DANIEL
RIDDLE RODRIGUEZ

Daniel Riddle Rodriguez is the author of Low Village (Cutbank 2016) and Low Village: Rules of the Game (Nomadic Press 2016). Previous publications include work in The Southhampton Review, Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, The Penn Review, and others. 

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HOW TO SPOT A MONSTER: A FIELD GUIDE FOR GIRLS

This is How He Breaks You Down

He tells you every woman has thought about selling it at least once. “Like suicide,” he says. “Or same-sex sex.” He tells you this outside an all-night greasy spoon called Nick’s, called Denny’s, called International House of Pancakes. You sit in the passenger seat of his Riviera, or his Lincoln, his matte-black Mustang measled with Bondo—and the air is thick with fish. He fingers deep-fried pieces of cod until his nail beds shine. Many nights are spent like this: his fingers greasy, his mouth attacking your hippocampus. “Your mother,” he says. “And her mother and hers before that.” The Monster wears a ripped denim jacket and a scar on his face, grease burns from swine on the stovetop. When he says, “It’s the oldest profession in the world,” fish fry tumbles from his mouth in waves.

This is What You Know

Most men are weak dick and bubblegum. All talk. They explain everything, answering every question you never asked like it’s their last chance to speak, eyes shiny with desperation. The Monster’s tongue is a tool for soft power, a whip, a bludgeon, a bucket brigade dumping flora and fauna into your ever-waiting ears. He likes to say you’ll never have it this good. He likes to say it’s a business doing pleasure with you. “Some monsters?” He likes to say. “They spit acid in your face, or rend the heart right out of you.” The Monster says you can keep your eyes. Your heart, too. All he wants you to do is smile for the camera, post an ad, hold down a room, and break every pasty pale face for his time. All he wants you to do is have some self-respect: get paid for what girls do free every damn day of their lives.

 

Apropos

Your vanilla friend calls it blood money, a slave wage.

     Your not-so-vanilla friend calls it like this: there are worse ways to make a buck than subletting your larynx.

This is What He'll Do for Money   

Shoot dice, ditto guns. Shoot shit and swallow spit. Will shoot the moon, the sheriff, and the deputy. Will shake cops, deps, K9s, and ‘riffs. Will make you milk shake for yard boys. Will plot. Will hurly burly business. But will never not ever never split the pie in two.

 

This is How You Meet Cute   

He baits you out of a fierce independence you spent a lifetime trying to cultivate. You are all ascots and pom-poms, pep rallies at San Lorenzo High. He is a serenade of loud music and burnt rubber, his car a rope of smoke under sodium lights.

    You spot him at Rotten Robbie’ s, burning trees in the parking lot.

    You spot him at the Beacon, burning rubber with the dread heads.

    You spot him at Crown Beach. You and your friends are a series of Polaroid pictures, all sunscreen and white teeth, Diet Cokes. You have a lit cigarette in your hand. He winks at you, revving his engine as he drives by. Car flirting.

    He sets your mother’s rose bushes on fire, leaves a necklace of still-beating hearts on your front porch.

    Your mother will say, “If you walk out that door, Valley Girl… “

    The Monster will say, “Everything you leave behind, you leave behind broken.”

Pop Quiz (multiple choice)

 

The first time you take a ride with him, your body becomes:

    a) an orchestra of bedsprings.

    b) the split in a lizard’s tongue.

    c) the one calm spot in this whole mad universe.

    d) your mother’s burning roses as he peels off down the street.

 

Field Notes

The Monster lives in a house on Cole Street, a neighborhood in East Oakland that looks like the town God forgot about—a lot of chain-link fences and tiny dirt lawns, dog shit on the sidewalks.

    He takes you by the hand, says, “Welcome home,” and then walks you across the threshold.

