You know this girl named Kimmie R who works the midnight shift up at the Fifth Wheel, and she’s the kind of girl who doesn’t mind talking if you hand her a cigarette or two, and she has these shoes you like, that you saw her in one time when she was crossing Jefferson Street — stacked heels, you remembered from a magazine — and this was about a month or two ago, but then she stabbed that guy — that’s what the local news said, “stabbed” — and she went away and then she came back, and you heard he wasn’t really “stabbed,” but he had been bleeding, and she had been the only one else in the room — and it’s those shoes that you keep thinking about because you have never seen anything like them before and they had to cost a lot of money, and Kimmie R makes money and you want to make some, too.
She’s easy to find when you get over there and under the lights. The Fifth Wheel is a fluorescent smear in the darkness, a billion watts of bugs, and the weather never changes there — the rain falling in the winter turning to insects in the spring, and the air always looks like it’s in motion at night, year round, and the noise on the aluminum awning never stops — swollen raindrops or moths bursting on impact — the sound is as ceaseless as the freeway that runs alongside it, easy on and easy off, and there is Kimmie R up near the truck wash, leaning against a Peterbilt grille that towers above her and disappears into a black windshield that reflects the light, and she is talking to a trucker who has his cap tipped back on his head, and you watch her for a minute because you can — the way she holds her hand against the trucker’s arm — and it’s just a small thing, and she probably doesn’t even realize that she’s doing it, but then again, it’s Kimmie R and she knows things, and you watch her and her left hand that looks like it’s squeezing in time with the punctuation in her sentence, but you aren’t even sure if she’s saying anything because there’s a lot of smiling, but not much movement of her lips.
Then the trucker laughs and adjusts his cap, and he steps out from under her hand and walks around the passenger side and disappears into the dark, and Kimmie R taps her fingers against the shiny silver grille and even from this distance you can tell that her nails are painted something bright and they flash against the stainless steel, and then she slips her fingers into the holes and yanks on it, hard, and part of you expects the grille to rattle or pop right off, and then she turns and you can hear small rocks crush and scrape, and you wonder how much her shoes weigh, and if you asked her would she know — and you wonder if she’s ever stood on the scale and done the math, but when Kimmie R walks in them, they don’t look like they weigh anything at all — they look solid, but you can’t explain it, and you want to tell her that about her shoes — the things you can’t explain — and then she is right there in front of you and she is wearing lipstick that matches her nails and she looks at you, up and down, and you can see her head move while she does it, and then she says, don’t I know you from school? and you nod even though Kimmie R is older and has been out on a bathroom pass for at least two years, and you were barely a freshman when she left.
You want to say something back, and then you aren’t sure where to put your eyes when you look at her because you’ve never seen her up close before, but she’s digging through her purse, and you realize that even Kimmie R’s purse is nice. You like the roughed suede and the way it has fringe across the bottom and the sides, and some of the fringe has beads, and she digs through it for a minute while you stand there and you can smell the diesel fuel and the exhaust and even though the rest of the town is behind you and asleep, the Fifth Wheel is pulsing on a Friday night. There are the voices of men everywhere, and the sound of engines gunning and idling, rising and falling off, and it’s just you and Kimmie R who are not in motion, standing here in the parking lot, just out of reach of the pump lights, and sometimes you can feel eyes on you as they cross the asphalt between the restaurant or the truck wash, or the pumps or the motel, and they are waiting, and you can feel them waiting, and you want to ask Kimmie R a couple of questions, but she still has her hands in her purse.
You want a cigarette? you ask her, and she looks up, pushes her hair out of her face and smiles and you can see that one of her bottom teeth is missing — not a front one, but one close to it — and it must be a recent loss because you can tell that she doesn’t realize she has smiled at first when she looks up at you and her face is open and wide, and then she does realize she’s smiling, and her mouth slams closed like a door. She barely parts her lips to take the cigarette from your hand when you reach toward her, and when you light it, for just a second in the flicker from the Bic, you notice that her skin is the yellow color of old bruise, but it could just be the lighting because under the fluorescents, nothing looks all that real.
