Slut

By Dale M. Kushner

Poetics

rizzoRemember Rizzo from the movie Grease? The indomitable Stockard Channing played a smoldering hottie who rivals the perky Olivia Newton-John. We recognize the split: Betty Rizzo struts her T & A. Wholesome Sandy flaunts perfect teeth.

Back in the day Rizzo was called a slut, a word that even sounds dirty. Leap forward thirty-five years and we’d be her cheering squad. Sure, Rizzo boasted a fine rack and leaned toward the uncouth, but like today’s female protagonists, she had moxie and smarts. Think: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. Think: Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games. Think: Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. These characters have more in common with the brazen dames immortalized by Crawford, Stanwyck, and Davis than they do with the kittenish Newton-John. Fifty years ago, in The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan inspired women to stash their aprons next to their brooms and see what else the world offered. How would the prophetic Betty have reacted to what Elizabeth Hand calls the new Femininjas?

“Run!” I scream to my sister Michele as I shove a cop with a broken arm into a display of folded t-shirts. Michele bolts, darting around the Joskes Juniors section like a squirrel on speed, scrambling for an exit route. I shuffle back and forth in front of my cop, blocking, while her partner, a barrel-bellied bully, gives chase to Michele.

“Hold it right there, little girl,” he booms, which stops my sister in her tracks. Behind a table of tank tops, she glares at the cop, narrowing her eyes and puckering her mouth the way she does when she’s really pissed. No one calls her little, even though she is, and for a moment, I think she might jump the cop just like she does the boys at school when they tease her, a battle she always wins, but the cop lunges, sending her back into a tailspin of escape.

The weekday crowd watches without interference, their drama deprived faces grateful for an injection of excitement. A woman in a pink polyester tracksuit removes a bag of cashews from her purse and begins to snack.

“How do I get out of here?” Michele hollers as she knocks over a mannequin wearing a patent leather raincoat and hot pink galoshes.

“Through cosmetics,” I shout as my broken-armed cop whacks me with her cast, which catches me off guard and makes me wobble on my stilettos. She pushes me back, spins me around, then slams my arm up to my shoulder blade, just like Chuck Norris might, which normally I would think is way cool, but since I’m the one getting slam-armed, I’m not so impressed.

My snakeskin mini-skirt rides up my ass and my spiky studded belt pinches my belly against the table of Jordache jeans. “You’re hurting me,” I whine to the cop.

“Too bad,” she quips as she cuffs me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see my sister skittering around a rack of sundresses, her Mohawk a fin of stalagmites, while the bully cop hikes his waistline rounding a corner. Michele races past a stroller mom then disappears into the cosmetics department.

“She won’t get away,” my broken-armed cop says as she snaps the cuffs around my wrists.

“Yes, she will. My sister’s a really fast runner,” I insist as I turn back around to face my captor. She’s much older than I expect. Too tan for a cop. And for a split second I notice that she looks like my friend’s mother, and my mouth waters anticipating the snickerdoodle cookies she always makes when I come over.

“We’ll see about that,” she says, snatching me away from my snickerdoodle dream.

Just this morning, Michele and I start out like any other day. We eat Cheerios watching Scooby Doo, we argue with our step-mother Juanita about laundry (we never do it right), we practice our cartwheels in the back yard, we wreck the moped again, we hide from dad, we practice throwing our stars and stilettos against the garage door, Bruce Lee style, and we flat-iron our hair, all before 9am when we all leave for the day.

Dad drives a red Nissan sports car – one of those turbo-injected things that makes people drive like assholes. We’re not even two blocks out from the house and he’s already cussing some old man for driving too slow. I wonder if the old guy is on his way to the hospital, dying of some incurable disease. Or maybe to visit his cancer riddled wife. Or his daughter, dying from ebola. Or his son, back from some unholy place.

Dad swerves around the old man, flipping him the bird, and despite being labeled blind by the courts, a “disability” that only seems to flair when he doesn’t want his child support upped, it doesn’t hamper his driving, his dancing, or his ability to run three businesses. He also chainsmokes Virginia Slims, and I often think that if he didn’t smoke so much, maybe he might see better.

“Can we have ten dollars?” I ask him as we pull up to the mall.

He fingers a ten from his money clip and hands it to me. Michele and I worm out of the backseat. “I’ll pick you up at 8.”

“Ok,” I say looking at my Snoopy watch, crunching the numbers. Eleven hours to kill.

“What do ya want to do?” I ask Michele as we walk up to the mall.

She takes a pack of Marlboros out of her purse and lights one. “I don’t care. Grease?” she asks, exhaling.

I shrug as we walk inside the mall and head towards the dollar theater.

Sometimes, we spend all day in the theater watching movies. No one ever checks between showings, so we only ever pay once. It’s an easy way to kill time, and since Dad regularly drops us at the mall (he figures this is better than leaving us at home to our own devices), we always have a lot of time to kill.

Grease is our favorite movie of all time. We’ve seen it a gajillion times, and we can never understand why our brother likes Star Wars better, even though Hans Solo is a badass hottie.

After two viewings of watching Sandy become Apollonia, another one of our heroes whom we both model our fashion sense after, Michele tells me she’s hungry, so we head out.

The food court provides little entertainment. Only overweight taxpayers who color inside the lines. Michele orders some French fries and I get a Dr. Pepper.

“Now what to do you wanna do?” I ask Michele.

She rolls her French fry in ketchup, considering. “I’m bored.”

“Me, too.”

Six hours left to kill.

Author Ellen Parr once said, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

I contend that curiosity will land you in jail with a hooker from Pecos City and a donut lady who killed her good-for-nothing husband with a frying pan.

“You think anyone would notice if I take this?” I ask Michele as we peruse the clothing in Joskes. It’s a leopard print shirt that matches my favorite parachute pants.

Michele scans the perimeter. “Nah. No one’s looking.”

I snatch a large plastic shopping bag from behind an unattended register and shove the shirt, still on the hanger, into it.

Michele hands me a belt.

“Cute,” I reply, then stick it in the bag.

By the time we’re done, we have two bags full of clothes still on hangers, and we head towards the exit to conquer another store. As soon as we step foot outside the threshold, the cops jump out as us, sending us running back into the store.

My cop, the one with the broken arm, catches me immediately. Michele manages to make it all the way across the mall before the bully snags her.

“How old are you?” My cop asks as she rifles through our purses.

“Fourteen,” I sniffle. “She’s twelve.”

The bully cop laughs. “Sure you are.”

My broken cop pulls a paycheck stub from my purse. “Gotta be sixteen to work. Let’s take em in.”

“But I promise, I’m fourteen. Please, we won’t do it again. Don’t take us to jail.”

“Honey, you girls shoulda thought about that before you crammed a thousand dollars worth of stuff into those bags. Anything over a thousand is a felony.”

My face drops. A felony. I’m a felon. Will they give me the needle? The chair? Will I be forced to eat eggs like Cool Hand Luke? Or work the chain gang in these stilettos?

Cuffed and crying, the cops parade us through the store, an example for all the preteen bystanders, and escort us into a police car that smells like hamburgers.

“What will mom think,” I whimper to Michele as we head out of the parking lot, the mall becoming a shadow behind us.

Michele erupts, a volcano of sorrow and snot. “What will Jenny think?”

Jenny is our dog.

I wind my finger around hers, a gesture that provides little comfort on a day that started out like any other day.