Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

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Excerpt from “Dead Storage” by Christine Kling, from Miami Noir

(County Line)

Mama loved to watch those old movies on TV and she used to tell me that since I was born in Hollywood, she’d named me Kate and I was gonna grow up to be a movie star. Like the dumbshit I was, I believed her. But kids are like that and after she left, when I told Daddy what she’d said, he smacked me upside of the head, called me an idiot, and told me that the movie stars lived out in California, not here in Hollywood, Florida.

So I figured that’s where she went. I’m not stupid and I knew she’d been hitting the crack pipe, but I figured they got drugs out in California same’s here. Sometimes now, I have a hard time remembering what Mama looked like. The last time I saw her she’d got so skinny her elbows looked like broomsticks and her hair had gone all patchy, but I try to push those pictures out of my head. She was gone for some long spells before she finally took off for good. That was when I was ten. Six years ago. And still being a dumbass kid back then, I believed for the longest time that she was gonna come back for me.

Daddy and me been living in this trailer at Pattie’s Ravenswood Marina and Trailer Park on a canal by the airport ever since she left. I knew even if she did come back she’d never find me in this shithole. That’s how Daddy wanted it. Besides, she was probably out in California getting high with movie stars. Daddy said we were better off without her, and I thought, yeah, sure, you’d think that.

I knew my daddy got some kind of disability check from the government, and when Mama was still with us, he spent most of his days either outside lifting his weights, the sweat pouring off him, or inside sitting in his chair watching HSN or QVC on a little TV he had connected to the cable on the pole. And he’d drink beer. I still went to school back then, and I had some friends and could go over to their houses, so I wasn’t home all that much ‘cept to eat and sleep.

I used to tell my friends my mama was a movie star, that she was gone lots ‘cuz she had to fly to places where they was filming, and then finally ’bout how she’d gone out to California to act in a TV show. We moved before any of her movies come out.

Now, Daddy’s got me working in the office at Pattie’s here, though there ain’t a whole lot to do and he gets my paychecks before I do. Says I owe it to him for rent. Not like he buys us much food around here. We pretty much live off Corn Flakes, powdered milk, mac ‘n’ cheese, and the occasional catfish I catch in the canal. He’s got an old Chevy pickup that he drives down to Flossie’s Bar sometimes. That’s when I like it here. Nights when he’s gone and it’s quiet and I can pretend he ain’t never coming back. I pretend I’m going to take a taxi to the airport, get on an airplane for Hollywood, California, go find Mama, and become a movie star. But he always comes back. And if he ain’t too drunk, he always comes to me.

The first time, I was missing Mama so much and I cried happy tears when he come in and hugged me and touched me and told me he loved me. It seemed like the first time in my life he wasn’t calling me stupid. And then all of a sudden it was like, what the hell, and he shoved his finger up inside me. I was only ten and just this dumbass kid who didn’t know what the fuck was going on, but he was my daddy and he was telling me he loved me and I would like it, so what was I supposed to do? We was already living at Pattie’s then, and outside the trailer window there’s these tall poles in the distance with red flashing lights for the airport, and I just watched them, trying not to smell his breath, and counted how many times they flashed until he climbed off me. One hundred ninety-seven flashes.

We’d moved to Pattie’s when Daddy got the job managing the dead storage yard. If you wanted to use your boat pretty much, you put it up in the stacks and Fred over on the other side of the basin drove the forklift and slid your boat out of its parking slot in that four-story beehive. But some people had boats and they just never used them. They had broken motors, holed hulls, peeling paint, and all kinds of palmetto bugs crawling all over them. They ended up with Daddy in the dead storage yard. The rent was cheaper. Daddy showed them where to park their crappy old boats and then they paid him their rent and they never come back for months and months. Some of them never come back at all, seemed to me. I saw boats go into that yard, but I hardly ever seen any come out.