Slow night, Kimmie R says, and she turns on one of those heels and you hear the asphalt again, those rocks turning to dust under the weight of her shoes, and you look down and watch her feet for a second and you can hardly breathe because the shoes are just like how you remember them when she crossed the street and you were in the car then, watching out the window, and somebody said something about Kimmie R and you waited until she was out of sight before you said anything back, and when you did talk, you were mad.
I love your shoes, you tell her now and she looks down as though seeing her feet for the first time since it got dark out, and the way she rolls her ankle tells you that her feet hurt and they look like they hurt anyways — the toes pinched together and the polish chipped and cracked — and she pulls on the cigarette so hard for so long that almost half of the paper turns gray and falls off in one long ash, and then she yanks the Newport from her mouth and waves it toward you, thanks for this, she says, and she’s about to walk off toward the motel in the distance, but you clear your throat and she stops for a second and turns around and takes another drag and looks up at the washed out sky and the stars.
Do you know what time it is? she asks you, and you raise your blank wrist and shake your head that you don’t have a watch, and then Kimmie R looks at the sky again, takes a drag, and says it’s probably after one, and you wonder how she knows these things, because everything she says sounds right, and you clear your throat again as though friction makes speech, and you finish your own cigarette and just before you drop it, just before you let it go loose, she meets you eye-to-eye and says, what are you doing out here?
Hey Kimmie! You got 30 minutes? somebody yells to Kimmie R from the pumps, and she turns and looks to see who the voice belongs to, and then she turns her back on him and throws the middle finger over her shoulder and then follows with fuck you, I’m working, and she turns back to you and you think maybe she has forgotten about the question she asked you, but she hasn’t, and when the guy yells something about just giving him 15 minutes instead, she yells pay for thirty ‘cuz you’ll only last 5, and he tires of the game quickly and turns back to the pumps and the trucks.
So? she says, and you want to tell her a lie about somebody or something else, but Friday has given it up for Saturday now, and you have practiced this conversation for days — almost an entire week — and you have given it a lot of thought, and you are here and the time is now and then a door opens in the motel on the far side of the parking lot, and with the light from the room behind her, you can tell that the person in the doorway is a woman, and she isn’t wearing much, but she has shoes on, and they are almost identical to Kimmie R’s — you can tell that even from this distance — and Kimmie R follows your stare toward the motel and the open door and the woman and the shoes, and she turns all the way around and waves wildly and shouts something that sounds like “Bendy,” but the motel is too far away and there are trucks and noise and men between here and there, and Kimmie R drops her hand, and the woman leaning in the doorway on the far side of the parking lot doesn’t notice her, but the woman is smoking her own cigarette now with the door open behind her, and you think you can hear music, but it could be coming from anywhere.
That’s Wendy, Kimmie R says, and you say oh, and she says, I let her use my room sometimes, and then Kimmie R finishes her own smoke and you can feel her getting ready to walk away, but you have half a pack of cigarettes left and you’re willing to give the rest of them up if you can buy five more minutes and you present it like this, like a trade, and you offer Kimmie R the rest of the Newports if she will talk to you for a few minutes, and when she agrees and reaches out toward you, palm up for the pack, you see the skin on her arms and it’s scratched and bruised and raised and scabbed and the shirt she’s wearing isn’t much and there’s a lot more bare skin of hers to look at if you wanted to, but you can’t see clearly in this light.
Look, Kimmie R says, and you do look, but you’re not sure exactly what she wants you to see, and then she fishes a pack of matches from the front pocket of her jeans, and they are Fifth Wheel matches, and you wonder if she lives here in a way because it seems like somebody could — the motel and the restaurant — but then you remember that nothing is free — and while Kimmie R is trying to strike a light, you notice that there are more women around the motel now and you were wrong to think you and Kimmie R were alone.
What’s your name again? she asks you, but before you can answer, she raises her hand and the match looks crushed between her index finger and thumb. It doesn’t matter what your name is, she says, because you pick a new name anyways, but it’s important to find out everyone else’s first before you pick one because two girls can’t have the same name, you know? Misty was pretty popular last year, she says, but it was one girl’s real name, we found out, so she changed hers to Christy, and she says this to you while still trying to rub the match against the strip, and you’re only half listening because you wonder how long it will take before she gets a light, and you think at any second she will give up and ask you for your Bic, but she keeps striking and striking and doesn’t quit.
