THE WORKING GIRL (A SHORT STORY)
The Boeing 707 thundered down the runway at Miami International Airport, and as its retro jet engines fired and the brakes were applied, the aircraft swayed, and all the passengers leaned forward and grabbed for stability. Then it slowed down and there was a murmur of relief, a brief sound of clapping, as the passengers prepared to collect their belongings for disembarking.
Jennifer and I were stopping over for a little shopping, and funnily enough we met our childhood friend Michael, and had a good chat about old times over a few drinks on the aircraft. Michael happened to have a tragedy in his life: His wife of some 10 years had died with a cancer, and he was just coming home after placing his son in boarding school in England with his sister to watch over the boy. So he had tied up his responsibilities after some tumult, but was fresh and ready to make a new start. He was telling us now that he was going to give the work on his farm his full attention, and was full of plans as to what he would do. I was particularly happy to see him pick up off the floor and start again.
As we left the airplane and were heading down through customs, he said to my wife Jen, “You know, I have no hotel room booked in Miami; where would you recommend I stay?”
“We are staying at the Delano on Miami Beach, and we find it is a decent, moderately priced place to stay, and moreover there is a lot of shopping and entertainment nearby.”
“Well, I am not doing much shopping,” said he “But the entertainment sounds interesting’, said Michael. Did I mistake the gleam in his eyes, when he said that? After all Michael would be looking for companionship now I thought, and Miami is full of situations and places.
“Let us share a taxi and talk about it”, I said to him, “there are a few places where a single man like might go,” I laughingly commented, “though you will have to forgive me for not keeping you company as my wife Jen might not like it!” She gave me a stern look, as if to say, you better not go out and leave me alone in a hotel room!
The cab drive passed quickly, and we unloaded and checked in at the lobby, where Michael found the rates much to his suiting. The Delano had seen better days clearly, but all around us were signs of renovations. The lobby was being painted, the chandeliers were clean and bright, the carpets were already changed to a deep red in contrast to pink tiles, and the air-conditioning worked.
The Delano was situated at the corner of Lincoln Road Mall and Collins Avenue .It occupied almost the entire southwest corner. Collins is the Main road moving north from 1st Street to around 168th Street, traversing the length of Miami beach in all its grandeur, from South to North. Lincoln Road Mall is a Shopping area between 12thand 13th Streets, and as its name suggests, had numerous shopping localities both sides of its broad width. Lincoln and Collins Avenue then was a central point in the geography of Miami Beach, being its starting point. Today, it is the starting point of the now famous South Beach area, which is noted for its bars and restaurants.
We moved up to our respective rooms, with a promise to meet for dinner at 8.00pm. Michael said he was not too tired and he might take a little walk and do a little scouting, giving me a wink of his eye, which I am sure Jen saw. He walked away heading outdoors.
Jen started to give me a lecture of respect for his dead wife and time should be allowed to pass before any fun or pleasure is contemplated. I heard her out patiently then pointed out; “Jen, Michael’s wife has been dead for six months now, and she was sick and dying for almost a year before that. Michael had to see that suffering through, and now that’s the end of it. He loved her, but she is no more, so what can he do but try and forget? He will probably never forget, but he can perhaps buy a little time and distraction!” Jen seemed somewhat mollified but not quite convinced.
I had a little nap for around two hours and headed out with Jen while she browsed the well-known shops of the Mall. We returned at around seven just in time to meet Michael for dinner.
Over a meal I asked him where he went in the four hours of traveling up and down the beach: He seemed a bit agitated and commented that there were a number of places that seemed promising, but the place was so diverse he did not where to go. I suspected there were a number of adult places up and down the strip, but it all depended on what you were looking for and besides all the singles bars opened after 8.00pm
“There is a nice restaurant on Arthur Godfrey and Collins Avenue”, I told him, “ and they have a nice bar to one side where there may be a little action. Just take a taxi there a little later and have a drink, you might find it interesting.” He begged me to go with him. “I can’t leave Jen here alone” I responded. He turned to Jen and asked would she please come with us. My wife looks at both of us cautiously and says “Well, both of you can go out as I am tired. But Ray,” here she looks at me, “Come home early and don’t leave Michael by himself”. A forlorn request, I thought, as Michael was straining at the leash.