Childhood Memory

Cocks in the hen house. Men in the kitchen. At your house, your best friend’s house, all the houses. Men all around. It’s a song you hear a lot but it didn’t stop your mothers from singing it. These men at your kitchen table, or on your porch, lipping bottles of Rolling Rock, or Miller Lite if they feel like letting their blue collars show. Your mothers leave with done-up faces—all foundation and shadow—and come home late, tipped off Maker’s Mark, faces runny, withered and pasty versions of themselves.

 

Apropos

Your mother always said, “A man tattoos a woman the same way a dog constitutes a fire hydrant. They ruin things to own them.”

    “Who?” you’d ask. “Men or dogs?”

This is What He Does 

He folds bills, covets power. He crushes pills into powder. He feeds you bumps straight from the hand until you’re living off the meat of his fist. He playing Pavlov, you the dog.

 

Pop Quiz (true or false)

If you spend your entire life on a leash, all that matters is the length of the chain.

 

Homework

The Monster is older than you, of course, a lapsed Catholic from way back, when they still exorcised sin from your flesh with the Prince of Peace. “A length of wood,” he says, “carved into the shape of a fish.” You were a Catholic schoolgirl too. Life in the church, you remember, was an oscillating dance between capitulation and rebellion; bless the cup, abuse the cup; I am angry and I am sorry. This is how you spell Foreshadowing.

 

Apropos

Your vanilla friend will say, “Isn’t he too old for you?”

Your not-so-vanilla friend will say, “He’s just old enough to make sense.”

This is What He Likes 

Saturday mornings, breakfast cereal in a mixing bowl, chase cartoons. The one with the coyote is okay, but what’s with all the traps? And why does the coyote keep shelling out chalupas to buy more of them? “Imagine,” he says, “clocking in and out every day, week, year. Stacking checks to catch a single bird.” The Monster can’t relate. He would have simply bought a bird, an entire menagerie, even. Glutted himself. Wiped his greasy mouth with all that leftover cash.

    “Remember this, Valley Girl,” says the Monster. “Prometheus was a man rubbing two dollars together.”

This is What You Know

The Monster is smart as a whip and dipped in chips.

 

Soulmates 

The Monster says his favorite type of girl knows the question, Will you let me rape you? is a contradiction in terms unless it isn’t. A girl who can’t define an existential crisis but suffers them anyhow. Sloe-eyed ingénue. The girl who doesn’t know she has a shelf life made perishable through cooked coke.

    “It’s the baking soda,” he tells you. “Or maybe the baby laxative? Either way the cut will kill you.”

    “Not the crack?”

    “The crack, too, I guess,” he says. “And you know what else? The battering ram. You remember Reagan? Just Say No?”

    You tell him you were born in ’88.

    “Well, everybody was stuck between rocks and hard places, dig? But there’s a soft spot somewhere in the middle. I’ll show you where it is,” he says. “How to live there. All you gotta do is follow my lead.”

The First Time You Get Paid For It

The first time you get paid for it there is a motel room and a man. He is older than any man in the world. He smiles too much and has so many teeth. “Use the oyster fork,” he says. There’s a small bowl of fruit in front of you. Blueberries and black, pieces of sliced honeydew. He wants to feed you and pay for the pleasure. Naked, of course, foam collecting in the corners of his mouth. His entire body smells like milk, and, when he touches you, something on the inside scatters like deer.

 

Childhood Memory

When you were seven, you found an old box of photo negatives in your grandmother’s basement. Pictures of monarch butterflies, their migration. They travel five hundred miles. The monarchs. It takes four or five generations to complete the journey. You imagined being the second leg, the third, how you can spend your entire life moving between two points without knowing, really knowing, either one.

 

Apropos

Your vanilla friend says, “You can spend your whole life looking for God, but then, one day, you may just settle for a boy.”

Your not-so vanilla friend says, “God. Boy. Same diff. Either way you’re on your knees.”

The First Time You Get Paid For It

The first time you get paid for it a man shows you a picture of his heart. “This was her before the chemo,” he says. She is a lot of lips and sharp bones, a mass of curly red hair. “You look a lot like her,” he says, pressing his wet mouth to your ear. “That’s why I picked you.”

