She perched on the second barstool over, stirring her margarita with the little red straw. She looked like a real-life Bratz doll, oversized head, big tits and attenuated limbs. Her pillowy lips were glossed a shining toy-like pink.
She wore a hot pink knitted shrug over a black t-shirt, and a hot pink plaid newsboy hat pulled low over her hair, though it could not completely contain the bronzy waves spilled out around her shoulders and down her back. Dark glasses big as saucers shielded her eyes completely, though the bar’s light was dim.
It was a little place on Pico Boulevard, in the ass-end of Santa Monica, far from the hotels and beaches. I’d been coming here lately, ever since the layoffs were announced, clinging to the bar like a shipwrecked survivor clinging to a raft.
The woman beside the girl had a tired and seamed face, her chopped-short black hair was tinged with purple dye. A short squat glass of something brown on ice sat before her at the bar.
“It’s great you could come meet me, Ma,” said the girl.
“I hadda take off early from work,” she said. “But it’s good to see you. You look like you’re doin’ good. Where were you off to this time? DabuDabu like before?”
“No Ma, that was Dubai. Dooo-Baye. You really oughta read more, Ma. How come you never travel?”
“Well, I knew it was some place in Arabia. I don’t have to know what it’s called to know it’s dangerous.” The mom clutched the wrinkled handbag in her lap.
“Anyway, this time it was Abu Dhabi,” said the girl. French-manicured fingers fiddled with an e-hookah, all knurled and tapered steel, transparent colors and tube-like fittings. She brought the tube to her full-lipped, glossy mouth, drew in and then blew out a plume of white, cherry-scented vapor.
“It’s still in that part of the world, and I don’t know if I like thinking of you out there. You’re careful, with the security and all?”
“Oh, c’mon, Ma. It’s fine. It’s just like Miami, only more fake, more slick. I got a nice room, stay in the hotel, do my work and get back on the plane.”
I vaguely wondered what kind of work she did. This was LA, after all; she could have been a back-up dancer, an MMA ring girl, a nanny, or a high-priced escort. Almost by reflex, I wondered if they were hiring. The job applications I’d been sending out had floated away without answer, like so many messages in a bottle.
She paused to sip her drink, and then gave a rueful shrug. “Well, it was kinda weird, when I got off the plane they threw garb over me.”
“They did what?”
“You know, to cover me and stuff. But that was just on the tarmac. Everything was cool in the hotel. The hotel rocked.” Her voice growled, low with vocal fry.
She tilted her chin up and blew out another vapor plume. “How about you,” she said, raising her voice. “You like to travel?”
It was hard to tell where she was looking behind those giant lenses, but then I realized she was speaking to me.
“Travel?” I said. ”Yeah, sure, I love to travel. But I’ve never been to Dubai. You’re pretty lucky to be able to see the world.”
“Yeah. Well. You been to Miami? It’s kinda like that.” She turned to her mother again. “See, Ma, people nowadays travel, they get around. They don’t just stay in the place they were born.”
“I like it here,” said the woman. “I gotta nice little house, I got my friends, I go to work. I got the right to do what I want.”
A car horn honked faintly from the street and the girl turned to peer out the window. “Look Ma, here’s my ride. I gotta go.” She opened a wee pouch and floated a twenty dollar bill onto the bar, then slipped from the barstool. She bent and kissed her mother quickly on the cheek, then traipsed to the door, long pipestem legs in black leggings poised on impossibly high platform heels, like the hooves of a delicate fawn. “It was good seeing you. I’ll call you next time I’m in town.”
“Bye, honey.” The mother watched her go, her body still for a moment. Then she drew her hand hard across her mouth, sighed and turned back, catching the bartender’s eye. “I’ll have another Jack and Coke.”
“Let me get that for you,’ I said. She looked at me as though I held out a life ring to her.