Flower in the Wind
Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
There were a few prostitutes working in the late sun when Darvin and I parked the car and began walking. We showed the picture, and learned that Denise – that seemed to be what she was calling herself – usually didn't come out on the sidewalk for another hour or so. We decided to grab a bite, even if I didn't really feel hungry, because we needed to eat. There was burger joint not far away, and we walked down and grabbed our bite, and ate it. I didn't taste a thing, but I must have been hungry for I ate everything I'd ordered.
Back on the street, we found more prostitutes active. We showed Al's picture around some more, and a couple of the women had seen her the night before, so she'd been here that recently. It was encouraging, though I knew that a prostitute could be here today and somewhere else tomorrow. Life on the underside of society isn't terribly stable.
But I began looking for the overbite. I might not recognize hairstyle or figure or clothing or walk, but I'd recognized Al by her overbite once, and I'd do it again. But it was Darvin who spotted her first. She was coming out of a cheap motel room, dressed in a pair of very short shorts and a tube top, with her blonde hair teased into a wild mane and makeup that was garish in the remaining sunlight. I would never have recognized her, but then she spoke to another prostitute and smiled, and there was the overbite.
Darvin motioned me to stay behind him, and he walked softly and slowly in Al's direction. I had never known he could be so silent in his boots, but I barely heard them on the sidewalk. There came a moment when Al and the other woman were both facing the other way, and Darvin sped up – still silent – and came right up behind them. I hurried to keep up, and got there just as Darvin put his hand on Al's shoulder.
"You want a good time, honey?" she said as she turned. And then her face went absolutely white under the makeup. She didn't see me, but she recognized Darvin and it hit her like a building falling on her.
Darvin got an arm around her waist and held her up, or she very well might have fallen right there. "Get her key," he said, his voice showing a little strain from holding Al upright.
I grabbed her purse and began digging through it. It was a gaudy sequined thing, fit only for prostitution. I wondered vaguely in the back of my mind where you could find something like that. I found the key just as I became aware of the other prostitute protesting our presence.
I looked up in time to see Darvin glare at her over Al's shoulder. "Young lady, if you don't vanish I'm going to make a phone call and have about 94 prowl cars patrolling this strip."
She vanished. Darvin turned to look at me and I held up the key. "Unlock the door," he said, and I hurried to obey. It had seemed to me that Al was holding up more of her own weight, but it occurred to me that just now Darvin could probably support her if she weighed 500 pounds. I loved her, but he wasn't exactly uninvolved.
I got the door unlocked and open, and Darvin half dragged, half led Al through it. I followed them and flipped the light switch, and closed and locked the door behind us. Darvin sat her on the bed, where she wavered a bit and then sat upright on her own. He pulled a ratty chair up in front of her and looked her in the face. "Are you all right, Al?"
"Yeah ... yeah, I'm okay. How did you find me?"
"That ain't the point, Al. The point is why."
"I told him not to look..."
"And you expected him to just forget about you? You thought he really would just sit there in ABQ and not look?"
"I told him..." I would have thought she'd have seen me by then, but she acted as though she hadn't. Maybe she'd just gotten a glimpse of me and thought I was Darvin's assistant.
"Yeah, you told him. Al, I know why you run. And so does Alan, and he loves you, and he's come to bring you back."
I stepped directly in front of her. "Al..."
"Alan!" She stared at me and then threw herself around, face down on the bed. "Alan, get out of here!"
I stepped closer. "I'm not leaving, Al. I've been looking for three years, and I'm not leaving until you come with me."
She didn't answer, and I realized her shoulders were shaking. There was no sound, but she was crying. I looked helplessly at Darvin, who got out of the chair and unlocked the door and left the room. It was just one room, with a corner partitioned off. I could look in and see a sink and toilet in that little alcove. Looking back at Al I saw that her fists were twisting in the gaudy pink bedspread. Why do prostitutes always go for such garish colors and patterns?
But that wasn't the issue. I sat down on the bed beside Al and put my hand on her back. She flinched away, and I put my hand on her back again, firmly. And now her weeping was audible, great wrenching sobs that sounded as though they were going to kill her. I kept my hand on her back, feeling the heaving of her sobs, listening to the sound of her pain.