ENOUGH BLAME (short story)





copyright 1998, held by author

Jenny and Bill left Hartford, at night, in the rain. It was an economic decision—two months behind on the rent, all their valuable possession sold—her drafting tables, pens and brushes, his guitar and amp—no income, no money. They only had enough for his dope and her booze, and cigarettes and gas.

The landlord was not the type to reason. He was not the type to contact the authorities. He’d just get one of his goons to break your face. Bill bought several bags of heroin, enough he estimated to last a week if he stuck to his latest promise to taper off. Then they packed what little they had left in Bill’s Rabbit and drove away. They had no one in town to say good-bye to.

            He would detox in New Orleans. New Haven, Boston, Providence—New England in  general—was burned out for him now—too many arrests, too many debts. If the law didn’t get him, the streets would. New York? Detoxing there was a futile enterprise. And, he was still wanted on a robbery and bail-jumping charge in NYC. Besides, Jenny hated New York. She’d grown up in Hackensack, New Jersey, where the only thing to do was go into New York, where no matter what you remained an outsider. She wanted more choices. That’s why she went to Boston University. She wanted her life to be different. She planned to study art. She loved to draw and paint. Her grades and SAT scores weren’t high, her parents couldn’t afford tuition, but the school accepted her and she got financial aid, took out loans. She worked as a waitress in Boston dives, where she met Bill, a guitarist in bar bands.

He was more exciting than school, and always encouraged her art, or at least never complained about the time she spent with her sketch pads. He never complained about her drinking. He never complained about anything.

 Soon, she wanted more choices than school and dropped out her sophomore year to pursue her craft. Eventually, she had more choices than art.

            Now, there were few choices and school or art were not among them. In a way, it was a relief. It made things simpler.

New Orleans could be an adventure, and their life could be changed for the better. The people are polite and friendly and the bars are always opened. Bill had a sister there, who promised to loan them money and let them stay at her house and help her brother kick his addiction. She was some kind of nurse, and unlike Bill, hadn’t spent all of  the small inheritance their father left his kids.

            Bill slept in the back seat of the Rabbit, nestled against plastic garbage bags stuffed with their clothes. She drove with the radio tuned low to talk programs, where people called in and complained about their lives. The voices minimized the hypnotic sound of the raindrops bumping like pebbles against the exterior of the car.  A woman whose mother was dying of cancer wept. A man whose wife left him started cursing and had to be bleeped. Jenny had no money and no home, she had left behind the past and did not know the future, but she cared about these strangers, she worried about the amount of meanness and despair in the world.

She stared out the windshield— the wipers relentlessly slashing against the glass, pushing away the drops—and into the darkness and splintered headlight beams. She checked for cops each time she took a swig from the bottle of Popkov Vodka she kept by her seat. After each hit, she sprayed Bianca into her mouth. She could regulate her drinking. Enough to stay alert, and not enough to become drunk.

            She lit a Kool. She thought about how much she loved Billy. Even when he had a habit, he respected her, never forced her to do drugs or bothered her about her drinking. He never stole anything important from her, and never asked her to have sex for money with strangers and when she did, he always accepted the money she made with tears in his eyes.

She put the bottle up to her lips, remembering to swallow only once, then sprayed the aerosol mint into her mouth, and continued smoking. She thought about God; her mother taught her to pray every day. Jenny repeated the words she learned in childhood: God is love.

If you believed in God, He loved you, and nothing else mattered. She still pictured God as an understanding old man, with an immense, bearded face, stuck above the sky, watching and waiting. He didn’t help every time you asked—life was a series of tests—but He helped when no one else could, without you realizing it. He forgave the bad things you did, if you did them to survive. That’s why she never gave up hope. That gentle, ancient giant with Santa Claus whiskers and power over space and time would prevent any bad luck from lasting.

            It was 10:00 o’clock. Jenny felt hungry. The last time she had a meal was yesterday, some French fries and half a greasy burger in a neighborhood dive, where Bill announced the need for departure. Now, they were on Route 17, passing through New Jersey, near where she grew up. She pulled into the parking lot of a diner. She wanted breakfast. She wanted eggs and bacon and hash browns. She called towards the back seat, “Billy, wake up, Billy.”

