Alan Good: Paris (When I Die) a short story

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I grew up in southwest Missouri. My parents were divorced, and they both lived in trailers. That’s not so much a Southern thing as an economic one. I never really thought of myself as Southern, even though I like grits and catheads and rice (with sugar, butter, and milk) for breakfast (but I think that’s more of an Okie thing). I did try to speak with a drawl for a few weeks when I bunked with some depraved Arkansans at baseball camp.

Paris When I Die

It wasn’t anything he was saying, Salinda just couldn’t stand the son of a bitch’s voice. “This is Jumbo Jim, the Man himself, on 101.1 KCNT, Today’s Top Country. According to a recent poll seventy percent of women aren’t satisfied with their man’s body hair and forty-three percent would want their man to have laser hair removal. I wonder if that’s covered under the Obamacare. How’s that sound fellas? I don’t see anyone raising their hands. Come on, boys, it’s called hygiene. Try it sometime. Coming up on Today’s Top Country we got Merle, Johnny Cash, and a little George Strait. But first a classic from Miss Reba McEntire. This is ‘Fancy’ on Today’s Top Country.”

She rose off the toilet and waddled, her ankles shackled by neon green running shorts and holey underwear, to the early-nineties tape player next to the sink. She scrolled the channels, got a lot of fuzz and Christian rock, and settled on the first channel that came through clear. “No pledge needed to enter. The trip for two to Paris cannot be exchanged for monetary value.”

A trip for two to Paris sounds better than Jumbo Jim and yesteryear’s top country. She waddled back to the toilet.

The hot water in the shower cut out because someone turned on the kitchen sink. She banged on the wall and a tile fell off, almost landed on her big toe.

###

“You ate my eggs.”

Liz on her ass. Some people play chess, some are into gardening, Liz just liked to nag.

“You can’t walk around just in your towel like that. Jerred might see. There’s other people in this house, Salinda. The whole world don’t just revolve around you. Close the effing fridge door.

“There’s nothing in there. You already ate everything in it. Like my hardboiled eggs. I need them for my diet. You couldn’t find nothing else to eat besides my eggs? You’re a mooch, that’s what you are. What do you do? You don’t contribute nothing. I let you live in my house. Rent free.”

“It ain’t your house. It’s momma’s house.”

“I pay the bills.”

“You pay twat.”

It might be fun to keep track of what percentage of their conversations ended with Liz storming out of the room on the verge of tears.

###

“No pledge needed to enter.” Public radio. She had just listened to a story about chickadees. A tremor of sadness shook her body, and she almost let herself cry. Her mom used to feed the birds. Cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, momma knew all their names. The old feeder was still out in the yard, a birdbath, too. There had been a story about refugees, another about a poet. Whoever was talking kept quoting lines of poetry that she couldn’t make any sense of even though she tried. Was she becoming boring or cultured, or is there a difference? Now the trip to Paris. They wanted you to donate, ten dollars, twenty, why not become an evergreen member and let them take ten dollars straight out of your checking account every month? You needed a checking account, though. The Paris trip. Last day to enter. It would be a nice thing to daydream about.

The young man on the phone sounded disappointed. “You can pledge any amount. Twenty dollars. Ten dollars. Even five dollars.”

“If I win the trip I’ll give you twenty dollars. OK?”

###

“Ain’t it a bit early?”

Liz looked like she’d been caught watching porn or something. Then she smiled.

“Tim’s coming over tonight.”

“He don’t make you take a Breathalyzer before he kisses you?”

Coy, like a fucking eighth-grader, “No.”

“Pour me a glass. I guess I’ll need it.”

She didn’t see the appeal of wine, but she drank it. She swirled it around in her glass, sniffed dramatically, sipped and swished the acrid wine in her mouth.

She groaned with faux pleasure. “Splendiferous. I detect notes of horse semen, skidmarked underwear, and—oh God what is that—I got it, pimple pus.”