You can’t start here, she tells you, and you aren’t sure what she means at first, but then you get that “here” means the Fifth Wheel, and you wonder where you can start, and then you wonder how she knows your questions before you ask them, but then again you stood in the mirror before you left the house, so you know why she knows. And then she holds up the Newports and shakes the pack — how many are left? she asks, and you tell her maybe five, but at least four, and she shakes it again and squints into the ripped corner and you realize that while you weren’t paying attention, she got her cigarette lit, and you wish you had kept one back for yourself, but this is why you’re here, because you always wish things were different after, when it’s already too late.
So I’m gonna give you four or five tips, she tells you, one for each smoke, and she says this to you like she’s doing you a favor because usually her advice costs more. She says, get the money first, and you know this rule anyways because everybody says it, so who wouldn’t?, and before you wonder whether your Newports are going to be well-spent, she leans in close to you and you can see her face clearly now, the lines beside her eyes and the roughness in her skin where the make-up can’t reach, and she pulls her hair back from the right side of her face, lifts the hair up and away, and you can see the raised red edge of a scar as it zigs from jawline to temple and then zags backward toward her ear, and she lets you look at it for a good long few seconds before she drops her hair and shakes it again so it all falls right and then she says, that’s what a broken bottle looks like when you ask for the money afterward, and then she steps back and takes another drag on the cigarette and looks toward the motel where the woman is still in the doorway and the lights are still on in the room, and you want to say something or ask her something, like did it hurt?, but then somebody lets loose with an air horn and the sound is so sudden and unexpected that you jump where you’re standing and your shoes slip a little bit, and Kimmie R shouts Yeah! so loudly that it’s more like a scream, and then she turns and faces the truckers and the trucks. There are men laughing and some of them wave at her and she points toward one man leaning against the fender of a glossy black truck and she shouts Roger, you owe me! and he waves toward her and tips his cap, and then she turns back to you and you wonder if she knows everybody here, and if everybody knows her, too.
Always ask for the big money, she says to you, and you want to ask her more about that, like how, but you’re afraid that if you ask anything, she will count it against the Newports and you’ll only get 3 tips instead of four or five, so you don’t say anything, and for a second Kimmie R doesn’t say anything else either, and then she says, you have to learn how to ask for the right price, but never settle for less than you’re willing, no matter what, because this isn’t charity work, you know, and you can’t change your mind later. You won’t get the big money, she says, looking you up and down, but you gotta ask for it anyways.
How many cigarettes did you say were in here? she asks you again, shaking the soft pack, and you say four or five, just like before, and she counts silently on her fingers, and then looks back up at the sky and exhales a jet stream. You have choices, she tells you — remember that — and now you do want to ask a question, and it’s almost like she senses it and stops you before you do — you’ll figure it out, she says, when the time comes. I gave up my choices, she says. I forgot that I had them. And this time she doesn’t stop your question, but you don’t have one to ask, so it doesn’t matter.
There are more trucks in the lot now, and they are parked along the perimeter, lined up like toys, and you wonder if the men inside are sleeping, or if they have left the cab and have gone into the restaurant that serves breakfast 24 hours a day, and your grandpa says it has the best coffee in town, and you take his word for it because you don’t like the taste yourself, but you wonder what it’s like when he comes here in the daytime, in the early mornings when he is awake before dawn, and you wonder what the lot looks like in the daytime because you have never paid attention before, and you wonder if he has ever seen Kimmie R, but you can’t ask him.
