There is a man on the couch.
He is slouched against the backrest, thick legs thrown open. His suit jacket is draped across the armrest, his shoes side by side on the floor by his feet. He flexes the toes in his black dress socks, extending them with a pop, and looks over at the girl who has just walked into the apartment.
“Close that door,” a woman calls from the kitchen. Something clangs onto the counter and the woman curses.
The girl does what she is told.
"Well, hello there," the man says. He lifts the glass in his fist as if to toast her, then splashes the contents into his mouth. He strokes a worn spot on the cushion and works his finger into the tear. “Ain’t you pretty,” he says.
From the kitchen, a laugh. “What'd I tell you?”
The man laughs, too, exposing the plum-colored underside of his bottom lip. He pats the space beside him. It makes a dull sound. “I won’t bite,” he says and laughs again.
The woman's head appears in the cutout in the wall separating the kitchen from the living room. There was a time the girl and the woman would pretend it was a drive-thru window. The girl would order hotdogs or Kool-Aid or popsicles, and smiling, the woman would pass them through with a “Thank you, ma’am” that made the girl laugh.
Now, the woman frowns at the girl. “Go on,” she says.
The girl goes to the couch and sits on the far end. She balances on the edge, her notebook in her lap. Her nostrils fill with the man’s scent. If she could put her hands around that smell, it would be a leaf. A crunchy one, picked from the ground. She looks down at the notebook. Her progress report peeks out from the top, the pointy tip of an A just visible. But now is not the time.
“So, how old are you, honey?” the man asks.
“I already told you. Eleven,” the woman says, walking into the living room, a glass of ice in one hand, a bottle of orange flavored vodka in the other. She refills the man's glass and he nods at her before lifting it in another toast.
The woman takes the notebook from the girl’s lap and drops it on the coffee table. She holds out the glass she's brought with her.
The girl takes the glass and watches the ice cubes crack as the woman pours.
The woman sets the bottle on the table and looks at the man. “Fifteen minutes?" she says to him.
He looks at the girl, then back at the woman. “Twenty.” He takes out his wallet.
The woman smiles. She counts the money and stuffs it into her pocket.
The girl stares up at the woman, her eyes wide. "Mama?" she whispers.
Her mother leans in close and whispers back, "Drink."
The girl does what she is told, wincing as she swallows. Closing her eyes, she drinks again. She drinks until there is only ice.
When she opens her eyes, her mother is gone. And the man's hand is closer.
Copyright: All written or visual work, unless otherwise noted, is the original and fully copyrighted work of Joi Maria. You may not use this work without written permission.