By Gena Lyon


The sun was ending its long journey that night, and Vanessa went to turn on the neon sign that she mail-ordered from Des Moines. "Shoots and Shots," it said in cursive, simply. The "s" on "Shoots" flickered in and out, and the brick building it clung to was so old it was cracking and it appeared that it would collapse under one breath of wind. The building lay on an old gravel lot, the sound of tires rolling on the ground was always prevalent. Vanessa smirked at herself as she made her way in between the aisles back to the window. On aisle consisted of liquor, from Budweiser to Jack Daniel's. She even carried sake for Jung Li. Vanessa was well known for her wide selection of liquor within a 50 mile radius of Dwibe. On the other aisle she carried a large assortment of guns, her pride and joy--a laser sight. No one except for Mervin had ever bought a laser sight; he had an obsession with nailing raccoons right between the eyes.

Vanessa took her place on a stool. In front of her lay a cash register her grandfather had owned, dating back to the 30's. To her right she rested her elbow on the window will. She put her feet up on the register and lit up a cigarette. Her tight and supple face of 25 was still yet unaffected by her 13 years of smoking. She considered herself lucky. Virginia slims. Always Virginia slims. She shut her eyes and inhaled sweetly, her lips wrapped around the white filter. They parted and put her hand out the window, then exhaled slowly.

If I hadn't smoke all these years I woulda never been able to relax. She opened her eyes to the sound of a car approaching her window.

"Hey there, Vanessa!" An old man barked at her like orders from a rusty old Buick.

"Hey Hans." She breathed dully, then put her cigarette out on the windowsill. The last rays of the sun made her rich brown hair look almost auburn. "What can I git ya?"

"Well, he said, I want a case of Heineken, and you may as well get me a box of shells, sweet thing." He winked at her and smiled. A mess of crammed teeth jutted out at her. She always hated his smile. She went to gather his order, then came back to the window, having to lean far out of it to hand it to him. He gazed at her cleavage and asked:

"How long have you owned this place, my sweet? Why I remember you asking me to show you how to mix a Bloody Mary at the Wilted Rose. My, you were a fine little thing back then---"

"I owned this place coming on four years Hans, and that horse shit with the Wilted Rose was a long time ago. Now, why don't you take your damn beer and get on outta here before I take it back! You understand me Hans?!" She narrowed her eyes and stuck out her jaw. Hans blinked.

"Alright, Vanessa. I'll see you later, you know your always welcome back." He winked at her again and drove off. Vanessa watched him like he was a child going to school, if he happened to turn the wrong way she would of come after him and beat him.

Damn men, ain't no worse than the ones in South Carolina. He can kiss mine that's for sho', Fine little thing my ass. Well I could flatten that prick like---

"Whatcha gonna do about him, Vanessa?" The sky was deep red.

"Nothing, Sarah." It poured through the window, bottles filled with blood.

"Wouldn't you just like to stomp on his skull until his brains squirted out? The keys on the register jutted out like a meat tenderizer.

"Yeah." Vanessa smiled. A bed. Satin sheets. Breeze, curtains restless. Old man.

"Why don't you, Vanessa?" Smile. Eyeballs. Flicker of desire. Snake tongue. Pure silky ivory thighs.

"No Sarah." Laughing. Devil laugh. Snake bite. Pain. Laughter. Sick joy-laughter.

"Come on, Vanessa, you know it'd do you some good." Done. Leaving. Dead curtains. Empty.

"Sarah! You know I can't. It just-it ain't right!" Spinning. Absorbed into darkness. Sleep.

"Alright Vanessa, if you say so, but you know I'm here and-"

"Sarah, just shut up.'

Sunday. The day where a good Christian will not work, devote the whole day to God by sitting around on their ass and praying for a better life.

I better get my Sunday steak. Vanessa smiled. She'd have to go to the slaughterhouse. Jung Li produced the bestmeats in the county. She put on her best dress, crushed red velvet, hugging every curve. Five inch black heels, bright ruby red lips, and legs that appeared to go all the way up. She brushed her hair in front of her dresser, above was a mirror hanging. Her mother gave the mirror to her just before she died, 14 years ago in South Carolina. She went to live with her Grandfather up her in Dwibe, but he died shortly after she arrived.

She stared into the mirror, watching the dilation of her pupils fluctuate. She smiled. Maybe I should bring some wine to Mr. Jung Li. For all the goodmeats he's cut for me this year. Yeah. A bottle of the best---

A piercing lonely wail interrupted her thoughts. So painful for Vanessa's ears she dug her nails into the dresser.

