My L.A. Jerry
by Jules Archer
Twenty-two when my husband tells me we’re leaving our vapid Iowa lives for the bright lights of Los Angeles. Traded his job in plastics out east for some job in plastics out west.
Buck leans in the doorway cradling ham hocks for elbows. Sweaty and apologetic and miserable.
I’ll never forget how my mother used to grab her thighs and show me the bundles of fat she thought were stored there.
“You’re a stand-up angel,” Jerry says, holding a lighter against the small of my back. I arch, gasping, taking it in, writhing against the passenger seat of the Cadillac.
When I’m done, I straighten up and breathe, “I wish you had a dick wrapped in razor wire.”
Jerry unzips his pants. Our last night together before I leave for California.
Nobody needs another salesman in Los Angeles. When my husband starts stuttering at the dinner table about the low wages and the dead end jobs, all I can think about is handing him a buttery dinner roll and suggesting he mop up the sweat on his brow with it. I’m bored here. I need a job. Need to find my L.A. Jerry.
Buck leaves me to the dishes and goes to do better and finer things, like perving in Internet chat rooms.
At the Museum of Death, I’ve landed a sweet front desk gig asking guests if they’d like to go into the Suicide Room or the California Death Room first.
I dust framed photos holding a colorful painting of the Seven Dwarfs by John Wayne Gacy. Polish a case containing letters from the Nightstalker, chicken scratch of an enraged scrawl bleeding down the page. The correspondence, the fine art of serial killers raised on high.
A steady supply of smelling salts is on hand. People faint by the baker’s dozen every week. I hash mark a tally on a small notepad on which room does them in. So far, the Mortician & Funeral Room is in the lead. Apparently staring caskets and body bags in the face is more than what they bargained for.
The girls come in groups, talkative and bushy-tailed. Eager and investigative, they maintain a respectful, yet loud, distance gawking at macabre photos and severed heads.
Most men who come lone it. Shifty-eyed, keep-close-to-the-walls, breathe-through-their-mouths men. I notice the ones who adjust their pants in the presence of the Black Dahlia morgue photos, the ones who surreptitiously wipe clammy palms on the thighs of their slacks.
They intrigue more than worry me. Those who would probably rather help you hide the body or see you in the trunk of their car before they ever join the ranks of what society considers normal.
Sharp and lean. I’ve noticed him, his weekly visits, his keen blue eyes. There’s a longing behind them, a quiet and careful wanting.
He brings a gift shop book to the counter. A glossy tabloid type detailing the seedy underside of Hollywood murders. “Anything else?” I ask. Shaking his head, he peels cash from his wallet. Deposits it on the counter as I ring up and wait for a receipt.
“No bag,” the boy says, and I stop. “For you.” Placing light fingertips on the book’s cover he slides it my way.
My husband grunts, shifting position on the couch, the cracked leather permanently molded to his ass. The air reeks of the leftover tuna noodle casserole he heated up minutes earlier, plate balanced precariously on his crotch. Frowning, he lowers the volume on the TV, noise from next door interrupting his rerun of COPS.
I glance up from the book, away from photos showing the severed torso of Elizabeth Short.
Breathy sounds filter through the thin walls of the apartment. They’re soft at first and then quicker, more insistent. Like love on speed dial. I shut my book, keeping a finger in its spine to mark my place. The tips of my husband’s ears go pink.
Leaning over, I mute the TV and we listen to the woman climax.
The boy is back with coffees. He slides a cup of warm comfort into my palm. Asks if I’ve read the book.
I say I have. I show him my tattered and dog-eared copy. He’ll wait for me after work, he says. There’s a drive needing to be taken.
My knee bounces in anticipation. Nothing says romance like a dismembered headless torso. I nod. With a smile and a drum of knuckles on the counter top he goes.
I take a whiff of a smelling salt just to be sure I’m still on this earth. My nasal passages burn.
We drive around Benedict Canyon listening to “L.A. Woman”. His voice is low and long like a Johnny Cash song. We park next to where Sharon Tate’s house used to be. She was so blonde and beautiful and pregnant. I shrug out of my underwear, knees, shins bumping the bottom of the glove box. The boy wants me to call him Charlie; instead, I think of Tex Watson before his gentle hand finds me in the dim light of the cab.
Jules Archer likes to smell old books and drink red wine. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, >kill author, Pank, The Butter, and elsewhere. She writes to annoy you at julesjustwrite.com.