By: Nadine Lockhart
Jenny swerves into the Enchanted Villas, a small plot of land and what looked like outbuildings just north of Silver City, New Mexico, owned by a homely woman and her husband. The couple rent out small rooms in duplex cottages, and they also rent living/parking spaces to people like Jen who drive in with vans or to those a bit better off sporting RV trailers. The exterior of the place is rundown; a decade from now, the husband will take an interest in the units and knock out the center interior wall of every cabin, thus combining two small rooms into decent-sized studios. He‘ll still ignore the outside of the buildings.
It is late, almost midnight, so none of the visual flaws on the property are visible when Jen pulls in with her blue VW which is in need of paint even more than the rentals. Of course, if the flaws were visible so much the better; Jen would then be sure it is a place she can afford. Sometimes she cannot afford anything, not a vehicle nor even repairs for a vehicle. She thinks: Got to have a good vehicle in the Southwest . . . and better a van than a car because it can double as a home. For her, it often does.
More than once, her intimate parts are exchanged in fair trade for her needs. “More than once” seems to occur more regularly as she approaches forty. When she gives to get, she sees herself as an angel. She doesn’t think too deeply on it; it is more like something she likes because of how it sounds. Tonight, she thinks, I’m an angel, a falling angel.
The landlord-husband works the late shift and is all toots and whistles when he sees a van with a lone female parking in front of the office. She lowers herself from the vehicle and slowly walks, splay-footed, toward the man now at the door. Jen is a big girl, though not tall—5’2”, 175 lbs. To camouflage her weight, she wears loose-fitting, used clothing, usually to-the-ankle hippie skirts under long tops with three-quarter-length sleeves (even in summer), then ties a shirt around her waist to hide the bottom half of herself. That’s the troubling part. She doesn’t have those curvy, round hips men love even if those hips are monstrous; her shape is boxy with a shelf of fat right below the kidneys giving her butt a squared-off look. She believes these outfits conceal as much as a sixth of her weight, making her appear little more than 150 lbs.
The landlord has only one thought regarding her as she reaches the spot where he stands—EASY.
She says nothing as she enters the office, but she can feel the want in him; she knows she’ll be able to shave some on the rent when needed. A wife hasn’t been mentioned yet and will not be seen until tomorrow. They exchange some general rental information then go outside together; he walks around back of the office to show her where her space will be. On the way, he notices the dog.
“Dog’s extra,” he says and makes a mental note that this will probably throw her over her budget, a bargaining chip for him in the bedroom.
“How much more?”
“Ten dollars a month, more if he’s a barker.”
“Only kidding on the barking; $10 extra for the dog.”
“So that’s $70 a month?”
“Seventy even. We can settle in the morning; my wife takes care of the books,” he has to mention the wife sooner or later he thinks to himself. He wears no ring. “I’ve got to take 10% tonight; seven bucks will do it as a down.”
She hands him a five and two one-dollar bills, palm up and long fingers extended (unusual fingers for a squat body). He presses his hand over hers and gently pulls her toward him as a dancer might begin to lead a partner. She lets him.
Easy, he thinks for the second time that night; he cannot believe there is no resistance when he bends down to gently kiss her thin lips, his unmonied hand now feeling for her breast. Again, no resistance. He can’t believe his luck. They become lovers inside her van within the hour.
The next morning, Jenny reads over the rental contract with the wife, signs it and pays in full for the remainder of the month. There is a coldness between them and neither say more than what is necessary for the transaction. Jen thinks the wife is fat and stupid; the wife thinks Jen is fat and stupid. The husband thinks life is good.
A couple months go by, the dog doesn’t bark, the husband “visits” Jen a few times a week. During these visits, the wife is either at a friend’s or already asleep. No resistance.
Jenny’s job is as clerical help at an auto body shop; she’ll last three weeks. Last month, she was a cashier at a secondhand store. Because of something in her past, she cannot work with children or the elderly. She quits or gets fired regularly and always within a few months—never her fault. It’s gone like this for years.
Two nights ago in bed—beered-up and belly bared to show her too large, blue tattoo of a Celtic cross—she says to her landlord-man, “I’m not makin’ it.”
“Whadaya mean?” he says as he takes a swig from his own separate bottle.
She looks at him he thinks; he could never really tell.
“Maybe I can help . . . lower the rent . . . a little . . . I mean, your dog doesn’t bark,” he says this, trying to make it light, but he feels pressed, real pressed.
“Maybe that . . . would work.”
“How ‘bout $60?”
“I was thinking . . . something less.”
She’s silent; he thinks she’s looking at him again, but maybe not. His gut tightens and he says, “I’ll see what I can do . . . maybe $40 . . . you can clean the office or something.”
Jen is getting used to him, even desires his regular emptying into her as he softly holds onto her huge backside which she tries not to think about. She’s never fully naked in bed, a bulky angel in an oversized tee. Maybe that’s it, Jen reasons—his affection is tender, not rough. She remembers something dead in her future.
The next day, he tells his wife, “I’ve been sleeping with that girl in the back.”
“Girl?—she’s pushing forty.”
“Yeah, she’s pushing forty,” he says to himself as he recalls the rent reduction price that he never actually promised.
“I’ll tell her to move,” he offers, then adds, “You’re upset . . . I’m sorry”.
The wife is confused: she’s not upset and she knows he’s not sorry.
The man approaches Jen’s van, knocks on the sliding door. As it opens, he can smell her dog and her (more sour than woman) before she appears with a wide smile; no, more like a grimace with teeth—clenched teeth. This is her smile.
“My wife found out about us,” he says and does not enter the van.
The next morning, Jenny heads east; she heard there’s cheaper housing in the center of the state, near Truth or Consequences, and that it’s warmer in the winter. Not that she cares about that now with her thighs chaffing in the late summer heat, sweat beads forming on her forehead.
Nadine Lockhart received her MA and MFA from ASU, and she is currently earning her PhD from the same university. She co-hosts the Phoenix Poetry Series, a monthly featured reading showcasing award-winning poets; it’s entering its eighth year. Aside from writing, she performs regularly in local theater and works in the visual arts. Last year, she received a KCACTF invitation to do a scene from Albee’s American Dream in the lead role of Grandma; last fall, she won Juror’s Choice in the ABBA “Out of Square: Artists’ Books From Various Angles” show at ASU for her “9-11 Palm Book.”
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