Matt LeShay: Myra
I’ve known Myra for three years. We’ve become almost best friends. I live on a raggedy ass boat at a raggedy ass marina that offers nothing but cheap mooring to its raggedy ass clients who live on raggedy ass pension checks. When I say the marina offers nothing but cheap mooring, I should clarify that a bit.
Located a little over two blocks from Southern Florida’s cheapest marina is Southern Florida’s cheapest bar. (There’s always the exception. While cruising the Keys, I discovered a Tiki bar in Key Largo that would let you tie up to its dock and drink all the ice cold cans of Old Milwaukee you want. Buck each.) But I digress.
Southern Florida’s cheapest bar serves frosted mugs of whatever kind of keg beer they could buy on the downhill side of inexpensive, which is on the uphill side of ‘I’ll give ya five bucks to haul this shit to the dump.’ The bar is generous in passing along the savings to its customers. Usually, the price is seventy-five cents a glass. Once, the owner got ahold of some skunky Schlitz. But at thirty-five cents a glass, you could easily get used to the Schlitz... and the shits.
Speaking of bodily functions, the bar has a unisex restroom with a NBA urinal. What, you may ask, is an NBA urinal? It’s a regular urinal that some jerk-off hung three and a half feet above the floor. (Yeah, I know, ‘Hung’ is a bad choice of words when the subject matter involves peeing, urinals, or, with the exception of the 80’s Celtics, the NBA. Feel free to use whatever word you’re comfortable with.) I’m six one and can’t piss in the damn thing. You can always tell the guys who’ve tried. They exit the john rubbing their shoes on the back of their pants legs. Don’t know what’s worse, An NBA urinal, or one of those low handicap affairs where the splash back catches you mid thigh.
This type of bar always attracts shady people wanting to sell you something. Why do they do that? No marketing skill I guess. If the bar’s patrons could afford the things offered, they wouldn’t be drinking here. But the venders keep coming: wrist watches, portable TV sets, Boom boxes, rusty car trunks full of velvet Elvises and thorn embedded Jesuses. Take your pick. They both beg to be loved tender.
The merchants that people will count their change and do some creative math over are the cigarette sellers. A lot of the smokes come from South Carolina. Some don’t have Federal Stamps on them or have notices saying not to be sold in the U.S.A. The price of the cigarettes, like the beer, varies, usually a dollar a pack. And like the beer, you have no choice of brands. Once a huckster came through with little green packs of Marlboro Menthol. The packs looked like the kind that used to come in K-rations, four smokes per pack. The guy selling these terrible tasting coffin nails did so for a dime a pack. And we bought them and we bitched as we smoked every last one we bought.
Early morning, an old toothless Vietnam vet who said he was first burner at Da Nang Airplane patch in ’67 and had so much time in grade he pulled K.P. at the Last Supper, would burn up some S.O.S. which he served along with two eggs and a cup of coffee for a buck. He was there most mornings but who could blame him when he wasn’t. During the skunky Schlitz era, he didn’t cross the bar for three weeks.
Now where the hell was I... Oh yeah, I was going to tell you about Myra. Did I mention she’s self employed? Don’t think I did. But she is. Sales. I have a slovenly way of walking. I sort of drag my feet and look at everything but where I’m headed. I notice the passing cars on the street to my left, and the passing boats on the water to my right. As I’m meandering down the sidewalk inspecting cars and boats, this lady stopped me and said, “Hey, you gotta move a little faster. You’re screwin’ up my hustle.” And that was my introduction to Myra. There was nothing snooty about how she said what she said, unlike the cop who whacks you across the feet with his baton as you soundly sleep on a park bench. Now that’s snooty.
Myra was kinda cute but a little over the hill for anything but strolling. She works both sides of this two block street. From morning ‘till evening she is available for jobs. Both hand and blow. Anything else, she believes, is for amateurs.
Myra said all things being equal, meaning hitting the two stoplights in the two blocks, she’d have a satisfied customer, be out of the car, across the street, and headed back up the other side before the light changed with no time lost. In fact, time gained because of the ‘ride.’
Myra wore the same clothes every day, a sleeveless, shapeless, faded blue denim sundress, and a matching denim ‘boonie’ style hat with the front brim turned up, and pinned to the brim, Myra’s signature trademark, a fresh sunflower the size of a saucer.
As I turned into the bar, Myra followed. “What the hell,” she said. “Nothing happening till lunch hour traffic anyway.”
She was warmly greeted. Well, as warmly as the hungover can greet anyone at 9:30.