“Why do you have to ruin everything?”

“I’m just playing, sis. Maybe you don’t have to be so sensitive.”

“Whatever.”

“I’m just playing. Come on, cheers.”

They clicked glasses.

“I feel so elegant.”

Her sister glared at her. She looked down at the floor, green linoleum, a pattern with big squares, little yellow diamonds at each corner. The same floor she’d eaten off as a baby. She could be forgiven since the entire floor was the color of baby food. If there are floors in hell, they are green linoleum. How could anyone eat in such a kitchen? The cabinets were the same overcooked-and-pureed pea green as the floor and the wallpaper was a mess of sunflowers on a bright blue background. It had never bothered her growing up, like if you grow up and your mother has a massive goiter on her heck it probably wouldn’t seem that strange until your friends come over. You just get used to shit.

“Why do you keep the radio on your ex’s station? In the bathroom?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it to remind you what a piece of shit he is every time you go in there to take a shit?”

“Do you have to talk like that?”

“I do. It’s part of my religion so you have to respect it.”

There wasn’t much to talk about. No subject was safe. She had once told Liz she was more sensitive than a clit with a paper cut, which elicited one of the more fiery stormouts of their relationship. Fuck it.

“Tim, huh? Timmy. Timbo. Do you only like guys whose names rhyme now?”

“I don’t know why you don’t like him. He’s a nice man.”

“I don’t like him because he looks at me like I’m trash. Like he’s better than me. He looks the same way at you but you’ll fuck him so he overlooks your trashiness.”

“It’s not even like that. We don’t even do that.”

Liz was a dating chameleon, taking on the identity of whatever boyfriend she had at the time. In Salinda’s room was a box of ska records from Liz’s year in the arms of a ska musician, the singer and bass player for a local band called The HuxSkables. She went country for her years with Jim, boots and hats, jeans so tight she got stomachaches and bacterial vaginosis. If you wanted to see Liz pitch a fit you just had to ask about her bad vag. Tim was the new guy, an associate pastor at a Baptist church, and a teetotaler. Every night now Liz read the Bible for thirty minutes. She said effing, as in, “Who drank all the effing OJ and then put the carton back in the effing icebox?” She hid all the alcohol in the broom closet.

“I know what it really is. We got to get you a man.”

“Maybe I don’t want a man.”

“What’s that mean? What are you saying? That you’re a lesbian? You would be a lesbian.”

“Maybe I am. Or maybe I just need something bigger than a dick to fill my hole right now.”

“Why do you have to talk that way? It’s gross.”

“Would it bother you if I were a lesbian? Would that scare you? To know that I like pussy. Would you be scared that I wanted your pussy? That you wanted mine?”

“I don’t know,” as Liz stomped away in a paroxysm of indignation, “why you have to be so effing vulgar.”

###

The producer wanted a better sound clip. “Can we get a reaction to the news? Maybe a joyful shriek of some sort? K. Let’s try this again. Salinda June Newton, you’ve won the Paris trip!”

“I don’t know what to say. I guess I’ll have to get me a French-to-English dictionary because I don’t speak a lick of French except for the type that gets you sent to the principal’s office. I can say ‘Fuck you, Pierre,’ and that’s about it.”

“Just say you’re excited.”

“Oh my God I’m so excited.”

###

“She grabbed my hand and shoved my finger up inside her twat. She had on this short yellow dress that barely went down to her pussy. No panties. Then she licked the juice off my finger right in front of me and everyone at the bus stop. What a slut.”

She had heard him say worse things, but his description was eerily similar to an incident from her own period of high school licentiousness. Never piss off a woman when she’s cutting vegetables. She turned on him, wielding the knife, and said, with calm menace, “Jerred, I say this with love. Shut the fuck up.” She wasn’t sure the love thing was still true, but she said it anyway.

He backed away. “Bitches. I wish you’d’ve told me you was ragging, I wouldn’t’ve come in here.”

