Non Stop Beautiful Ladies

From the ongoing series Tabloid Fiction—in which an author chooses from the trashiest, most lurid, or just bizarre stories of the moment and writes a short story inspired by same.

Karolina Waclawiak is the author of How to Get Into the Twin Palms and the essays...

 
||Lola Landekic

“The teenager who cries and sweats BLOOD: 19-year-old’s condition first left her suicidal… but has now led her to love.” From The Daily Mail, 6 December 2013

You could see the words in bright red from the highway: Non Stop Beautiful Ladies.

It was on the El Paso side, not the Juarez side. Juarez doesn’t have the same kind of neon. The same highway hotels and squat motels.

I worked at Non Stop Beautiful Ladies, but I wasn’t allowed to dance. They didn’t want me getting blood on anyone during my routine. A little sweat never hurt anyone, but the white knit polo sales guys who came in during lunch didn’t appreciate the spray.

Momma told me when I came out of her I was covered in blood and I just kept being that way. She said she used to find me in the crib, crying and slicked with red. She said my daddy couldn’t take it and left. She didn’t blame me, though. She said the holy spirit was faint in him.

It scared me to death to be covered in that blood, to see it coming out of my pores like that. I told the boys at school that Jesus made me this way but they called me a freak. I cried so hard and lost so much blood, I had to be taken to the hospital to get a transfusion. Momma told me I had to get a hold of myself or I’d put myself over the edge one day. Heaven wasn’t ready to take me yet, so I had to make do in Deming.

People used to douse me with holy water when I’d walk down the street. They would say, “You need to get the devil out of you. Embrace the holy spirit!” I would yell that I was full of the holy spirit, more than them, even. Momma told me so. When everybody got really desperate, they started sprinkling me with Florida water.

I couldn’t walk down the road without feeling droplets. And when I’d turn around, I’d see women hiding vials of the stuff in their pockets and scurrying away. I half expected the droplets to sizzle when they hit me, but they never did. I started taking to alleyways just to avoid everyone. Then they asked the white witch to come to our house and I peed my pants when I heard the ghost rise from the dead and walk across the floor toward me. They wanted me saved, but I told them that they were mixing up the spirits with the saints.

I told momma Santeria and all that wouldn’t work on me. I tried to embrace the holy spirit, hold it deep inside me, but maybe the blood of Christ was trying to work itself out of me. Maybe it was his blood that was coming out of my pores. I told them we had to quit it with the exorcisms because I was gonna to end up shriveled and hollow like a mummy. Sometimes they tried when I was sleeping and I’d wake up wrapped with sheets real tight and all of them shouting in my room. I left when I couldn’t take it anymore, when I woke up to see momma sprinkling holy water on my pillow. She thought I had the devil in me like the rest of them.

*

I went east to Las Cruces first. Just about anyone stopped for a girl with her finger stuck out. I wore short shorts just in case. I didn’t call momma once. Not even when I ran out of money and couldn’t swing a motel and slept beneath some brush down a one-way road hoping the desert critters couldn’t get me. I looked toward Mexico sometimes and thought maybe that’s where I belonged. But then I thought about all those god-fearing people and knew I would be hard to take for them. Maybe I was meant to be a desert traveler. The coyotes didn’t care that the sweat pouring down my face was pink. I was careful to only accept rides from cars with leather seats.

In Deming, there used to be a school for boys that I sat outside of. They were bad boys, made to live in row houses and I wanted to live there too. Instead, I sat on a rock across the road and watched them push each other while they went to classes and counselors, when they went to lunch and hid in between buildings to smoke cigarettes. I loved them all and wanted to be near them, even if they didn’t want to be near me. Sometimes they looked up, sometimes they pointed, but they never crossed the street.

I let the man who gave me a ride to El Paso get fresh with me. I just wanted to see what it would be like. He put his hand on my leg first, stuff I’d seen on TV before, but they always cut away before I saw what happened next. Well, I found out. This man, probably my daddy’s age now, he let his hand move deep in between my legs. He kept driving like he wasn’t even doing anything. When he pulled his hand away, I squeezed my eyes real tight and waited.

“You on your period and you didn’t tell me, girl?”

I opened my eyes and told him I wasn’t. I said, “I have a condition.” Because that’s what doctors used to call it. He pulled over right there on I-10 like that was something you could just do and told me to get out. I told him thank you very much. I wasn’t going to get emotional about it and ruin my shirt.

In the distance, I could see the lights of El Paso glittering and so that’s where I went. The brightest sign on the side of highway was the one that said Non Stop Beautiful Ladies. I imagined beautiful ladies parading around two-by-two.

They were beautiful. All of them covered in glitter and shine, arms sweeping wide as they pranced for the men sitting around waiting for the girls to change their lives. Brenda took notice of me when she was wrapping her arms around an excited Best Buy worker. She said I reminded her of her little sister and she bought me a Coke. When Walter from security told me to go home, Brenda told him to take a hike. She said I had a kind of glow she liked and told me I could stay with her if I didn’t have anywhere else to go. Walter let me wait while she danced. He nudged me and said, “Ain’t she good?”

She was. I told her she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen and she said I was going to make her cry. She convinced Walter to give me a job.

*

At Non Stop Beautiful Ladies the men get real close. They do everything they can to touch. When they get caught and thrown out, I let them touch me. We meet near the parking lot, behind the dumpster, under the bright red neon sign where they can’t tell that they’re getting damp with my blood. They’ll notice later, when they go home, dump their clothes in the wash for their wives or girlfriends. The red-tinged trace of a fingerprint. A whole handprint on the back of their crisp white shirt. Parts of me imprinted on them, pink water going down the drain. The alley boys never come back.

Well, one day, Recaris did. And then he came back again. And again. It was like he wanted to get kicked out of the club just so he could touch me. One night I finally said, “Don’t you see what’s coming out of me?” He just nodded and smiled. He told me that he has never seen anything like it.

He said, “It’s the holy spirit,” and, “You are beautiful.”

I just smiled and nodded along, but I thought, it’s not the holy spirit at all.