Old Goose has more than a few tales aimed at brainwashing little boys and girls into believing that gold can’t buy happiness. What the old bird so conveniently leaves out is that poverty gets you nothing but misery.
Take Grimstubble, the leprechaun who owns my building. With him, you get the feeling that coin isn’t shit out the butt-ends of rainbows. If it is, he isn’t telling where or how.
“THE FIRST OF THE MONTH, COME WHAT MAY, YOUR RENT IS DUE, AND NO DELAY.” He says this all raspy and spitting, his disgusting little nostrils flaring so you can see right up his booger cave. It’s paladin-spooge nasty up there.
So I make my rent working the troll stroll. I don’t mind if you call me a bridge walker, just don’t say it like you feel sorry for me. Don’t tell me that I’m pretty enough to be bottled for the genie bars. I don’t wanna ‘make your wishes come true’ and cough up an incense lung while a bunch of bottle-humpers down one too many. There’s just something intellectually dishonest about all that pixieshit cock-teasing. And I don’t care for the call-girl lifestyle any better. When people pay you that much they think you owe them something more than a yank and tug.
But whatever you call me, for the love of the Goddess, do not call me a whore.
When I was sixteen, daddy clued in that I was closer to naughty than nice. It was Mirror’s fault. She was moaning, so he came in to my room and found her thrashing around her gold-painted frame, stark naked and sweaty. I wasn’t there, but Mirror is my reflection, and I know what I was doing that day.
I came home after a spirited afternoon with the neighborhood half-giant to find Mirror cowering under a spider-web in the corner of her frame, wearing a dress that would look severe on a librarian.
“Mirror?” I asked, cautiously inspecting her shaking form. Seeing her freaking out like that was unnerving. Sometimes Mirror knew how I was going to feel before I did.
“I’m so, so sorry. When you run, take me with you,” she begged. “Don’t leave me here to get broken. . . or covered.”
“Run where?” I asked, and turned, because Mirror was pointing frantically over my shoulder.
Daddy had me over his knee and howling before I could ask what for. I’d been spanked before but this was different. I held my breath when I caught Mirror covering her eyes; her tears pooled at the base of the frame.
There was a pain across my lower back, so hot it was ice. There was the smell of barbeque left burning on the grill. I screamed, but it sounded very far away.
When I came to, Mirror wasn’t crying anymore, and she wasn’t wearing the little librarian outfit. I wasn’t surprised about that. I didn’t much feel like trying to please Daddy. But I was a little taken aback with how fierce her getup was. She was strutting back and forth, all that pacing giving her the look of a caged were-lynx. Rocking leather pants and a matching jacket, she made the getup angry-sexy with some contrasting Cinderella heels. Her eyes popped against blue-black mascara and her lips were painted a violent red.
I struggled to stand. Every inch of me was covered in bruises—and my back. My back was on fire. I groaned as I twisted, trying to see my back in the mirror.
“I’ll show you,” Mirror said, tossing off her jacket. Whatever happened to me, happened to Mirror too. I drew in closer and squinted as she turned around.
“Oh no,” I said, seeing the brand, a tramp-stamp if I ever saw one, emblazoned just above her ass. Angry red and purple welts outlined the raw edges of the lettering: W-H-O-R-E.
“Oh, yes.” She turned to face me again, hands on her hips. “Now can we. . . ?”
I was already throwing my clothes into a suitcase.
Now, let’s get a few things straight. I’m not regaling you with this charming childhood anecdote to provide a fucking explanation. This is how the poor girl got all messed up and started turning tricks. Boo-fucking-hoo. Bad fathers, absent mothers. Whatever. The only reason I’m sharing this precious memory is to make myself crystal ball clear: I really, really don’t like it when people call me whore.
To segue, this is probably why I like trolls so much.
Troll dick is big and bulbous and horned, looks like it ate genital warts and pooped out its babies. But I don’t mind trolls. They make a certain kind of sense. Normally, it wouldn’t enter a troll’s plum-sized brain to call me my actual name, forget a slur. The brightest trolls can barely get it together to remember their own names.
Did you know that there aren’t any lady trolls? I didn’t always know. I just thought that they were all so hella-damn ugly you couldn’t tell the boys from the girls.
The day I found out why there aren’t any lady trolls I swore never to let them put their dicks in me. That day, I had a date with Thrash. He was a regular and never shut up about doing the nasty.
“Muh dick s’nah bigga den a ba-by. Ba-by fit! Dick fit!” Thrash thumped his leathery fist on the bridge slat above him, throwing a monster-truck sized tantrum.
“Impeccable logic, Thrash.” I quickened the pace of the hand job.
He threw his head back, the deep warbling moan of the acoustics churning up shallow puddles. Even in his pleasure, he sounded dejected.
