Life At the Bybee Bordello
The Word: SPINE
Stefany stopped eating, put her chopsticks back on the rice bowl. “What do you mean by that, June Ellen?”
She was such a spiny person.
“Nothing,” I said, fishing out a giant red pepper from the kung pao.
Missy’s sister. A tall girl, sexy in a way no one was around here, she looked like Elizabeth Taylor in the Eddie Fisher era. Stefany had been working as a stripper back in Baltimore, but had moved out here when her boyfriend threatened her, the thug who got her hooked up with stripping. Obviously a gem. Anyway, she was hiding out with her sister at the Bybee Bordello, our urban commune-slash-flophouse in Southeast Portland.
I could never find a way to get along with Stefany. Nor her prissy sister either. I came close to slapping Missy once, when she couldn’t get off how I did dishes, just because I wasn’t strictly fanatical hot water perfect.
Look around this dump. I mean I love the Bordello, but it’s not exactly the Four Seasons. And I know she decided to make a big deal out of my dishes because I’m small and a girl. None of the guys is any better, and two of them are worse, and I mean, take a look at this place. There’s Indian bedspreads festooned under the living room ceiling to catch falling plaster. The bathroom has plastic staple-gunned to 2×4’s around the tub, and a jerryrigged shower made of out some kind of plastic tubing, like the kind on your mother’s douche bag–which our Baltimore Liz hogs up in the morning for twenty minutes when three other people are standing in the hall shifting from foot to foot.
“What do you mean by that?” Stefany couldn’t let it go. When all I said was that if she wasn’t bowlegged, she’d look like Sherilyn Fenn. “I’m not bowlegged,” she said.
Well you could drive cattle between her knees but it wasn’t so pronounced if she didn’t wear miniskirts. In photos you wouldn’t even be able to tell. “Okay, you’re not bowlegged,” I said. “Sorry I mentioned it. Mind if I just eat my dinner?”
It wasn’t my night to cook, thank God, with the sister scanning my pots and pans. It was the doofus boyfriend’s, who despite his obsequious deference to Missy’s directives, was not a bad cook. Though she’d make him scour the wok with Brillo.
“You never wanted me here to begin with,” Stefany arching her back, collecting her glossy black hair in her hands, then letting it fall again, catching the boys’ attention like a beer ad. “You didn’t like me from the first day.”
Well duh. I kept chopsticking the stirfry.
The others just watched, taking nobody’s part. While no one liked the addition of another unpaying member, it was uncool to say anything, we were all so free. Anyway, they were guys and liked looking down Stef’s radical decollete. But they too needed to use the bathroom from time to time, especially in winter, they couldn’t ALWAYS piss outside. But being guys, they avoided conflict like it was cholera.
“You just think you’d have a better chance on getting laid if I’m not around.” She gave me this smirking grin that make me want to put a chopstick through her windpipe. “But honey, nothing times nothing’s still nothing.”
I shoved my plate away. I had known girls like Stefany. I remembered them in high school, tormenting the geeks. They had boyfriends at 15. They slept with the jocks, lorded it over us. Now she was a bowlegged stripper, trying to pull attitude.
“Hey, I pay my rent, I cook my day, I pay food and electric–”
“She’s a guest,” Missy said.
“Listen, Sinead–” Stefany said. Referring to my cropped hair.
“Um…” Gary, our oldest, tried to speak. “Um… maybe, you, um… could, you know, like… participate more fully….”
“Yeah, like pony up,” I said.
“This is just wrong,” Missy said, shaking her head, shaking it again. “It’s my room. You’ve all had guests, my god Wayne had Giselle for almost a year.”
“Let’s vote.” I tore up a collection notice from The Economist Gary had subscribed to under a pseudonym, Sherry Martini. I tore it into seven pieces. “Stay or go.” I got pens and scattered them on the table among the bowls and dishes.
Missy was practically foaming. “This is completely against precedent. You kick her out, we’re leaving too.” The doofus looked none too happy about all this bit of news.
Everyone hesitated getting their pens, reluctant to get involved in the conflict, but finally, they wrote on their little slips, folded them in half and threw them into Wayne’s upturned hat.
I handed the hat to Gary. “You read them.”
He peered at the first one, flushed red over his untrimmed beard. “Umm … This is a … stay.”
But I could see that wasn’t what it said. “Read it,” I said.
“You read it,” he said, pushing it at me. SIT ON MY STIFFY, STEFFY. I had to admit, it was a stay.
Gary read the next. “I CAN PISS IN THE YARD WHATEVER. That’s a stay.”
Stefany smirked her Liz Taylor sneer. God she even had a beauty mark near her mouth. I wanted to pierce her ears–both at the same time. With a chopstick.
Gary opened another. “AUSTRALIA,” he read. Everyone laughed. Oh, we were all so clever at the Bybee Bordello. “THURSDAY.” wrote another joker.
It was already against me, unless two of the next three were ‘go’. The next was mine, GO. Then “STAY I GUESS.” The doofus.
Gary opened the last one, read it, pushed his glasses up on his nose, and handed it to me.
It said: I THINK YOU’RE PRETTY JUNE ELLEN.
Was this some kind of joke? I looked from face to face but nobody was laughing. Not even a twitch or a smile.
“What’s it say?” Tom asked.
I didn’t know what to think, if someone was screwing with my head. Tom? Wayne? — or maybe, just maybe… someone thought I was. Gary’s eyes met mine. Gary?
“Guess she stays,” I said.
Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: SHOW