The Ancient Fucking Mariner

Albert Tucher, February 11th, 2011

“No shows are a bitch, aren’t they?”

Diana looked around. Who had just put her thought into words?

At first she saw no one, but then she noticed the homeless woman at the bus stop where the motel‘s parking lot met the road. Sixty or a hard-used forty, the woman had set up camp on the bench under the rain roof. She wore an overcoat that looked too warm even for the crisp fall day. A nest of tattered plastic bags stuffed with her treasures covered most of the bench. The woman looked over her shoulder at Diana and grinned, showing a mouth with half the teeth it should have had.

That wasn’t the worst part. Lurid scarring made the woman’s nose look like a repulsive parasite fastened to her face.

“The bane of my existence,” Diana said.

“Now that’s a phrase.”

“How do you know about no shows?”

“Take a wild guess.”

“Were you in my line of work?”

“You don’t have to sound so incredulous.”

“Now that’s a word,” said Diana.

“Don’t let my present condition fool you.”

The phantom client had been Diana’s only commitment of the day. Instead of heading for her car, she approached the woman, who had left just enough room on one end of the bench for someone else to sit.

“Tell me about it.”

The woman cackled.

“Just like the ancient fucking mariner. Except there’s only one of you.”

She peered sideways at Diana.

“Get it? One of three?”

“I went to high school.”

“This is a good story. Seems to me it’s worth something.”

Diana enjoyed effrontery, within reason. She reached into her bag and plucked a ten from her wallet. The woman accepted it.

“Thanks. I’m Lois, by the way. I worked under Victoria.”

“Diana.”

“What’s your professional name?”

“Diana.”

“Never heard that one before.”

“It’s a long story.”

“How many cats do you have?”

“Cats?”

A crazy cat lady. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as much fun as Diana had thought.

“What, you don’t have cats, either? No professional name and no cats. Amazing. I thought we all had cats.”

Diana considered it.

“You might be right. I can think of a bunch of girls who have them, but I can’t think of anyone else who doesn’t. I never thought about it.”

“This can be a lonely life. I probably don’t need to tell you that.”

“The story? It’s getting cold sitting here.”

“Think this is cold? Cold was what started it.”

“Started what?”

“Lend me your ears.”

Lois waited for a reaction.

“I get that one too,” Diana said.

“Okay. It’s a winter morning. Never mind how long ago. I’m dressed, and I don’t even want to think about taking my clothes off again, but I’ve got one of my regulars scheduled. So I run for the car and get in as fast as I can, instead of checking behind. And I’m backing out of the driveway, and all of a sudden I hear this horrible screech.”

Lois shuddered.

“Did you … ?”

“Run her over? No, but I pinched her tail good. My favorite cat. I got out and tried to pick her up and hug her, but she scratched my face. Clawed the living shit out of me and took off. What could I do? I got back in the car.

“So picture me driving with one hand and holding my face with the other. I get to my date. Nice guy. Never canceled or no-showed on me.”

“The kind you want to keep happy.”

“Right. So I knock, he opens the door, and right away he gets this uncomfortable look on his face. So I say, what? And he tells me I need stitches, fast. I went in and looked in the mirror, and I couldn’t figure out why the sight of me didn’t make him scream right off. See what I mean about nice?’

“I have a few like that.”

“Long story short, cat scratches are nasty. I should have gone straight to the ER. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten infected. Maybe this nose would have healed right without surgery that I couldn’t pay for. You’ve probably noticed--this job doesn’t come with health insurance. And maybe I would still have had something to sell when I got back into circulation.

"But it was the same thing over and over, client after client. ‘It’s not the scars. I really don’t mind the scars. It’s …’ fill in the blank with whatever bullshit.”

Diana couldn’t think of anything to say.

“There’s my bus,” said Lois.

She stood and waved Diana’s ten dollars at the driver. The bus stopped. Lois gathered her bags and climbed the stairs. She already seemed to have put Diana out of her mind.

So, Diana thought. The moral of the story is … what?

Don’t have cats? No, it goes deeper than that. This life is a tightrope.

Don’t fall off.

Back