Thrash had always been an unhappy camper, even for a troll. 246-years-old, but still so junior in TBCU Local 100 (the Troll Bridge Collectors Union) that he was stuck marinating in the pollution of the Newtown Creek, scaring lost tourists under the
Brooklyn side of the rarely used Kosciuszko. Poor Thrash just wanted to get laid, and for the past few weeks I had been deciding on a fair rate and asking around about extra, extra-sized condoms. The way I saw it, why not surprise the poor bugger with a smile and a vat of lube—for the right price, of course.
His dick was smaller than a babies.
Luckily (always a suspicious state of being when reflecting upon a leprechaun encounter), later that afternoon Grimstubble cornered me in the stairwell. I was exhausted after my second date that day, a two-fisted job with the twins running the Staten Island side of the Verrazano. Grimstubble grinned at the full purse swinging by my side. It was the first of the month.
I prayed he would just pass me by so I could go upstairs and shower, take a load off. I preferred to leave the rent money under his door rather than actually speak to him.
But the leprechaun came to a halt and his head bobbed around until his gaze settled on my crotch. Nostrils flaring, he smacked his lips.
“IT’S PAST MID-DAY AND TIME TO PAY. NO MORE TALES OF POX AFFLICTION, PONY UP OR FACE EVICTION.”
I took a step away from his whiskey breath but he closed the gap and held his hand out. “MANNERS, CELINE. TIME FOR MY GREEN.”
I counted out what I owed him and dropped it into his leathery palm, his thick yellow fingernails closing around the coins like the beak of a jaundiced bird snatching up larvae. He didn’t move to let me pass.
“Gonna let me by?”
“A BIT MORE TALKER, MY LITTLE BRIDGE WALKER.”
“Talker’s not a real word.”
He scowled, coughed, and wheezed. His freckled face drained all of its color into his round speck of a nose and he stomped with a two-footed hop. “YOU LEAVE ME NO
CHOICE, SO I WON’T SAY IT NICE. I’LL JUST TELL YOU ONCE, NOT AGAIN, AND NOT THRICE. I RUN A GOOD JOINT AND I WON’T HAVE IT PLASTERED, THAT I RENT TO A WHORE WITH A NASTY TROLL BASTARD.”
“You foul little leper!” With a growl, I swung my fist at his smug ugly face, but he snapped his fingers, and my fist met nothing but the stink of smoke. Thrown off my balance, I tumbled violently, and landed backward into the solid punctuation of the stone landing.
I was face down and my side stabbed so hard it hurt to breathe. I gripped the banister and pulled myself up enough to sit upright, my hand coming to rest on the broken, dehydrated carcass of a long-dead cockroach.
“Oh, yuck.” I wiped the crumbling bits of dead insect against the wall and felt my hand curl in frustration. Tears gushed as I pounded on the paint-peeling walls, my need to hit and destroy overcoming my ribcage’s protests. Beige paint chips fell in a health-hazard cloud of lead-based dust and cobwebs. I coughed and winced at the blinding pain from it.
“What is that?” I heard the genie bar dancer in 3 ask.
The call girl in Four answered.” I think it’s that bridge walker from Thirteen.”
A snort from Three.”This place is crawling with crazy whores like her. I swear I’m gonna move.”
The doors slammed shut and I yelled wildly through the pain.
“Curse you, Grime!” I thought I might pass out.
With another explosion of smoke that threatened to eat what little oxygen remained, a figure, like a void cut out from the light, presided on the stair above me.
The figure-void-thing drew in all radiance, and as fast as I blinked all that was illuminated in the world winked away. Sunbeams coming through the window bent and curved and were sucked into the nothingness like water flushed down the john. The shitty 40-watt bulb that barely lit the gloomy steps popped, its final pathetic glow slurped into the darkness. A hiss snaked the air as the bulb shattered, sprinkling miniature shards of glass around me like an unseasonable snowfall.
“I shield your darkness from the light. We are private,” said a voice, echoing and booming.
Oh, no. I’d heard those words before when I was a kid and dad read to me from
Old Goose. Your most selfless wish, your most damning curse; will find you, will hunt you, will save you, or worse. Goddamn preachy stories meant to teach some lesson or another.
“Hello, Celine,” the voice said.
“Hello, Fairy Godfather,” I replied miserably, and I had the impression that the voice nodded in acknowledgement of his title. I tried to stand, but the piercing in my side was too much and I slumped back. How many times had Daddy warned me not to curse?
The voice flexed into a grandfatherly tone. “Let me fix that cracked rib for you.”
The muttering of his magic took me in debilitating convulsions, but when they were over I was able to take in air fully and without punishment.
“Oh, you’re most welcome. I have a job to do, but no need to make you turn tricks to pay a healer.”
I stiffened.” I didn’t mean it. There’s been some kind of mix-up. I didn’t mean to curse him. I swear!”
“You did,” he said, with a touch of regret, “or I wouldn’t be here now. That’s— how—it—works.” I imagined him shaking a finger, tapping out each word in the air.
