The Story of a Sex Worker

August 19, 2004

Florida Part II

I left my Dad and walked into Zowie's bedroom. I found Zowie lying on the bed, held tightly under the covers. The air in the room seemed stale and old. Zowie really did look bad without make-up. She had puffy, sagging eyes as if she hadn't slept for weeks. I could see wrinkles on her face that I had never seen before.

"Hey, Zowie," I said loudly, as lively as I could sound.

"Shirley, right?" she replied.

"Yes, it's Shirley."

She turned her head slightly and tried moving her arms above the covers but she was having trouble.

"What the hell do you have to be so tight under the covers for? Let me help you."

I lifted the covers and exposed her thin frame. She usually wore elaborate dresses and suits. Now she was wearing a faded blue nightgown. Her thin body almost seemed a part of the bed.

"I don't know why the sheets are so tight," Zowie said. "Joy tucked me in. You ever think I gave my daughter the wrong name?"

I laughed.

"I thought if I gave her the name she would begin acting like it but I think it had the opposite effect." She pulled hard at the hair on the side of her head. "Do you know when she's in here she whispers everything she says? I can't hear her half the time. This isn't a hospital, this is my house."

I sat on the bed next to her and looked at myself in the large oval mirror over the dresser. I almost shocked myself with my smooth skin and lively eyes. I was a monster of youth compared to Zowie.

"It's a helluva thing, lying in bed all day. Thank God I'm going when I am because I saw on the TV that the aliens have landed."

"What's that?"

"The aliens. They've come to take over the world. I'm too weak to fight them so I'd rather go the way I'm going."

I looked to the left of the bed. There was a stack, almost as high as the bed, of tabloid magazines. In the past couple of years she had gotten a subscription to three of them. She read them all cover to cover. As she got older she started believing every word printed inside. One Christmas it took all our might to keep her from going to New York City because she had read that Jesus had been spotted on 42nd street. The belief was a symptom of her old age but the stories just made her crazier.

"I'm surprised there's nothing in the paper about it. It's all over TV. I guess the news media is letting TV cover this story."

"It will be all right," I said.

"I suppose. I'm almost sorry I won't be around to see it."

She began coughing deeply and rapidly with a heavy gurgling in her throat and I was about to get my mom when it stopped as abruptly as it had started.

"Though maybe it's better if they blow up the whole planet," she said. "It's going to hell. It needs some mushroom treatment." She looked at me with a stern underbite. "You didn't tell me you had become a policewoman."

"A policewoman?"

"I saw it on TV. Ralph Ellroy from the complex brought over a tape and said he wanted to show me your new line of work."

"Jesus Christ."

"I'll say."

I played a cop in one of the "Jenny Highsmith Adventures" movies. I used my handcuffs to chain Harry Fidelman to the bed. I was supposed to have caught him robbing TV's and VCR's from the Hollywood hills neighborhood.

"It's fine if you want to be a policewoman. But I don't think it's right for you to be screwing criminals."

"I'm sorry," I said.

"As well you should be."

"You shouldn't have had to see that, Grandma," I said. I never called her Grandma.

She had another coughing fit. I waited for it to stop and then I walked out of the room.

"Damnit," I said to myself.

I went back into the living room where my mom and dad were sitting in silence.

"My God, Shirley, you look terrible," said Joy. "Is Zowie all right?"

"She's fine. She's doing fine."

"Are you all right?"

I didn't answer.

She stood up. "Here, come with me," she said and grabbed my hand. She led me to a small den next to Zowie's bedroom. There was a big TV and VCR in the corner that my mom and her brother had bought Zowie for her birthday a few years before.

I sat on the couch. My mom sat in a rocking chair.

"I didn't want to talk about this in front of Phil," she said. "I have a feeling Zowie told you."

"Told me."

"That she saw one of your movies."


"I thought so. She called me two weeks ago yelling about how you had started working for the police. At first I didn't know what she was talking about but then I figured it out."

"Why didn't you tell me?" I said. I was shocked by the sad frog in my throat.

"I didn't want to trouble you. It's been very hard on her."

Jesus Christ, I thought, I killed my grandmother.

"Mom," I said. "I don't think it's right for me to be here."

"Sure it is. Zowie's still happy to see you."

"I've seen her. She's seen me. That's what I came here for. I think I should leave."

"But you just got here."

"I don't want to be here anymore."

My mom paused and thought. "Maybe it is better if you leave for a little while. Mitch said he refused to come if you were here."

