Karl Koweski

Gretchen

I know I’m in
for a bad night
when Gretchen hobbles into work
sobbing and clutching her belly.

I have to give the jackass
she’s shacked up with some credit;
he’s wily enough to keep
his punches centralized
around her abdomen.

black eyes, split lips
and blood-ringed nostrils
(unless dope related)
doesn’t sit well
with the clientele.

even the Industrial Strip
has some standards.

Bennie calls me into his office,
a closet-sized room identical
to the private dance “lounge”
we call the bj parlor.
Bennie sits behind
a seventies era teacher’s desk.
since I’m expendable
I get to sit
with my back to the door.

“what we gonna do
‘bout Gretchen?” Bennie asks.

what do you mean?

“well, we can’t have
some cocksucker busting up
our girls, making it so
they can’t hardly move around.”
I don’t see where
it concerns us
unless he comes in here.

“you like women getting
the shit knocked outta them?”

of course not

“then why wait for it
to happen here where
it can disturb the customers?
this is what I like to call
a pre-emptive strike..”

he lays a hundred dollar bill
on the formica desktop.

“give Gretchen a ride home
let her pack some clothes
make sure this guy, Wet Wet
loses interest in her quick.”

Gretchen doesn’t say much
between slobbering sniffles
on the car ride home.
outside the apartment
she asks me to go easy on him,
his father killed himself
when Wet Wet was young
and his mother was never
any account.
you just don’t know
how bad he’s had it.

stay in the car
I’m just gonna talk to him.

she smiles sullenly
as though I just slipped
a penny in her g-string
or a syringe in her arm.

I let myself into the apartment
using her house key.
I try to ignore the
cockroaches swarming
the empty pizza boxes and
cartons of Chinese take-out.
I hear them scurry.
I smell the heavy stench
of rot and iodine.

Wet Wet sits in a crusty
Barca-Lounger chair,
a length of burnt radio antennae
clutched in his fingers,
Amerian Idol on the television.
he looks genuinely surprised to see me.

hello friend

“how the fuck you get in here?
this is private property.”

Gretchen’s had an accident

the top half of his face relaxes
but his jaw remains ratcheted,
teeth grinding.
“oh christ, what’d the dumb cunt
do to herself this time?
You tell Bennie he lets
them buck niggers in there
selling bad dope,
I’m here to tell you,
that shit’s gonna happen.”

no dope
Gretchen seems to have fallen
on someone’s fist a few times,
it’s not so easy to dance
when you can’t straighten your back

“oh that, what the fuck?
Bennie send you here for that?
with gas almost four bucks a gallon?
I didn’t touch her, dude,
and even if I did
it ain’t none of your fucking business.
you don’t know me,
you don’t know Gretchen,
you just sit up there in your chair
all high and mighty
passing judgement on
everybody walk through the door.”

you done yet?

“fuck you, man,
what you think you gonna do, huh?
kick my fucking ass?
go ahead, cocksucker,
there ain’t nothing you can do
ain’t all ready been done
by a lot harder
motherfuckers than you.”

you done yet?
you ready to listen?

“well talk, then, goddammit.
don’t just stand there
giving me the fucking stinkeye.”

the Industrial Strip is off limits
Gretchen is off limits
this city is off limits
when I leave this apartment
I do so knowing
if I ever see your face again
it will be the last time
your face is seen again
do you understand?

Wet Wet smiles,
a mirror image of the smile
Gretchen treated me with
before I left the car.

“did Bennie make you memorize
that shit off a card?
he did, didn’t he?”

I ask again if he understands

“yeah, man, yeah.
shit, I thought we were friends.
but I see how it is.”

good, I’m glad you see how it is
now I’m going to give you a taste
just a taste
for the sake of memory

I swing the twelve inch
length of lead pipe
connecting with his jaw,
shattering teeth and bone,
splitting skin.
blood and enamel flecks
gruel down his chin hair.

he doesn’t scream, doesn’t cry
I backhand him again,
cracking the other side of his jaw.
Wet Wet turns, buries his face
in the stained cushion.
his hand reaches back
protecting his neck,
forearm shielding
his ear and temple.

he remains huddled
in the same position
when I come back through,
Gretchen’s clothes bundled
in three Wal-Mart bags.

“you got blood on your shirt,”
Gretchen says in the car
as I drive back to
the Industrial Strip

Gretchen waits until
I pull into the
Industrial Strip parking lot
before she stabs me
between the ribs
with her buck knife.
the handle is embossed
with a brilliant jade dragon
like something you order
from the back of the
Enquirer for $19.95.

she lets go of the knife
and leans back in the seat
but it’s too late.

you’ve got blood on your shirt
I tell her

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One Response

  1. KK always comes through with the twist!

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