“I thought you were one of Old Goose’s tales,” I insisted.” I don’t want to curse anyone. I wish you weren’t real, more than anything.” I emphasized the last in a bit of a shout.
“Very clever, Celine. But you did mean it.” I was beginning to get annoyed with how certain he was about everything. “If you really, really wished I wasn’t real, more than anything, more than you ever had or ever would—the greatest selfless wish of your lifetime—the Fairy Godmother would be popping in right about now. At least that’s the going theory.
“It’s your standard magical paradox. What would happen if someone actually wished—more than anything they ever had or ever would—that I wasn’t real? Personally,
I’m fairly unconcerned. First, for your greatest wish to summon the Fairy
Godmother, it must be truly selfless. And the thing, Celine, about a curse you mean, more than anything you ever had before or ever will again, is that you tend to really, really mean it.”
“Fascinating.” I collapsed against the wall, letting my head bang against it.
“Isn’t it?” he said eagerly. “But, alas, I don’t have all day to wax philosophic with clients. Let’s do business. What to do about your little leprechaun problem.”
“He’s my landlord,” I sighed.
“They often are. It’s so repetitive: landlords, middle management, and, don’t even get me started on step-mothers. It’s all so drab. Although Grimstubble is a special case. I can’t saddle him with fallen women as tenants; I’ve already cursed him with that.”
Fallen women? “I. . . I moved into this hell-hole because of a curse?” My tone was hardly appropriate for addressing one of the senior fae, but I couldn’t mitigate it. “I’m a curse?”
Even in the nothingness I could sense his eyes on me.
“Celine,” he scolded, “this is completely beside the point. Let’s explore your reasons for cursing Grimstubble and find an appropriate punishment, shall we?”
I have to admit, my fury evaporated as I began to consider different ways to punish Grimstubble. I thought about him sniffing at my crotch. The monthly threats of eviction. And last winter: I was so sick that I nearly died, the fever heat of dragon pox cooking me from the inside. Because I wasn’t working, I had no money for a healer, and Grimstubble turned off the gas and electric when I was late on the rent.
And now he dared to call me a whore?
“That’s better,” the Fairy Godfather said, with a gentle chuckle. “I’m thinking total loss of function of his member.”
I scoffed. “Men are all alike, you can’t imagine anything worse than your dick not working.” The curse needed to be perfect, not lame-o dick malfunction. “He just tossed out that word. Like it sums me up. Ugh. He’s like sand in my snatch that I can’t wash out—pardon my Elvish.”
“Indeed,” said the Fairy Godfather, although he sounded amused enough. “Go on.”
“I want him to know what that’s like. Let him bathe in his own crap and see how he likes the stink of it. Let him hear what everyone really thinks of him.”
“Done,” he said, with an air of respect. A murmuring and something settled.
“I am sorry, but you do not get any input into the counter-curse. Terms of the contract.”
“I didn’t sign any pixieshit contract,” I murmured, but I knew I had.
“I could get you pregnant by troll. That’s part of what Grimstubble said to make you so angry.”
My heart pounded.” I. . . I didn’t really understand that bit. I’m human, so how. . . ?”
“That’s how trolls have babies, Celine,” he said, impatiently. “Have you ever met a lady troll?”
“Oh,” I said. In some ways the imparting of this information, courtesy of the Fairy
Godfather, by way of my encounter with Grimstubble, was lucky. Never again, I swore, would I entertain intercourse with a troll for any amount of money.
“You really didn’t know? What has happened to inter-species sex education in our schools?” He sighed. “Well then, that won’t do. The counter-curse must be directly related to your motivations.”
Ignorance was truly bliss this day.
After a few moments of silence he whispered, “It must be done,” and began muttering. I gasped when a sudden pressure tightened around my wrists, and I grabbed at them, blindly, terrified of what I would find.
Cold and identical, each arm now sported a dainty metal bracelet. The fit was perfect, except that they were too small to ever pull off and I couldn’t feel clasps.
I was to be forever denied choice of accessory? What was the point of this?
“Those are just symbolic.” His voice cracked with emotion. “Golden handcuffs, sans chain. I have cursed you with whoredom!” He sniffled and I frowned to myself in confusion. “You will always find reason to value money above your own self-respect. I’m sorry, I wish it weren’t appropriate.”
I snorted. “I’ve got bad news for you, Godfather. I like my job.”
“No,” he said. “You don’t.”
“Look, you may have been right that I really wanted to curse Grimstubble, and, yeah, I didn’t really wish I hadn’t cursed him—but you are dead wrong about this.”
“You’re only saying that because of the counter-curse.”
My blood pressure was through the cloud kingdom. “Listen. After I ran away from home I cleaned toilets and flipped burgers. Low pay and crappy long hours. Vampire bosses and zombie customers. I make my own hours on the troll stroll. The rules are mine. I pay my bills and make enough extra to see a movie sometimes, even take a vacation. Sure, it’s not glamorous but being my own boss is the best thing that ever happened to me. Your counter-curse didn’t do anything.”
