Fire and Wanda, Chapter 1, Scene 2

 

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Tune in every Friday to find out what happens next!

I woke up the next morning with a funny feeling. It was just before six, and I was staring wide-eyed at the ceiling in the semi-dark wearing nothing but a pair of boxers and my one little raggedy bed sheet tossed off to the side. Sweating. Just outside my bedroom was a fairly decent-sized screened-in porch that overlooked a nice little green space down below and, a little farther out, a canal. If you lived in Fort Lauderdale there was a better than even chance you were somewhere near a canal, just like there was a fairly good chance you were more familiar with flying roaches than you ever wanted to be. Not that there weren’t nice things about Fort Lauderdale too, but some things tend to stick out to a person.

Then again, maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, at night the apartment building lights kept the green space pretty well-lit, and the leftover brightness spilled over into my bedroom each and every night. Most nights it never bothered me, especially if I was tired. But for some reason, on this particular night, that glare had been riding my nerves like a drunk on top of a well-worn hooker. No matter how hard I tried to grab hold of just a few minutes of sleep, sleep kept running away. Didn’t help matters much that these home movies of Wanda kept playing repeat engagements inside my head.

Like that time we smuggled the cat into her cousin’s swanky lakefront apartment. Her cousin hated cats. I don’t even remember the name of the building, and it doesn’t really matter. What I’ll never forget is watching Wanda convincing this sweet little black and white cat that it was safe to step into this wide open brown suitcase that she had laying across her bed like a huge leather mouth. Just as soon as the cat got comfortable, Wanda snapped the suitcase shut then giggled and clapped her hands like a little kid at a circus. Then she promptly sat down on the edge of the bed, crossed her long skinny legs and lit herself a cigarette to celebrate before we embarked on the next leg of the adventure. Cheap thrills, I guess.

“This is gonna be so damned crazy, and that cat’s gonna kill her when she gets home, but that’s what the bitch gets for makin’ me do this thing,” she said.

“How is it she’s making you do this?” I asked.

Wanda’s eyes sparkled as she whistled a lazy stream of smoke, her full lips a perfectly puckered letter ‘O’. She shrugged her shoulders and laughed some more. Those times when she laughed like that, relaxed and silly, were the times she let me see the girl she had been before life stepped in and stole her away. I like to believe she enjoyed that she could laugh that way with me, but then I like to believe a lot of things when it comes to how it was with me and Wanda.

Anyway, it took about 20 minutes before the cat finally figured out he wasn’t any match for that suitcase and decided to quiet down and plot a horrible revenge for whoever was fool enough to open up that suitcase without wearing a suit of armor. Ten minutes later Wanda and I were headed down 63rd Street beneath the Jackson Park ‘el’ tracks in her beat up little red Chevy, which slipped and lurched its way through the snow on its way to our destination. The cat meowed weakly a few times whenever we hit a particularly distressing patch of ice, or a deeper-than-normal pothole, but for the most part he just stayed quiet.

By the time we got there, Wanda had the plan of attack all worked out. I would, of course, be carrying the luggage. She would, of course, charm the doorman. She was even wearing a pair of cheap sexy-but- not-really-suede ankle-high black boots with faux fur trim around the top. Something about the combination of those semi-high heels with her worn blue jeans and that long black winter parka was put together just right to get the desired attention. Wanda specialized in how to get men’s attention. Men who considered themselves immuned to women like Wanda and figured they could see her kind coming from a mile away were her specialty.

Just before we walked through the rather large glass entry doors, Wanda whispered to me out the side of her mouth, “You ready, sweet pea?”

“Sweet pea?”

She giggled, then motioned for me to pull open the door for her with my free hand. The other one was carrying cat-in-a-bag. Soon as she crossed through the doorway there was a noticeable difference in how she walked. Just a few moments earlier, right after she had stepped out of the car, Wanda’s strides carried her slender frame up the rather long walkway toward the apartment complex at her normal easy, gliding pace. Feminine, for sure, but relaxed. But once we were in that hallway and Wanda knew she had the doorman’s eye, her hips suddenly shifted into a whole other gear. She was clocking in. With one hand she smoothly and deliberately eased back the hood of her parka, letting the long, reddish brown curls of her hair tumble down around her small, somewhat feline oval face. Her smile warmed up slowly, in perfect time with the lighting of her eyes, making sure not to appear too anxious. Wanda’s secret was letting a man know she knew she had him – and convincing him to like it.

The girl was good.

“So how you doin’ this evening?” she asked, emphasizing the Southern in her drawl. “You all right?”