The boats in the marina, most of them didn’t look much better than the ones in dead storage. Some had people living on them and they had so much crap piled on their decks, it was like Pattie’s was some kind of big shit machine. You’d get up in the morning, and it seemed like there were more old tires and rusty boat parts and broken beer bottles than there had been the day before. Shit just came out of nowhere.

About half the trailers in the park were boarded up and abandoned. On one side of us there was this old guy. Daddy called him Bud and he just sat out on his concrete slab and drank beer every day till he passed out. He was deaf and he’d never wear his hearing aids, so even if you did try to talk to him, he couldn’t ever hear a goddamn thing you were saying.

On the other side, the trailer had sat empty for a couple of months ever since old Mrs. Jackson died. I noticed her cat was squalling one day and it didn’t smell too good over there, but I could hear the TV was on inside. She give Daddy a key to her place one time so’s I could feed the cat when she went to see her daughter. I got the key and called out her name, but she didn’t answer so’s I went into her trailer to see what was wrong. She’d died on the crapper in her nightgown with her big cotton panties down around her knees. She’d pitched forward and I found her with her neck bent sidewise on the floor, her eyes open, and her huge fat naked ass sticking up in the air in the doorway of the trailer’s little head compartment. I didn’t even like to look at her trailer no more and Daddy was talking ’bout moving it into dead storage. What was the point? The whole fuckin’ place had become dead storage.

That’s why I was surprised when I got up Saturday morning and saw a truck in front of old Mrs. Jackson’s place and some men was carrying out all the old crap and taking some nice new furniture inside. That’s when I seen Daddy out there wearing jeans and a wife beater, leaning against his pickup and talking to this short redheaded lady who was holding old Mrs. Jackson’s cat, which I ain’t seen since the morning I found the old lady dead. Somebody said it was Mrs. Jackson’s daughter what took the cat, and I wondered if that was her outside talking to my daddy.

When I went out there, I guess the short lady didn’t hear me walk up ‘cuz she flinched like she’d been snake bit. The cat jumped to the ground and run off. “Oh! Child,” she said. “Don’t go sneaking up on people that way. You gave me a fright.” Her voice sounded squeaky as a cartoon character on the TV. Standing next to her like that, I got the full effect of just how short she was. I could look down on the top of her head and see a line of pink scalp and about an inch of gray hair at her roots.

“You Mrs. Jackson’s daughter?” I asked.

Daddy shook his head and said, “Sorry, ma’am. She’s got no manners. I try to teach her but it just don’t stick. This here’s my daughter Kate. Kate, this is Mrs. Murphy.”

The redheaded lady put out a hand the size of a little kid’s. She was old, though, lots older than Daddy, and heavy makeup was caked on her face, but she probably didn’t weigh no more’n a hundred pounds. When I reached out to shake her hand, she looked scared, like she thought she might catch something.

“Hello,” I said. Her palm was squishy with sweat and she yanked her hand back after one pump. She wore these fake eyelashes like you buy at Walgreens for $6.99. They fluttered at me when she tried to smile.

Daddy said, “Mrs. Murphy’s gonna move into her mama’s trailer. She’ll be our new neighbor.”

For such a little lady, Mrs. Murphy had a good-sized rack on her, and with her low-cut blouse Daddy couldn’t take his eyes off her titties. He kept on talking to her and she kept on backing up, her hands messing with the buttons at the top of her blouse. When her ass hit the side of her trailer, she scooted inside and disappeared.

Daddy sat down at his weight bench and told me to go in and fix him some cereal.

* * *

Over the next few weeks I barely ever saw Mrs. Murphy. She mostly stayed inside her trailer, only coming out a few times to drive her little Ford Taurus to the Winn-Dixie to get her some groceries, and even when she done that, she nearly run out to her car like she thought somebody outside was gonna jump out and grab her. One time when she come home in her car, Daddy went over and offered to help carry her groceries but she shook her head no, and she carried those bags up high so’s to cover her chest and her face and she run into her trailer. Daddy laughed out loud.

