“Lek” by Court Merrigan
I have this customer, the man about the movies. He says to me, “You should make movies. You should go to America. You could make big money. Beautiful as you are.”
Customers always tell me, Oh, you’re so beautiful, I think you are like a movie star, why do you work in a bar? And I smile and hope their tip is big. America, that is Abroad. I know. All the time, customers are telling me, Hey, hey, you should go to Abroad. Sometimes they say can they take me. I say, “Sure, okay, I go with you.” But they don’t take me. They don’t mean it. However many times they say it. I go, I don’t go. Either is okay. I am in the bar. I am talking to Lek. Lek is playing too much at cards. These days, I have to tell her I have no money because I send it all home, and then I must hide it in our room, because every day she asks for money, because she is not good at cards. Also she is not good at working in the bar. I say, “Lek, why do you always play cards so much, when you are so bad at it?”
Before, I can say something like this and she laughs and says it is fun, and there are always more customers, so there is always more money, so okay. But now she doesn’t laugh. She doesn’t get much money from customers now. She is not so good-looking as before. Before she is not so good-looking, either. But before at least she is thin. Now she is fat. Her eyes droop down and her hair is greasy and she has spots all over her face. The customers, they don’t like spots on your face. They think it means you are sick. But Lek doesn’t care. She only cares about cards. She plays at cards all night after work and sleeps all day, and complains the sun is too bright. I can’t watch TV in our room, because she is always sleeping and she says TV hurts her ears and anyhow how can she sleep with it on. And she eats and eats, so much rice, plus potato chips and Coke and hot dogs and sweet chocolate like customers like. So she gets fat, and she loses at cards, and she always asks me for money. I can’t give her any more. Because I can see she can never pay me back even a little, and she owes me a lot. Even if she is my best friend here and we are from the same village. The mamasan is angry, because Lek has no customers. If you work in the bar, you must take customers. “You have to try,” I say. “Even just one or two. Like before. Get some money. Make the mamasan stop talking. Then go play at cards.”
She says, “Okay, Okay.”
But I can see she is not listening. She is thinking about cards. In comes a customer and starts talking to me. He remembers my name. I don’t remember his name. We shake hands. I bring him a beer and then I remember him. He is the man about the movies. Also the last time he takes me he asks me if he can stick it in my poop shoot. I tell him, “Okay, sure, but I need a big tip.” He gives it to me. A big big one. Yes, I remember him.
He says, “Listen, I’m making a movie. Do you want to be in it?”
I never think about being in a movie before. When he talks about it, I think he is like all the other customers, just talking. But who knows? With customers, you never know. “How much?” I ask.
“You want to do it?” he asks.
“Maybe,” I say. I think he is good. I remember the tip he gives me. Maybe if I do what he says, maybe it is okay.
He says, “Tomorrow, come to the hamburger place in the afternoon.”
He leaves without taking me for the night. So I have to go with someone else. It’s okay, but not so big of a tip. I think about him and about movies. So the next day I go to the hamburger place. He is eating a big one, dripping red sauce everywhere, taking big big bites. I see all the pink inside of his mouth. It isn’t pretty. I sit down.
He says, “This is a big chance for you.”
“For how long? One week?”
“About two hours.”
Six thousand. That’s the same as six nights working. So I go. And all I have to do is the same as what I always do with customers. Only in the place where we go there are people watching and cameras and lights shining in my face. That’s okay. That doesn’t bother me. So after that I make many movies. All the time I am making movies. I don’t want to work at the bar anymore. But I don’t want to leave Lek. The way she looks now, I don’t think anyone else can hire her. I try to help her. I bring her to be in a movie. But she keeps giggling, and falls out of the bed, giggling. At first everyone thinks it’s funny, ha ha ha, but then they get impatient because it is taking a long time, Lek just giggling, ha ha ha. The man who’s in the movie with us, his dong gets soft. Finally Lek stops. They put her on the toilet to suck on the man’s dong while she’s pissing. But the man sticks it in too deep and she bites him. The man rears back like he wants to slap her. I have to stop him. There’s lots of yelling and Lek has to go. They shove her out the door. They barely let her put her clothes back on first. She forgets her purse. I must work extra hard on this movie. They are angry but they say it is not at me.
After, I look in Lek’s purse. I find crazy-making pills. I don’t know how Lek can have money for them and for losing at cards. The man about the movies tells me over and over never to eat those crazy-making pills. I am sure he is angry if he knows Lek eats them. He thinks girls who eat those crazy-making pills are not safety and have diseases and die and can make him die, too. I know I am safety. After my first movie, they take me to a clinic. They stick me with a needle and after 10 minutes the doctor shows me a little strip of plastic and says I am safety. Then he gives me a shot in my butt so I can’t have babies and so when I make movies no one wears the rubber sock. Which is good, because I don’t like how they hurt when they are dry inside me.