 

Pop Quiz (short answer)

How long can this goldfish swim in a plastic bag?

 

The First Time You Get Paid For It

The first time you get paid for it you become a goddess. Goddess of Unruly Hair. Goddess of Unmade Beds. Goddess of Tiny Liquor Bottles and Ice Buckets. Trailer Park, Catwalk, Charm School Goddess. Goddess of Pick-Ups. Goddess of Red Lights and Power Lines. Goddess of Getting Lost in the Coatroom, Courtroom, All the Rooms.

    The first time you get paid for it, you become Goddess of Green Eyes Crying in the Shower.

 

Apropos

Your not-so-vanilla friend says, “Some people cry exploitation, but some people couldn’t wring a soggy dollar out of their drawers, so some people should shut the fuck up.”

    Your not-so-vanilla friend says, “The world loves a beautiful woman, simple as that.”

This is What You Know

At the end of the day all tricks want to fuck a child. A facsimile, not of their own daughter, but of their daughter’s friend. The one with the uniform and the Catholic school mouth, dense with metal, the blood of Christ still fresh on her lips. They pay extra for the jumper. Ditto pigtails.

 

The First Time You Get Paid For It

The first time you get paid for it and you spend the aftermath obsessing over windows. Exempli gratia: If you hadn’t climbed out of certain one on a particular night, what would your life look like now? Or: If there had been bars on it like your mother always threatened, would you be a completely different person?

 

Homework

Always carry excess rubber in your car, your house, your purse. Never do bareback, never do personal info, never hurry the naughty with new clients, half and half is twice the price, and always wear a conservative dress before 7 PM. Remember, Cinderella, by midnight all bets are off.

 

Pop Quiz (multiple choice)

The first time you get paid for it, your body becomes:

    a) a girl tied up in the trunk.

    b) the person who put her there.

    c) both A and B.

    d) there is no girl, no trunk—only a mannequin, a lit cigarette, and a blindfold, a length of rope long enough to hang the world.

 

Field Notes 

The cleaning lady is a saint, but motel rooms are a hell all your own. A black light will give you nightmares. Remember when your mother told you about bed mites and you couldn’t sleep for a week? “They come out at night and feast,” she said. “Your head, the hair on your skull, is like one big Bon Bon.” Your mother called it the savage law of the universe: everything eating everything else.

 

Childhood Memory

You are twelve and have never felt so totally ignored. It’s almost conditioned. Pavlovian. You open your mouth, and your mother closes her ears.

 

Soulmates

The Monster has never met a vein he couldn’t collapse and wants to prove it to you. “But just this once,” he says. “A little taste. Can’t have my twin nodding on the world, because you never know where you’ll end up.” He calls you twin because, he says, you each share half the other’s soul. When you ask him What about the heart? he gives you a playful tap on the jaw. “Never had one,” he says. He puts flame to a spoon, bottom heavy with black. Hypodermic, cotton ball. When he finally puts the needle to you, the pain passes in an instant so quick you only smile, say, “Huh…” before nodding out.

 

Homework

Fall asleep and wake up an image. Black your face with the dark curtain of your hair. Chain smoke until the sound from your throat is no longer your own. Ask him, “Why me?” Watch him light a cigarette, the car filling with smoke.

    “A barred window,” he says, “only encourages the burglar.”

    He says, “A gilded butterfly is a beauty forever.”

    He shrugs his terrible shoulders and says, “Why not you?”

 

Recurring Dream

Your pussy grows teeth, fuzzy limbs, turns feral. Arachnus Vaginus. It spins webs and, dropping onto unsuspecting heads, sinks fangs into flesh.

 

Homework

Count down the days, weeks, months, in an algebra lost upon your mother—the way a summer morning can be stretched so tight it thrums, or how night can pass in an instant so quick it could hardly be said to have passed at all. This is how you spell Infinity.