She wanted to stab him, could see the knife entering his stomach, her nephew’s blood spilling as she drew it back out, blood streaming off the blade and then slowing to a drip. But she just gestured, stepped toward him and raised the knife in the air psycho-killer style.

“You know something, I was prolife till I started living here. You’ve made me reverse my thoughts on abortion. I think it would’ve been OK if your mom had aborted you.”

“Crazy fucking bitch.”

“Just get the fuck out of here before I cut your fuzzy little balls off.”

###

“I told her ‘What do you do? You don’t work. You don’t pay rent. You’re taking showers every day.’” Liz on the phone, standing outside in the breezeway, which was right next to the bathroom so Salinda could hear every word. “‘You go everywhere I go if I’m not at work. You say you’re bored. What do you got to be bored about? I’m bored too. I’m boring. I don’t do anything. We don’t do anything. If we’re not at the house we’re at my cousin’s house.’ I gave my last to pick Salinda up. And what? What do I get? What does she do? Now who the heck is this?”

The taxi was here. You had to know it was a taxi. To the untrained eye it was just a green Dodge Spirit.

Salinda walked out the door with a suitcase and a backpack. She tossed both into the trunk.

“Where you going? Salinda. Salinda June. Where you going girl? Salinda.”

Mopey used to give rides after parties in high school. He worked at Dollar General, but he had this underground taxi service on the side. She had to call four people she really didn’t want to talk to in order to get his number.

“All the way to the airport? You sure you don’t want to get your sister to take you? This is going to cost a pretty penny.”

“Just drive please.”

“You don’t have to sit in the back. You can sit up here with me. This isn’t a real taxi you know.”

She wasn’t sure how she felt, excited, scared, but she could breathe now. It was like taking off a pair of uncomfortable shoes you’ve had to wear all day. It was almost as good as walking out on Brian.

“It happens every Friday.” She had no idea how long he had been talking, probably the whole time. “It lands on my bed. It’s a green glowing ball. Sort of jumps through my window and lands on my bed. People don’t believe me, but I’m not lying. You ever seen the Spooklight, Salinda? Salinda? I said you ever seen the Spooklight?”

“Why do you leave your window open?”

###

She slept the first day. Maybe the best day of her life, to just sleep, in a comfortable bed, with no one nagging her. She should go on a vacation every year just for the unbothered sleep.

She was afraid to go out when she woke up because it was dark and no one would speak English and she had never even left the state before. She had never flown before. She had never done a lot of shit before. She spread out the money, a thousand Euros to spend on whatever. She kept out a hundred and hid the rest in a tampon box. She spent a few hours reading the guidebook and went back to sleep.

In the morning she ventured out. She tried not to be impressed. Paris would be just a lot of fuss over nothing. Bullshit.

Paris is a place where people care about how the city looks. Back home there were protests over putting in sidewalks. They nearly burned down city hall.

At Notre Dame she gave twenty Euros to the most miserable-looking woman she’d ever seen, an old Bosnian woman who spoke twelve English words, enough to ask English-speaking tourists for money. A Frenchwoman who spoke English told her to be careful, that there were a lot of scammers around the cathedral. She didn’t care whether the woman really needed the money; anyone who looked like that needed the money, even if she was lying. She wasn’t Catholic, but she couldn’t refuse to give money to someone in need while standing in front of the most famous church in the world. She went inside.

In front of a police station she saw a black guy, American, posing for a picture with two French cops. He started directing them, showing them where they should stand to handcuff him as he sprawled over the hood of the car. They were all laughing, two white cops and a black guy laughing, while the man’s wife stood watching with her arms crossed.

It was an unimaginable pleasure, almost therapeutic, to be surrounded by words you can’t understand. The French were no doubt as boring and pathetic as her neighbors and family, but they spoke so beautifully. As long as she didn’t know what was being said she could listen all day.