It’s getting late, Kimmie R says, and you aren’t sure when late on one day turns the corner to become early on another, but you know that you are in that in-between time now when there is no reason to be awake, and the Fifth Wheel is humming, even now, and you can hear the hoses in the truck wash, spraying high velocity cold water, and there’s a line for the pay showers, and you can hear men talking, and you don’t know how long you have been standing here, but you know that Kimmie R’s timer is almost up and you haven’t learned anything that you didn’t already know. Maybe Kimmie R senses that, too, because she leans in close to you as though she is going to tell you something that she doesn’t want anybody else to hear, and this is the thing that you have come all this way to listen to, and you lean in, too, as though you might meet her halfway for a kiss, and part of you wants to close your eyes, too, and you don’t know why, other than the light and the dark are getting too hard to sort out, and then you feel rough arms around your shoulders and you’re locked into a smell, and a trucker has you both in his grips, hugging you and Kimmie R together, and his shirt is denim and rough, and he is laughing and you can smell the booze on him, and everything about him is sloppy and loose, and Kimmie R doesn’t shrug out from under his grip, and you don’t either, and Kimmie R puts her arm around the trucker’s shoulders, and you are all pulled together like a team in a huddle and when the trucker finally staggers backward and the circle breaks, the air feels differently around you, as though it is cleaner somehow.
Wayne! Kimmie R shouts, and there is more hugging and staggering and touching and the trucker scrapes his arm off your shoulders and you are spun around in place, and then he has his arm back around you, and is reaching for Kimmie R, and his breath is warm and you can smell it and everything feels close and hot and he rubs his face against your cheek and you can feel the stubble burn, and he is a big man, tall and thick, and he’s wearing a black vest over his denim shirt, and a dirty pair of jeans and scuffed boots, and his face is so close to yours that you can’t see him until he staggers backward again to get his arm around Kimmie R and then you see his face and you know who he is because you followed the story closely when you heard Kimmie R’s name, only they didn’t call her that on the TV when they broke the news about the guy getting stabbed, they called her by her real name, and now you remember his face and his name when the TV said it, too.
Still in 9? Wayne asks Kimmie R, and then he points toward the motel and Kimmie R smiles and says, you know it’s my lucky number, and Wayne pulls his pants up by the belt buckle and taps the front pocket of his jeans and says he’s got something there, and Kimmie R tells him to head to the motel and she’ll catch up with him in a few minutes, and then Wayne looks at you, up and down and up and down. You want a cut? he asks you, and Kimmie R hits him on the arm, gently, and tells him to get over there or she’s gonna start the meter now, and Wayne rubs at his nose, and starts walking away, and Kimmie R turns back to you as though none of this ever happened, and she says quietly, so that you can barely hear her, learn to watch your own back, and she pulls her purse open, quickly, with both hands, and you look down into the darkness and she shakes it a little bit and you see it for just a second, a tiny handgun, no bigger than a cap pistol, as it somersaults over lipsticks and dirty make up cases and cigarettes, lots of them, hanging loosely out of soft packs, and then the purse closes again and she throws the strap over her shoulder and you know she’s leaving now because she has given you too much time.
Oh, she says, and she stops, mid-turn, and over her shoulder you can see that Wayne has almost made it to the motel and he is at the open door where the woman was standing, only now she is gone, and you can’t see anyone else except Wayne as he steps inside and shifts the curtains. Get better shoes, Kimmie R tells you, and you look down at your own feet to see what she sees, and there’s nothing wrong with the boots you are wearing except that you stole them from your mother, and you almost say this, but then Kimmie R stops walking and she bends down and loosens the straps on her own shoes, and then she kicks them off, one and then the other, and then she carries them to you, by the straps, and you can see the dark stain in the leather where the buckle has pinched, but that is the only imperfection, and she hands them to you, offers them up, and you aren’t sure what she’s doing at first, until she almost crams the straps into your hand and then you are holding them on your own, and the wood grain is so clear and polished and clean that you know in better lighting you could see your own reflection in her heels, and they are as heavy as you knew they would be, heavy as light brown cement, and you just stand there, mouth open, holding Kimmie R’s shoes, and she adjusts her purse on her shoulder and turns away from you quietly, her bare feet not grinding anything now, and you watch her as she walks away, and you notice that she’s limping, just a little bit, and maybe it’s just because she’s barefoot and the parking lot is rough, but you watch her anyways, until she makes it to the motel room, until she goes inside, until she closes the door behind her, until she turns out the light.