            He groaned but his eyes remained shut. She repeated his name until she practically screamed the syllables. He blinked sluggishly, strings of drool rolled down his chin. He wiped his mouth and coughed.

            “I’m hungry,” said Jenny. “I need a break.”


            “Yes, food. I’m going into this diner and having some food. Do you want anything?”

            “Can we afford it?”

            “Billy, how are we going to make it to New Orleans if we don’t eat. We got to eat.”

            “I don’t need food.”

            “I do. I’m starving.”

            His eyes rolled closed and fresh salvia dripped out the corner of his mouth—back on the nod.


The sign read: Route 17 Diner. Baking on premises. Cocktails served. Inside were yellow walls and red furniture. Jenny sat in a booth. The paper place mat depicted a map of New Jersey. The waitress had a large wart on the side of her fat face. Jenny waved away the menu, and ordered a screw driver, coffee, scrambled eggs with bacon and extra toast.

“Don’t forget the hash browns,” said Jenny.

“It comes with it,” snapped the waitress.

            Jenny ate quickly, and even though she knew she shouldn’t spend money she didn’t have to, left the rude waitress a two dollar tip.

The rain fell in thick gusts. There was a row of pay telephones near the steps of the diner. There were trees at the edge of the parking lot, and beyond the trees a ravine filled with muddy water, and beyond the ravine, more trees. Flashbacks of her younger years bombarded her mind—her teen and pre-teen sexual experiences, the partying and getting in trouble, the severe punishments her parents imposed the few times she was caught—but she repelled them in her usual way—shaking her head, letting some brief  tears emerge. Then she was better, calm, in the present.

            Hackensack was a local call. Jenny walked over to a pay phone, dropped in a quarter, dialed the number she could never forget.

            The phone rang several times. “Mom?”

            “Jennifer,” the groggy voice said. “Is that you? What time is it?”

            “I’m sorry about the hour. I just wanted to call you. I was thinking about you.”

            “That’s nice. Is everything okay?”      

            “Yes, things are going well, Mom.”

            “Are you in Connecticut?”

            “No, I’m traveling. I’m calling from Europe, that’s why I messed up on the time.”

            “Your-up? For goodness sakes.”

            “They appreciate art more over there… I mean here, Mom.”

            “I suppose they should.”

            Jenny paused, then asked, “h-how are you?”

“My hands still get stiff, but I’m eating better. I went to the doctor yesterday and he gave me some pills to take.”

Jenny was getting soaked, and the rain ran from her hair, down her face, mixing with the tears she failed to suppress. New Orleans seemed so far away. She stammered, “maybe I can visit when I get back, Mom.”

“You’re always welcome home, dear. As long as you’re clean and sober.”

“I’m doing okay… I’m doing better.”

“God knows, your father and I, we tried.”

Jenny could feel the cold moisture on the skin of her shoulders, arms and chest. She started to shiver. It was a real downpour now. Driving would be slower. “There’s enough blame to go around Mom. I love you.”


Bill moved to the front passenger seat. He heated the spoon with the Zippo lighter. When the powder bubbled into a liquid, he drew the substance through a cotton ball and up into the hypodermic needle. The belt was around his bicep. A vein near his wrist was ready. He jabbed the needle into the flesh. The warm rush danced from his spine into his brain.

Jenny opened the car door.

            “Hey baby, you look wet,” he said, as he untied the belt. His face went slack; a farm animal smile took over his lips.

            Jenny sat down, pushed her hair back, lit a Kool. “The rain is getting worse.”

            “Where’d you go?”

            “Don’t you listen, Billy? I got something to eat. We’re parked in the diner. We’re still in Jersey.”

            He stuck a cigarette into his mouth, but didn’t light it. “Still a long way from the South. How much money do we have?”

            “Not much.”

            “How much?”

            “Twenty, thirty. Definitely less than forty.”

            “Fuck! And you ate!”

            “I’m not like you. I need food sometimes. Jesus!”

            “How much gas?”

            “Half tank.”

            “Shit. We need money.”

