Paul debut's with...
“But mommy, I don’t want you to go. I don’t like him.” The little girl’s eyes were round and big. She was sitting up in the small motel bed. She looked too serious to be five years old.
The woman sighed. Jesus, why tonight? Why now? The guy was waiting out in the small living room/kitchenette. She could hear him pacing through the thin door.
“Sammi, we’ve been through this before, c’mon kiddo. I’ll be right in the next room. Momma’s gotta work.”
Sammi knew what she meant. Sometimes five isn’t so young anymore.
“Mommy, I don’t like that man, he scares me.”
Leave it to a kid to cut the bullshit.
The woman brushed a stray lock of thin blonde hair out of the little girl’s eyes and kissed her on the forehead. She took her time, felt the girl’s warm forehead tremble through her lips.
“For Christ’s sake, c’mon in there.” His voice was sharp, impatient.
It was the guy. She didn’t know this one’s name, it was better that way. She didn’t charge by the hour but he was getting tired of waiting. She could hear his heavy footsteps pacing back and forth.
The little girl sniffed. She was trying hard, the kid was tough. She was five going on forty but she was still only five. Her mother reached out and pulled the little girl half out of the thin covers and hugged her as tight as she could.
Gloria’s lip shook. She knew if she sniffled she’d lose it. Right on the edge. If she lost it, the kid would too. Gotta suck it up. Life gets that way; God knows it makes you hard but you’re never tough enough for this.
She made herself push Sammi back into the bed, it felt like peeling off her own skin. Then she pulled a smile out of somewhere and showed it to the little girl so everything would be ok. It wasn’t, but at least they could pretend again. Sammi smiled back, her own a miniature version of her mother’s. It must have run in the family. Gloria ruffled the little girl’s hair and stood to go.
"Luv ya, pumpkin.”
The little girl sniffed one more time. “Luv you tons, mommy.”
The woman paused in the doorway and watched her little girl burrow back into her blankets. Her head settled down on the thin motel pillow. Gloria pulled the door closed behind her.
As soon as the door clicked shut, the little girl’s eyes shot open. She spent the next half an hour pretending she didn’t hear the noises coming from the other room. She didn’t know what they were but they scared her. She only knew that when they stopped she could have her mommy back and the bad man would be gone. It was enough for now; she closed her eyes and fell asleep.
When he finally left, Gloria opened the door and crept back in to check on her. She saw Sammi was asleep and collapsed into the armchair next to the window and just watched her breathe.
The eyes she recognized from pictures of her own mother. The nose she remembered from Sammi’s father. Gloria couldn’t help it, she started to cry. She fought to keep it quiet so the little girl wouldn’t wake up but it didn’t work.
Sammi rolled over awake; she heard her mommy crying. She saw the door was open and knew the man was gone. She unwrapped herself from the tangled blankets and dangled her feet onto the cold floor then ran to her mother sitting in the brown chair by the window. “I love you, mommy,” she said as she wrapped her arms around Gloria’s waist in a hug.
Gloria wiped her eyes with the back of a hand and faked a grin. “I love you too, pumpkin.” She pulled the girl up into her lap and held her tight to her chest. Sammi snuggled into her mother’s arms and soon was asleep again. Safe and warm.
The tears came again but quietly this time; from somewhere different. A softer calmer place. Gloria kissed the girl gently on her forehead. Her heart overflowed with too much to feel all at once. It wasn’t a lot but it was all she had and it was enough to get her through another day.
Paul Newman's most recent published stories appeared in: Ethereal Tales May/10, Midnight In Hell March/10, and Beat To A Pulp Feb./10. If you're interested, you can find a few more stories on his website http://www.logicalvoodoo.com/.