H. M. L. lives in North Carolina. He’s originally from southwestern Louisiana.
A New Woman
George was doing his dishes when the phone rang.
“Hello. No thanks. Hey, I know you have a job to do buddy, but hear me out.”
The man on the other end kept talking. George walked across the
kitchen then said, “Listen, my woman just came back home after a
two-month stint in a Costa Rican Bordello. You think I’m in the mood
to talk about vacuum cleaners? I don’t need a new vacuum cleaner man.
I need a new woman.”
The line went dead.
George put the receiver down and thought about calling Martha, his
ex-wife. He hadn’t talked to her in two years. For the first six
months after the divorce he stared at walls and imagined while laying
in bed, that outside his window there was a black hole that would
eventually suck him out of his skin and into some kind of oblivion;
but there was nothing out there but the mailman knocking on the door.
Eventually, while walking around George let Martha go. It actually
felt more like she let him go, and yes, there were other women in the
world after all. And a few nights later at The Red Garter, George met
Cindy had good legs and a friendly smile. She drank champagne and
talked with her hands. That first night he reached down and took her
heel out of her high-heeled shoe and squeezed her ankle as they drank
George was an expert at guessing a woman’s height and weight, but
usually he only mentioned height with an inch or two added.
“I know you baby, better than you think. You’re five foot two and a
hundred and forty four pounds of pure….”
“Pure what?” Cindy asked cutting him off.
“Pure woman,” he told her while smiling over his beer.
She looked him over and said, “You’re good. I’m 140 now, but last
week, before my new diet, you would’ve been right on the money.”
“Well honey, last week I was in jail, so it wouldn’t have mattered.
They took my money and gave me orange flip-flops.”
But now Cindy was back in the country and sitting on the couch. Her
legs hadn’t been shaved for a week when George ran his hand up her
“Please stop, you make me feel ugly.”
But George wouldn’t stop rubbing her legs. “Come on baby,” George
said, “maybe I should call the landlord over and see if your ass will
cover at least half the rent.”
George didn’t move when Cindy punched him in the nose. He just stood
up and walked to the fridge, poured a glass of water and dropped a few
ice cubes into the glass. The ice cracked in the glass as he walked
back to the couch.
“You’re a real son of bitch sometimes George,” Cindy said.
George took a drink.
“You know how much I owe baby. God knows you don’t have any money.”
George felt the blood hardening on his lips.
“Well, aren’t you gonna clean yourself up?”
“And why not?”
“Because I can do what ever I want.”
“Is that so, and what are you going to do?”
George thought it over. When the pressure was on to take a stand, it
didn’t mean it was any easier. He wanted to say something mean, maybe
he wanted to kill her, but something else made him want to comfort
“Well don’t just sit there grinning like a damned fool,” Cindy said.
George ran his fingernails across the leather like blood on his face
and thought about his first fight in grade school. T.J. Macdonald
pulled his shirt over his head and broke his nose in front of everyone
“So this is how it works,” said George in a whisper. “At least there’s
a certain symmetry to it.”
“What’s that George?”
“Nothing, just bring me a beer.”
“We’re out of beer.”
George found his keys and wallet after washing his face.
“Can I get you anything at the store, babe?”
“Get me some cigarettes.”
After stopping at the gas station, George drove for four hours without
stopping. When he got home the lights were off and the house was dark
and the phone rang.
The call was a recorded message. The woman’s voice wanted to know if
the owner of the house wanted to answer a survey. George sat down in
his chair, took his shoes off, and waited for the instructions.
The waitress sat near the register. When Herbert looked at her, she
asked if he wanted something so he quit looking at her. Up against
his lower calf muscle, he felt the roll of cash starting to get soggy
with sweat in his sock.
Inside the restroom he divided the cash, putting a little in each
pocket until it didn’t look so obvious anymore. After paying for his
coffee he took a city bus to the train station and bought a one-way
ticket to Atlanta.
While Herbert waited he sat on a bench. Soon two kids about rode up to
him on bicycles. They sat on their bicycles with each a foot on the
“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Herbert said while scanning the parking lot.
The kids agreed, then the one in green said,” Do you have a dollar you
Herbert put his eyes on the kids for the first time.
“Yeah, give us some dollars,” the other one said.
Herbert offered a few quarters to them and kept scanning the parking lot.
“We can’t use change,” the one in green said.
“Well, too bad,” Herbert said.
“We know you have money,” The one in red said, “and we know where you got it.”
“Is that right?”
“That’s right, and we promise not to tell if you give us a hundred dollars.”
Herbert stood up.
“We saw you on Eagle’s Way early this morning,” the one in green said.
“Yeah, we saw you breaking into a yellow truck on Eagle’s Way,” the
one in red said.
“Well that’s funny, I wasn’t on Eagle’s Way this morning,” Herbert said.
When the boys saw that Herbert wasn’t going to budge they both started
riding away and the one in red yelled back saying, “we’re going to
tell on you, you just wait and see. We’ll be back.”
Herbert watched the two boys ride south then he walked inside to the
ticket counter, checked to see when the train would arrive, and saw
that it was on schedule. He then reached for the quarters in his
pocket and made a call from the pay phone.
“ Where you been all morning, Hon?”
“ Been busy.”
“ On a Sunday?”
“ I have some things to do today. I don’t think I’ll be back anytime soon.”
“ Well, when can I expect you?”
“ I’m not sure to tell you the truth.”
“ Well ok, I’ll keep something warm for you then.”
In half an hour the rain started to come down and everyone waiting for
the train stared out of the windows as the rain smashed into the
puddles that formed on the sidewalks and in the parking lot. One man
laughed out loudly and then said, “It sure as hell looks like the end
of the world is coming. We’d better all get down our knees and pray
for forgiveness before it’s too late.”
To that, the whole waiting area burst with a roar of laughter.