1981 : take a look at yourself

Originally posted February 8, 2010 on dirtygirldiaries.com.

“Jesus, JJ. What the hell…?” Piper flips her hair away from her face and drags me into the light for a better look at my face.

“I’m fine, Pipes. Forget it.” I just want to get behind the bar, to get a drink, to work, to forget this happened.

“What? Are you crazy?  J, you should really have someone look at that. What happened, baby? Does it hurt bad? Sit. I’ma make you a drink…Maxie said you had an accident?”

“Maxie says, this ain’t a freakin’ tea party. That’s what Maxie says.” How a big man like Max slips in and out of a room unnoticed is beyond me. But he does. You never notice him come in, and you never see him leave. “Behind the bar, both of youse.”

“Max,” Piper cracks a fresh bottle of Smirnoff for me and flashes her best St. Louis smile for him, “just let her sit for a minute. I can handle everything for a while. Don’t I always get you every last dollar and send ‘em to the bank for more?” She giggles at him, pushes a rocks glass full of vodka in front of me and heads towards the back room. She touches my hair as she passes, just a brief touch, a second, and for that one single second, I think, I’m safe now, and then it’s gone.

Maxie slides onto the stool next to me and looks at my empty glass. I’d swallowed it in one gulp.

“Here, kid. Ya look worse’n usual. You could use another.” He pushes the bottle towards me. I can always use another, I think.  “Now, spill it,” he says.

I pour my own drink, skip the ice, and look up slowly into those watery Bassett hound eyes. I wish he could just make me his, look after me, protect me, make it all go away.

“What’re you my boyfriend now, Max? My father? What? Leave me alone, OK?” Finishing my cocktail in one swallow again, I get up to go behind the bar, still holding that bottle of vodka in my other hand. My bottle of vodka. The only thing that’s making me feel safe at the moment, my vodka.

Max grabs my free arm and pulls me towards him. “You want me to be your daddy? You’d like that wouldn’t you? Not that I give a shit,” I can feel his belly press against me, his stubble tearing at my cheek, his voice rumbles about my face and ears. “But tell me, who hit ya?” He pops bar nuts into his mouth and waits for my answer.

“Nobody, Max. I told you, I fell is all. It was an accident. Lemme go, you’re hurting me. You’re gonna leave a bruise. I gotta set up the bar.”

“I’m gonna leave a bruise? Take a look at yourself.” He flicks his head in the direction of the mirror behind the bar, but he doesn’t let go. “Do ya know the guy?”

“It was an accident.”

“Do I know the guy?”

“An accident Max, it’s nothin’.”

“Fine,” pushing me away, “You wanna protect some piece’a shit, then maybe you asked for it. Maybe you got what you deserved.” He spits on the floor and walks into the back room, still popping nuts into his mouth.

What could I say? How could I explain any of it? I invited him in. I’d offered to let him sleep on the couch. I didn’t think anything of it. I thought I was untouchable. Safe. I thought I had Nigger JJ on my side. I thought I had the Ice Man. I thought we were friends. I thought

Glad to be alone and busy, I start setting up the bar.

Idiot work for an idiot girl.

I fill the tiny champagne bottles with ginger ale, screw the tops back on and tuck a new bottle of Smirnoff  away under my cash register. I was sure Myron watered down the booze. Piper thought so, too. We set aside a fresh bottle every night. Tonight I wanted one all to myself.

“Take a look at yourself,” he’d said.

I don’t do that, look at myself. Not my whole self. Just the bits and pieces I absolutely have to. One eye at a time, or just my mouth. But I don’t ever look at my whole face in a mirror.

“Take a look at yourself,” he’d said.

I look up into the mirrored wall opposite the bar, behind the tiny platform the girls danced on. I see my reflection standing behind the bar, my body from the waist up, but I can’t see my head at all. I am the headless barmaid.

The clinking of quarters in the jukebox brings me out of my reverie. Customers. It’s Showtime.