 

This is What You Know

Most men are easier now. They wear what they want on their faces, mustachioed creeps—the way they clutch dollars like they’re sacred, squeezing until the president screams, before dropping them onto your waiting lap, or fixing them to your lace garter.

 

Case Study

The Monster has an older friend whose given name is California. He drinks fair-trade coffee and votes Libertarian, which, in your mind, places him somewhere foreign to yourself. A hybrid person made up of two halves you don’t like. A hippie with caveman logic, or maybe the vice versa? Either way, I mean, show me your friends, right?

    “Are you a monster, too, Mister California?”

    “Who me?” he says. “Heavens no! A hunter born.”

    “Monster. Hunter. What’s the diff?”

    “Nothing, really.” California smiles. “Either way it’s your head on the wall, your pretty skin a rug on the floor.”

Childhood Memory

Another family night out and it’s a three-ring circus. Of course, there’s another man courting your mother.  Another “uncle.” Uncle John, Uncle Jim, Uncle Hank—whatever. The air is thick with kettle-corn and the sound of loud whistles. Peanut shells crunch beneath your P.F. Flyers. Your mother is basking in vodka, three sheets to the wind, and too drunk to see. Not the tiny cars and tumbling clowns. Not the giant, brown bears dancing in pastel tutus. Not the man called ‘uncle’ trapping you in the no-man’s land between his mouth and your body. He has a jaw full of chewing tobacco and beer on his breath, and something else so sour it seems sweet at first. The same way water in a drawn bath can be so hot that, for a split-second, it seems cold…or is it the other way around? “You know how they get bears to dance, right?” he says. “They chain them to the circus floor and set their feet on fire.” He laughs in your face. He spits on the floor. He runs a crusty thumb across your lips, jams it into your mouth.

 

This is What You Know

The Monster may have been a man once, in a previous life, maybe, but he doesn’t resemble one. Much like the man didn’t resemble the boy who preceded him.

 

Field Notes 

The Monster is going “capture bonding” and gives you the chance to tag along. He circles the West Oakland Greyhound station in his Riviera, his Lincoln, his Mustang, while you bait the hooks. The station is a rest haven for runaways, girls, and this is the bait: cocaine in the palm; a pinch of black in the nose; the promise of a collapsed vein; a deviated septum; a straight-pipe shooter; a straight pipe-dream; a sandwich baggy, twisted closed and pregnant with powder. Bait the hook with the spitting image of her absent father. Build a speakeasy in her chest, between her legs, the size of his indifference. These girls carry a lifetime inside their bags. Hobo, shoulder. The Monster says to pick the one who squeezes it hardest. You spot a lone girl sitting near a bank of pay phones. She is a red, quivering thing clutching a hobo bag, a poach-my-soul look plastered all over her face. “She’s the girl with a one-way ticket,” The Monster says, easing the car into park. “She’s the one who can’t go home.”

    The red girl is wearing a blue-denim midi and saddle shoes, bobby socks, and it takes the smallest bump to coax her to the car.

    A smaller one than you’d think to keep her there.

Apropos

Your not-so-vanilla friend says, “You shouldn’t care if an action is right or wrong; you should totally care if you’re going to profit from it.”

    The Monster says, “There is no catch too small. Anything that gets into the car is fair game.”

 

Pop Quiz (short answer)

Some people live to break fragile things, and some people yearn to shatter. Which type are you?

 

Homework

Imagine the world from the point of view of The Monster. Child of torches and pitchforks. Child of ruin. The mirror is a holocaust of light, so you feed on shadows. Eat the dark. Grow darker.

    O child of the closet, why do you crave the soul but settle for flesh?

    O haunted thing, how would you even know you have claws until you tear some poor girl apart?

 

Apropos

Your vanilla friend says, “If you look hard enough at another person, you will eventually see yourself.”

