'Cherry On Top'

By Daniel Ford

"Sir, I'm afraid we can't allow you to check in," the hotel clerk said.

Carl's shoulders sagged.

"Is there something wrong with my reservation?" He asked.

"No, everything is quite in order. However..."

"What?"

Carl’s patience in unearthing Canadians' supposedly famed hospitality was finally spent.

"The card you supplied is short of funds."

Actually, Carl thought, it has no funds thanks to the outrageous sixty-dollar cab ride from the airport.

"Who cares?" He asked. "I'm a guest lecturer, a bookish author to boot, not a rock star. There'll be no incidentals, I assure you."

"Company policy, sir. I simply can't allow it."

The man handed Carl back his debit card and then retreated to a back office. It was past midnight, so Carl was alone in the ornate lobby. He shuffled to one of the long plush couches out of view of the main desk. He turned his lone suitcase on its side and unzipped the fraying zipper. Carl rifled through the pile of semi-clean clothes and pulled out the pair of jeans he had worn last night during the worst dinner of his life. The back pocket still held the last cash he had; fifty dollars his ex-girlfriend had gifted him after she informed him their latest dumpster fire of an affair was over.

"Fuck," Carl mumbled.

He wouldn't have felt so low if he hadn't paid for dinner. Or let her stay at the apartment he was about to be evicted from. Or felt tenderness and warmth when she sleepily hugged him in the night. Or cried after she woke, laughing that she had confused him for her boyfriend. Or arrived at the airport early the next morning only to remember he had booked an evening flight. Or navigated back to his apartment by public transit to find her smoking weed with his pantless, hipster roommate.

Carl trudged back over to the reception desk, the cash firmly wadded up in his fist. He chided himself for accepting the speaking engagement invitation from the University of Toronto. Professor William Redmapleleaf—or whatever the fuck his name is, Carl thought—had caught him during a vulnerable moment. His second novel wasn’t selling in the States, or anywhere else for that matter, and he vowed to kill himself if good news didn’t present itself immediately. His eviction notice arrived soon after he hung up with the good professor, so the universe came pretty close to offing him.

Despite being housed in a beautiful brick building, the hotel’s lobby featured an overabundance of ceiling-to-floor mirrors that reflected Carl’s swollen middle-aged frame and bubbling foreigner anger. He watched himself take every step, hating his tightening blue jeans and broken black loafers. He couldn’t stand his ring of hair, aggressively planning the rest of its hurried retreat, or his battered teeth, yellowed from his mistaken assumption that coffee and cigarettes were keys to recapturing the magic of his writing career. He could only claim pride in his hands, which were veined, tough, masculine. Women remarked on them well after dismissing the rest of what he had to offer, and they did their job admirably whenever one of those ladies lost whatever pride they had clung to before the onslaught of Manhattans or pills. Plus, Carl also could turn a phrase, each word unlocking the desperation women usually kept locked away from men like him.

He stopped in the middle of the lobby to calm himself. However, Carl pictured his promiscuous, junkie ex, whose stringy blond hair and heroin track marks were likely occupying his roommate’s pullout bed. He never should have let that degenerate into the apartment—goddamn the man’s rent money, Carl thought, and all the miserable narcotics I bought with it. He considered using the money to buy a hot meal, surely it would be his only meal based on his current financial state, and sleeping on the surprisingly clean streets with the rest of the Canadian bums.

“My name is in the registry,” Carl grunted. “That’s got to mean something in this Tim Horton’s of a country!”

He pressed and held the service button illuminated on the front desk. He hoped it sounded like a New Orleans funeral in the back office. The Molson-swilling, bucktoothed Canuck staggered back out, looking as if Carl had interrupted him from whatever passed for Canadian sitcom hijinks.

“I see you’re still here,” the man said.

“Considering the University of Toronto paid for a room, I demand to sleep in it!” Carl yelled.

“No need to resort to shouting. You know the policy. I can’t help you.”

“Do you accept bribes in this part of the world?” Carl asked, throwing his fifty dollars at the man’s ill-fitting blazer.

“I’m assuming this is U.S. currency,” he said.