“Classic false consciousness,” he said. A draft of air from the dismissive wave of a hand smacked my cheek. “The princess culture has poisoned your self-esteem. You are in no position to judge this objectively, Celine. You’ve been completely brainwashed by pimps.” He paused and then added as an afterthought, “And the counter-curse.”
“I don’t have a pimp!”
“You are a victim.”
I raised my fist in the general trajectory of the Fairy Godfather, but I had the ludicrous sense that I was flailing without direction.
“I’m the victim of a magic system that used me as a prop to teach a moral lesson to a woman-hating landlord who rhymes badly. Bridge walking, on the other hand, pays my bills.” I grunted wordlessly. “Asshole!”
“Are you quite done?”
“No! If you hadn’t magicked me into being a tenant here I would never have met Grimstubble, did you ever think of that, you fat fairy cracker? You supposedly curse me with ‘whoredom,’ and then have the dragon nuts to lecture me about it? Who the fuck do you think you are?”
“I’m the Fairy Godfather,” he sighed. “And, oh my, would you look at the time? I really must be going. Pleasure to have been of assistance.”
There was a whoosh of warm smoke, and a boom that left my ears ringing.
Sunlight pulsed tentatively at the window, testing its ability to come inside without being thrown from existence. One cautious ray at a time it broke through, and my eyes strained to adjust. When the haze finally cleared, I saw Grimstubble, looking down at me with a ghostly-pale look of panic from the top of the stairs.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, CELINE?”
He’s so scared he’s not rhyming. I put on my best air of everyday irritation. He wouldn’t know anything unless I told him. The Fairy Godfather had made us private.
Besides, he deserved it, the ugly little wart of a half-human.
“What have I done? Besides tumble down a flight of stairs and almost crack a rib?
Nothing, you ugly little wart of a half-human.” I pushed past him.
“I HEARD YOU CURSE ME,” he shrieked. “CURSE YOU, GRIME! THAT WAS WHAT YOU SAID. I HEARD YOU.”
“That only works if you mean it more than anything you ever have or ever. . . or some such thing,” I finished casually.
“FOLK TEND TO MEAN IT WHERE I’M CONCERNED.”
Quite a few responses to that gem of a comment came to mind, and my tongue rushed to form them all. But before I could speak, he’d snapped his fingers and a tornado of grey untwisted where he had been standing.
“It’s fucking Grand Central for smoke travelers,” I muttered, fanning the air.
After a phlegm-purging coughing fit, I decided to retain a proper broker. For my next apartment I wanted to live in a smoke-free building.
Now brokers cost money. But considering that on my last solo apartment hunt I’d managed to fulfill a curse, hiring a professional seemed like a good move. Two or three tricks beyond my usual week’s work would get me there.
I sank into the moth-bitten comforter on my squeaking bed and closed my eyes to think. My regulars were spread out all over the city and most couldn’t afford to see me that often. I’d already seen Thrash in Brooklyn, the Roch twins in Staten Island, Stomp and Carnage in the Bronx the week before, and practically the entire 59th Street crowd the week before that.
“Aw, shit,” I said to no one in particular.
“Go see Gruff,” Mirror suggested.
“How did I know you were going to say that?”
“I like Gruff,” she shrugged.
So that’s how I found myself strolling through Central Park dressed like a cos-playing tourist, skirting obscenity laws only by virtue of the red cloak I had tied snuggly over my corset-popping cleavage.
When I reached the foot of the Bow Bridge a pair of Upper East Side moms gave me dark looks. I gathered my cloak as they passed by, sneering. Once they were gone, I scanned my surroundings. Nearly sundown. Just a few more minutes and the only people left would be the freaks: Wiccan teenagers calling the elements, junkies main-lining pixieshit. My people.
I stepped on to the bridge, clicking my heels against the cast iron. Trip, trap, trip, trap.
“I’m on my way to grandmother’s house, but I seem to have lost my way!” I announced in a shrill, girlish voice.
Trust me. I know. This is even more retarded than vanilla-grade knight and princess role-playing. Little Red Fucking Riding Hood met a wolf in the forest, not a troll. Don’t get me started on historical accuracy. Trolls are such seriously stupid creatures.
“Fee fi fo fum,” came the delighted answer. “I smell the blood of you!”
Goddess, he rhymes worse than Grimstubble. Gruff sloshed out from under the bridge, wading one fat step at a time through the muddy lake. His skin was pruned, his bulging eyes barely visible under the matted black hair that covered him head to toe.
When he saw me, he splashed like an oversized kid in a pool, his giant erection peeking out from the water. I tried not to grimace visibly. Gruff was so hairy that his big pink pecker was topped in patches of fur.