 

Field Notes 

The house on Cole Street is a refuge for runaways, a way station between nothing and not much. Frying pan, fire. We take them where we find them. We tell them they are people of the night. We tell them they’re allergic to the sun. We tell them they’ll never have it so good. We point to the house on Cole Street and say soft spot between rock and hard place...and isn’t he some kind of divine? The Monster. Patron saint of latchkeys, Grand Poobah of lost children. Think: portraits on the milk carton. Think: After School Special. Think: stray cats in the backyard, Red Girl in the kitchen. And the Monster? He is roasting marshmallows out of the open oven. There are a half-dozen boxes of crackers on the table, and The Red Girl is stacking chocolate bars on the counter. It’s a hot day, and the chocolate is turning to paste in her fingers.

    “For the smores,” she says, licking a pinky clean.

    “Smores, huh?”

    “For the party?” she says.

    Her real name is January (she says), but The Monster calls her Shadow on account she’s been living in his back pocket since we brought her home.

    “Party?” you say. “What party?”

    The Monster says “Surprise.” He is holding a kebob skewer with a lone flaming marshmallow on the end. “A celebration, really,” he says, handing the skewer to The Shadow, who holds it to her chest like a bouquet of flowers. He calls her a project. He calls her a gift. He takes her by the shoulders, gently pushes her towards you. “Happy Birthday, Twin,” he says.

    The marshmallow is still burning between you, so you close your eyes and purse your lips. Blow it out.

 

Apropos

The Monster says capture bonding isn’t an exact science, but it is a numbers game. Ratios and scales. The greater the time, the deeper the bond.

 

The Shadow

She has what your mother called The Tomboy’s Curse: a really pretty face, pretty ugly feet. Her eyes are Disney big and shine so bright it hurts. How long, you wonder, before they go dim. “Is there anything I should know?” she asks.

    The house on Cole Street is empty save for you and The Shadow. It’s another hot day in Oakland, and The Monster took everyone out to Alameda Beach—to day drink and lay out in the sun. So you play house with The Shadow, watch Animal Planet, and trade war stories.

    “Know?”

    “Yeah, like any tips or whatever.”

    “Get used to fossils.”

    “What, like old men?” She shrugs. “No biggy.” The Shadow says she’s used to it. “I’m from a small town, and small towns are chockfull of lonely old men, let me tell you.”

    “Please do,” you say, muting the television.

    She is from a tiny podunk north of Sacramento, a conservative safe haven, loggers and sodbusters mostly. Future Farmers of America. People your mother would call white trash who think they’re middle class because they have a deck on the back porch, a skyline full of pine trees. “A town of tweakers and bearded weirdos,” The Shadow says. “And old men of every stripe, of course.” Old men in Carhartt jackets and pick-up trucks. Old men in foxtail caps. Old men with cabbage moths that flitter about their heads. Old men who chase dragons across sheets of foil as long as your arm. Old men with long teeth and tongues that swim in their skulls. Old men who would give you just about anything for even the smallest bit of attention. The spitting image of your uncle, your brother, your god-forsaken father—these old men.

    Her daddy was an old man too, an alcoholic who used to swill Jack and sit naked on the couch. The Shadow sat with him most days. (“Naked as all outdoors,” is how she puts it.) They’d watch TV together. Old sitcoms that made syndication. Reruns of Taxi. Reruns of Dick Van Dyke. All in the Family. For hours. Then he’d floss her teeth afterwards.

    “He’d floss your teeth?”

    “Yup,” she says. “In the buff, too. Me in his lap. Him in my molars.”

“For real?”

    “I thought it was normal,” she says, laughing, her big doe eyes shining. “Until I didn’t.”

    “Jesus.”

    “Tell me about it. He used to say he loved a good displaced incisor. Can you believe that? He called it divine.”

    The two of you sit quietly for a while. On the television, two hyenas tear into a gazelle who dies bleating in the dirt—their frothy mouths covered with blood, their divine clits swinging in the dust.

    “Where was your mother?”