The man picked up the wrinkled bill without losing eye contact with Carl. He rubbed it in his hand, grimacing after he discerned his assumption was correct.

“You’ll have to exchange this before I can accept it.”

“And where the hell am I supposed to do that at this hour?”

“The airport.”

“Now listen, I did exchange some money when I got off the plane, but I was robbed by one of your disreputable cabbies. I know he took a longer route here! I’m giving you the last cash to my name, so let me in the goddamn door or I’m going to stage a Twitter revolt against your hotel that will leave the owner’s children penniless and destitute.”

“I’m sorry, sir, are you imbalanced in some way?”

“I assure you I am quite balanced. To suggest otherwise is unprofessional and rude. I’d like you to please solve my dilemma.”

“One moment, please.”

Carl manically ripped the folded bill from the clerk’s hand.

“I’m not letting this out of my possession until we resolve this!” Carl shouted.

The stunned Canadian bowed meekly as he stumbled back to his office. Carl reached over the counter and shoved the man’s pen off the desk. He cracked his elbow on the computer screen, which swiveled and pushed a sheaf of papers toward the floor. Carl tried in vain to corral the pile, but couldn’t stop the sheets from snowflaking their way to the carpeted floor. He surveyed the mess wearily and then tiptoed away.

Carl had the sudden urge to call his ex. She’d undoubtedly be awake. She might answer the phone while some unsuspecting heathen had one of her legs wrapped around her head—as she had done in the past—but she might be willing to wire him some money after faking yet another orgasm. She had vacuumed most of Carl’s first advance into her nose, so she rightly owed him. And if not for that, than for the abortion he had recently financed despite not being her sperm donor. Carl’s anger burped again, but he swallowed it, remembering that not only was his phone dead, but he had neglected to set up his international calling plan. Much like his checking account and his ex, his phone was a deflated life raft.

And then Carl actually burped. He felt goose bumps as stomach acid washed up against the back of his throat. The dollar tacos he had purchased from a greasy stand under the 30th Avenue subway station in Astoria barked in his colon. He hunched over as stomach pains threatened to pull him to the ground.

No, no, no, no, no, he thought. Please, not now.

Carl’s bowels hadn’t been right since he had developed an on-again, off-again relationship with prescription pills. He’d know in another minute whether he had time to wait for the clerk to decide his fate or if this situation demanded the nearest porcelain depository. Carl slowly stood upright, walked a few steps toward the front desk. He haltingly inhaled. A smirk had barely creased the corner of his lips when he felt his asshole giving way to whatever terror lurked inside his intestinal track. Carl clenched heroically just as the man returned to his abandoned post.

“Sir, I think I have a solution,” he said, ignoring the clutter at his feet. “We’re going to hold that money as collateral. In the morning, please have someone affiliated with the university stop by so that we can run a credit card to ensure we receive payment for any damages. Any resistance to this idea will force us to remove you from the premises. Would this be amenable to you, sir?”

“Yes, yes, fine, I’ll sign whatever,” Carl said. “Just kindly give me my room key and I won’t bother you any more this evening.”

The man scratched out a makeshift contract on a piece of hotel stationary, which Carl signed while jogging in place.

“Are you okay, sir?” The clerk asked.

“I’ll suffer no more questions from you,” Carl responded. “Key, please.”

The man held his hand out and flexed his fingers.

“I’ll have that fifty now.”

Carl felt a silent fart escape. Defeated, he dropped the limp bill into the clerk’s hand. He was rewarded with a silver key attached to a large keychain engraved with the number “575.”

“Real keys, huh?”

“Yes sir, it makes our guests feel distinguished,” the man said, shuffling his papers back into a uniform stack. “But I don’t expect someone like you to appreciate old world charm.”

“One more word from you and I’ll…Jesus Christ!” Carl shouted as his stomach twisted and rumbled. “I’ll deal with you in the morning!”

Carl quickly gathered his luggage and sprinted toward the elevators. He paused in front of the lobby’s restroom. His germaphobic tendencies normally prevented him from using public bathrooms, however, these digested tacos may not be patient enough to ride the elevator five floors. He took a napkin out of his pocket, wrapped it around the door handle, and yanked. The door didn’t budge.