“Oh, no!” I feigned a swoon, the back of my hand held up to my forehead. One of my new bracelets, glimmering in the setting sun, rapped me in the nose. “Please don’t eat me! I’m so thin, I won’t taste good!”
“Now, I’m coming to gobble you up!” Gruff roared.
“You gonna catch me this time?” I asked, breaking character.
He nodded with a big grin, so I jumped off the side of the bridge.
Gruff caught me above his head and kept me there, held high above his shoulders. I swung side to side as he carried me to the nuclear-green colored moss overgrowth covering the anchoring of the bridge and set me down with care.
“Pussy!” Other than misquoting Old Goose, Gruff was as well-spoken as the rest of his brethren.
“Gruff.” I cocked my head and raised an eyebrow. “No gobbling before paying.”
He kept his eyes on me as he reached into the bag around his neck and pulled out my usual fee.
“Good boy.” With that I positioned myself like I was getting a pap smear and hiked up my dress. When he dived in, I saw the troll booger dripping from his nose, but I’m a pro; I fixed my concentration on the sloping belly of the most romantic bridge in New York City while Gruff stuck his nose up me. Then I begged him not to eat me in my best little-girl voice, all the while praying that a passing beat cop wouldn’t happen by and take it all too seriously.
I clenched my fists when I realized my body was responding. When I climaxed, I screamed in total and complete disbelief. I scrambled up and stared at Gruff and his big dumb smile.
“Pussy,” he said, the fur covering his face was wet. He licked at it like a primping cat. “Pussy.”
“Yes, Gruff.” I started to laugh; I couldn’t help it. “Pussy.”
And so, what the hell? I sat my bare ass down on a cold-as-shit rock to watch him jack off, calling out encouragement: “Grind your bones and make my bread!”
“Grandmother, oh my, what a big cock you have!” Et cetera.
On the subway back to Brooklyn, the brand on my back felt itchy. If that wasn’t a blatant enough slap of the old subconscious I couldn’t stop twisting those damn bracelets.
Did I actually just get off from being nose-fucked by Gruff? My mind reeled as I tried to think of ways to undo the curse, so I could be sure of myself again. Maybe a hedge witch,
I thought, but just as quickly discarded the idea. I could never afford one. And what if by trying to get out of the curse, the curse was just tricking me into setting higher financial goals? I shuddered and swallowed the urge to cry.
Mirror was always less inhibited at moments like these; she was sobbing when I got back to my apartment. I’d learned long ago to ignore her when I was in a fucked up mood, but I couldn’t help but stare at her now. She was laying on her back, bruised legs spread, her snatch wet and putrid, like she’d been fucked so many times she couldn’t remember how to close her legs. Running mascara cut her cheeks into lines and her eyes were wide and glassy.
“What crapped in your salad?” I asked.
“I’m just so sad. You are so disgusting.”
“Yeah, I know.” I so didn’t want to talk to her. She wouldn’t have any more answers than I did; she was just a pale reflection of my messed up life.
“Seeing Gruff was nice,” she ventured, moving her hand down her stomach.
She jumped up—suddenly donning a Can-Can girl’s sequined stage wear. “You let him suck your pus-sy! You let him suck your pus-sy!”
“La-la-la-la-la!” I pulled the comforter off the bed. After I covered her frame I could still hear her, but she was muffled enough to ignore.
I closed my eyes and willed the day to end, but just as I was drifting off, a frantic knocking roused me. I couldn’t see anyone through the peephole, so when I undid all the locks and swung open the door, I cursed my stupidity. Grimstubble. What did that squalid money-grubbing beast want now?
“What do you want, you squalid money-grubbing beast?”
Grimstubble kicked the wall.” I THOUGHT THAT YOU MIGHT LIKE TO HEAR, HOW YOUR CURSE HAS MADE ME FEAR. THEY SAY SUCH THINGS WHEN I GO OUT, THEY CALL ME NAMES, THEY SCREAM IT, SHOUT; AND IN THEIR EYES I SEE THE NEED, TO PUNISH, HURT ME FOR MY GREED. I WALK A-FEARED, A-QUICK MY STRIDE, TOO MUCH MORE AN’ I’LL ROT INSIDE.”
He looked close to tears.
“That poor, poor leprechaun!” The muffled voice of Mirror resumed sobbing.
“I. . . I’m sorry,” I muttered, and closed the door. Eventually, I heard him walk down the stairs.
The next few weeks I thought of nothing but saving enough cash to move. I walked every bridge where the money was reliable. I licked Crush’s massive butt under the Roosevelt Island and let Stomp and Pain spank me under the Alexander Hamilton.
But I was still short.
I was putting the final coat of red on my pinkie toe when I realized what the home-do pedi was about. I scratched the spot under my left bracelet, a habit that was starting to leave marks. I was on autopilot and some part of me had already decided to go to Queens and see the last goddamn troll any sane bridge-walker wants to see: Loogie the foot pervert.
