Tag Archives: au

Little Pink Riding Hood

It’s raining outside- that heavy Chicago late-summer rain that ruins shirts and hairdos, knocks down branches and floods gutters and sewers.

All along Belmont, folks huddle in doorways, pressed against buildings and hopping from shelter to shelter. A hat rolls by in the street, with a young man in skinny jeans chasing it. Inside, The Pink Mink is full of the usual crowd; Hazel sneaking out from the kitchen for a quick kiss-and-grope with Andi whenever Andi finds time between shaking those arcane cocktails, Jen telling no-shit-there-I-was stories about the U of C parties last night, purple-haired Mariah in swooning over some girl she probably hardly knows.

I’m feeling pretty flush myself. I just got paid, rent’s not due for two weeks, and I picked up a little side work for the weekend fixing a car for a friend of a friend.

All of which explains why there’s a bottle of Scotch on our table instead of the usual pitcher of beer, half paid-for by tips from the drag show and half comped by Andi according to some arcane formula. And the bottle of Scotch, well, that explains why I don’t pay much attention when the door opens and closes a few times, letting in a gust of sodden leaves each time.

The Mink is one of my favorite bars, especially on nights when I’m feeling at the top of my game. The show went great and I’m finally feeling like one of The Boys, for real, not just the ringer they called in one night six months ago when their guitarist flounced off over some imagined slight.

Something Jai says makes everyone laugh and I join in, even though I missed the joke while I was pouring. It doesn’t matter, really. What matters is being here. I spill a little, laugh, lick the Scotch off my fingers. “Not gonna let it go to waste,” I tell Mitch, and pour for him.

“Daaaaayum,” Tay says appreciatively. Ze’s not one of the Boys, not officially, but ze’s a good hand with electronics. And George — Georgia, in her street clothes — laughs that smoky-deep laugh that drives me almost nuts enough to in and ask her out, except I worry, sometimes, that she might be a keeper.

I set the bottle down, wiping a stray drop off the neck. Pick up my glass. Lean back in my chair and follow Tay’s gaze, because Tay has an eye for beauty.

Apparently Malibu Barbie just blew into town, tanning-bed tan and blonde hair and high heels, tiny waist, pink pencil skirt and all. She doesn’t even look at the crowd, not really. Just sashays up to the bar and waits for Andi’s attention like she’s used to getting attention wherever she goes.

On second thought. I want to describe it as a sashay. But there’s an off quality to the walk, a sort of broken-marionette stiltedness.

I raise an eyebrow, catch Tay’s eye. “Little girl lost, y’think?”

“Tch. Maybe she’s on her way to Grandma’s house, you big bad wolf,” Tay chides.

I grin. “What? She might need someone to help her find her way home.” I swirl the Scotch in my glass, watch Malibu Barbie settle onto a stool and sip gracelessly at her drink. She doesn’t look like the type who normally does anything gracelessly. She grimaces at the taste, then gets that “maybe it’s medicinal” look on her face and takes a longer pull.

She’s wearing pink slingbacks, totally impractical for the weather. But damn, the way she’s got one leg crossed over the other, shoe dangling like she doesn’t give a crap, and her skirt riding up like that. Well. Girls like that don’t generally just wander into the Mink.

“Technically, Tay saw her first,” Jai slurs, almost slopping Scotch over the edge of their glass.

“You’d fall on your face before you got there,” I say, downing the rest of my drink in one swallow. The burn is pleasant, and I give Jai a lazy smile.

George puts a hand on my shoulder. “Hey. You be careful. Straight girls’ll break your damn heart every time. I should know.”

I hold up both hands in mock-protest. “I’m just gonna buy a girl a drink. Nothing wrong with that, is there? She looks like she could use a friend.” I grin again, straighten my collar.

“Besides,” I say, getting to my feet and shoving my chair back with one foot. “I’m not the type to get my heart broke.”


The porch light is off, and for a minute I think maybe they thought I wasn’t coming home tonight. But then I hear the soft plucked notes of Inay’s guitar. She’s sitting on the porch swing in the near-dark. Between the living room window and the streetlamp, there’s just enough light to make out her face and the half-empty whiskey bottle beside her.

“I always wanted a porch swing, growing up,” she says, not looking up from the guitar. “A house with a yard and a porch swing and a wood fence, not chain-link.” She shifts on the swing, making room even though there’s plenty of space. I take it as an invitation. The swing creaks a little under our combined weight, but it always does that. It’s plenty strong.

“Where’s Mom?” I ask.

“Down at Holly’s. She needed an evening out.” Inay sets the guitar aside and reaches for the whiskey. It’s the good stuff, the stuff she usually saves for when Uncle Jack comes over. She raises the bottle to her lips, hesitates, and sticks her other hand inside her jacket, bringing a glass out from nowhere, from hammerspace. She blows into the glass, like it’s dusty or something, wipes off a smudge with her shirttail. Splashes about an inch of whiskey into it. Then she hands it to me.

Surprised, I take it.

“Go on,” she says. “It’s not gonna kill you, is it?”

“No. No, I guess it won’t.”

She doesn’t say anything. She’s already guessed where I was today. What I was doing. That makes it easier, actually. I don’t want to tell her that I died today, even if it didn’t stick. Immortal. I take a sip of whiskey and try not to cough at the way it burns.

We sit there in companionable silence for a while, me with my glass and Inay with the bottle, rocking back and forth. It’s one of the things I love about my Inay: we don’t have to talk to understand each other. In fact, it’s when we talk that we understand each other the least.

“I got a favor to ask,” she says abruptly. Her voice is… not slurred, exactly, but imprecise.

She let herself get drunk, I think. Another surprise.

“Someday, when I’m gone.” She raises the bottle, drinks. Her face is turned into the shadows now, and I can’t see what she’s thinking. “When I’m gone,” she repeats, “and your Mom’s gone, and your Aunt Kyna and Seamus and… when we’re all gone, promise me you’ll look after Uncle Jack. Make sure he doesn’t do anything… stupid.” She laughs, and lifts the bottle again in a kind of salute. “Stupid’s my gig. Don’t let him…” She doesn’t finish.

I look into my glass, into the thin film of whiskey covering the bottom. “He’s got Katie,” I offer. “And Angus. He’ll be all right.”

She’s already shaking her head. “’S not enough,” she says. “He promised me he’d take care of you, before you—“ She gestures with the bottle. “But you’ve got Kate now, and Bronagh. And they’ve got you. He’ll have no one. I dunno what he’ll do, without Kyna.”

“All right,” I say slowly. I’ve made so many promises today. What’s another? “I’ll keep an eye on him. But really, I dunno what I can do that they can’t.”

Inay relaxes. Considers the bottle and sets it down. Picks up the guitar instead. “I know how I’d feel, your Mom goes first.” Her voice is steadier now, way steadier than I’d expect, considering. “But I got anchors. He needs anchors, Jack does. All immortals do.” She nods, like something’s been decided, and starts fiddling with the tuning pegs.

“Go on up to bed,” she says, like I’m twelve again. Like I’m still her baby girl, and she didn’t just give me two fingers of the good whiskey.

“Okay.” I drain the last sip from my glass and stand up. My head’s a little spinny, and it’s only partly the booze. “Don’t stay up too late.” It’s the kind of thing she’d say to me. If I were twelve.

“Just till your mom gets home.” She starts to play. “Turn the porch light on?”

“Sure.” I take the glass with me. No point in sticking it back into hammerspace all sticky. “‘Night, Inay.”

She nods, but she’s paying more attention to the guitar than to me.

Up in my room, I crack the window open a little, just to hear her sing.