“Sorry, the lavatory is only open during daytime hours,” the clerk yelled from the front desk.

Carl didn’t have time for a response. He continued power walking to the elevators. Instead of a row of closed, aluminum doors, Carl found a group of men surrounded by all manner of equipment and electrical parts standing in front of six open doors.

“I hope you’re not on a top floor, man, because these babies are going to be out all night,” one of the repairman said.

“Where are the stairs?” Carl asked, each syllable stoking the brimstone traveling up his throat.

“That way,” the guy said, pointing in the opposite direction.

Carl took a moment to let everything settle inside him momentarily and then ran back across the deserted lobby. He barged into the door leading to the stairs and leapt two stairs at a time. He tuckered out as he neared the fourth floor. He felt the flow of shredded meat, cheese, and sour cream slide ever closer to his damp underwear. His luggage slipped from his hand and barreled down the stairs. He slumped up against the wall and whimpered. He stood motionless far longer than the situation warranted. Thoughts of giving up and defecating in the stairwell crept into his fatigued mind.

The moment he summoned the courage to start moving again, the lights went out. Sure that they operated on some kind of motion sensor, Carl weakly waved his arm in the darkness, but he wasn’t making enough movement to trigger them. He dropped to his knees—I can’t risk falling in the dark, Carl thought. Someone would surely find me soiled and bloody—and started to crawl up the remaining flight of stairs. His head crashed into the door to salvation and he stood stoically, feeling the running faucet of sweet down his back chill with vague promise of reaching the summit. The lights snapped back on just as Carl opened the door and stepped into the fifth-floor hallway.

He had to blink away moisture from his eyes when he saw that his room two steps away.

“I’m going to make it!” Carl yelled. “Toronto isn’t so bad after all!”

He calmly, confidently strutted the short distance and felt nothing but bliss as the key slide effortlessly into the lock. He smiled, feeling relief swell into his gut. He turned the key in one swift motion.

Crack.  

“What the…” Carl murmured. He looked down as the stubby end of the key dropped out of his fingertips. The business end of the key was still lodged in the lock.

“No!” Carl screamed. “Oh my, I’m going to shit myself. This is it. Well, I tried my best. I suppose, try as one might, one doesn’t always make it. Thirty-three years accident-free is a good run. How do I do this? Do I just let go? Maybe my body won’t allow it to happen.”

He unclenched for a moment, realizing that nothing was going to stop this shit hurricane.

“I’m not ready yet! Just give me a moment to remember this as the last moment before my life officially turned brown. Where will I dispose of this disaster after it happens? How will I call the front desk and explain this? It’s all their fault really. This uptight establishment forced me into this precarious position! This feces is on their hands!”

A door opened across the hall. A short woman in a soft white robe walked out and put her arm on her hip.

“What is the meaning of all this dreadful commotion?” She asked.

Carl didn’t hesitate. He pushed her aside and bounded into her hotel room. He raced through the open bathroom door, unlatching his belt at the same time. His pants were barely past his knees as he hovered over the toilet.

Who knows what kind of germs this woman has, Carl thought as he violently emptied himself.

“Excuse me, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” The woman asked, holding her nose and closing the bathroom door. “My god, you smell terrible.”

“I’m so sorry about this,” Carl said. “My key broke off as I was about to enter my room. You saved my life, I owe you!”

“I’m calling the front desk and then the authorities! You can’t violate someone’s privacy in this manner. I’m going to have to switch rooms, that smell will never go away!”

“I promise to flush multiple times,” Carl said while depressing the handle for the first time. “I’m sure the cleaning staff is more efficient than this hotel’s reception employees!”

“How much did you have to bribe them to let you in here, you monster?”

My dignity, fifty bucks, ruptured colon, Carl thought.

“I’m a visiting dignitary if you have to know. I’m here promoting my new book. I’m just having an extremely bad day that has improved immensely thanks to this commode.”