Loogie was the craziest troll you ever met. This was the son-of-a-demon who, despite eating several tourists, still managed to keep his job under the Pulaski. The Mayor said it was because trolls are allowed to eat people who don’t pay the toll. It’s their folk-heritage, or some PC-bullshit. But everyone knew that the cops were just afraid of messing with Loogie.
I stood safely on the other side of the 15-foot illuminated sign that read: “WARNING: Pay Toll to Pass This Point. Murderous Troll On-Duty.” I was ready with my coin. I stuffed it into the slot and turned the meter. Almost immediately, there was a splash beneath the bridge. I waited until the light turned green before I took a step forward on to the pedestrian walkway.
I never paid bridge tolls, but Loogie was a special case. And now that I’d gone this far, I wasn’t going to stop. Professional pride. It was like a genie bar dancer buying her own drink to sit with a customer. Humiliating. Time to hustle. Come out way ahead.
I froze. Stay absolutely still until he invites you down, I reminded myself.
“It’s me, Loogie.” I called out tentatively. “Celine. You remember me, you big Loogster. Thin ankles. . . Nimble toes. . . Red polish?”
Loogie pulled himself up the side, like the bridge was a giant exercise bar. His ping-pong ball-sized eyeballs peered over the ledge inspecting the foot parts below the cuff of my Capris. His massive eyebrows, distinct from his knotted hair only in color, furrowed as he tried to decide about my feet.
He looked at me quizzically. “Whore?”
Oh, for the love of the Goddess. Like a loaded spring, I was on him, stomping on his hands with the heels of my stilettos. He yelped, landing in the river with a fat kid’s canon ball splash.
“That’s right. That’s me! The two-bit whore who spent all afternoon buffing her feet to rub it in your nasty troll spooge!” A passing troupe of mermen swam up to the surface. They pointed their tridents at Loogie, laughing, and began preening in my direction.
“That’s right, fish-dicks!” I yelled to them. “Everyone get a good look at the whore!”
A noise that sounded like a whale’s yawn brought my attention back to Loogie. The troll was about as happy as a cat forced to bathe. The fall had tossed him away from the bridge footing and he was struggling to stay above water. Trolls can’t swim, I realized, or at least, this one can’t. I watched in disbelief as Loogie thrashed furiously, the current pulling him further from the bank.
He was drowning.
“Hang on!” I yelled. “I’m going for help!”
I kicked off my stilettos and dropped my purse. Screaming, I ran away from the bridge, and into traffic, waving my arms. “Someone’s drowning! I need some help over here!”
Three dudes pulled over and got out of their car to follow me back. I could still hear Loogie sounding his one-note moan, but when I reached the spot where I’d dropped my shoes and purse, the dudes weren’t with me.
Looking back at the step-off to the pedestrian walkway, the three men were standing solidly on the other side of the ‘Warning’ sign.
“Hell, no,” said the first guy.
“Lady, you didn’t say nothing about the Pulaski,” said the second.
“That psycho troll ate those Japanese tourists,” said the third.
“It’s the troll that’s drowning!” I insisted, pointing over the side of the bridge.
The three men gave each other a ‘bitch-is-crazy’ look and left.
Fuck. I looked back over the ledge, and my heart sank. He was gone. I ran to the other side, cutting my feet on the jagged broken concrete of the un-maintained traffic lanes. Goddess, thank you. I could see him now; he was struggling to stay above water.
Then there was just an arm, outstretched, fingers grasping for a helping hand. For whatever reason, that was the image that did it. I burst into tears, climbed to the top of the hot metal railing, and dove in after him.
It was one of the mermen who carried me back to shore. “Where’s Loogie?” I coughed, hacking up the salt burn from my lungs. The merman deposited me unceremoniously on a bed of rocks.
“Fish-dicks rescue stupid human girl jumping off the bridges,” he hissed. “Thanks be to you, troll is dead.”
My stomach clenched. “Why did you save me?” I asked quietly, wincing at his repetition of the slur I’d yelled at the mermen earlier, ‘fish-dicks.’ I thought he might like to rip my throat out now. He was displaying all his little black teeth. Mermen didn’t look pretty when they did that.
“They gives reward for saving stupid humans jumping off the bridges,” he said, flicking his tail to wave off the possibility that he had saved me for any other reason.
“Thanks, anyway.” I muttered, standing.
He held his trident to my throat, pinning me to the rocks. “No thanks be to me. Brother-mine calls police, we gets reward for saving stupid human girl jumping off the bridges, yes? But we tell police about how stupid girl is murdering troll, we do.” His tongue flicked into the air and soon he was chewing on a buzzing insect thoughtfully. “Yes, we tells them,” he said, chomping its wings.
The responding officer, not surprisingly, had very little interest in the accusations of a merman, or in alleged troll-murder, but he paid the merman for saving me. As far as the cop was concerned, Loogie was dead, and that was a good thing.