I seen it all from the windows in Pattie’s Marina office where I went to answer the phones and take folks’ rent checks and mostly just watch TV or jaw with Fred and Pattie. Sometimes I read books. Pattie had a whole bunch of paperback books that folks had left in the office and most of them were pretty good. They were stories about detectives and spies and shit like that. Beat the crap out of watching Days of Our Lives with Pattie.

After she’d been living there about a month, Mrs. Murphy come into the office one day to pay her rent. Pattie’d gone out to her boat to sleep off last night’s Jack and Coke and Fred was over running the forklift for some Miami hotshot. It was just me and her.

“Hey,” I said when she walked in. She didn’t say nothin’ but just pulled her checkbook out of her little handbag and started writing out the check.

“How d’ya like living here at Pattie’s, Mrs. Murphy?”

“Okay, uh, Kate, was it?”

“Yeah. Like the movie star, Kate Hepburn.”

“I’m surprised someone your age would know about her.”

“I’m not stupid, you know.”

“Oh dear, I didn’t mean to say that you were.”

“Mama used to say I have a active imagination.”

“I’m sure you do, Kate,” she said, but she turned away when I looked up at her from the receipt book where I was writing in the number of her check. She had a look on her face like she just tasted milk that had turned.

“You sure do stay in your trailer lots. You don’t work?”

“Well, I did. I’m an administrative assistant,” she said, like I knew what that was, “but I’m currently between positions.”

“What’s that mean?”

She blinked her eyes real fast and those fake lashes looked like moths that just been hit with bug spray. “It means,” she said, and her voice sounded funny, even for her. “It means that I got laid off.” She was stuffing her checkbook back into that little purse of hers and then she zipped the pocket closed like she thought I was gonna reach across the counter and snatch it away from her. “I still have trouble believing it. Four years short of earning a pension. They said I wasn’t quick enough, but that really means they think I’m too old.” She started crying for real and dragged out that word “old” like it had about sixteen letters.

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” I wished I knew what to say. I hated her crying like that. It was goddamn irritating.

“And I keep sending out resumes and the unemployment is going to run out soon. I sold my condo and I’m reduced to living alone in this place.” She looked up at the ceiling like she thought it was gonna just cave in on her that minute, then she snorted up the snot that had started to drip out her nose. I handed her a paper towel from the roll Pattie kept behind the desk.

“Well, Mrs. Murphy,” I said, “living here sure must be lots different from a fancy condo.”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t I know.”

“Pattie’s Trailer Park’s not exactly what you’d call a good neighborhood. I hope you got plenty of locks on that trailer of yours, ‘cuz a pretty little lady like you‹”

“What are you talking about?”

“Must make you pretty scared living in a place like this all alone with no one to protect you.”

“Yes, yes, it does. But it sounds like you know something. Has something happened?”

“You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what? What are you talking about?”

“You ain’t heard about the rapist?”

Her eyes grew big and those lashes quit twitching. “Rapist?”

“Yes’m. I figure I better warn you.”

“Around here? Close by?”

“Yes’m. They’re calling him the Trailer Park Stalker in the papers.”

“Oh my Lord.”

I looked down at the greasy countertop, leaned in closer to her, and spoke quiet. “Happened to me. Daddy was down at Flossie’s. He come into the trailer late at night and climbed on top of me and, well, you know. There weren’t a thing I could do. He’s too strong.”

“Oh, you poor child.”

“I wished I’d a had a gun or something. I would’a killed him,” I said, and I meant it.

“Yes,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about that. Getting something for protection.” I shrugged.

“It must have been so terrible for you. It’s no wonder you dress like that now.”

“Like what?”

“Those clothes‹they’re men’s clothes. Those big T-shirts and jeans, and that hair of yours. You know, if you got it cut in a stylish way instead of that mop of snarls, and got your teeth fixed to close up that gap, why, you’d be pretty.”

“Mrs. Murphy, I don’t give a shit about pretty.”