The doorman, standing approximately five yards beyond the door at his post, grinned and nodded his head in response. He reached his hands behind his back and clasped them together. Even I could see at this early stage that this was going to be a lot easier than what we thought.

“Just fine, Miss. Help you?”

“Um-hmmm. I’m Wanda? Carly’s cousin? She probably told you I was comin’, right?”

The doorman, short and squat, looked like he might have played high school ball sometime way back when. Definitely defense, and he was probably good. The belly was more visible than I expect he would have liked beneath the bland gray uniform, but it was still easy to see the power remaining in the chest and shoulders. His smile was trained to remain in place no matter what, but I noticed a slight strain appearing around the edges, letting me know he’d heard this line one too many times. Wanda better strike quick if she was gonna pull this off.

Without missing a beat, she cocked her head at a slight angle, let her shoulder slump just a bit, then put on a mask of mild disappointment. But her eyes never strayed. From the minute she walked through the doors until now they held onto his gaze like a vice, never allowing him to notice anything else.

“You mean Carly didn’t…? Damn that girl. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to curse, but if that ain’t just like Carly, you know? Always leaving me to clean up her mess, then forgetting to leave me the mop.”

That got a chuckle out of him. Progress.

“What’s your name?” she asked. “That is, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Lonnie,” he said.

“Lonnie? Really? My crazy little baby brother’s name is Lonnie. Hope you ain’t like him. Anyway, Lonnie, here’s the thing, OK? My dumb cousin is stuck in New York at some conference for I think it’s another week. You know she left this morning, right?”

Lonnie nodded.

“And being the dumb cousin that she is? She forgot her medicine. So now she calls and tells me to come down here and get it from her apartment so I can overnight it to her tomorrow. She had enough in her purse to keep her straight for a few days, but that’s about it. Anyway…”

“What’s in the suitcase?” he asked.

“Huh? Oh, that thing my brother’s carrying? That’s Carly’s bag is what that is. Still even got some of her stuff in it. Been over at my place for I don’t know how long. I figured since I was coming over here I might as well bring it back and drop it off. Get it outta my house. Lord knows I have enough junk of my own between me and my two girls, OK? I mean I have enough.”

Wanda didn’t have a brother named Lonnie or by any other name, and I’m willing to bet money her cousin wasn’t on any kind of medication. Only reason we were here was to play a practical joke because Wanda felt like having some fun.

Lonnie’s eyes twinkled as he started to chuckle.

“Carly give you guys a key?”

Wanda nodded, letting her eyes sparkle in response.

“Oh yeah. I’ve been had that girl’s key for the longest. And she’s got one of mine too, which I guess is kind of a good thing, right? I mean, in a city like this, and ain’t neither one of us got no man.”

“Now that can’t be right,” he said, trying to act like he knew how to flirt. “Pretty lady like yourself?”

Wanda pouted.

“Nope. Big old city like this, can you imagine? And can’t neither one of us find just one good man. Ain’t that the saddest story you ever…”

The bag thumped. Not real loud, but just loud enough to get some attention. Lucky for us, Lonnie wasn’t sure at first where the noise had come from. Since neither one of us let on that we’d heard a thing, he tried to act like he hadn’t heard anything either. So with the rest of that unfinished sentence hanging in the air between us, we stood there in the sudden silence for about five or ten rapid heartbeats before I piped up and suggested that maybe it was about time we went on up to cousin Carly’s because remember? I had this real important band rehearsal that evening and if I was too late that wouldn’t look good since I’d just joined this band and…

“…Oh yeah…” she said, looking at me with a mixture of confusion and admiration.

“I’d forgotten all about that, baby bruh. Sorry. Yeah…guess we’d better be getting on then.”

Once the elevator doors closed and we’d gone up about three floors, Wanda broke out laughing so hard I had to wonder how she’d managed to keep it trapped inside for so long without rupturing something.

“All this time and I never knew you could lie like that!” she said. “You and your little shy boy act, and all this time you damned near good as me. I’m gonna have to keep my eyes on you, ain’t I?”

She winked. I grinned.

“I wish you would,” I said.

At the time I couldn’t understand why that simple comment made her look so sad so quick. She reached over and lightly brushed my cheek with her finger.

The elevator came to a sudden stop.

 

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About the author
kaoblues
Writer and musician.

2 Comments

John Dolen

2015-03-09 14:02:46 Reply

OK, you got me now…

    kaoblues

    2015-03-10 11:01:42 Reply

    Glad to hear it, John! Let me know what you think. Anxious to find out…

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