            “I’ve been thinking about that.”

            “Thinking?” He opened the Zippo, flicked on the flame, stared at the shimmering blue tipi before lighting the cigarette.

            She exhaled smoke. “Yeah, maybe we can stop in A.C., and I can make us some money.”

            “What do you know about gambling?”

            She had the bottle out. She murmured, “I wasn’t talking about gambling.”

            She unscrewed the cap, took a swig. Then she sprayed Bianca into her mouth.

            His eyes narrowed. “You mean trick!”

Their silence lasted a while.

She put the cap back on, then stowed the bottle under the seat. She clicked her tongue against her teeth. “I’d do it for us, so we can make it to New Orleans.”

            “I don’t want my woman doing that kind of shit. I love you.”

            “My woman!” She rolled her eyes, then sighed. “I love you Billy. We got to do what we got to do.” 

            “You should only do that with the one you love.”

            “I didn’t say I liked it, damn it!”

            The void returned—the distance between them, the distance from their souls to the world outside. Jenny had parked the car at the edge of the lot, and they watched the globs of rain on the windshield, and the trees flailing in the wind. No one else was near, except a man in a trench coat getting into a new, expensive looking car. The man couldn’t start the car. The gears churned, the engine weakly puttered. The man got out and opened the hood. 

            Bill leaned into the back seat, searched through one of the bags of clothes. He found the gun, a .38, gray metal, short barrel. He checked the chamber for bullets, released the safety. “I’ll get us some money.”

            “What are you still doing with that?” she whispered, as if the appearance of the weapon made the interior  of the car a place like a church or a library. “You sold the stereo for smack but you kept your gun?”

            “You got to do what you got to do, right?” He shoved the revolver into the side pocket of his jacket, and before opening the door, told her, “start the car and just wait. This won’t take long.”

            “Be careful,” she said as Bill stepped into the rain.


“Having car trouble sir?” said Bill, walking through the gusts up to the man, who was leaning over the engine. “Can I help?”

            “I’ll probably have to call Triple A,” said the man, who slammed the hood shut, then turned and faced Bill. “Thanks anyway.”

            Bill had the gun out, pointed at the man’s chin. “Just give me your money.”

            Rain dripped down the man’s shivering face. He stammered, reached into the breast pocket of his suit.

            Jenny flinched when she heard the shot. Bill’s hands were at fault. He could not stop his fingers from shaking. The bullet’s force pushed the man back. Blood replaced the lower half of his face.  The man collapsed as if his vertebrae had become pudding. Soon his twitching stopped. Rain diluted the swelling puddle of blood on the asphalt.

Bill put away the gun and quickly went through the man’s pockets. The only possession he found was the wallet. Bill jammed it into his pocket, grabbed the man’s wrists and dragged the body to the woods and slid it into the ravine.

            It was a four foot drop. The body bounced down the embankment—landed with more of a thud than a splash in the thick, muddy water—it floated for a moment, then sank. The rain became heavier.

Jenny looked around, praying no one else heard the gunfire or saw what happened. She shifted the car out of park as Bill ran back to the car. He got in and yelled, “drive, just drive.”

Her foot was already off the brake.


Jenny said nothing. She kept peaking into the rearview, expecting to see siren lights any moment and wondered if she would stop the car to give up, or if she would just stamp on the accelerator and try to get away. She prayed—in her thoughts, in the words she formed in her mind but had no wish to utter. The big old man hovering above the earth determined all actions, and although it wasn’t clear why right now, she knew that He must have a reason why everything happened that happened, why people did the things they did, why sometimes He made people strong, and other times made them weak.

            Bill told her to get on the Turnpike, then take a Pennsylvania bound highway. Then he said nothing, didn’t even smoke, for about an hour.  Finally he came out of his trance, reached in his jacket pocket, and took out the wallet.

            “Fuck!” he screamed. The wallet contained a ten dollar bill, a five dollar bill, and a one dollar bill, about a dozen plastic credit cards and/or pieces  of identification and two photographs—one of a woman, the other of a pair of children—wife and kids. “That mother fucker had no cash.”

            She glanced at the images of his next of kin. “Don’t talk about him like that, just don’t.”