    The Shadow quivers, goes a little red. “Silly lady,” she says, “you’re my only mama now.”

 

Extra credit

Make a list of patron saints and what they are responsible for. Carry it with you wherever you go. You never know when you’ll run into a saint on the street. You never know when you’ll need a miracle.

 

Homework

Count down the days, weeks, months—how The Monster turns a shade of red for an entire year; or how The Shadow walks the blade until her feet come off, stands up, and walks some more. How the three of you squeeze the needle so hard the world becomes a copper-colored afternoon, a fever dream so deep you fall in and lose all of September. Wake up believing your bodies are more than a field of pockmarks and scars. This is how you spell Codependence.

 

Pop Quiz (short answer)

Is there a difference between a bedroom and a coffin, a pillow and a chopping block, an answer and an ambulance? Please show your work.

 

This is What You Know

The exact spot you will end up. And if not the exact spot, then another one just like it. It is your cross to bear, the millstone around your neck. Fact is, some people come around, you fold.

 

Apropos

Your vanilla friend says, “Cut your losses now. It’s the only way to win.”

    Your not-so-vanilla friend says, “You don’t really want to win. You want a winner.”

Homework

Make a list of things you know for sure. Exempli gratia: if he doesn’t trust the bank, then you are sleeping on the stash. If he has you weighing up, then tip his scale toward your purse. If he won’t split the pie in two, then have at the mixing bowl yourself. Remember, Girl, the house always wins, so find a way to be the rake, and skim your way to freedom. This is how you spell Insurance.

 

Field Notes 

The Shadow says the scariest sound on earth is a lambskin breaking. She wants to know if you’ve heard it too? You find her in the bathroom, perched on the tub. Her eyes are puffy and her lips are red. There’s a half-empty quart of cranberry juice on the bathroom floor. Cocaine on a mirror in her lap. A feeling in your stomach like a thumbscrew turning.

    “Only noise I heard was him.” The Monster has been upstairs all morning, pacing back and forth and slamming doors. Stressing the floorboards, cracking the plaster. Popcorn drops from the ceiling like snow. “What’s going on?” you say. “What’s that smell?”

    “I got some sick on the rugs,” The Shadow says. “So I threw them out.”

    “Get the window, will you?”

    Outside is a morning cold enough to crack stone. The sky is all furious clouds and heavy rain. The giant sycamores that line the street have dropped their leaves. Flooding the gutters. A man in a tracksuit—one hand holding a soggy newspaper over his head, the other attempting to light a cigarette wedged in his teeth—walks by the house, muttering into his beard and swearing.

    The Shadow says she been knowing something’s coming; she just didn’t know what. She leans over the mirror, puts her nose to powder, and sniffs deep.

    “Like when I was a kid,” she says, wiping an arm across her face. “Some mornings I could wake just knowing an earthquake was on the way. My real mama had it too. Said she could ‘feel a quake coming from her kundalini.’” She runs a fingertip across the mirror before putting it to her gums.

    “And the cranberry juice?”

    “My real mama said it’ll do if you’re desperate.”

    “Do?” you say. “For what?”

    The Shadow pantomimes flipping a large switch, a rush of water cascading through her body, says, “You know…”

    “You’re not serious.”

    “Sure,” she says. “I mean, maybe. If you catch it early and drink enough of it.”

    You look at the sick drying in the grout, the gut juice in the sink trap.

    “How late are you?”

    She looks up at you—her nose runny, eyes flashing. “Weeks!” she cries, dropping the mirror and spilling coke everywhere. She reaches into the front pocket of her shorts, pulls out a dipstick, and waves the working end in your direction. A fat pink PLUS sign barking in your face.

        “And what did he do?”

    The Monster told her she had a choice to make. He told her whatever is going to happen is already happening. The only thing worse than the wrong choice, he said, flashing his terrible fangs, is the wrong choice you don’t make for yourself.

