Friday nights, after her ex picks up their son, Mabel wanders through the rooms of the upstairs apartment, sipping wine from a Disneyland plastic cup, and eventually heading downstairs to the front porch where she finds Roxie, pushing off on the glider, smoking and stubbing out the butts in a coffee can filled with sand.
Roxie’s the building’s manager (kind of), security, (sort of), monitor, (definitely), and has taken Mabel under her wing, my big bat wing she calls it, as soon as Mabel moved in and Mabel has to admit, it’s pretty nice having Roxie on her side. She knows all the neighbors and which ones to avoid and who hasn’t paid rent and who always double parks blocking the driveway. It’s nice not worrying about the guys hanging out across the way or other threats she’s encountered since moving downtown. Somehow Roxie is always there, peeking out her front window and swooping in to make things better.
Roxie, herself, has lived on that corner for years. Last stop, she said, pulling on a fake train whistle, with that husky deep laugh of hers and bright blue eyes that said, Funny, not funny, at the same time.
Mabel sits on the cement step, Disneyland cup filled to the top with more wine, and Roxie tips back a bottle of whisky as they talk. Mostly Roxie. Mabel can only get a line or two in but that’s fine too, it’s good not to be cross examined, to just let Roxie fill in the blanks. You won’t live here long, she predicted, a year or so. Mabel regards the school across the street- her son’s school during the week, kindergarten, but now that school seems far off and the weekdays, one marching right behind the other, seem like someone else’s responsibility, as if Mabel is unmoored, no longer in charge of her life.
Roxie had been a singer once, years ago, before life threw wrenches in her plans but she still liked to perform the old songs – Ricky Nelson stuff mostly. She’d sit on the glider and let her voice ring out-smoky but strong, with lots of old-fashioned feeling and sometimes people at the light would honk or give her a thumbs up.
What’s with the cup? Roxie asked when they first started hanging out together. Mabel began We got it a few years ago, when I was still married. I get it, Roxie interrupted, Family, children, picket fences, she lists them like they’re in quotes. That’s an old story, isn’t is?
Now Roxie stands. Let’s take a drive. They get in Roxie’s blue Eldorado, dented and rusty. The stuffing is leaking and the springs pinch. First down the long stretch of Bridge Blvd, shops closed and boarded, Roxie’s face lighting up, then darkening under the streetlights. Mabel sips her wine. Roxie turns the steering wheel with the flat of her palm. The neon signs of her old haunts blooming on the windshield.
Find me a smoke, Roxie says, and pushes her big purse towards Mabel, keys jangling on the wide strap. Mabel opens it and breathes in deep. It smells of smooth leather, Jean Nate, and cigarettes. It reminds her of women her mother’s age, with their overstuffed pocketbooks. What are you up to? Roxie laughs. And Mabel feels like a child, her child, who got caught doing something embarrassing. Mabel hands her the cigarette, and Roxie cracks the window, the smoke sliding up and out.
They continue down the empty streets, closer to the harbor, its wetness dredged up and over the hood. A burst of color lights the sky. Fireworks. A party on a boat at sea, the multi colors shocking. Her son would like this, Mabel thinks, her son who is far away, with his father’s new wife, and his new baby brother. She’ll tell him about the fireworks when he comes home.
The tires feel spongy on the road, almost connected, and to Mabel the car is like a shark sliding through smooth waters. She puts her feet up on the dash and leans her head back on the wide seat, closes her eyes. Roxie reaches over and smooths her hair.
When they pull into the driveway, Mabel looks around for her empty cup. Gone. She looks under the seat. Not there. Roxie shrugs when Mabel asks if she’s seen it. Mabel stumbles up the stairs to her apartment, tired and too high. Later on in bed, an image comes to her. Roxie’s big catch-all of a bag, slumped on the front seat of the car. And Mabel knows, Roxie took the cup. She kept it for herself.