking at?"
"I'm not sure."
"Oh, nothing. I'm Sheriff Roy Bonham. I'll take your statement. Tell me what happened here." To cover his embarrassment, Roy pulled a small notebook and pen from his left breast pocket.
"We, uh . . . we, uh . . . I mean, Sheila and I were doing laundry and we . . ."
Tossing his notebook aside, Roy caught the slight woman before she fell to the ground. "Hey!"
He lifted her slender frame into his arms and sat on the bench. Roy gazed down at the face of the woman who just fainted. She was so small; she fit into his arms like a child. He noticed dark smudges beneath her eyes and wondered what kept her from getting enough sleep.
He raised his hand to brush a few strays of her honey colored hair from her forehead. His hand stopped when her eyelids fluttered open.
"No, I didn't."
A low rumble shook Roy's chest. "Yes, you did."
"I don't faint."
Roy tightened his arms when he noticed that her too-thin, soft body no longer lay pliant in his arms. "Hold on, let's make sure you're okay before you go moving around."
"Look Officer Bonham, I'm fine. Let me go, please."
He couldn't resist the embarrassed, pleading look in her eyes. "Alright. Be still." Roy released his hold on her and let her slide off his lap onto the bench. "Maybe you should see a paramedic just to be on the safe side?"
"I don't think so."
The sting in her voice pierced Roy's soul. It echoed on his face.
She must have seen the hurt look on his face because she hurried to say in a softer tone, "That's not necessary. I just got light headed. You know, the heat of the laundry room, the humidity, the cool night air, the . . ." she waved her arm to include the commotion surrounding them.
"Uh huh . . . when was the last time you ate?"
"I dunno. Lunch, maybe? No, wait. I skipped lunch to go and pick up some pants for Joey. I guess it was breakfast."
"You haven't eaten for over twelve hours? No wonder you fainted!"
"Yo, Bradford!" Roy yelled for a deputy sheriff. "Bring me a can of soda."
Roy looked down as a hand tapped his arm. "I drink diet soda."
"Not diet!" he yelled to Bradford then looked back at the young girl staring up at him. "You need the sugar."
His tone meant he wasn't going to argue about it. He watched her close her mouth and cross her hands over her chest. Looks like she's not used to being told what to do. I wonder why she's doing laundry and buying pants for this Joey instead of dating and doing what other girls her age do on the weekends?
Trust in the Wind
by Vicki M. Taylor