“Please hurry up. My husband will be returning any moment from a business function and I won’t have him thinking I’m having an affair with the likes of you.”

A final gurgle exited Carl and he sighed happily.

“That should be the end of it!” He yelled to his new friend.

“I can do without the play-by-play,” she said. “What’s your name?”

Carl hesitated, unsure if he should reveal his true identity in case the woman changed her mind about calling the police. Then again, she could be a fan, which would go a long way to settling this mess. He told her.

“Not the author by that name?” She asked.

“The same!”

“Well, I was quite disappointed with your second novel. The characters in your first novel were bursting with life and your dialogue was so tender. Your new one features a bunch of cardboard cutouts humping each other like stray pets.”

Carl would have loved to explain the nuances in his recent prose, however, he had discovered a mound of shit that had missed the toilet and splattered on the black- and white-tiled floor. After her comment, he stopped wiping it up with a thin piece of toilet paper and started cleaning the brown pile with a bra hanging up behind the door.

“All criticism is good criticism!” Carl said, dumping the soiled undergarment in the trash.

“You’ve been in there long enough,” she replied. “I’m calling the front desk.”

“Please do,” he said, walking out of the bathroom and closing the door behind him. “And could you let them know about my broken key? Tell them I plan on lodging a formal complaint in the morning. Thanks again for your hospitality in my time of need.”  

Carl could feel his stomach regaining its former, relaxed shape as he went back to the stairwell to retrieve his luggage. It had opened, predictably, and his phone sat shattered on a lower step. Carl left it there and shoved everything else back into the bag. After returning to the now quiet hallway, he sat up against his room’s door, feeling the old sweat in his clothes rub against his skin.

He cursed his ex with his last conscious thought before closing his eyes and falling asleep.

 

The following afternoon, Carl dumped a half-eaten chicken finger into the red basket in front of him. The gray meat crawled out of its beige shell, seemingly hell bent on drowning itself into the placid pool of ranch dressing. Carl grimaced disgustedly and washed his mouth out with a hearty slug of flat fountain soda.

From his counter stool at the university’s student-run diner, he jealously eyed the coiled line at the gourmet taco stand on the opposite side of the student union. A cardboard burrito in a sombrero coldly stared back at him. Carl opted for this dump, which had all the charm and quality food of a Little League complex’s snack shack, because Mel’s Mexican Cantina forced you to pay the perspiring, out-of-breath whale manning the cash register immediately after the sun-deprived Canadian imp shoved meat, salsa, and cheese into a warm tortilla. The diner’s inattentive table service allowed for an inspired dash-and-deal meal scheme.

Carl’s plan included running into his waiter hurriedly, clearly distraught by a pressing phone call from the university president. He imagined Canadians were too polite to pursue anyone for reparations, and certainly not a man of his occupational pedigree. Besides, it appeared as though the diner’s staff had its hands full with lower class, homeless vagabonds impersonating intellectual college students. Even if he was caught, Carl couldn’t imagine the humiliation being any harsher than the torment he had endured this morning.

Luckily, there had been an early morning conference at the hotel. Carl managed to avoid the front desk and gorge himself on soggy fruit and sour coffee at the free buffet. He had exited a lecture halfway through, more than enough time to justify absconding with a blueberry muffin, and quite literally ran into the university director responsible for his sordid Canadian misadventure. Carl had noisily devoured his baked good while engaging the fellow in an intellectually intense debate about the role of linear time in post-modernist short story writing. He had wiped crumbs from his wrinkled button down as the director hailed a cab, oblivious to the man’s revulsion at Carl’s manic state. Finally remembering his bothersome obligation to the hotel, Carl had grabbed the man by the arm, pulled him from the cab, and ushered him to the front desk like a mousing feline proudly displaying her victim.

The corporate drone from the night before wasn’t on shift, depriving Carl of the satisfaction of being vouched for by a decent member of Canadian society. He had been replaced by a faux-tanned pixie with neon-whitened teeth and a perfectly tightened blond ponytail.

“May I present to you Professor…” Carl had said, forgetting the man’s name.

“Roy.”