            “Worry about us,” he muttered.

            “It’s bad luck to curse the dead, that’s all.” The rain had eased some. She grabbed the bottle, took a longer pull, didn’t bother with the breath spray. Several minutes passed before she said, “We’re going to need gas soon. I’m getting tired too. I don’t know how much longer I can drive.”


When they stopped at an Exxon station, he had an idea. There was a sketch pad in the back seat. The first few pages had drawings of birds and trees Jenny did a couple of months back, the last time she attempted any sort of art, but the rest of the pages were unblemished. He found a pen in the glove compartment. He placed the credit card beneath the translucent white sheet, and traced the signature a few times. James Nelson, James Nelson. Then he wrote it unaided. He had done this before.  He had a knack. If he wasn’t spending a lot of money, and the person verifying the signature wasn’t too swift or interested, he could get away with it.

            He practiced the signature as he told Jenny his credit card plan. It would be days before the body was found and its identity traced. They could spend the day at a hotel, get some rest, clean up, eat and drink on room service, and when they checked out, get a cash advance from the front desk.

            They were in Pennsylvania when they stopped at a Sheraton, a mega-hotel, isolated on a highway, not near any city or town. Bathed in green and white spotlights, this twenty story building promised comfort and sanctuary.

 Bill wiped the mud off his face, hands and shoes, changed into some respectable clothes, then she drove up to the lobby and Bill went inside.

            No one was around, except for a young man behind the desk. He wore a blue blazer with the seal of the hotel embroidered on the front pocket, and a gold name tag pinned to the lapel. Dylan Tierney was printed on the sticker pasted on the tag. The kid put down the magazine he was reading and said, “good evening sir, may I help you.”

            “You can if you can give my wife and I a room, we’ve been driving a long time.”

            Bill looked straight at the clerk, who was young and green. He could tell the kid lacked the ability to judge people, first impressions, situations—something that only comes with age and experience. Bill got out the wallet, removed the Gold Master Card, hoping when the kid saw the shiny plastic, he’d assume that everything was as it should be. Everyone appeared tired and rumpled this time of night. Nothing suspicious here.

            “Are you with the convention,” the kid cheerfully asked.


“The office equipment people. You’re not a manufacturer, distributor or retailer?”

 It took a couple of moments before Bill understood. “No, my wife and I are just on a road trip and well, we got caught up in driving.” Bill cleared his throat. “We’re not here on business.”

            “Then you’re not eligible for the special rate, but it’s only a 10 percent discount.”

            Bill laughed, shrugged, then handed over the credit card, implying that money was no object. “That’s okay, any decent room will be fine.”

            “Most all of the conventioneers will be gone by tomorrow night, but they’ve got all the special suites and most of the regular rooms with the double queen beds.” The kid fingered the keyboard and looked at the information flickering on the computer screen. “We have some very nice ones with large king size beds.”

            The kid took the credit card, swiped it through the slot on the side of the reader, a black device about the size of a transistor radio. A few seconds later, the machine clicked its approval and spat out a receipt. The kid explained that Bill would have to sign twice, once now, and once upon check-out. Bill nodded and yawned, acting just like he imagined any man who was accustomed with the entry procedures of the finest hotels in the country would, and effortlessly wrote an approximation of the signature he traced. The kid didn’t even glance at the scrawl, just handed him two electronic keys—small plastic rectangles about the same size as credit cards but much thinner—and told Bill the  room number and to use the elevators at the end of the hall adjacent to the lobby.

            Then the kid gave him a slip of paper, where he had to fill out the make and year of his car, so it wouldn’t be towed from the lot.

            Bill finished writing, then touched his temple with his index finger as if remembering something trivial. “Oh, I wanted to ask, can I get a cash advance off  my Credit Card from the hotel.”

            “You can ask the manager tomorrow,” the kid politely replied. “But it’s not hotel policy. We can cash a check if you like, and down the road is a bank with an ATM.”

            “Very good,” said Bill. “I’ll take care of it tomorrow.”

            “Have a good night, Mr. Nelson.” The kid’s smile seemed earnest.