She was paranoid, felt sick every time she walked past the front desk or saw a maid in the hallway. They would know she was a prize-poacher and treat her like shit, make her feel guiltier. But the clerks at the desk smiled at her when she came for the key, wished her a good day in English, offered her suggestions on where to go, where to eat. One of the maids, a Muslim woman in a hijab, the first Muslim she had ever met, took her by the hand and thanked her for leaving a tip every morning.

She had assumed France was just white people. There were more black people working in her hotel than lived in her town.

You can smoke in Paris. It’s just normal behavior. And eat whatever you want without getting fat. In a patisserie she found a pastry called Le divorcé, half chocolate, half coffee, completely fucking amazing. She discovered the bliss of baguettes and stinky cheese, a radical advance for a woman who, thanks to her sister’s cooking, subsisted mostly on Happy-Os and Casey’s pizza. She even learned how to pronounce Camembert. She bought a bottle of wine for four Euros, and it was better than any of her sister’s more expensive broom-closet wine.

She had a normal tourist’s view of Paris. The Louvre. The Arc de Triomphe. She spent as little of the money as possible. It was hers to keep, and if she didn’t spend it she could take it home, convert it to dollars, open a checking account. She splurged on a boat tour of the Seine. She was most impressed by the Pompidou, which many people regard as a monstrosity. The prize included admission to all the major and many minor museums, and she visited as many as she could. She hit the streets early in the morning, had coffee and a croissant at the café down the street from the hotel, and would be gone all day. She loved best just to wander, to head for a spot, the Rodin museum, Jardin du Luxembourg, get lost and discover something amazing, like the Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche, the skinniest street in Paris. She got caught in the rain; out came a man selling umbrellas. It was like being on a movie set, where whatever you needed just sort of appeared.

One day she stumbled across a rock band that had set up on a small patch of grass across from a bookstore. She lay in the grass for two hours and listened. The pleasure of wandering was always overtaken by sadness, the thought that never in her life would she be able to just go out and wander like this. She could spend the rest of her life in this city and discover something new every day. She would spend the rest of her life back home, where there was nothing to discover.

The Eiffel Tower annoyed her at first, being so busy, but she found herself drawn back there on a rainy Tuesday evening. The place was nearly empty, and she fell in love.

She couldn’t understand why she was thinking of this, why she couldn’t just look out over the city and be in the city, enjoying its smells and sounds, its views and people. She had been told Paris would smell like urine. She had been told that Frenchmen piss in the street. She had been told this by a woman who had pissed herself, many times, at high school house parties. The people are rude. The women don’t shave their armpits. They hate Americans.

People are fucking stupid. Ignorant. They’re afraid of the world so they dismiss it by saying people are rude or hairy or smelly but they’re really just describing themselves.

Jerred, two days before she left, had tried it again, offering to give her a back rub, which she declined. “You’re too stuck up. Tense. I’ve got just the thing you need right here.” Pointing to his crotch. He had once been an adorable baby, a cute though odd-looking child. She agonized over whether to say anything to her sister. Liz wouldn’t believe her. He would lie and spin the truth to make himself look like a victim. She hated herself for thinking about this here, in this city, with this improbable view. Why couldn’t you ever just enjoy a good moment while you’re in it? She didn’t want to go back.

###

She made no attempt to learn the language, but she was cultured enough to know what a crepe was and pronounce it almost correctly. She was wearing a bright orange tee shirt, olive board shirts, and a purple bandana to keep the hair off her face, the type of outfit that would make her sister tsk and say, “Sister, long as you dress like that no man’s going to want you.” She could hear her sister, a telepathic nagger: You need to dress better. The clothes make the man is what momma used to say. Or in our case the clothes get the man. Why don’t you put on some makeup? You could be really pretty. She had been so close to inviting her.

She ordered a crepe with Nutella and banana. It was the best thing she’d ever eaten.

“That looks delicious.” French dude. She looked him over. He was the first man she had seen in a long time. The males in her town she thought of as sixth-graders with beer guts.