“Hello, sir! My last name’s Roy!” The woman had exclaimed, proudly tapping on her gold-plated nametag. “Do you know Emile Roy? He’s my grandfather and lives outside Ottawa…”

“This is very much besides the point,” Carl had interjected. “One of your employees rudely prevented me from checking in last night and I’m here to right his wrong. Professor Roy has generously agreed to swipe his credit card so that I’m not labeled a squatter.”

“I most certainly did not agree to any such thing!” Professor Roy had said. “What is the meaning of this?”

“Allow me to explain fully,” Carl said. “I shifted funds to a variety of different accounts before I set off on my trip and brought a card that is temporarily devoid of funds. Hotel management did not allow me to enter my room when I arrived last night after midnight despite the fact the university graciously paid for my lodging…”

“That’s right, sir!” Blond Roy had said. “Everything on my screen says there were no issues during your check-in process.”

“Excuse me?” Carl had said, finally releasing his grip on Professor Roy’s arm. The man took the opportunity to walk briskly back to the taxi stand.

“Yes, sir. There isn’t a note on your reservation or anything.”

“What about the money I put up as collateral?”

“Money?”

“I gave the man at the desk last night fifty dollars, U.S., so that I could settle into the guest room that is rightfully mine. If there is no note, where is my cash?”

“Let me check with my manager.”

“I swear to god, miss, if you go into that back office and come out without my money, I’ll liable to call the authorities.”

“I’ll get to the bottom of this!” Blond Roy had said, bounding away unperturbed by Carl’s warning. 

She had found his cash, but there wasn’t a note that confirmed it belonged to him. She couldn’t release it until she spoke to the night manager who wouldn’t be on duty until later in the afternoon. Carl had shook his head dejectedly and asked for directions to campus.

Carl still felt the ache in his feet from the five-mile walk. He obviously didn’t have money to take a cab and had blown his chance to share one with the director who had knowingly abandoned him. He had arrived to his ill-attended reading with a much larger hole in his shoe and a sweat-soaked shirt. He didn’t recite his prose so much as shout at the few semi-interested souls leaning back in their plastic folding chairs. Probably obligated to be there by some prick of an English teacher who assigns his own trashy textbooks, Carl thought, and is obviously so jealous of my success, he only required his failing students to attend.

It didn’t matter now. He finished the last meal, the last one he’d eat for some time in any country, and walked away without bothering to fake an act of rebellion.

“Hey!” A voice boomed.

Carl froze.

“You’re that writer campus is buzzing about, right?”

“You must have the wrong person,” Carl said, turning his head over his shoulder just far enough to see a white hulk perched precariously on the narrow counter stool next to his abandoned one. “Only a handful of students showed up to my lecture.”

“Dude, teenagers don’t show up to crap they actually like in the middle of the day. You got to go primetime.”

“Well…”

“Oh shit, man, you were about to blow this place, weren’t you?” The large man said, wiping his overgrown paws on a small, shredded napkin. “Shit, sorry, I just couldn’t resist saying hello to another artist.”

“It’s quite all right,” Carl said, nervously easing himself back into his seat. “I didn’t mean to snap. I haven’t had a pleasant trip. Obviously. I wasn’t headed anywhere. Just stretching my legs. I’m Carl.”

“Bleached Molasses.”

“Did I not just finish telling you that I’m out of sorts? Don’t add to it by making up a silly name to pester me further!”

The hulk’s laugh bellowed, filling the crowded hall and turning more than a few heads.

“You need to lighten up. It’s not the world’s fault your second novel sucked. Yeah, I read it. Charles, your characters weren’t just awful people, they were awfully written. I didn’t give two shits about them. And if you don’t have a plot, and that turd didn’t have a plot to piss on, at least give me some meaty people to chew on while I’m gutting through it. See, rapping is different…”

“You’re a rapper! What do you know about art and literature? And I said my name is Carl!”

“Carl. Well, I knew it started with C. I just met you. You’re a grown man, don’t be so fussy about people getting your name right. Rapping is art like anything else—as close to a fusion of literature and music as there is.”

“And people know who you are, Mr. Bleached Asshole?”