“Morning.” I said to the barkeep. “Got a beer for me? I’m afraid I don’t know my new friend’s name, but perhaps she’d care for one too?”
“Myra.” Said Myra. “And yours?”
“Myra and Marion.” She said. “Sounds like a Vaudeville team.”
And that’s how we became almost best friends.
Myra and I usually had a few beers most days during her slow time. When I’d see her on the stroll I’d make sure to pick up my pace passing her with a ‘Hey, Myra.’ To which she’d reply, ‘Marion.’ Giving me no outward attention, paying heed only to the traffic and potential customers.
During one afternoon break, after the lunch hour, but before drive home time, Myra came into the bar and sat down next to me with a sigh.
“Bad day?” I asked.
“Naw, bad night. Crack house where I stay got busted. It was just a matter of time.”
“Drag. Never figured you for a crack-head.”
“I’m not. It was just a place to sleep. Had my own room. Kept a padlock on it. Pretty safe until the cops came in and broke everything up. Didn’t have much. A few books, change of clothes. But I lost it all. Lucky though. I could have gone to jail. While Joe Cocker came in through the bathroom window, I was going out.”
“Where’d you spend the night?”
“Under the bridge. I’ll find something.”
“Be careful. Lotta shitheads out there.”
“Tell me about it.”
That evening after the drive homes drove home, Myra joined me again.
“Can’t find nothing.” She said. “Creep with a broken down school bus said I could stay with him. For considerations. ‘Spose if I worked at McDougals, He’d want free big Macs.”
“Or Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith; insider trading. Wanna stay at my place?”
“What’s the deal?” she asked without giving me a suspicious eye or any affliction to her voice.
“Well, I live on a boat at the marina. Not much of a boat. But it doesn’t leak, and it’s clean. You can have your own quarters, the ‘V’ cabin, your own head and share the shower. We split, or as best we can, the mooring fee and food.”
“What are you talking?”
“Mooring runs three ninety five a month. Food obviously varies.”
“Two hundred dollars a month, huh.” She thought a moment, then stuck out a hand. “Deal.”
Though I pride myself on keeping a tight ship, so to speak, Myra was meticulous. The communal salon and galley were spotless. The shower shined like a diamond in a goat’s ass. She even saw to the above deck. I’ve never been one for welfare, but Myra talked me into food stamps. Besides knowing how to turn a few stamps for a few bucks, she had a shopping skill next to none, allowing us a healthy diet beyond beer, cigarettes, and potato chips.
“Myra?” I said one evening, as we sat on the fly bridge drinking bad beer while watching a good sunset. “Got a favor to ask of ya.”
“It’s more of a fantasy than anything. I’d like you to go to work one day dressed like a stereotypical ‘daughter of joy’.”
“And how’s that?”
“Well, you’d wear thigh high boots, a bad imitation of a black leather mini skirt with a faux gold belt, a pink tube top, an over the shoulder small but long strapped carry bag, a little black ribbon around your neck, and the crowning touch, a dark beret worn at a rakish angle. Gaudy costume jewelry and overly done make-up would be your choice.”
“That’s your fantasy? I must say, you’ve certainly thought it through.”
“Yeah. Do you see something wrong with it?”
“Well, I guess not. Though don’t most fantasies usually have whips and masks in them?”
“I prefer a kinder, more gentler fantasy.”
“Didn’t I hear that around the time Bush 1 bombed the livin’ shit outta Bagdad?”
It’s amazing what can be purchased at a Salvation Army Store. After Myra was costumed, bejeweled, and made-up a la Tammy Faye Bakker complete with birth mark left of her lips, it was time for the stroll.
“And what ess eet you weel do Mon Ami?” Myra figured, and rightly so, that a French accent, or something that sounded to most Americans like a French accent, would be apropos.
“I, my dear Myra, shall be on the opposite side of the street observing the traffic observing you. Here.” And I presented her with a feather boa. “Wear this behind your neck and draped through both arms.”
“Merci, kind sir.”
God it was great. Live theater. Shades of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. Traffic had slowed down to a crawl. Drivers gawked to the extent of minor fender benders, mostly rear end taps. And of course the police came and asked Myra what she thought she was doing.
“Going to market, Mi amor.” She answered.
“Yes. Well, ah... could you do it ah little ah... ah you know ah... ah little differently?” ‘1 Adam 12, 1 Adam 12, 611 in progress’ the police radio squawked.
“Yeees!” Said the head cop, punching a fist in the air. “We gotta roll.”
