Sunday, August 2, 2009
Short Story Sunday IX
A story that many women can relate to whether they want to or not.
THE CAMEL'S BACK
BY ROY L. PICKERING JR. Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.
"Shake it baby, shake it." "Honey, you got some serious back." "Girl, you got it going on." "I sure do like what your body language is saying to me." "How about giving me your number, sweet thing?" "Can I have some fries with that shake?"
Lawanda Jenkins marched steadily onward, avoiding eye contact with anyone. She valiantly tried to appear oblivious to the onslaught of howls, whistles, and grunts that greeted her. As usual she ignored each juvenile proposition issued in her direction, amazed that the hormonally over-charged Neanderthals she passed by considered their coarse remarks to be compliments.
How she hated walking past this construction site every morning. Unfortunately it was on the same street as the train station, so she had little choice. And even if she were able to avoid the construction workers, her problem would not be solved. She would still have to deal with leers from fellow subway passengers. Bike messengers who whizzed by as she walked to her office building would continue to shout lewd comments. Co-workers would still take lingering stares at her posterior when she bent over at the water fountain. The guy behind the counter at the deli would not cease his undisguised glances down her blouse, regardless of how little cleavage she had on display, as he handed her lunch.
It infuriated Lawanda to no end. But what was there to do? Ever since the onset of puberty at the tender age of thirteen, she had felt a prisoner to her body. The desert her chest had been suddenly became a mountain range, and her string bean figure transformed to a tantalizing hourglass. Initially she had been pleased by her new physique, but the pleasure turned out to be short lived. Lawanda quickly found that by developing the type of body that usually predestined a woman to the centerfold of men's fantasy magazines, nature had altered how she would be perceived without giving her any say. Her personality was banished, all thoughts or opinions ceased to bare weight. Nothing about her mattered, except the way she looked.
And she certainly was looked at. Everywhere she went men gazed intently, surveying the various impressive parts of her anatomy, appraising her body as if it was being auctioned off. As the years went by, Lawanda learned the ironic lesson that the more she was seen by others, the less she seemed to exist. Most everyone, other women not excluded, viewed her body without truly seeing her.
Lawanda did not passively accept her fate. Instead, she worked her tail figuratively off (literally it wasn’t going anywhere, just following behind her, attracting steel hard stares like bees to honey) in hope of being recognized for her achievements rather than endowments. She earned the highest grades at the finest schools, after which she entered the publishing industry, forsaking higher salaries that would have surely been earned in other fields so she could be closely involved with her greatest love - that of literature. The net result of her efforts was this. At the age of sixteen, she was seen as a great set of tits and ass in a prep school uniform. Now, nearly a decade later as a lower rung editor at a major publishing house in New York City, she was seen as a great set of T&A climbing the literary corporate ladder in a no-nonsense business suit.
The life of Lawanda Jenkins as she saw it was the crystal clear illumination of a single point. Men, first and foremost, always are, were, and will be pigs. If the construction workers' behavior wasn't a strong enough indication of this, then surely, the relationships she had endured were.
There was her stepfather, Roland Jenkins, who had been using her mother as an emotional punching bag for years, and whose interest in the daughter of his wife never quite managed to feel parental. Todd Hayes, the high school senior Lawanda dated when she was a freshman, foolishly allowed to first base, then watched her reputation get tarnished from his claims of making it all the way to home plate. In college there was David Sandler, who crossed the color line to proclaim his love for her, then crossed right back to get engaged to a lily white girl mummy and daddy must have just loved. Rick Hanson appeared to be everything Lawanda wanted, until she found out she wasn't the only one getting it. Not by a long shot. Most recently had been Tyrell Coleman; shy, introspective, sensitive, a younger man she believed she could mold in the necessary areas. Unfortunately, his roommate Brad molded him first, pulling him out of the closet and across country with him to San Francisco.
When her mother married Roland, Lawanda's life underwent some major changes. She was 14 at the time, as overwhelmed by his net worth as her mother was. One of the first things he did after becoming a member of their family was to take Lawanda out of public school and begin her education at topnotch private institutions. Always a bookworm, she greatly appreciated the improved quality of her education. As her mother saw it, the main benefit of the move was that Lawanda was now set in place to land as big a catch as her mother had. But when America's top one percent took a look at Lawanda's sensuously enhanced chocolate proportions, bringing her home to meet the folks was the furthest things from their minds. All they wanted was her body, and they proved to be no less crude in expressing this than the construction workers.
At twenty-five years of age she had heard one too many slurs, ignored one too many tongue wagging stares, dealt with one too many lascivious invitations, felt one too many uninvited gropes. The construction workers were the straw that broke the back of the camel.
"You got it, so you might as well use it."
That had been the advice imparted by her mother, a woman not lacking in physical attributes of her own. She believed she was following this directive in landing Roland Pearson. Observing their marriage from up close had taught Lawanda two valuable life lessons. The first was that class did not necessarily accompany money. Underneath his custom made wardrobe, Roland was a crass brute who considered everything, including people, to be for sale, subject to whatever abuse he saw fit to bestow upon purchase. The second was that love was more important than any physical possession, and a person should be loved for who they were, not what they had.
Unfortunately, Lawanda did not have the power to change the world and make others also think this way, not even her own mother. When men looked at Lawanda, they only saw what she possessed, after which they could care less about who she was. Their only concern was getting themselves some.
Lawanda's experiences had set her off on an evolution of opinions about the male of the species. She once thought swinish personality traits the domain of immature high school boys, until she discovered that the behavior wasn't outgrown once a diploma or even a degree was in hand. She had thought that prep school boys would be more respectful than the less affluent ones left behind, but learned the main difference was that the former had more money to spend on trying to get her drunk. At one point she was convinced that white men would treat her better than black men had, but came to see that jerks have no color restrictions. Even sweet, sensitive Tyrell (whom she had suspected of being gay from the start, but tried to change his mind before he could make it up) had not been much better than the rest, breaking up with her via email.