“Ha!” The rapper said. “See, there you go. I may have to use that this campus gig to get the crowd riled up. And yeah, man, me and my boys were at the Blue Jays game last night and we were mobbed the whole time. Helps that the team sucks moose balls, but still, we’ll take it.”

“Seriously?”

“Hell no, but you believed me, right? No one knows me this far south. I’m from way up north.”

“There’s more north above here?”

“First time to Canada?”

“As an adult, yes.”

“I’ll go easy then. Yeah, there’s more north. More wildlife than people, but Canada isn’t just the cities closest to the U.S. I’m trying to branch out and become a Canadian Eminem. I was raised right—my parents loved me, those fuckers—so I’ve had to nuke my adulthood so I could write about hard times, you know.”

“How does one go about doing that?”

“Not by hanging around clean-cut literature types, I can tell you that, pal. Listen, can you like my Facebook page? I’m trying to build up my social media cred.”

“I’m afraid I’m not on social media.”

“Seriously?”

Carl didn’t have much use for the Internet. Why would he willing log on and be faced with all of the emails from his agent pleading for pages Carl didn’t have? Ignoring phone calls and voicemails was so much easier and more refined. Not to mention, the last time Carl had Googled something—his ex’s name—he unearthed a website featuring his former lover nakedly writhing on a large Hispanic man’s face. The pills he took to get over that little discovery knocked him out for two days.

“No wonder your crap doesn’t sell, man, you’ve got to get on that,” the rapper said. “Don’t move. I dropped something.”

“What?”

Carl felt a pile of powder land on his knee. The rapper glanced around and then bent over, quickly sniffing it up.

“How dare you!” Carl silently yelled. “Did you just do a line of cocaine off my leg?”

“Yeah, lot easier doing a bump like that rather than sneak it in the bathroom. These Canadian college kids are monsters. They’d break the door down, steal my stash, knife me, and do lines off my corpse. Fucking animals.”

“Does the cold weather zap all your brains or something?! What kind of behavior is this?”

“Shit, you’re right, where are my manners,” the rapper said. “You want some?”

Carl thought for a moment. He hadn’t done coke in some time. Pills, sure, plenty of pills. He pictured his trampy ex sucking on the crack pipe she loved more than him, devouring the smoke while happily ignoring his needs.

“That’s very generous of you,” he said. “Maybe just one.”

The rapper slapped him on the back and dumped a thin line of powder on his own thigh. Carl made a show of dropping the remnants of a chicken finger on the floor beneath them.

“Bro, pick that up, you slob,” the rapper said, winking.

Carl bent over as Bleached Mayonnaise—or whatever the fuck his name was—put his beefy arm on Carl’s shoulder to block him from view. The cocaine felt like napalm ripping apart a jungle up his nose. Carl raised his snout just above the rapper’s leg and smiled contently.

“Heh, look at those two fags,” someone snickered behind them.

From his current position just above his new drug buddy’s crotch, Carl watched the rapper’s eyes narrow.  

“You fucking kids!” He yelled, shoving Carl out of the way and off his stool. He smacked his head on the linoleum, causing a dull bell to chime next to the synthetic techno hell in his brain. The rapper grabbed the teenager’s popped collar and brought him closer.

“I rap about this shit. It’s called intolerance. You heard of that in your bullshit classes? Jesus, we got plenty of gays in Canada. We’re supposed to be nice, dammit.”

“I’m from Kansas,” the student whimpered, frightened by the blood starting to trickle out of the rapper’s nose.

“You don’t see me walking around making jokes about you fucking cattle, do you? People are fucking people, man. Leave them alone. Get out of my sight, sheep fucker.”

A crowd had gathered by the time Carl wobbled to his feet. He witnessed a thick, neckless man parting the onlookers, his fist raised. Carl’s warning shout came out as a lazy whisper. The man cold cocked the rapper, who lost his grip on the ignorant student. Blood and remnant coke dust gushed down the rapper’s face as he collapsed. A group of amped up bullies started kicking and punching the downed hulk who had been so giving of his drugs.

