Pitchfork After Scythe – Gabriel Hart
October 25, 2021
I’m in town for a funeral, sharing a faded-pastel California hotel room with a divorcee grandma and a prostitute; good thing, because they’re two of my best friends, so instantly we fill the dead-air with life and irreverent laughter.
“Wait, so you’re like, really a prostitute now?” I ask, making sure I heard her correctly.
“Well, not really,” she says. “Okay, I mean… the first time I fucked him he paid me three-grand, but now he just gives me a couple hundred bucks whenever I sleep with him out in Vegas where he lives. You know, whenever I need the money.”
“Got it. I stand corrected,” I say, changing the subject. “What about you, hottest 43-year-old grandma of all time? How’s your daughter? How’s your daughter’s daughter? More importantly, how’s your separation going?” Despite her tight Peggy Bundy leopard-print pants and flattering black sleeveless top that makes her appear infallible, we’re here to lift her up a bit through her unraveling. I’m legitimately sad for both her and her soon to be ex, even after that one night I choked him out; but that was long before I really started to like him.
“Ugh, it sucks,” she says. “Honestly, I feel so bad for him. But I’ve just had it with him trying to control my life all the time. That’s actually why I know this hotel – I’ve been staying in these kind of cheap hooker hotels now so I can stay away from him…”
She doesn’t realize how funny it is until me and the other girl start cracking up.
“… no offense, sweetheart. I dunno, I just love these kinds of hotels…”
“Like, to slum it up a bit?” I ask.
“Yeah, exactly. It’s just so…” She scrunches her nose, smirks. “Trashy, you know? Oh my God I fucking love it…”
She looks at me and we both start dying of laughter, because the last time she said that exact same thing was twenty years ago when she was divulging explicit details of something I’m praying she’s moved far past because I no longer have the gag reflex to hear that kind of devolved fetish.
She exhales. “No, not that. Just for adventure’s sake. Harnessing my independence, you know, where no one can find me…”
“Wait, is he gonna get mad I’m here? That you’re with a guy? Not like with a guy but that there’s a guy with you, you know what I mean…”
“No, don’t worry about it. He’ll never know. I just need my friends right now. I fucking miss you guys…”
We’ve known each other since we were kids, so it’s like we’re teenagers again. The grandma and I each claim a bed. We lie on our stomachs, facing each other from each mattress, catching up rapid fire, reciting epic cliffs notes of our aging existential malaise, our fists in our cheeks so we smear our mouths into smiles. Our other girl is taking a shower. She comes out with a towel around her, but just causally lets it fall past her chest when she snuggles up with grandma, who is now cracking up.
“Honey, put some damn clothes on!” It’s a fickle scold because she can’t stop laughing.
“Ugh, whatever,” she says, towel slipping further so she can enjoy the air conditioning dry off the rest of her.
We’ve all seen each other naked, so it’s nothing — only both women have aged incredibly well so it makes a renewed impression on me. The grandma became a stripper when we all moved to L.A. twenty years ago, so we are long acclimated to her flesh on display. The other girl and I have slept with each other more times than we can count, because it went on for way too long, yet we meant it every time; because we’ve been friends since we were kids, and friends are supposed to love each other fiercely and profoundly especially when words fail, even when you both know it might end up mutually confusing.
But that’s not what we are doing here right now. We are here for a funeral and we must focus.
But the more I concentrate on the weekend of mourning, the more bad news I uncover. Like how the one male friend I reach out to, to see if he’s attending the funeral tomorrow, turns out to be the guy who stole thousands of dollars from our dead friend’s business, sending her and her husband on an economic downward spiral that may or may not have contributed to her eventual death. It obviously didn’t help. I’m out of the loop and at this point I’d like to stay out, so I’m sticking with just the girls tonight to numb ourselves before the service tomorrow. I feel somehow protected with them, in a symmetrical bosom of safety as we hit the pavement in search of elusive solace.
But this is how it always is: me, walking into a bar with two or more women, just one of the girls — so any suitress is likely to think I’m either gay, a pimp, or spoken for; repelling any potential romantic opportunities simply because I prefer the company of women. I keep telling myself I must alter this one day if I’m really going to settle down. My friend who’s not a prostitute is wearing this black slip-type dress with white-lace trim around the deep wide bust; it could easily pass for lingerie. Every girl in the bar compliments her outfit – sincerely, not bitchy, wishing they had her guts. Meanwhile, grandma insists on buying the three of us drinks all night, aggressively matriarchal, yet a saint nobody deserves, so her unfolding divorce makes complete sense.
And just like that, we’re nobody, because grandma has somehow disappeared, and my other girl and I are back at the hotel. We are hanging outside, smoking, drinking, commiserating with a black gangster kid, trading war stories between cultures, finding out we do a lot of the same shit when no one is looking. When he eventually pedals off, it seems she can’t wait to tell me about how it is, about her life in Vegas when she needs the money.
“I mean, are you sure you need to do that?” I ask.
“Dude, totally,” she says in utmost confidence. “It’s so much better than a relationship. I’m exclusively fucking for money from now on…”
I laugh, then feel bad for laughing. “I still don’t get it. I mean, I trust you and want to be supportive of your prerogatives, but I’m obviously concerned…”
“Think about it,” she says. “Yeah, it’s transactional but you don’t get all the bullshit. He pays me, it’s done. There’s no head games, no power play, no obligations, no fucking boredom… Honestly, I feel less taken advantage of by a man who wants to pay me for one night of sex than a guy who just wants to ruin me slowly over the years.”
“Damn, that’s fucking sad. Not that you are sad, but I guess I feel sad that it’s almost starting to make sense to me.”
“Dude, I mean, I am sad, but at least I’m sad and making fucking money. Most guys I’ve been in relationships with have just fucking drained me, financially and emotionally. Not you, but most guys have.”
It’s the first time we had ever acknowledged whatever on and off thing we had all those years ago might have been an actual relationship, and it’s clear neither of us can take the pressure of that suggestive, suffocating moment. But I don’t want the moment to end because I’m swelling with pride that maybe I treated her okay compared to other guys.
“Are we out of cigarettes?” she asks, breaking the silence.
“Looks that way.”
“Here, give me the keycard,” she says. “I’ll get us smokes and I’ll meet you back in the room.”
I didn’t matter that I passed out because I’m now awoken from her slamming our hotel room door upon her re-entry.
“Did you hear any of that, out the window? Right there in the parking lot?” she asked, near hyperventilating.
“Uh, no? Is everything okay?”
“No, it’s not okay.” She’s almost crying now. “Some guy pulled up into the parking lot, cut me off my path, leans out his window and asks me if I’m a prostitute.”
“Fuck. I’m so sorry. What’d you say?”
“Well, I told him no! Of course I told him no. Ugh, so disgusting. I feel so gross.”
“Well, you know you’re not gross. You’re beautiful,” I tell her as she sits down on the edge of my bed, I guess our bed now. I almost tell her “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” but it sounds horrible in my head, doesn’t sit right, and I feel words beginning to fail again. Instead, I draw her close; she is crying. My first instinct is to make love to her right there, to prove she doesn’t need to sell herself, that this love is and always has been free, but then I realize she’s worth far more than three-grand, far more than I can ever afford, and I’m paralyzed by a feeling of utter inadequacy.
Instead, I do a sort of wrestling move, flipping her over to my left side. Where once I was among her incubi, right now I just hold her tight, literally squeeze the hell out of her until I hear her snore, then close my own eyes, knowing we need all the rest we can get if we are going to properly send off the dead. Focus.