Her face was smeared in Nutella. She smiled.

###

They lay in bed and shared an après-fuck cigarette.

“What’s that?”

“After-fuck. Après means after.”

She turned the phrase over in her mind.

“French is such a fucking beautiful language. And your fucking accents, even the way you pronounce ‘fuck’ is romantic-sounding. Anything you say in French is sexy.”

“It is the language of love.”

“Jesus Christ. Fucking magic. I bet you could say really horrible, disgusting things and they’d still sound beautiful in French. My sister rapes dogs every weekend.”

He repeated the phrase in French.

“She sucks dog boner.”

Elle suce les triques des chiens.”

“I’m going to pound you with a twelve-inch strap-on.”

“I don’t know this word ‘strap-on.’”

“It doesn’t matter. Donkey cock. Jizz-sock. Bacterial vaginosis.”

“Do all American women talk this way?”

“No. It deeply offends my sister, so now it’s like second nature to me. What’s the dirtiest thing you can think of? Like the worst, most disgusting, most horrifying thing?”

Donald Trump est la président des Etats-Unis.”

“I like that. Keep going.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Anything you want. What’s the French for what I’m doing now?”

Mouiller. Masturber.”

A few minutes passed. She wanted him to keep speaking, only French, so he said whatever thoughts came to his mind, at random. His opinion of François Hollande. Of Obama. The new Houellebecq novel.

“Is this what you want?” he asked.

“In French, fucker.”

When she was done: “And what’s the French for that?”

La épectase.”

###

“I don’t want to go back. I want to stay here. I want to get a work permit. I want to be French.”

“American?”

“Yes. Oui.”

“You are lucky that I am an English speaker.”

The French are always so fucking put together. This middle-aged, brunette bureaucrat had more class and style than any American she had ever known. Aplomb was the word. Just so goddamn elegant.

“What do I need to do? I don’t want to go back.”

“Do you have money? A place to stay? A job?”

“I have six hundred Euros left. I’ll stay anywhere, a hostel. And I can’t get a job until I get a work visa or something, right?”

“It takes time.”

“What kind of job can I get do you think?”

“I can tell you that French parents like to have nannies who speak English so that their children can learn English.”

“Good. I can do that. So what do I do now? How do I get the work visa?”

“You will have to go home. Then apply for a long-term visa. There are several different types. For instance the long-term visa for au pairs allows you to stay for one year. So go home, apply for the visa for your situation, and wait for your papers. Save your money. Arrange a job. Come back.”

“I can’t go home.”

“Unless you are a refugee that is the only way.”

“Yes, I’m a refugee. I’m a fucking refugee. I’m a refugee from idiots and perverts and judgmental pricks.”

“When do you have to return to America?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Don’t waste your final day in Paris filling out forms and waiting in a depressing office. Go out there and say à bientôt to the city. If you really want to come back you will do it. When it is time. C’est la vie. OK?”

###

“You don’t have to sit in the back.”

She slumped across the back seat, folded herself up like a frightened roly poly.

“Paris, huh? I never been there. Did you go to McDonald’s? What was it like? Did they have quarter pounders or do you have to order in metric? I heard the women don’t shave their armpits. Is that true? Were you able to shave yours? Did you got to a nude beach? I don’t know if I could do that. Maybe if I didn’t have to take off my underwear.”

As they neared home Mopey played with the radio until he got KCNT. After a few songs and commercials Jumbo Jim, the Man himself, queued up “Texas (When I Die)” by Tanya Tucker. The narrator, unsure of heaven’s policy on the admission of cowboys, requests to spend eternity in Texas.

“I love this song. This is probably embarrassing but I love this song.” He turned up the radio and crooned along.

###

When God closes a door, he tries to slam your finger in it. She felt guilty, ungrateful, but trapped. “I almost wish I hadn’t gone. Now I know what it’s like out of here, but I’m stuck here.”