“What ess eet monsieur?”
“No idea. It’s something they used to say on a bad TV cop show before crazily speeding off to protect and serve. Say will you be here tonight?”
Next, Channel 5 eye witless news drove by. They didn’t stop, but, their cameras were grinding away through the open sliding door and rolled down passenger window. When Myra crossed the street to stroll back, it was like the parting of the red sea. Jackstrawed cars all over hell.
Now that a proper gridlock was attained and more cops arrived to sort the mess, Myra headed home, changed into her regular work clothes complete with denim hat and sunflower, attended to a few jammed up cars, then joined me for a beer.
“How’s it going, Myra?” I asked.
“Strange accident, Bad accident.” One of the regulars said as he entered the bar. Car ran over somebody then dragged ‘em three blocks down the street. Guys in the car were so loaded they didn’t even know they’d hit anybody ‘till their car wouldn’t go any farther. They got out, looked under it, said ‘I’ll be damned,’ dragged the body out, and went on their way. Cops pulled the car over at the next light when they saw it was driving on two flat tires. I seen the body. Didn’t have a stitch of clothing left. Skin and hair completely ground away. Wouldn’t have known it had ever been a person. Nothing but a mound of... God, don’t think I’ll ever get that picture out of my head.”
“Male or female?” I asked.
“Male. Part of that part was still attached.”
Myra didn’t show for afternoon beer. Nor did she come home that night or the next. I called the police department and was told they couldn’t do anything until she’d been missing for three days. Then said, without saying, that since I wasn’t related and the lady in question was a lady of question, the serve part of the police federation’s motto, would more than likely not be served.
After a week, I went into Myra’s cabin on the boat. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. She said she’d lost everything in the crack house raid, and the clothes we’d gotten from the Salvation Army we took back, But hell, she could have at least said ‘Au revoir.’
“Good life to you, Myra.” I said to the empty V cabin.
“Got anything for me, Frank?”
“Gerty!” Said Frank, “Good to see you, and yes I do have something for you.” Frank and Gerty had been working together, if working is the proper term, for thirty years. The relationship started when Gerty had inquired of the county as to what was done with the cardboard urns that went unclaimed.
“Go see Frank down in the basement.” Said the secretary in records who could care less about urns, or for that matter, her dead end job.
Gerty introduced herself to Frank, who was in charge of the morgue, asking him the same question. “What do you do with the unclaimed ashes?”
“We just toss ‘em.” Said Frank.
“Toss them where?” asked Gerty.
“The road crew takes em. That’s all I know.”
“That’s not right.” Said Gerty. “Everybody deserves a decent burial.”
“I agree.” Said Frank.
And Gerty explained how she had quite a large back yard and with Frank’s help, but without any damn government involvement, Gerty would make a nice little final resting place with flowers, trimmed lawn and markers.
“Know what I could do?” said Frank. “Most of the John and Jane Does that end up here are identified. Fingerprints are taken and that gives us a name. We try to find relatives, but haven’t much luck. How ‘bout I give you the urns and a name.”
“That would be a godsend, Frank. Just you and me though, no bureaucracy, right?”
Over the years Gerty had lovingly tended to what she considered her duty. Whether her new friends had been the homeless, the criminal, or the mentally impaired, all received a decent respectful internment.
“Did you read about the fella that had been dragged by a car?” asked Frank.
“I did.” Answered Gerty.
And Frank passed over a cardboard urn. “Guy was originally from New York. I was able to track down his people. They said they wanted nothing to do with him. Said, and I quote, ‘Queer bastard can burn in hell.’”
“How can people be so cruel?”
“Don’t know, Gerty. I just don’t know.”
Gerty thanked Frank and made her way home. “I’ll give you a nice place on a little knoll under an evergreen.” She said to her newest friend. She dug in the earth then gently lowered and buried the deceased. Next she placed a wooden form at what she considered the head of the grave and filled it with quick-mix concrete which she smoothed then wrote the particulars Frank had given her: name, date of birth, date of death. When she was done she said a little prayer, then noticed the name again. “Ah,” she said. “I see you are Italian, and your name tells me which flower you wish to have, and I promise you shall always have this flower, Signore Sol Fiorella.” DSS
Matt LeShay, a mysterious writer who lives in Culebra, Puerto Rico, communicates through his friend whose email link is at a local library. In a previous edition of DSS he wrote that his work has been published in the San Juan Daily Star and Down in the Dirt magazine. He's also been a farmer.
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