            Bill paused, then remembered to smile back. “Thank you. You too.”


They slept well past noon. It was the best sleep they had in weeks. Bill woke up first. He recalled traces of a nightmare he had, and he was sweating, but that might have been because of the drug. He felt safe in this clean, spacious room with paintings of woodland landscapes on the walls and a lingering pine scent from the cleansers the maids used. He woke up Jenny by making love to her. Sex seemed to reduce, temporarily at least, the effects of chemical-dependency on their bodies.

He lay his head on her chest while she smoked a cigarette. She felt his tears on her skin. He sobbed, “I didn’t mean to kill him.”

            “What honey?”

            “The gun just went off. It was the drug.”

            “I know, Billy.”

“I just needed his money. He was going to give me the wallet. It was an accident”

“God understands need, Billy. God forgives accidents. You sent the man to Heaven.” She put her cigarette out in the ashtray. She listened to him sniffle away his remaining sobs. “Billy, I’m scared that we’ll get caught here.”

“Don’t be.” His voice was steady, determined. “By the time they find the guy, we’ll be long gone. We’ll be in New Orleans soon, and everything will be different. I’ll make everything up to you. All we have to do is get down south. I’ll get straight. We’ll both get work. Everything will be new and better.”

“You promise?”

He nodded. She kissed him, then said, “we both deserve better.”

            They took long, hot showers. She ordered screw drivers and beer, club sandwiches, onion rings, french fries and three types of pie from Room Service. They watched television, made love again. Finally, after all their time together, they were on vacation.

            They napped, they woke up and talked, avoiding any mention of distress or apprehension about their current situation and immediate future. Jenny ordered more room  service, chicken wings, zucchini sticks, chocolate cake, a bottle of Absolut Vodka and various mixers. She loved just getting drunk and watching television. She could not remember when she felt so relaxed.

Bill had taken a walk, talked to the manager who reiterated the hotel policy of no cash advances from credit cards, then charged to the room cartons of cigarettes and numerous candy and chocolate bars from the Hotel Gift Shop.

            He sat in a cushioned chair with his shirt off, the belt tied around his arm and searched for a usable vein.

            “I guess we’ll leave tomorrow,” he said, as he opened the small cellophane wrapper and dumped some powder into the spoon. Then he reached for the Zippo.

            “But what will we do for money? We’ll still need gas, and I don’t think we should show up at your sister’s with no money at all.”

            “Don’t worry about that. My sister just wants to help.”

            “Maybe I can find something nice for her in the gift shop.”

            “You do that, if you like.” The needle was in. His blood circulated the drug throughout his system. Wisdom and warmth swelled within him. “And, about the money, I’ll think of something between now and then. I always do.”

            He stood up, staggered  the few steps from the chair to the bed, then fell, landing on the mattress with such an impact that Jenny spilled her drink on her neck and breasts.

            She walked to the room service cart, and mixed another drink. The Vodka was almost all gone. She kept her eyes on the television screen. It was a game show. A young man from Idaho answered questions about celebrities as a way to win a trip to Aruba.

            Jenny did not know any of the answers, but still rooted for him. She wanted him to be in Aruba more than anything else in the world.


Bill got too high to move. She wasn’t sure if he was asleep, or watching television, or just so stoned, nothing mattered to him. She put on her red, V-neck sweater and black leather skirt, brushed her hair, applied lipstick and eyeliner. She looked good. She looked pretty. If it wasn’t for the puffiness caused by the booze, she might even consider herself very pretty.

            Jenny loved to transform herself. She became faraway, watching and guiding someone that looked like her, but wasn’t her, just a Technicolor shadow. She wasn’t a hooker. She didn’t care about the sex. Soon it was over, and if she never kept the memory, it was like it never happened. She never stood on street corners or had a pimp or anything like that. A waitress friend of hers got her jobs with an escort agency, taught her how to work the hotels, hang out at the bar and wait for a man to buy her drinks . She only had to dress sexy, not slutty, and be friendly. She liked looking pretty and meeting men she would never see again. The men wore condoms, acted shy and courteous, never requested anything too outrageous for her to handle. Billy may say he didn’t want her doing it, but the money was easy to get, and it was money they needed to make it to New Orleans.