“We’re getting a effing Starbucks. What’s your problem? What’s wrong with here? Here’s just fine. I like here. Everyone you know is here.”

“Everyone I know is a piece of shit. No offense.”

“Thanks, Salinda.”

To an empty room, she said, “I ain’t going to chase after you.”

###

At the library she checked out every book they had about Paris, all four of them. She had better luck at a used bookstore. She picked up a dozen novels set in Paris, including two volumes of Proust. She found a big French-English dictionary and a book on French grammar.

She didn’t want to be the woman who talks about her trip to France for the rest of her life, so she never talked about it unless someone brought it up, and even then she was tight-lipped.

She finally remembered to send that twenty dollars.

###

She hadn’t been home two days before Jerred tried it again. They were in the long and narrow living room, which she thought of as a doublewide hallway, with eight windows on both long walls, each window locked and covered with a shade. Momma always kept the shades up and the windows open except in winter. If they could just sell the house she could get the fuck out. Liz didn’t have the money to buy her half, didn’t want to move, couldn’t do it if she wanted to. And who the fuck would want to buy a house here? She slapped him.

“You used to be so cute. I would play with you, peekaboo, tickle monster. I’d change your diaper. I was fifteen when you were born. You were like my little brother.”

“You want me to wear a diaper? Kinky. You want to change my diaper, slut?”

Nothing had worked. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, just a reaction. She put a hand on his chest, softly. “OK, is this what you wanted? Here I am.” He didn’t move, but his eyes gave away his fear. “Take off your clothes.” He backed away.

“What’s wrong? Ain’t this what you wanted? To get all up inside this cootchie? To shove two fingers up my twat like you did to your little girlfriend? Or maybe you want to get your whole fist up there? Then you want to go balls deep—that’s the expression, right?—and shoot your load all over my face and my tits? Then what, I’m supposed to lick it all off right? While you watch?”

He stepped toward her. She reached out and grabbed his balls. “This is as balls deep as you’re going to get, shithead.” She squeezed and twisted, was afraid she was going to crush something. He ran off as soon as she let go, retreated to his smelly boycave in the back of the house. She couldn’t tell if he was crying.

###

“Salinda June, the fireflies is out. Come out here and set.”

Tim was busy, so it was safe to drink.

“Daddy called while you was away. He’s sick.”

“That’s so interesting.”

“You don’t have to be a smart aleck about everything. You can have a real feeling sometimes. No man wants to marry a smart aleck.”

“Fuck men, Liz.”

Liz smiled and leaned in conspiratorially. “I do, sometimes.”

She smiled. She was almost happy for her sister, but only until she opened her mouth again.

“I don’t know why you ever left Brian. Brian is a good guy.”

“Brian’s a piece of shit.”

“It’s not like he hit you or nothing.”

“He never hit me. He abused me with stupidity. His life is just so meaningless and boring.”

“Something else happened while you was gone. Some little birds found the food you left out. Little black and white guys with black heads.”

“Chickadees.”

###

Instead of looking for a ride, she walked. Naively or not, in Paris she felt comfortable walking everywhere, never feared for her safety, but at home she carried pepper spray, a stun gun, and a giant-ass screwdriver. People honked at her, not in order to get her attention so they could offer her a ride, just to fuck with her. They shouted at her: “Bitch.” “Whore.” “Cunt.” Threw things at her, beer cans, McDonald’s bags. She was right, there was nothing new to see.

###

“That’s what you’re wearing?”

Orange running shorts, a white tee shirt she had stolen in tenth grade from the school blood drive.

“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

“You look like you’re going to Wal-Marts, not sitting down to a nice dinner.”

“It’s hotter than the devil’s asshole in this damn house. You’re lucky I’m wearing anything at all.”