So I have a lot more money than before. I give the mamasan a gold bracelet and ask her to be nice to Lek. She promises. I don’t have to work at the bar. I go there and see my friends, and I talk to customers if I want to, and go with one if I really like him, but mostly I sleep at home alone. Lek knows about the money. She knows because she is supposed to get money from the movie but she doesn’t. It’s her fault, I tell her, but she doesn’t listen. She never shuts up about money, saying how someday she can give me the money back, someday when she is lucky again. I always leave a little out for her to steal, so she can eat and play at cards.
Now Lek can’t work at the bar anymore. The mamasan doesn’t want her anymore. It is Lek’s fault. She doesn’t come to work for three days, and not because a customer has her. She just doesn’t come. The mamasan keeps saying, “Wait until that bitch gets here. I’ll give the ole what-for. Watch how I work that dumb cunt over.”
The other girls giggle and nod, like they have to. You always have to giggle and nod at what the mamasan says. Not me. I don’t need her money. Finally Lek comes, and I can see, and everyone can see, she’s flying high on the crazy-making pills. She stands outside the bar and stares. I don’t know what she is looking at. No one can tell. No one likes to look at her face. It is not the same face. Something has happened. I go out there to her. I say, “The mamasan has it out for you. You have to be careful.”
But Lek isn’t listening. I don’t think she can listen. Her eyes are tricked out and her face has a glaze like the walls of a new house. Her bra is sticking through holes in her shirt and her fingers are dirty. She almost falls in a construction pit going in to the bar. She bashes her head and knocks over a bunch of glasses. They break everywhere, and I think Lek is done for, but the mamasan doesn’t say anything. Everyone is afraid of Lek now. When one of the girls touches her shoulder, she hisses at her. Like a cat. Like a sick cat. Then I know a devil’s got inside her. Her eyes are squinty and pointy. I can barely tell it’s Lek, the girl who is so nice to me before, the girl who does everything for me when I am new here. Everyone sees. Everyone knows. Everyone is scared. Even the mamasan. She keeps on not talking to Lek. She goes to a far corner to get away from her. Lek sits in a corner and drinks Coke and with her back to the bartop, even when customers start to come in. I go over and talk to her. She is my friend. She is from my village. I stroke her hair, which is dirty and tangled like she has been outside for days and days, and say to her, “Lek, Lek, you have to talk to the customers. You have to work. Do you want to get fired?”
But she doesn’t look at me. She sits there and drinks Cokes and eats all the peanuts. I don’t know where she’s looking. I don’t see my friend in her face. Lek has gone away somewhere and I don’t know if I can find her again. A customer sits across from us and asks for a beer, but Lek doesn’t turn around or say anything. So I get him one. It’s not Lek’s fault if a devil’s got a hold of her. They just pick you out and there’s nothing you can do about it. The customer keeps on trying to talk to Lek. I don’t know why, dirty as she is. Maybe he doesn’t know any better, or maybe he likes his girls that way. You can’t ever figure on what customers like. He taps Lek on the shoulder. Lek turns around. The customer smiles. Lek doesn’t smile. She just stares at him. Then she leans over the bar and pukes. A lot, like a waterfall. Pink puke running everywhere. The customer falls off his stool and is yelling and puke runs into the gutter.
“You bitch!” the mamasan screams. She’s too mad to care if Lek’s got a devil. She even cuffs Lek across the face. Lek stays quiet. She doesn’t even wipe the puke or the blood from the corners of her mouth. She goes under the bar gate and she’s gone.
By the time I get my shoes on, I can’t see where she went. I don’t see her for three more days. It is afternoon and I am asleep and it is raining and she comes in and she steps on my head. I see her eyes are yellow and slitted like a cat or a ghost of something else, something I don’t know. Tits hanging down, shorts falling off her hips, no bra, T-shirt ripped, only one sandal, smelling like a buffalo that sleeps in shit. She’s screaming, “Where is my money, where is my money! They’re coming for me this time, and you’re just lying there, stealing my money. You think you’re the top bitch, you think I’m your dog.”
I hand over a bunch of bills from my purse. I don’t know why she steps on my head. She knows I can give her money. I always give her the money. She takes it and she’s gone, and my head hurts, and I don’t see her for a while. Then I get worried. I keep calling her phone. A girl answers after a few days. She says Lek pawns the phone for five hundred baht.
“No, you can’t have it,” the girl says, “Lek promises me seven hundred baht to get it back. You are her friend? Where is she? Do you know? Where is my money?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“Well,” the girl says, “the last time she is in here, she starts yelling and trying to break things. You better tell her to watch herself. Bad things happen to stupid hick girls like her. You understand, hillbilly?”
I hang up. Then one day Lek comes in, again while I’m sleeping, and again she steps on my head and again she yells about money. I don’t like her stepping on my head.
I get up and I say, “I don’t have your money! Why are you stepping on my head?”
She screams, “My money! You cunt! I give you everything, I take care of you, and you steal my money and make me sleep out in the gutter. Men piss on me. You’re just like them saying I cheat at cards, but how can I cheat, I lose all the time. Now I have to pay back the money you stole. How can I? You stole it! You cunt. After I treat you like my own sister.”
She grabs my crystal horse off the TV, the only thing I ever really like that a customer gives me. She throws it at the wall and it breaks. I cry. Lek scratches at my face.