 She walked around the lobby. The Gift Shop was closed, would not open again until Nine O’clock the next morning, and she wondered if they would be gone by then. Then she made her way to the hotel bar.

CNN news played on the Television suspended in the corner. The bartender, a man in his early twenties, watched the blonde anchorwoman read from a TelePrompTer. The only customer at the bar was a man, in a polo shirt who mumbled to himself while leaning into the screen of a Toshiba Power Notebook on the counter. The bar had had dark wood fixtures and dark green walls. Various sports paraphernalia—pennants, team pictures, helmets, bats and balls—decorated the room, giving a nondescript hotel bar a semblance of atmosphere—generic American athletics.

Jenny sat a few seats away from the customer, who looked up and smiled at her. She smiled back.

The bartender hustled over to Jenny. Tonight’s shift was dead. Serving was better than watching the clock, or the cable. He put on the franchise smile. “How are you tonight, Mam’?”

“Better than this place,” she said. “Is it always so quiet in here.”

“Last night, it was busy until closing, because of the convention,” replied the bartender, who wore a green vest that matched the colors on the wall, and a black and white striped shirt that resembled football referee attire. “Now, most everybody’s gone home.”

Jenny nodded.  “Bring me an Absolut, on ice, splash of soda and a twist of lemon. I hope I can charge this to my room.”

“Yes, Mam’,” the bartender assured.

“You can drop the Mam’,” she said.

“Sorry, just being polite.” He removed a glass from the rack and scooped it into the ice bin.

“Being polite is good, I guess I just don’t like Mam’, makes me feel old.” She removed the pack of Kools from her pocket book. She tapped out a cigarette. The bartender was attentive. He held out a silver butane lighter and flicked on the flame. She inhaled until the tip of the cigarette glowed crimson. She winked at the bartender. “You can call me Jenny, sweetie.”

He finished making the drink, placed it in front of her. “You can call me Jim.”

“Thank you, Jim. This is just what I need,” she said, taking a lady-like sip. She looked over at the customer. He was no longer studying his computer. He was drinking his beer. He said, “Are you with the industry?”

“The industry?” She answered.

“You didn’t come to the convention? You’re not in office equipment?”

She chuckled, “no sweetie, I’m just passing through.”

“Good for you,” he said, gulped the rest of his beer, held up his glass and said, “Another, Jim.”

“You’re the only one left from the convention?”

“I went to the convention, but I also happen to be a sales-rep and this part of Pennsylvania is my territory. I think I stay at this hotel almost as much as I stay at home.”

Jenny picked up the glass and her pocket book, moved to the seat next to his. “You don’t mind I hope. I don’t mean to interrupt you, but it was getting pretty lonely over there.”

“I know about loneliness in this place,” he replied. He saved the file he was working on. “I was just driving my self nuts going over account information.”

The man’s name was Ralph and he was in his early forties. He talked to three dozen clients in the last four days, and every one of them had a complaint about the company’s products. He was fed up. He was married fifteen years, had two kids, and at a point in his life that his family, and his job, bored him more often than not. He was happy enough in the long run, he supposed, but everything was either routine, or pressure-filled. What about me? There had to be more to life than responsibility.

“You must work very hard,” she said. She remembered to move her shoulders when she talked, and to look into his eyes.

“You have to, these days. Money’s tight.”

“Sure is,” she said. She slowly swallowed more of her drink. Then she licked her lips, held her tongue between her teeth for a second, then said, “it must be exciting staying in hotels like this.”

“The excitement wears off real quick,” he said, took a drink of his beer than wiped the carbonated residue from above his upper lip. “It’s a lot of loneliness, even when the place is filled with people.”

“Sweetie, loneliness is not good,” she said. She put her hand on his thigh, gave it a squeeze. Then finished her drink, ordered another.

He turned off the computer and insisted on buying the next round.


They drank for almost two hours, until the bar closed. Ralph started ordering shots of bourbon to accompany the lager. Jenny started saying things like, “less soda, more vodka.”