Liz was done up in her nicest outfit, had her hair fixed up, too. She cooked pork chops, green beans, and their grandma’s Thanksgiving rolls. There was sweet tea and applesauce and macaroni. The radio in the bathroom was turned off. She had even dug out the cloth napkins. Liz burned the pork chops. She couldn’t cook for shit but no one had the balls to tell her. Everyone was eating them, as if they were actually edible. You needed a chain saw to cut into them. She wasn’t trying to be rude, she just hated to pretend. “I’m sorry, but these things taste like ass. And not good ass, like porn-star, waxed-and-lubed ass, but like fat-dude-who-works-at-the-tire-shop-and-don’t-wear-underwear ass.”

“Please, Salinda. Save it for the gutter.” Tim had obviously never heard such offensive words before. “I’m sorry, Liz, but if you’re not going to say anything I will. I refuse to be assaulted by that gutter talk.”

Excusez moi?” She said it in French just to piss him off.

“I just can’t tolerate that type of language.”

“It’s just French.”

“The cursing, Salinda. The cursing.”

“What’s wrong with cursing?”

“Salinda.” Liz was whispering, which was amusing and distracting. “Salinda, shut up.”

“It isn’t Christian.”

“Why ain’t it Christian? God invented everything, right?”

“Of course He did.”

“So didn’t he invent language?”

“Yes.”

“Then if he didn’t want us to say ‘ass’ and ‘fuck,’ why the fuck did he invent good words like ‘ass’ and ‘fuck’?”

“Because free will, Salinda. But the devil invented those words anyway.”

“The devil invented ‘fuck’?”

“Yes.”

“Why the fuck are you crying, Liz? What the fuck do you think is going to happen anyway? Do you think he’s going to marry you? Take you home to meet his parents? Introduce you in front of his congregation? A fucking divorced woman who dropped out of high school cause she got knocked up by her shitty boyfriend? You got a better chance of winning the lottery than you do of marrying this prick.”

Liz knocked over her chair on her way out of the room, almost took the bowl of applesauce with her, the only thing on the table that was worth eating. At least Jerred seemed to be enjoying the show. To Tim, “Did the devil invent fucking, too?”

“The Lord invented marital relations, but the devil invented that word. Salinda, I don’t know who you think—”

“And also alcohol?”

“And also alcohol.”

“I think maybe the devil got a bad wrap.”

“I’m going to pray for you, Salinda.”

“Good. While you do that, I’m going to get fucked up.”

She retrieved a bottle of wine, a Beaujolais she brought home for a special occasion, from the broom closet and went to her room.

###

She drank thirty beers on her thirtieth birthday. Threw a party for herself to which she was the only one invited. She refused to speak to anyone on that day. Before she passed out she threw a brick through the windshield of Tim’s Lexus. She slept in the yard, her best sleep since Paris.

###

“Where the fuck am I supposed to stay? This is my house, too.”

“You need a job. Maybe you can come back when you get a job.”

“There ain’t no fucking jobs. There ain’t no fucking reason to be here.”

But there was at least one job. Assistant Manager at Dollar General. Perfect for such a cosmopolitan girl. She could hear all about Mopey’s experiences with the Spooklight.

###

Mopey let her stay in his garage. She slept on an air mattress that deflated in the middle of every night. She talked almost only to Mopey because he never really listened.

At work, smoking a cigarette out back, daydreaming about her city. Between drags she sang a song:

When I die I may not go to heaven

Cause I don’t know if they let white trash in.

If they don’t just let me go to Paris

Cause Paris is as close as I’ve been.

Liz, a ghost for the last three weeks, came around the corner.

“What’re you singing? It’s good to hear you singing. You used to love singing. I miss you. You like your job? You got to quit smoking. Tim is over. Fucking bastard. I don’t know what I was thinking. Jerred’s been acting real weird. Like almost nice and almost respectful. Almost. Can I get a drag off that? Don’t tell no one. Hey, I got an idea. Let’s go to karaoke tonight.”

“Only if we can get beaucoup drunk.”

“OK, French girl.”