“You’re lucky to be alive, Miss,” the officer said, after I gave a statement barely resembling what had actually happened. “Stomping on that thing’s hands was fast thinking.”
“Wasn’t eating her.” The merman hissed at me. “Stupid human lies.”
“Then why’d she jump in after him, fish-guts?” The cop snapped back. At that, the merman retreated back into the water; his eyes flashing a hateful, frothing sea-green.
“You shouldn’t call him that,” I said, softly.
“Call who what?”
“The merman. Fish-guts,” I said.
I walked away, wet and miserable. My purse, which had a small amount of money in it, along with my Metrocard, was back on the Queens side of the Pulaski, and I was in Brooklyn now, on the other side of the river.
The sun was setting over Manhattan as I walked the length of the bridge. The metal had been cooked by the afternoon and it burned the soles of my feet. I’d sanded away my calluses and painted my nails, and now I’d mangled them so bad I could barely walk.
Since no one ever used the bridge, my things were, unsurprisingly, exactly where
I’d left them. Well, one of my shoes was missing, but I slipped the other on. Even chipped, I had to admit that this particular shade of polish looked fantastic against the black straps of the stiletto. I wiggled my toes. I was a foot pervert’s dream.
I burst into frantic sobs.
“Stupid troll. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Why’d you have to go and die on me?” I whispered.” I wish I could take it all back.”
“Do you, now?” asked a trilling, melodic voice.
The sun barreled back into the sky and slammed into a full stop at high-noon height. Rays of light whooped with joy, crushing the long, waxing shadows of skyscrapers and trees. My pupils painfully reversed their nighttime dilation as the shadows screamed in united fury, snarling helplessly as the light overtook them. I covered my eyes at the creek’s sparkle, blinded by the reflection of red to orange to yellow to white.
“See how your light outshines the darkness. Behold! Even a lowly harlot can wish, more than she ever has or ever will again, for something great and wonderful, something pure, something beyond herself—for the sake of another! She has wished for. . .”
There was a rustling of paper.
“. . . This can’t be right.”
My eyes finally adjusted, settling on the image of a petite old woman, dressed in marshmallowy white, and seated precariously on the side-rail. She was the size of a child and swimming in a showy ball-gown cut for someone three times her height. She frowned, studying a pink piece of carbon paper. I could make out my name in large type at the top, the letters glowing as if they had recently been stamped in flame.
“Excuse me,” I said, “but are you the Fairy Godmother?”
“Yes, dear. But there seems to have been some kind of mix-up. A snafu, if you will.”
“I don’t think so,” I said, eagerly.” I was just wishing I could help someone. And
“Yes, I poofed. But this Loogie was a horrible monster!” She shuddered, drawing in her diamond-encrusted shawl. “He was going to exploit you and make you do all kinds of icky things that we shouldn’t speak of.”
“But he’s dead because of me.”
“Well, it’s not the dead part that bothers me, I’m not icked-out by raising the dead. Princes never get to the princess in time and kings are always making bargains with sorcerers that end up getting their daughters killed in the magical crossfire. And the princesses themselves are no better. Always sacrificing their lives for some brain-dead prince. It’s actually quite drab. There’s no—”
“I know, no professional challenge. The Fairy Godfather has the same complaint.”
“Oh, how is the old dear?” she said. “Well, never mind that. What I mean to say, is that with you being a shameless harlot, I had such high hopes! I imagined that you had come across an unfortunate such as yourself. . .”
The Fairy Godmother’s eyes welled and her face glowed with the aura of rainbows. She stared off into the distance and positioned her body with an actor’s picture of sorrow. “Maybe you saw your wasted potential in the face of a not-yet tarnished beauty, a reluctant child-whore, chained to her terrible fate by an evil pirate pimp! You came upon her losing her innocence, and you wished, more than you ever had, more than anything, to save her from your most wretched fate.” She gave a long, musical sigh and bluebirds sprang into existence and flew off into the horizon.
“That’s a lovely story,” I said, bitter with sarcasm.
“Yes,” she agreed. “Instead you want me to perform necromancy on a troll with a rap sheet as long as Rip Van’s beard.”
“Yep,” I said. “That’s the contract.”
“Pixieshit,” she said with a little pout. But I felt the warmth of her magic spread over, and I knew that when she was gone, it would be done.
“Let’s redeem ourselves, shall we? The counter-blessing! This is quite the opposite of the Fairy Godfather’s bargain. You have done goodness for another.” She said the words sweetly, but I caught an eye-roll. “The counter-blessing is your choice entirely. I will suggest this: Let us save you from this life you lead.”
“Bitch,” I said. “If you mess with me, I will hunt you down and feed you to Loogie myself. The Fairy Godfather already cursed me with ‘whoredom’ and now you want to save me? When will everyone stop telling me how I to live my life?”