The Copper-pot was a fine restaurant at the corner of Arthur Godfrey and Collins, just past 43rd, street, and I had been there before. They had a disco bar right next to an excellent five star restaurant. So Michael and I lounged there at a table in a near empty lounge, after all, it was only Tuesday. The only interesting face was that of a fine looking brunette who was sitting by the bar by herself. Looking at her, we could find no companion..So, with Michael’s enthusiasm, we sent her a drink and she around and smiled an open invitation. So, I walked over and introduced myself, learning in the process that her name was Debbie.
Debbie was stall and statuesque, more blonde than brunette, long straight nose blue gray eyes, and dressed in a long black dress that hugged her body, looking more like a gown than a dress. She did not have a shy or demur bearing but moved confidently as she walked, fully aware of her sensuous figure. “Would you like to join us at our table”, I asked, “My friend has been dying to meet you”.
“Surely,” she said, in her southern accent, walking over to our table virtually on my arm. I introduced her to Michael, and he was extremely eloquent with his compliments and subsequent conversation. I could not participate too much, nor do I remember or care, for this was Michael’s move, and the music was above voice level. They seemed to get along famously, with many a kiss on the hand, tinkles of laughter, and smiles. They got up to dance, and I ordered my farewell drink. She went to the restroom, while Michael sat with me telling me how smitten they were with each other: and how glad he came to this place. Then she returned and Michael went off in the same direction leaving us alone, and she moved closer to me.
“Is your friend for real?” she asked. “He seems to be romancing me in the most serious way, doesn’t he know I’m a working girl?” She said to me with a frank, direct query.
Well, I had guessed as much, and I said to her, “Let’s put it to him and find out!”
“ I hope so”, she said, “for though I am happy for the nice way you boys have treated me to-night, unless you are doing business I have to move along: I have to get pay the bills at home, you know,” in her Tennessee accent. Michael then returned to our table and after he sipped his drink, I said aloud to him, “Mike, Debbie wants you to know she is in fact a ‘working girl’”.
“Really”, says Mike, turning to face Debbie: “I am about to do a spot of work myself, as a farmer; what do you work at?” She lit a cigarette and looked up at the ceiling. How could this guy be so naïve?
“ Mike,” I say to him in his ear, “she is a prostitute, and turns tricks for a living! That’s what she is talking about.” He was dumfounded. I guess he thought it was his personal charm that was holding this lady’s attention. In a way I felt sorry for him, but then I thought maybe that he needed an awakening, and to decide what he needed to have to night: was it female company at a cost? Or was he looking for free, single and disengaged: In which case tonight may be a vain effort.
I excused both of us from the table and walked Mike over to the bar. “Mike, its not as bad as it could be, she looks like a nice person and both of you were getting along. But, its up to you, if you want to pay, just go over and ask her in private, how much it costs, and don’t forget to go to a safe place, and arrange the cab-fare that goes along with the ride. If you don’t then let us bid her farewell, and say we have elsewhere to go: I have to get back to Jen.
“How, how, much should I pay?” Stammered Mike.
“I suppose the going rate is $50-$100 but since there does not seem to be many patrons left in this place, perhaps she will give you a deal!” I say, somewhat sarcastically, annoyed at being dragged into this confusing situation.
We went back to the table and I thought I heard him say: “Why, did, Uh, sorry I did, …”
Then came a fierce bought of conversation while I sipped my drink in silence. Then He got up from the chair, sheepishly, and said, “Ray, Debbie and I are going to her place nearby, and I’ll see you to-morrow”.
I bade them good night on the pavement, looking at them walk to a taxi. I started to walk up Collins Ave; the night was clear and cool. Dean had a song about “hey, Brother pour the wine.” and I remembered a line, which went:
“What is life, what is spring?
What are all the stars that shine?
Love my friend, is everything,
And love will soon be mine.”
But at what cost, I smiled to myself!