A grainy Saturday morning, and yesterday’s newspaper flaps past the dented metal doors of The Cockpit. The hour is early – not too early for a green-jacketed dog-walker huddled in her collar, but not yet time for the suit in the alleyway to turn away from pissing against the wall of the club and head home.
An hour passes.
Traffic starts to sound in the nearby streets, an alarm clock of sorts. The main doors crack open. Girls emerge, tottering to their taxicabs, ushered home by minders who know nothing of chivalry. They exit one by one: sallow, young, worn, smiling. They go by names like Jazz, Honesty, Chardonnay, Hope, and they look tired.
Men follow, still rubbing their noses and sniffing. Ties loosened and eyes staring, they scramble: tuxedoed cockroaches. In a few hours a couple of them will spoon cereal into their toddlers’ mouths, present their wives with bouquets to mask their own stench.
And right about now, Gina should appear out front, her cat-eye sunglasses her only defiance against the daylight. Stepping out into fresher air, she’ll cock her head on one side and light her cigarette.
The boss is the last to leave. He closes up, chain and padlock, and lapel fur bristles against his five o’ clock shadow. He pats himself down, chest pockets full of wads thanks to the girls, and beeps his Mercedes open. He nods through the windscreen at Gina as she crosses the road in front of him, but she doesn’t nod back. Instead, she strides off, fourteen blocks to her bedsit, where she’ll shower until the water runs cold, then collapse on her saggy mattress. If she dreams, she’ll dream about her son. Usually she dreams of nothing at all.
By the time Gina wakes again, the sun will have cast its low arc across the sky. She’ll smoke at the window, right elbow resting on her left hand as she watches the street below. She’ll sniff disdain at the orange film in the half-a-can of baked beans, but will upend it anyway onto butterless toast and hope that a minute in the microwave will be enough. Then she’ll dress in the same black uniform as yesterday, paint on the same black eyeliner, and make her morning journey in reverse.
Back at The Cockpit, the girls are getting ready for the biggest night of the week. One straddles her friend at the makeup counter, deftly sticking false eyelashes. Another stands topless, hip jutting, brandishing her blow-dryer like it’s a gun, and maybe she wishes it was. Gina pokes her head into the dressing room and the girls turn and wave, coo greetings. Gina smiles grimly at the powder and the perfume in the air.
“Tonight’s the last time I do this,” she mutters at no one in particular, and ducks back out to serve punters at the bar.
“S’what she said last week,” grins the girl with the gun.
This story was written as an inspiration piece for Mash Stories, a short story competition which gives writers 3 random key words or phrases, and a 500-word limit, to create their best pieces of flash fiction. The key words for this piece were: honesty – blow-dryer – cockpit.