“The Fairy Godfather cursed you with whoredom!” She studied the pink sheet again, one hand clutching the fabric that covered her chest. She met my eyes with dewy tears. “To have no choice! To strut from bridge to bridge, doing the most disgusting, soul-destroying things for money! I would sooner die were it me.”
“Well, I wouldn’t,” I seethed. “My life is worth something, you patronizing bitch—and you know what I want for myself? I WISH THAT YOU AND YOUR BUTTBOY, THE FAIRY GODFATHER, DIDN’T EXIST.”
The Fairy Godmother’s eyes went wide. There was a long pause, and then. . .
“Oh, dear,” she said.
The sun fell from the sky with a shriek. One by one, the shadows crept out from their hiding places and took their rightful places cast by the glow of streetlamp, the twinkle-twinkle of residential televisions, and the urban sin of neon advertising.
Giant hairy arms clasped my sides and pulled me high into the air.
“Loogie, put me the fuck down!”
The troll stooped to one knee. He was clutching my other stiletto. He held my foot and helped me into it.
Something thumped against my ankle and I saw what he was doing with his other hand. “Really, Loogie?” I groaned. “Now?”
One hurried foot-job and a big tip later, I headed home.
I could hear Mirror’s muffled chatter as soon as I walked into the apartment. I threw off the blanket and she fanned away the dust.
“Finally!” she said. “Next time pick a blanket you’ve laundered in the last year!”
She looked at me seriously. “I’ve had a lot of feelings today.”
“It’s been a real roller-coaster.”
We sat in silence.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said after a time. “About the whole. . .” She shook her wrists and the golden bracelets hoola-hooped around them.
“Yes, well, I’m better at thinking than you. You do things. I think about them. And up until he arrived, you know who I mean. . .”
“The recently departed?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “Well, until the Fairy Godfather put the curse on you, I never dressed like this.” She indicated her torn fishnets and ratty silver bra-top.
“You never dressed like what?” Say it. Just say it.
“Like a goddamn cheap whore is what,” she said, defiantly.
I held up a fist, ready to shatter the mirror, and she pulled her zoom-in feature so her face took up the whole frame.
“You let him tell you what to think about yourself,” she barked. “Just like your dad tried to do with that stupid brand. You kill someone because they call you a mean name? Wake up. You’ve played the best hand you could with the cards you were dealt and then you let some fruitcake tell you they weren’t your choices? You decided you were cheap. You decided you were worthless. No one else did that. . . Ooh!”
Mirror zoomed out and studied her clothing. Her fishnets were morphing into
Capri pants. The bra top grew arms and a stomach and became a t-shirt. Mascara evaporated into thinner, more natural lines and her face took on a healthier glow. She rose a few inches and settled into a pair of stilettos, while a bottle of nail polish darted in view and began painting her toes with a ruby flourish.
“That’s better,” she said with a wink. “Like looking in a mirror.”
When I found Grimstubble, he was trying to impale himself on one of his lucky horseshoes, the edges filed to points.
“DON’T EVEN TRY, I’D RATHER DIE,” he said, backing away from me, clutching his makeshift weapon. Goddess, I thought, what a pathetic waste of oxygen.
“Grime, you are a pathetic waste of oxygen.” His swollen eyes pulsed threateningly and I groaned at my words. Stupid curse was not helpful right now. “Look, can we talk?”
He grumbled and dropped the horseshoe.
“That’s better,” I said, putting on my best sweet smile. “Now, finish the rhyme:
Sticks and stones. . .”
“MAY BREAK MY BONES, BUT NAMES WILL NEVER HURT ME.” He looked at me suspiciously.
“Lies.” I said. “If you decide you are a foul little leper, a squalid money-grubbing beast, an ugly little wart of a half-human, or anything else I or anyone else calls you— and we will continue to say these things. . . well, names can break you. But that’s your pixieshit decision. Balls out or die, ass-wipe.”
It wasn’t the prettiest speech, but I guess it did the trick. Grimstubble hasn’t killed himself yet. Some days, I could kick myself. We’re back to monthly threats of eviction and crotch sniffing during stairwell brush-bys.
I haven’t moved. Every time I save up the cash I always end up putting it off. The
Fairy Godfather might be gone, but the curse that saddled Grimstubble’s building with all of us “fallen women” lingers.
Then there’s my curse. I wish more than anything, more than I ever have or ever will again, that I could wear sterling silver every once in awhile. Well. . . maybe not more than anything. But seriously, there is nothing quite as depressing as being a style-conscious ho without choice of accessory.
Still, every time I get to feeling a bit too sorry for myself, Mirror’s always there to kick me in the dragon-nuts.
“Girl, who the hell are you?” she says, hands on her hips.
“I’m the troll stroll queen; the only girl in town that doesn’t pay to walk the
Pulaski,” I reply proudly.
“Bitch,” she says.
“Whore,” I wink.
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