by A. Scanlan O'Hearn
When Jimmy said they’d spend a day at the races, Jaycee thought of the expression, It’s a dog’s life, and then, what the fuck is that about? Any dog she ever knew was layin’ in the dirt in a hole-strewn back yard on a short leash next to an empty bowl. But Jimmy really did mean a day at the races, not like they’d stand trackside or sit in the grandstand looking down on the horses. Definitely not the clubhouse. He meant the OTB. You’re my goddamn lucky rabbit’s foot, he said leading her by the arm to put down for the first trifecta, then forgot she was there and left Jaycee to wander off. She might have been the only female in the place, everyone either old or male or both standing around faces bent over racing forms, or staring at screens then running to windows before the bell to win or lose again. Jimmy’d find her when he needed her, so she made her way to the ‘cafetorium.’ At least they had beer.
From her table, Jaycee scanned the crowd, mostly they were looking at her. She knew she still looked good and tried to stay fit, keep her hair fashionably cut, wore jeans and heels when she was goin’ out. That’s the way Jimmy liked it, too. If I wanted a mother fuckin’ mother, I’da stayed home, he told her. You don’t got kids, do ya? When she said yeah, but long gone, that satisfied him. They’d been living together for a year.
A young woman at a corner table caught Jaycee’s eye. A bit pretty, alone. The girl was scanning the crowd too. Jaycee tried to picture her man, maybe an older guy who’d treat her right for the day, maybe another Jimmy who needed luck. Maybe the girl really was alone, too, just here for the beer. The girl continued to look around, then oddly landed her gaze on Jaycee and smiled. Uh oh, one of those. Then Jaycee knew she wasn’t. The girl was on her way over. Jaycee put her head down, pretending to rummage through her bag. When she looked up the girl was at her table, a real shit eatin’ grin on her face. Like she was stoned, or just coming off somethin’.
Jaycee wanted to get up and walk away. She wanted to call Dean, the one person she could call at any time and he’d answer. She’d raised him after all. But the girl’s face made Jaycee stick.
‘Can I show you somethin’?’
‘I’m sorry?’ The girl was prettier than Jaycee first thought, but tired, pale, her eyes heavy, like she just woke up in a car outside. Probably did.
‘There’s somethin’ I need to show you,’ and the girl put her hand on Jaycee’s arm, reaching and then resting it there heavy. They stayed like that a second. Again, Jaycee wanted to leave.
‘It’s this way,’ and with that the girl was looking over her shoulder to be sure Jaycee followed. Jaycee sat a second. She wanted to call Dean, reached into her bag. The girl was back.
Everything told her not to. She’d been that girl, had run that game herself.
‘This better be good,’ and Jaycee got up from her seat, slung the plastic cup of beer back.
By the time she had downed it the girl was out the cafetorium door and into the crowd under the monitors, now denser than before, people running from bet to bet as the chances at winning grew smaller and smaller. Jaycee couldn’t see Jimmy anywhere, but they all blended together, now a few more women, too, all eyes on the screens above their heads. Jaycee spotted the girl twenty or so feet ahead, looking again over her shoulder to be sure Jaycee was behind her. She thought for a minute she’d duck out. It wasn’t too hot and she could wait by the car, although it might be a couple of hours, but the girl kept moving forward, and Jaycee followed. Jaycee fished around in her bag for the phone. She’d call Dean. He’d talk her out of it, or through it.
Ma, what’s the matter? I’m workin’
Yeah, Ma, this isn’t a great time, can I call-
Dean, I’m about to get into somethin’
Ma, I can’t talk. I’ll give you a call later.
Dean, you know when you’re headed for somethin’ you shouldn’t?
Ma, really, I gotta go.
The girl entered the ladies room and Jaycee followed. Son of a bitch. He had no time for her. She couldn’t blame him, though, twenty-five, carefree. Living the good life, the one she gave him and lost herself. The girl was right inside the door when Jaycee swung it open. Then she was standing firmly rooted right in front of the stalls, her arms nearly wrapped around herself twice.
‘What’re you sellin’?’
‘Huh?’ The girl looked at Jaycee like she’d never seen her; her face had gone sheet white and Jaycee noticed for the first time her clothes were dirty, her hair around her neck matted and sweaty. The girl started to shake and Jaycee knew she had a drug addict on her hands. The girl didn’t move, stood stuck with her feet planted on the tile floor.
‘Listen, honey, I don’t want it whatever it is’ and Jaycee reached into her purse. She’d give her a twenty and get out. She shouldn’t have come, but it was something about the girl, the way she reminded Jaycee of being young, although Jaycee suddenly wondered if being young had been all that great.
‘Just look at it, that’s all,’ and the girl, her feet still unmoving, her body in a gesture so pathetic, the way she reached, Jaycee thought she’d fall over.
‘There, in the last sink, ‘ and Jaycee looked down the wall past the stalls to where a bank of sinks ran under some dim lights, the bulbs above mostly dark. Jaycee could make something out in the last sink. Was the girl trying to sell her clothes? It was a dark mass of something and then Jaycee thought for a minute it was moving. She moved closer to look without getting too close, suddenly afraid of something biting her. She’d known of people selling exotic pets. The girl could have brought her boyfriend’s cobra, for Christ’s sake.
Brown and crumpled paper towels filled the sink and now Jaycee knew something in there was moving. She could make out what looked like the arm of something, dark and wet. No, she wasn’t interested in any reptiles, thank you. The thing let out a cry and Jaycee jumped. A cat? Whatever it was it was in distress, the cry a half choking sound, it reminded Jaycee of something. And then it hit her. It was a baby, the fuckin’ thing was covered in blood, just about dried. It was dark, maybe black, as Jaycee looked closer, she could see its arms and legs entangled in the towels, its mouth sucking on a wadded up corner, the thing struggling to survive.
‘Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me?’ she turned to the girl. But the girl was gone.