Poetry and Prose
Lying to Strangers as Art and Occupation
By Zoe Rose
Today she was going to be a wife. Yes, that was what she decided- she’d tell the good tourists stretched out on the shore that they were newlyweds, sweet young newlyweds that needed gas money to get home from a bad honeymoon. That could go well, really well even. Newlyweds could attract a great deal of sympathetic donations.
Would she be pregnant? No, that may offend good taste. An aspiring mother, perhaps. She could make them see it in her bright little eyes. Every last piece of change to spirit two nice people back to Minnesota or Ohio (depending on what hometown team blanket they were laying on) to start a wholesome little family and put this blip of a predicament behind them.
It’d be better than yesterday. Yesterday she had said her boyfriend ditched her in their motel room, leaving her broke and desperate through no fault of her own. Three hours to get $50 and a few pitiful glances, but more often came the head-shaking and insults. She couldn’t stand the insults. Telling her she’s a leech, scum. Like she didn’t already know.
She told him the plan as they sat on the edge of their open van and waited for the beach to fill. It was clotted with cars and the gleaming skin of people who don’t often see the sun well before noon. They’d go together. They’d look best going together.
He clipped her only nice piece of jewelry, a beaded necklace she couldn’t help but hand over a crumpled five for at a fair, around her thin neck. Some days it’s best to make their chronic poverty apparent, but today called for looking only temporarily lacking of funds. Her cheap cover-up, his thin band shirt. They did their best with it.
And she was right. $127 “for getting back home, kids”. She marked the biggest bill, a ten from an older lady dressed completely in the crisp, bright seaside wear they market in the outlets, with the dark red she always painted over her lips. He said they ought to go out for dinner; they deserved a small luxury.
He had to swallow back the tint of regret in his tone. Of course all he wanted to do was give the love of his life everything the world had to offer. But, for now, he could surprise her with conditioner from the drugstore down the street. He would wrap it up in discarded newspaper to make it a real present, a Santa Claus for the necessities.
Funny how so many things they thought were essential, contacts and closed-toe shoes and concealer, they had had to forsake and, to their total surprise, had managed to survive without. They could still be presentable in a beach town with their salty hair and dirty-burned skin. Anywhere else and they’d be looked at. But not here, never here.
Passing them on the street- her skipping and twirling ahead to the restaurant, him calling out after her- one wouldn’t be faulted for thinking they were young, vagabond lovers. But that’s the kicker, they weren’t. They’d been living out of a broken-down van by the sea, far removed from any relatives or friends, for nearly a year.
Small diner, always open. Big “help wanted” plastered on the hostess stand. Desperate enough for extra hands that they might even hire them. She straightened his hair in the bathroom and pushed him into the manager. He was so happy to get two young people looking for honest work that he comped their meals. No interview, even. Come back in the morning, 7 AM. A new shirt for him to work the dishpit, a clean-pressed apron for her to help wait tables.
They aired out their very best clothes, their Sunday clothes, out in the windy dark as they washed up in the waves. Too many thoughts, too hopeful, swirled. They didn’t dare speak them, as if it would jinx them from being real. But she knew and he knew and that was certainly enough.
And they knew what they’d be tomorrow.