by Fay Moore © 2012
The halls smell like urine—stale urine, gone rank in the heat, ground into the cheap linoleum tiles laid decades ago when this building was new and this neighborhood was a good place to live. A wire cage surrounds the single light bulb illuminating the dingy corridor. Cecily pulls the door to the apartment shut behind her as she leaves. The soles of her shoes stick to the floor with every step.
Cecily cringes as she thinks of her mother, drunk and in the bedroom, lying under some guy. The grime in the halls doesn’t make her cringe. She’s used to that. She should be used to her mother’s whoring, too.
Her mother puts out for anyone who will pay her twenty bucks. She collects the money in an envelope in her dresser drawer. Momma always worries out loud about having enough money to pay the rent when the superintendent comes around. If the money isn’t there, the superintendent gets ugly. One time, when Momma didn’t have all the rent money, Cecily saw the man shove Momma to her knees. When he grabbed Momma by the hair of her head and fiddled with his zipper, Momma yelled for Cecily to run away, which she did. She made it to the bottom of the stairs.
That’s where she met Guido. He saw her crying and pulled her to safety inside his apartment.
Guido lives on the first floor. He’s older than Cecily by a decade. The apartment belongs to his grandmother, who has lived there forever. She’s got rent control, Guido says, so it doesn’t cost much to live there, so long as his grandmother doesn’t move away—or die. His grandmother is old, blind and crippled, so she stays in her room, playing funny sounding music from when she was young. Guido lives in the apartment, too. He sleeps on the couch. He takes care of his grandmother as best he can. He doesn’t have a regular job. He sells weed in the alley beside the apartment building, so he’s got pocket money.
To Cecily, Guido is fun. He takes her to the corner deli and buys her stuff. He tells her she is pretty. Today he says he has a surprise for her. He says he’s going to make her a star.
Cecily doesn’t believe him about the star thing. That’s just how Guido talks. He’s always making things up about what he’s going to do when he doesn’t have to take care of his grandmother anymore. He says he is going into business and make lots of money.
Guido shows Cecily the kind of car he’s going to buy when he’s rich by pointing to advertising banners on the sides of the city buses. He wants a black Chrysler 300 with spinner hubcaps and leather seats. Cecily thinks it’s funny because Guido doesn’t have a driver’s license. Guido says he doesn’t need one: he knows how to drive. Cecily knows he steals cars sometimes to earn a few bucks.
When Cecily reaches Guido’s apartment, he’s excited. He has set up extra lamps without any shades on tables around the sofa. The room is really bright with light. He’s talking fast about making movies and selling them on the Internet. He tells Cecily he’ll pay her to act in his movies. She’ll be captured on film, forever young, like Halle Berry or Jennifer Hudson. She listens to him, thinking this is more of his big talk. Then he brings out a small digital video camera and sets it on a makeshift camera stand. He explains that all Cecily has to do is take off her shirt, then her pants, then her underwear while he takes her picture. He’ll pay her twenty bucks.
Cecily isn’t listening to Guido any more. In her head, she is seeing her mother down on her knees, crying out for Cecily to run. Cecily listens to the words of her mother and runs out of Guido’s apartment. She doesn’t know where she’s going, but she doesn’t look back.