She yells, “I’ll teach you to cry, you bitch!”
I have to push her down. I can’t believe it, touching her. Before she has rolls of fat to lay my head on at night, but now she has only bones. She falls over easy. She hits her head on the shelf. She’s on the floor. She cries. She says, “Oh you bitch you bitch you cunt oh my head.”
Then she’s talking so fast I can’t understand. Maybe it’s not even words she’s saying. I guess it’s the devil talking. But I try to help her up. She scratches at my face and almost gets my eyes. I have to kick her when she tries to bite my leg. Then she jumps up like someone’s pulling her up and I squat down in the corner and hang tight to the Buddha I have on the gold chain around my neck and pray and pray and pray. I know this isn’t my friend Lek, not anymore. Blood is running down her face. She looks at me. She doesn’t say anything. I pray and pray and try not to look at her. She stands in the middle of the room, just standing there, breathing and bleeding.
Then she’s gone. I keep hold of the Buddha. The room smells like a dead dog. I think Lek should go home to our village. Next time I see her, I can try to get her to a bus. In the village they won’t be happy about the state she’s in, but I think it’s a long time since she sends them any money, so maybe they won’t be surprised. They can make her work. Maybe she can meet up with Sorn, that boy she’s all the time talking about before she comes down here. They can be together and Lek can stop with the cards and the crazy-making pills and everything. A good man like Sorn takes it out of her hide if she wastes his money. Yes. Home. Then I hear the yelling outside, and I think, Oh, Lek. I go out.
Lek is out front. Bloody and smashed up. In one hand she’s holding onto a half of my crystal elephant. Now I don’t have to try to get her up to the village anymore. Now Lek won’t step on my head or ask me for money. The devil is out of her now. She jumps from seven stories and the devil’s long gone. I go back in my room. I don’t want to see. I guess Lek has to do it. I guess she thinks this life is over for her. I guess she wants to go to the next one, see if things are better there. I don’t know where her devil is. Looking for someone else, maybe. Maybe looking for me. I keep hold of my Buddha. There is knocking at my door. It is the landlady. She is with police. They come in my room, and throw everything around, messing up and breaking everything, looking, but they don’t find anything. Then they leave. Except one stays behind.
He says, “Look, we have to take you to jail for this.” He pulls out some crazy-making pills. I think they take them from Lek. He puts it on the TV and he says, “Okay, these are yours.” I don’t say anything. He says, “You know, you could go to jail for a long long time. Or I could shoot you. You know we shoot druggies now. You look like a druggie to me. I think maybe I should just shoot you.”
He starts fiddling with the pistol he’s got, and he still has sunglasses on, even though our room is hardly light because it’s so close to the next building. I reach into the secret place for the money. I give him everything that’s there. A lot of months I saved that money. A lot of customer, a lot of their sweat on me. He takes it. He counts it.
“Stay away from drugs, missy,” he says. He grabs my ass and works his hand up my shirt. He’s like a drunk customer. “I know you girls. So full of foreign jizz you can’t see straight. You watch yourself. Maybe next time you’ll have to go to the jailhouse. We don’t treat you so nice in the jailhouse.” Then he goes.
I think about the village. I guess up there when they find out, they think it’s my fault that Lek is dead. They can say it’s me who made Lek go all wrong. That is okay. I can go to the temple. Monks can pray for her soul. Maybe her soul is worth less than a sick dog’s, like they say when someone dies like her. But the monks can pray for her. They have to, if I give them money. I can tell them that in the village, if they ask. I hope Lek doesn’t come back as a ghost, or a crazy person who walks around talking to no one, licking styrofoam containers off the ground. Maybe before she dies she is already that person.
The landlady comes. She says I am bad luck, blood on her front door and cops inside, so I have to go. So I go.
I don’t go back to the bar. I want to make more movies for more money, but I have to sell my phone, because the cop, he took everything. So the man from the movies can’t find me. I find a new bar. I work. Same thing, with new girls and new customers and a new room. I don’t think about the movies. I have fun making the movies and I can get a lot of money but I guess they have bad luck in them. It’s okay the man about the movies can’t find me. Then after a long time he finds me.
He smiles big at me and says, “I’ve been looking for you all over . Where did you go? Why did you run away? Why don’t you answer your phone?”
I say, “I have to change where I work. I have to sell my phone.”
“I missed your smile. You have the best smile I’ve ever seen. You’re a special special girl, you know.”
“Do you want me to make more movies?” I ask.
He says, “Something better. Do you want to go to America? Have lots of money, a big house, a lawn?”
“A what?” I ask.
He laughs. He says, “Never mind. Just you come along with me.” He gets out his wallet.
I say, “Okay.”
Court Merrigan’s work is forthcoming in PANK, Shotgun Honey, All Due Respect, and Flywheel and has appeared in Night Train, Midwestern Gothic, Kyoto Review, Blackbird, Evergreen Review, Numero Cinq, Identity Theory, Pulp Metal, M-Brane Science Fiction, and others. Links at http://courtmerrigan.wordpress.com/short-stories/.
Court has been rejected here: http://courtmerrigan.wordpress.com/failure/