“Ahhhhhh!” Carl yelled, his arms outstretched, his fists balled tightly.

He jumped on the back of the lout closest to him and started scratching out his eyes with his ragged, dirty fingernails. The wriggling human beneath him unleashed a high-pitched whine and tried to shake Carl off him. To his credit, Carl wrapped his thin arms around the boy’s neck and squeezed with all the cocaine-infused strength he could muster. The chokehold did its job admirably, buckling the man’s knees. He lost consciousness and fell backward. Carl, too proud of his achievement to realize what was happening, once again cracked his head on the floor.

This time, his lights went out.

 

"What say you buy me a drink?" The woman sitting next to him at the airport bar asked.

Carl had a bag of iced cubes pressed up against his swollen right eye. His new rapper friend had graciously helped him back to the hotel, slapping concert flyers into the hands of everyone standing in the lobby. Carl refused Molasses’ offer to pay for his cab to the airport, unwilling to fall into debt to leave the country and be forced to communicate with that barbarian in the future. He simply thanked his coke-addled protector, rescued his money from the new meathead at the front desk, and fled the premises.

He had walked forty-five minutes through Chinatown to get to the subway station he had located on Google Maps. The subway led him to a bus, which took him the rest of the way to the airport. The maneuver had only cost him three dollars, enabling him to justify buying a drink at one of the airport’s bars. He had begged the bartender for a bag of ice once his eye started throbbing again.

"This is the last of my money," Carl told her, shooting down all the bourbon he could afford. It barely wet the inside of his mouth.

"Seriously?"

"Yeah."

"But you're so good looking."

Carl stared down the petite black woman, whose misshapen breasts looked as if they were boarding an earlier flight, sitting next to him. He had barely slept the last two days, his razor hadn't made it across the border, and remnant cocaine dust dotted his faded black trousers.

"I'm an author. Not the best-selling kind."

"That's a shame because you’ve got some nice lookin’ hands.”

"Excuse me, miss, are you imbalanced in some way?"

“Where the hell did you learn how to talk to women?"

"Same place I learned to make money, I guess."

"What's the story?"

"I'm not in the mood to tell it."

"Weren't kidding about the crappy writer bit, were you? You're in some kind of mood because your uptuck just turned into a steel teepee."

Embarrassed, Carl discreetly adjusted himself. He watched the woman slowly slurp her gin and tonic out of a thin red straw. He wanted to tell her the alcohol did more to arouse him than she ever would.

"Spill it," she said. "And maybe you'll get to see my tits."

Jesus, Carl thought, anything but that.

"I have thirty some dollars left," he said instead. "It'll work out to just enough to pay for my cab ride back to the apartment that's mine for another twelve hours and for subway fare to get to Grand Central."

"What then?"

"Then I sleep there until I'm dead or, more likely, my agent hunts me down for the pages I owe him. My phone broke, so he’ll have to be crafty. Maybe he'll spot me enough money for a dive hotel in Queens if he ever finds me."

"Fucking grim."

"Life of an artist."

"Pft, more like a degenerate."

"Fine line."

The airport's public address system boomed. Flights delayed, weather inclement. Carl eyed his empty glass glumly and considered walking home from LaGuardia so he could order another.

"You seem like a real prick, but I'll make you a deal..." She said imploring him to fill in the blank.

"Carl."

"Carl. I'm Cherry."

"No shit."

"Make fun of my name and I'll start screaming 'racist.'"

"God, what's the deal?"

"If you let me rant about my fuck-stick of a husband, I'll buy you two more rounds. No use being trapped and sober."

"I don't have to talk?"

"I'd prefer if you didn't."

Carl scratched the inside of his thigh. The bottom row of cheap Canadian whiskey called to him. The row above, housing the American-as-missile-defense-and-Walmart-$5-DVDs Kentucky bourbon, bellowed.

"Cherry, that would be just fine."

 

Daniel Ford is an author, journalist, and podcaster based out of Boston. His novel Sid Sanford Lives! comes out in September from 50/50 Press. Folllow him on Twitter @danielfford

(This story was originally published by Alexander Brown's Tracer Publishing.)

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