In the City of Angels, you lean in shadowed entryways, the smell of piss and taco stand grease wafting past your face. Traffic slides by as you search for a special woman, the secret of her existence hidden deep inside each whore’s bitch-sharp eyes.
You’ve learned to hustle a special cut of meat down here on the tenderloin. You go with one of them; his back offers bright stripes of color to carrion eaters like you, so you prepare, wear the hood, crack the whip.
The old man’s face haunts your waking hours. The bubbling spittle that flecked his lips, the calloused hand that became one with the whip, and the smell like rotted meat that blew from his open shirtfront with each swing:
“Gotta watch that sinnin’ Bird-boy. Might be more damnation in your soul than I can fix with this striper. Sweet salvation rests in prayer and repentance. There’s virtue in sufferin’, blackbird. Tears are for sissies.”
In dreams, you see the dark hand that grabbed at his crotch, hips pumping in a frenzied dance at your eye level. You see black half-moons under yellow fingernails. “This here root made you, and I damn sure can take you out.”
He’d tie your mouth shut, your spit freeing the taste of his sweat on the kerchief, your ears tingling with the music of the whip down your spine, the grunts of pleasure erupting from his throat as your little boy skin split in ribbons across your back.
You can’t remember when it wasn’t so, the Root man swinging pig leather that sang in measured meter while your thin wrists, tied with gut, hung from the bedposts. Before the fire, you focused on your thickening strength as you ate anything you could steal from the kitchen before the nights when your back swayed to the music of the whip and blood ran down the edge of the ruined mattress.
Tonight you lie on a foreign mattress far from the Piney woods. The sour tang of Wild Turkey slides across your lips as you try over and over to master this dialectic he offered in return for your soul.
After you flew you wondered about the woman who twinned with the Root man to deposit you there. He’d get shitty-ass drunk, point west, and mumble “Good riddance to a bad whore.” Where is the mother who should have stopped the thick leather from tearing your childhood from you, leaving you to bleed with a bible as schooling and vengeance the Root man’s only release?
In a rented room off a boulevard a thousand miles west, you still hear him some nights, shouting from the log-walled living room, the humidity clawing at the rips in the screens, bugs sizzling and popping under the flames, the kerosene fire licking at his tethered feet as you ran through the Mississippi pines, your legs slippery with yellow ooze. Cold showers can’t quench the heat of his screams burning into your head:
“Think you bested me? I’ll never let you be. You ain’t never been nothin’ to no one. You motherless bastard. I’ll come after you. One way or other, you ain’t never gonna be free.”
The real hunt begins tonight, after the final burning swallow of bourbon. You’ll search for her through the darkness and the neon. A leather strop waits coiled and ready in a pocket for a woman who ran west and left nothing but a bible and hellfire behind.
©JP Reese First published at eunoia review, 2011