"Fuck Mitch."

She frowned at me. "He said people make fun of him at work. He says that his kids, your cousins, also get teased."

"Mom, why are you telling me this?"

She looked down. She tried to hold back a slight grin but her mouth twitched and remained a smile. Goddamnit, she was enjoying herself.

"I'm leaving," I said and headed for the front door.

My bag was sitting, untouched, by the front closet. I picked it up. My father was making another drink in the kitchen. I could hear Zowie's faint coughing coming from the bedroom. My mother remained in the rocking chair. I walked out without saying good-bye. No one called after me.

When I got to Bernard's the following day I felt like a person who had gone on vacation and realizes when they get home that they like it there just fine. Doing a couple of fuck scenes got my mind off of Florida and family. Out with the old and in with the nubile. My new family helped me forget about bad relatives past.


  • At 11:32 PM, Blogger Vadergrrrl said…

    Your family was wrong to treat you like that, and Im sorry they did. They should be proud of the amazing person you turned out to be. Your awesome and amazing, a true star and survivor. Your also one hell of a writer. When your book comes out one day, we will see how fast your "old" family kicks you out the door.

    I would be honored and proud to have you in my family.

    Big Hug

  • At 1:57 AM, Blogger Johnnie Walker said…

    I've never understood why it's OK for the governor of California to mow down 60+ cops in a movie like "Terminator," but it's not socially acceptable for two (or more) consenting adults to have sex in a movie.

  • At 5:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    People like Ralphie make me wish I were a tough guy. If so, I, and my two goons would walk into the complex and have a little discussion with Ralphie about what it means to "mind your own business."

    Alas, I am not a tough guy.


  • At 1:04 PM, Blogger Reza said…

    F*** 'em. You are on the right side; manifestations of evil with bibles in hand: crazy...
    I loved every single word. You are such a powerful writer. I'm envious. I'm getting used to deal with them more like a piece than a simple diary.

  • At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    For cripes sakes...WHO takes a sex movie tape and shows it to his mother? What the hell did he think he would accomplish by that?
    Fuck, what a prick.
    I am so sorry.
    ~sending warm thoughts and prayers to Zowie~

  • At 10:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Mowin down cops is ok, havin sex in a movie is ok, its all fictional stuff. Thats my view. I feel sorry for zowie, it sounds like she grew up in a crap family. I am glad I got the family I got, I have poeple who love me.

  • At 10:53 AM, Blogger Zoe said…

    I enjoy your writing very much. ...so sorry to hear about this w/your family. I am hiding what I do from mine also... I can only imagine how I would feel if they found out and treated me badly for it. hugs...

  • At 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ...many people in american culture are hypocrites and very afraid of sensuality:

    conditioned by violence on the news and the ramblings of churches representing the 'voice of g0d' --- the average american do not have any
    knowledge nor any intent to learn about sensuality on any level other than 'having sex' and even that falls into the rather juvenile category of high school giggles and snickers by s0-called mature adults or the other extreme of condemnation and gossiping a la high school once more.....

    we all need to understand what shirley writings reveals about american culture and any culture that does not want minds and bodies to have total understanding of their sensuality and sensuality overall..... we are possessed with the birthright of sensuality and as such possess the inherent right to pursue this sensual birthright as we deem fit for us as individuals.....

    moronic hypocritical bullshit thrown by those in fear of blow jobs and cum shots and taking it in the ass are the same morons who sit before fox news and cheer and smiles at the death toll of the iraqis....

    i live currently in montreal and i find that with a legal age of consent at 15 and a lower pregnacy rate than in the united states due to the education provided within the school systems -- a people that are moving towards progress versus stagnant and dead moral laws against sensuality except when used to sell useless products such as food: beer: overpriced cars: and shitty hollywood movies that only perpetuates narrow mindness about sensuality....

    thank you for the story shirley and thank you for bringing to my mind the reason i left the states....

  • At 6:50 PM, Blogger John Psmyth said…

    Ah. As Groucho once said: "I'm a dreamer. Montreal?"

  • At 12:57 AM, Blogger Sean from DocintheBox said…

    shit that sucks, Ralph needs a visit from Tony in the Soprano's. I've gone home a few times when I felt like a stranger before but your story takes the cake. Take care, great writing

  • At 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    John Astor, upon returning from Boston, was aked by a reporter what he had done there.

    Left of course, it is the only resonable thing to do when one finds ones self in Boston.

    A different time and place, but you have good company.

    Mr M


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