Eventually, she told him that she was a just a girl with a little cash flow problem and could make him feel better for a little money. She could tell he was not a man who frequented prostitutes—but he was still a man, kept glancing at her breasts, and when her hand slipped into his lap, he was already aroused.

Ralph figured why not. He had fifty dollars in cash, and could not remember the last time he had a blow job. When she said, I’ll take off my top, he felt he deserved to see her breasts. Plus, she seemed nice. He liked her. At that moment, the only choice was to be alone, or to be with her. She made him desire her company.

She weaved as they walked to the elevator. She had to lean on him on their way down the hall to his room.

“Take off your pants, sweetie, and lay on the bed, and I’ll do the rest,” she said.

He stripped down to only his polo shirt and socks.

“You look so big, sweetie,” she said.

He lay on his back, convinced that any fantasy he ever imagined would soon be redefined.

She took off her sweater. She wasn’t wearing a bra. She swayed, then hesitated. She grimaced and burped, then climbed on the bed. She reached over and touched him. Then she stopped, belched again, sighed very deeply.

“Excuse me,” she gasped as she suddenly stood up and scurried into the bathroom.

A few seconds later he heard her cough, but it wasn’t a cough. It was like a gurgling howl. Then he heard splashes. Then he heard distinctive gagging sounds: the unmistakable discord of vomiting.

His erection vanished quicker than a handful of smoke on a windy day. He rubbed his eyes, considered an early check-out.

When she was finally quiet, he called out her name a few times. She didn’t answer. He walked over to the bathroom. She was sprawled on the tiles, snoring. 

He went over to the bed, pulled down the sheets and blanket, then went back to the bathroom, wiped the puke off her body and face and carried her to the bed, then covered her up. He got out his wallet, put fifty dollars on the night table, then hid the wallet in his suitcase.

He lay down next to her, as far away from her as possible without falling off the bed.

At least I haven’t cheated on my wife, he thought. Ralph fell asleep much sooner than he anticipated.


Jenny woke suddenly, immediately knew she wasn’t dreaming. The morning light stung her eyes.

            She realized she was in a different hotel room. She realized that the man she met in the bar was sleeping next to her, then noticed the folded bills on the night table.

            She put on her sweater, found her shoes, put the cash in her pocket book and left, thinking only of her room number.

            The elevator doors opened, and she heard the voices of policemen. She saw four cops. Two knocked on the door of her and Bill’s room. The other two policeman stood a few feet behind them, pistols drawn, crouched in a shooting stance. She quickly pressed the lobby button.

There was a line of about a half dozen people at the front desk. No one noticed her. She walked outside to the parking lot, trying to remember where the car was and hoped she still had the keys in her pocket book.

            She turned around and walked in the opposite direction when she saw a cop car, and a tow truck, by the Rabbit.

            She hid behind a garbage dumpster in the back of the hotel. Perspiration covered her. Pain pounded in her head. She could still taste vomit.

            A couple hours passed before she lit a cigarette and decided that the cops, and Billy, were gone. The only thing she could do was walk. She missed Billy, but knew there was nothing she could do for him. He shouldn’t have killed that guy. He shouldn’t have done a lot of things. She knew that Billy would never give her name to the cops. She pictured the police talking to Billy, locking him into a cell and thought about how it would at least, get him off heroin.

            She saw a bus on the highway. Above the front window was an LED sign reading Atlantic City. On the side of the bus in big red and yellow letters were the words: Tropicana Casino surrounded by glittering pictures of gambling chips and palm trees. She walked along the shoulder of the road in the same direction of the bus. In the distance was a shopping center, where the bus pulled in. She realized she could get a bus ticket, go to Atlantic city, and from there, make it to Hackensack. She was saved.

The sky was free of clouds. It was spring, and the leaves in the trees were bright with fresh chlorophyll. When she looked up at the sky, she thought about God. He always hovered, watched, protected.  She kept moving towards the shopping center. She hoped there would be a liquor store, so she could get a bottle to tide her over before reaching A.C. But she didn’t pray for booze. Instead, she asked God to take care of Billy, then thanked Him for letting her get away, and for the birds, the trees, the sky. “I’ve never seen blue so beautiful before.”