Skye Robinson 2016
Water Turned to Mud
New York. High rises piercing the sky like needles sewing a great azure blanket, the buildings forever sweeping the skyline, a more structured version of the jagged Wyoming rocks. The city continuously buzzing with life, children screaming, women yelling, men laughing from having one too many drinks, and always the continual thrum of an auto, somewhere in the mass of cobbles and street lamps and music. New York was beginning to dominate America, which in itself was beginning to dominate the world.
Rasmussen Tinsley, a dark, straw haired youth with a squashed nose like a damaged potato and murky yellow eyes, his Wyoming country accent always marking him as different, unworthy, other, had only arrived a few months ago, on a rusty steamboat that creaked like an old man’s bones and smelled perpetually of fish. Since then, he’d attempted to make something of himself. He’d always been a book worm, asking unanswerable questions, wanting more than the dry, unforgiving land of Wyoming, his childhood home. But New York only offered a job as a seaman around the harbor, a tiring, and dead end career, if you can even call it that.
He spent most of his spare time in the bar across the street from his dwarf sized apartment, hitting on the maid Sarah, a young inexperienced girl, thrown out by her family, easier to get into bed than any of the tough Wyoming girls who were as hard as the landscape itself. He used their nights together as a form of release, often resulting in bruises that spread across her pale skin like a distorted patchwork quilt. The bar’s owner often looked at Ras suspiciously, but he was a regular, so the old prick said nothing.
The shoe box apartment was as bare as a new babes head. The furniture old and ripping at the seams, the tabletop full of empty beer cans and rubbish, the floor so dirty it was like living on a closed off area of the street below. Sarah was lying breathless on the bed, Ras pulling up his pants, feeling a sense of power and satisfaction, control and dominance. The air stank of old beer mixed with stale semen and sweat. Ras lurched his way to the stubborn window and yanked it open, breathing in the smoke and grime of the city, reflecting on his few months spent there. He’d started off proper, yes he had, trying numerous, respectable places to get a job, turned down each time by a thick moustached, cigar smoking business man. After his two minute interview at The New-Yorker, so similar to the ones before it; in which he’d stood there in an office full of antique furniture – the kind that no one touches except to dust – in his work man’s clothes, gritty from the hours of walking the streets, he’d gone to the bar.
He remembered the first time he’d spotted her. Sarah had been working, rosy cheeks, blond hair, a decent rack, and after the sixth drink he’d gone for it. The feeling of electric energy, of an animal hunger, and the need to dominate, made him finally understand the tough, hard skinned Dunmires of Wyoming, and their visits to the whore house. After that, he’d given up his attempts at success, his childhood visions of inventing and exploring turned into the smoke that curled around the skyscrapers, and settled for the tiring job of the harbor, endlessly watching the rise and fall of the sun, cutting red, yellow and orange, bleeding wounds across the black sky, signalling the end or beginning of another day.
Sarah had come from a proper family. A wealthy father working at the bank, always wearing a suit and shiny shoes, somehow managing to look down on everyone who never had the ability to rise up in society, a gossip of a mother with perfect salon hair like corkscrew pasta just out of the pot. Her brother had been following his dad’s footsteps, slowly becoming one of the well-educated and respected men of New York, the ones who would kick a man on the street if they so much as breathed on their designer shoes. Even she had been learning the mundane ways of how to be the perfect house wife, pouring tea, taking care of the house, keeping a handle on the hired help, hearing the gossip at high tea and the annual charity fundraiser. It had all been going to her parent’s formulated plan, like the steady monotonous tick of a clock, when she’d met Mike. Sandy hair combed and gelled into place, hazelnut chocolate eyes, wealthy background, all the girls wanted him. But he’d chosen her.
It had started out like it should; him courting her, her being slightly distant so as not to appear eager, secretly feeling relieved that she’s not a disappointment to her parents, but he’d wanted to elope. She knew she shouldn’t, her mother was already picking out the china and making plans for the flower arrangements, but the thrill of making a decision that wasn’t planned out coupled with the desire to do as she was told – like the good girl she was – made her agree. Midnight he’d said. By the harbor. She’d been there. Hell, she’d worn her best dress. He’d turned up drunk, waving a bottle around like a flag on a pole, sloshing beer all over her, the distinct overpowering smell of it filling her nose. Her heart started pounding like a horse in a race, her palms were slick with sweat. She’d turned to run. But he’d wrapped his arms around her from behind, in what would have been an embrace, if his rough hands, hard as iron bars, hadn’t started wandering. She’d been shaking the whole time, her breath forming puffs of clouds as vulnerable as herself, her throat raw from screaming and sobbing. She returned home the next morning, broken, cuts from the shattered glass slowly bleeding like silent tears, bruises developing like spilt ink on a page, and her parents knew. The slimy man had used her, spun her in his web of lies to get what he wanted. Her father yelled she was impure, her mother wept, after hitting her twice her brother had been sent away. She’d done nothing, she said, but her words had been drowned out like the buzz of a fly over the blaring of a horn on 42nd street.
She’d cried, she’d tried to reason with them, but that very day she’d found herself packing a small bag of valuables, and walking out the big oak front door for the last time. After a week of living on the streets, her money slowly running out like water from a leaky tap, searching for scraps of food out of dustbins, feeling completely isolated, she’d managed to get the job at the bar. The fifty something sleazy pervert who owned the bar had looked her up and down, taking his time; “they’ll be like bees to honey with her around” was the only comment he’d made, in a drawling voice, his eyes settling on her chest. Serving drunk, angry men, either with no prospects or exuding the same sense of power her father had, the occasional loose girls giving her a knowing look, and the idea of hope and a better life slowly drained out of her like dirty water in an unplugged sink. When Ras came along, she’d have accepted affection from a toothless scum bag. She was desperate.
The next night, Ras was again at the bar, on his eighth drink, when a group of young business men came stumbling in, their words slurring together, and the stench of whiskey on their breaths. They were jostling about, counting on their fingers the number of girls they’d done. Ras turned his head; “You lot ain’t got a clue, do ya?” The men stopped their yapping. Sarah slowed her brisk cleaning of the glasses, her eyes sliding from the dishtowel to the growing tension unfolding in front of her, fuelled by alcohol and testosterone. “What did you say?” The biggest of the men, both in height and width, stepped forward. “All o’ y’all talk of shit that probably ain’t true. Ya jus’ don’t have a clue bout nothin’.” Now all the men were standing, the humour gone, the alcohol making everything blur together, violence just under the surface of every movement. “Ya jus’ go aroun’ in yer suits and fancy ties, not givin a damn bout anyone else, yer all pricks, yer family’s are pricks, yer children will be too, and y’all can go and shove it up yer –” Ras’s head was whipped back, the impact snapping his nose around in an unnatural way, wet, hot blood beginning to pour over his lip like a waterfall. He blindly swung back, connecting with something hard before stumbling and falling over. And then the other men were on him. It was about this time that Sarah ran for the old prick, who managed to drag the men off of Ras long enough for him to get out. Ras went spitting and cussing into the street, blinded by blood and anger, stumbling along the curb, and no sooner had he wiped his eyes, that he saw the flash of headlights, heard the blare of a horn –
New York is full of many stories. The silent flow of the harbor never ceases. The atmosphere of New York; the yelling, the crying, the laughter, the heartbreak, the dirty spaces never providing enough room to breathe, the missed hopes, the stench of cheap booze, the continual thrum of the city itself, is never-ending. Whether in New York or Wyoming, everyone’s luck runs out, it’s just a matter of when.