    The Shadow throws the dipstick and bursts into tears. Her nose is a bloody faucet. Her face a crumpled paper napkin. “Who’s gonna want me now?” she says, sobbing into your shirt.

    This is the moment something inside you breaks. An accumulation of the rain outside, maybe. The Monster breaking the house. The Shadow and her big dumb eyes. And all of it adding up to what? Earthquakes and cranberry juice. The sheer lunacy of it all. How ridiculous…

    You open your mouth and a Monster’s words tumble out.

    You tell her she is your twin, your spine. You tell her she can follow your lead. You take her tiny blubbering face in your hands and say, “Everything we leave behind, we leave behind broken…”

 

Homework

Keep your bags in the trunk, eyes on the door. If these walls could talk, they’d burp bleach. Your heart goes like this: slow fast slow. It’s an oscillating dance between love and hatred; capitulation, rebellion. The Monster stands at the window, staring at the city like it’s a problem he’s trying to fix. If you ask him about The Shadow, note the warmth that leaves the room. The mirrors that crack and shatter.

 

Pop Quiz (short answer)

If love is a land without true north, why do you keep clutching a compass?

 

It Ain't No Fun When the Rabbit Got the Gun

“A real hustler,” The Monster likes to say, “never takes a day off.” So you spend your downtime playing X-marks-the-spot: He keeps the titles to his cars in a filing cabinet in the closet—X; a whole lot of fish (read: scale) in the fridge—X; cash in a mini-safe, The Shadow’s bag on a wall hook—X and X.

Pop quiz

 

Crib Sheet for Cheats

    If you keep a bag of rainy-day cash, then you are a walking, talking silver lining.

    If you are a fox-trapped girl—steel jaws on your leg, key in his hand—then bare the teeth God gave you and gnaw your wrist to freedom.

    If you expect him to chase you, you’re missing the point.

    If you are what you attract, what does that make you if you stay?

    Remember, Girl, it’s hard to fight an enemy who has an outpost in your skull.

 

Apropos

Your not-so-vanilla friend says, “Girls are born behind the eight ball. It is our God-given right to play a little dirty pool.”

 

Final 

If you have a bridge to burn, then by all means burn. But answer this first, firebug: are you actually plotting arson, or only playing with matches? Provide your answer in the space below in the form of a Dear John letter.

 

This is Not the End

The Monster thinks he’s here to save you all. Toothy girls, diva-eyed and desperate—he’s got eyes for you. He’s clocking your alabaster strides, your redbone legs, your ebony feet. He remembers your tattoos, the diaspora of ink that marks your skin.

    He’s trolling the streets, casting his dark line from a box Chevy—like perverts with Percocet, do not fall asleep; he will hook you!

    If a monster approaches you, chatting shit, break left or break wide, break anywhere but down. He keeps a mouthful of gold teeth, gold fronts, fool’s gold, and speaks in a tongue as old as the world.

    He is armed to the teeth.

    He is hungry.

This is How You Exit

Some days a cigar is only a cigar, and some days it is a fire escape, or an open window, a packed suitcase and a stolen Riviera, The Monster’s nest egg in your bucket bag, The Shadow in your pocket with her tiny growing joey. It is a mercy held close to the chest, a glory all your own.

    It is spring and the city opens itself up like something blooming: kids huddle together at bus stops and street corners, laugh and play the dozens, teeth sticky with penny candy. Girls buzz in and out of nail shops and hair salons, while shiny women in shorts and hi-tops push strollers around the lake. Above them all, pink clouds dissolve into an impossibly blue sky. You rev the engine, and storefronts rush by the Riviera like images in a kaleidoscope. The Shadow rides shotgun, legs hanging out the window, her bare feet crossed at the ankle. A giant pair of cat-eye frames hide her eyes. “Where to, Mama ‘roo?” She says, rubbing her swelling belly.

    Where to? You can probably fit all of anything into your rearview mirror. Put pedal to metal.

    You can probably be anyone. Go anywhere.