So here she was, twelve years since her training bra had become obsolete. In the time to follow, countless vulgarities had been thoughtlessly cast her way and her heart was repeatedly broken as each potential Mr. Right proved to be Mr. No Different Than The Rest. Something would have to change. Something needed be done.
By the time Lawanda arrived home that evening, she had a plan in place. No man was going to make her feel like a piece of meat ever again. She would take a stand on behalf of women everywhere. Like Rosa Parks, she would commit a simple act of defiance because she was too tired to stand the injustice any longer. Maybe her action would also have repercussions felt near and far. She would refuse to play the part of helpless lamb, turn the stares off of her and back onto the voyeurs, release the rage bottled up for so long. Her act would be a symbolic castration of the entire male sex. The recipients would be the most blatant of her tormentors - the construction crew.
Lawanda began preparing for her undertaking. First she removed a garment from her bedroom closet that she had bought but not worn to celebrate her last birthday. It was unreasonably expensive, beyond the limits of the strict budget she maintained by a good margin, but she had been unable to resist. The form fitting dress showed off her shoulders, Lawanda's personal favorite feature, not that anyone else ever noticed them. It also highlighted the portions of her anatomy more typically appreciated by the male of the species, and was a shade of red even a blind man would notice. Tomorrow she would accept no excuses for shyness. She wanted to illicit tongue hanging stares, every lame "compliment" and come-on that could be thought up. Lawanda would not focus out the lustful noise as she usually did. Instead, her response to it would be at the ready.
Lawanda unlocked the bottom drawer of her desk. From it she withdrew a cigar box containing the 45-caliber pistol given to her by Roland when she moved into her first apartment. "A pretty girl like you has to be able to protect herself,” he’d said about the most bizarre house warming gift. “You can never be too careful."
She examined the weapon in her hands, familiarizing herself with its size, shape, and weight. On first sight the weapon had terrified her. Just holding it, even with full knowledge that it contained no bullets, made her tremble. She tried to decline the gift, but as always, Roland was extremely persistent. It was strenuous enough for her to repeatedly refuse the checks he offered to help supplement her income. She would end up taking but never cashing them. Lawanda was determined to make it on her own, and would rather live paycheck to paycheck in a small apartment for the time being than accept generosity she was certain came with strings attached. The spending of Roland’s money was left to her mother, for she was married to him, so she was the only person who was supposed to be entangled in those strings. Lawanda planned to get rid of the gun immediately after receiving it, but never got around to doing so.
Holding the gun now, she was surprisingly calmed and empowered. The cold steel felt in her hands the way a pacifier must feel to a baby's mouth. Lawanda placed the weapon in her purse. Then she made herself dinner.
The following morning she checked herself out in the mirror, making sure that her hair was flawless, her make-up perfect, and that the dress she would be wearing outside of her home for the first time clung to her body just right. Ordinarily she felt ambivalent about such procedures. Her instinctive desire to look attractive conflicted with her knowledge that the better she looked, the more attention she would draw. Today though, attention was exactly what she craved.
Lawanda left her apartment and headed towards the construction site, as self-conscious as an Oscar nominee walking the red carpet cover by a million dollars worth of borrowed jewelry. Every man she sauntered by gaped and gasped as the beauteous vision in red glided past. She smiled back almost flirtatiously as she played the upcoming scene in her mind. It felt wonderful to flaunt the sensuality she had deliberately stifled all these years. Every sashay of her hips served to further liberate her mind.
There they were. Lawanda began to have second thoughts upon sighting the sweaty, helmeted men, and for a moment was on the verge of turning around and rushing back home. The moment passed. Lawanda adjusted the dress one last time, then headed in her sexiest strut towards her nemeses.
As she drew closer, one of the workers spotted her and alerted his cohorts. All work they were doing came to a halt. Lawanda reached into her purse and caressed the metal for reassurance. The gun had come to serve the role of security blanket.
She was a woman who rarely felt secure. Not even after she had moved out on her own for good, and was no longer the object of her stepfather’s constant, blatant, disconcerting gaze. Neither he nor any other man had ever physically harmed her. In this regard, she was luckier than many. But there were plenty of frightening situations that Lawanda had just narrowly managed to escape.
Certain guys seemed not to comprehend that the desire she inspired in them was not necessarily reciprocated. Although she dated quite selectively, a degree of fear inevitably surfaced during the times of fierce passion she inadvertently stirred. Some men had difficulty taking no for an answer, even when no hints had been given that any other response was to be expected. This was especially the case when they were made stupidly bold by alcohol. Unfortunately, there was no foolproof way to tell these men apart from the others in advance, just as there was no way for the construction crew to know how fed up she had become.
"Damn you look good, baby." "Come here girl, let me rock your ..."
No more offensive words. The time for decisive action had arrived. The men’s eyes grew wide as Lawanda's hand was swiftly withdrawn from her purse, and then thrust towards them. Any subsequent commentary was stifled when the woman who usually walked past with no reaction to their bawdiness, forcefully extended her middle finger into the air.
Lawanda walked on triumphantly. She had done it. She had put aside her years of lessons in proper etiquette and demonstrated precisely what she thought of their behavior. Lawanda Jenkins had shown them that she was no bimbo they could talk down to like a cheap hooker. She was a woman of class, elegance, refinement and style. And she wasn't to be trifled with.
She turned right at the next corner, heading towards the nearest pawn shop. Roland's words aside, security blanket or not, what Lawanda needed more than a gun was some cash. She had a dress to pay off.
x x x x
Inspired by Degas painting