Every day. Every damn minute of the damn day. Stupid Ida and her stupid dog! Vanessa stomped outside onto her back porch and shook her fist at her neighbor's beast.

"Shut up! Shut up! One day you ain't gonna have lungs to howl like that you son of a bitch! SHUT UP!"

"Vanessa." Vodka. Constant breathing. Vodka. Resentment.

"Sarah I don't have time for this!" Transparent smile. Fake giggle. Strange man. Same devil laugh.

"Vanessa, you know that you can, well, dispose of that animal easily." Bad breath. Sweet oil. Sweet breeze.

"Sarah get real." Red eyes. Curved moon.

"Alright alright. Vanessa, one day you'll understand,"

The doorbell rang. Vanessa hurried to answer it. It was that strange and twisted man Ezquel, holding a bouquet of ragweed.

"Hi Miss Wood!" Ezquel looked down at his shoeless feet. Vanessa sighed and said:

"Honey, did you have a mamma?" Ezquel's eyes fixated on her breasts, squeezing out of the extremely low cut neckline.

"You look mighty perty today Miss Wood, say, who were you just talkin' to up in thar?"

"No one."

He clenched his hand tight around the ragweed. "Here, I picked these for you today myself." He shoved the ragweed out in front of him.

"Uh, thanks." She took the ragweed.

"Vanessa? I can call you Vanessa right?" Ezquel kept staring at her breasts.

"Yes." Vanessa started rubbing her temples. "What do you need." Ezquel spoke rapidly:

'Well, I wondered Miss Vanessa if you'd like to go to the Dwibe County Fairgrounds tomorrow with me. We could ride the carousal and eat cotton candy and make love on the ferris wheel-say! I heard Helga got fatter!" Vanessa shifted her weight to her right leg.

"Honey I'm just about to leave, so why don't you come to my store tomorrow and we can talk." Ezquel finally looked up from her breasts, his eyes lit up like a pair of those electric bug zappers.

"Okay ma'am, I will sure do that,. First I have to wash my shoulders and then I have to-" she slammed the door in his face.

My word. If that man does not get a mamma, I swear I'll ship him to Sri Lanka!

"Vanessa?" Rubbing bodies. Sweat of liquor. Breath of hell.

"Sarah, just shove it!"

Vanessa was well on her way to the slaughter house-prison in her little white car. It had become very dirty because she couldn't get Mervin to wash her car anymore. She smiled. Her mamma always told her that smiling wrinkles were better than frowning wrinkles, gives you a sort of an eternal happy look as you get older. She approached the slaughterhouse, her stomach wavered with excitement. Her anticipation of seeing Jung Li always made her giddy. She halted the little Ford, grabbed her wine and hurriedly walked inside. She passed hanging pigs and cow parts to the end of the corridor, then passed through a black door. He was sitting in his favorite Russian chair, in an English smoking jacket.

"Hi, my sweet Vanessa." He held the tips of his fingers together.

"Jung!" she breathed. "I brought you some wine. Pinot noir, I know you like it." Her heart fluttered rapidly.

"Why don't you.sit down." He motioned with his right hand toward the couch covered in angora. With willowy movements she walked over and placed herself.

"So how was your day, my beauty?" Jung asked and raised his eyebrows. She lit a cigarette. The angora must be new, but oh my, will it feel so good against my body!

"Fine," she said, "Just fine."

Whack! Whack! She hacked away at her veal ribs with the new meat cleaver, a "token of my love," he said. Vanessa's hair was a complete mess, her lipstick was rubbed completely off. She smiled, remembering the angoraWhack! She attacked the meat again. She hadn't eaten all day and this was such a special treat. He had told her that he had wanted to marry her. Take her away to some place in Montana and warm her little toes up by a fire. Vanessa imagined herself in a white gown, parading down the aisle with sparkling lights all around. It calmed her to think her future might be solidified. And children.

At around two in the morning a shrieking howl made her sit straight up in bed. Again, and then again.

Never ending, never ending. Why? How many times to I yell at Ida about that dog?!

"Vanessa" Anger. Horrible anger. Younger man. Says she ain't worth nothing. Nothing but trash.

"Vanessa" Evil red devil-eyed laughter. Bruises. Blood.

"Vanessa, the dog." The curtains wild. Wind. Laughter. Bloody satin sheets. Where's Madame?

The howling became more intense.

"Vanessa, hurry!" Snakes intertwined. Forked tongues. Everlasting pain.

Whack! Whack! Yelping. Whack! Devil. Whack! Laughter. Whack! Patches of fur. Whack! Curtains. Whack! Exasperated squeals. Whack! Toothy smiles. Whack! Blood. Whack! Vodka. Whack! Silence.