[short story, by Sha’Tara – part 3]
“West or East?”
In this part of the world they say you can only go two ways: west or east. North is where you come from, and south is where you go if you’re only spending the winter. Snow birds go south. I’m not a bird, I can’t fly. I have no money, I can’t drive down to Arizona to spend the winter. So, east or west?
I knew I had to leave Edmonton. It was a big city but now all was ruined. Edmonton had proven to be just another prison. A girl prison. The men were free here, but the girls were food. If a girl wants to stop the hunters she has to get married, have kids, hide in the kitchen or the supermarket. Only then will the hunters turn away to easier, younger game. Well, most of them anyways.
When I got home I threw up and let myself get thoroughly sick. Then I showered for a long time until my body stopped shaking. I wished for a dog, a big, hairy, clumsy, beautiful silky golden retriever. I needed a friend and sadly I’d been too busy to make friends here. I didn’t know anybody. I was a cast-out. I still didn’t exist as a real human being. And why? Because I wasn’t owned by anyone.
That’s right, that’s what I mean: I wasn’t owned and I had no one to get an identity from. I hadn’t put myself naked on the slave auction block for the world to gawk at and bid on. I was “a babe” and I lived alone and vulnerable in a tiny low-rent apartment. And now I didn’t have a job or a car. I had a fist-full of dollars saved, that’s all. And I had to leave. Drive the car back to the magazine office and throw the keys in the mail slot then leave, never to return.
West or East?
West is closer. West has the mountains and the coast and a sea pockmarked with islands. West has Vancouver. A port city with rampant prostitution, drugs and thugs. The predators live here. Downtown they wear three piece suits and spend money freely. They hide their university aged sex conquests in lavish apartments and the wives don’t care as long as they have the credit cards.
The rest of the city houses a lower class of men, less money but no less on the scent of cheap or free sex. I can easily guess where I’d end up in Vancouver. The gulf islands would be wonderful but it takes money to get on a ferry; to rent or buy a car and you don’t find jobs so easily on the islands – not jobs that pay year round, certainly. Besides, waitressing just wasn’t my style even with the promise of good tips. The good tips go to she who shows the most flesh, has the biggest tits and flashes the most alluring, seductive smile even when she’s saying “fuck you ass hole” in her head. If I were to think that, I’d be saying it loud enough for the whole place to hear. I lack subtlety. Or so I think.
East is farther; east is colder, but east is older. East gives more choices in lifestyle. East is a more open mind world; crass and crude in some ways (show me a place that isn’t) but not so obvious. There’s a sort of veneer of class. I thought about it. West was tempting because it would not be so far, cost less to get there and jobs more certain. But east was for long term. I went east.
I booked passage on one of those CN passenger trains that crossed the country from sea to sea. A luxury I could barely cover the costs of, but I was tired of buses and I wanted some privacy. I wanted to have some control over how I’d travel that piece of my life.
The endless prairies passed by, broken by endless fields of stubble, endless eroding ravines, endless small rivers, endless lakes, swamps and mud flats – all flat as breakfast pancakes and all about the same colour. Hawks circled in the endless sky and pounced on unsuspecting mice then perched on a telephone pole to eat their catch.
It’s during this time that I came to realize two things: I hate my life for being what I am, and I hate this world for rubbing it in my face. That mouse being killed and eaten back there on that pole: that’s me. That hawk is the predator I’m getting to know. That field I was running in, minding my own business, that’s the city. I won’t see it coming but it will come. From behind to grab. From up front with a smile and a wad of money. From the side, “Oops, sorry” and a leer. I want to throw up again. I hyperventilate, then calm myself. Maybe not always that bad. Choose carefully, walk carefully, interact carefully… hide even more carefully. Oh, shit!
And I scream inside: “That’s no fucking life! I need freedom. I need to be left alone to enjoy my life, to safely walk my “me” without interference or expectations from others. I left everything behind to find me, not to enter into another set of “everything” in another landscape. Give me liberty or give me death! How I know what that means!
For me there is no liberty. I am going into the city, in the east. I’m going to enter a door of some newspaper building, put my typewriter down on the man’s desk and show him how fast and accurately I can type. And he’ll be looking at my cleavage, mentally undressing me and thinking about his next meal. And I will pretend I’m not aware of this; that my typing skills are all this interview is about. I’m not good at pretending either. But you see, I’ll need the money. Did I not write a few paragraphs ago that I hadn’t put myself on the slave block? We all like to fool ourselves that things are really not what they are, don’t we.
The endless miles roll on by. Low hills and mountains that look like mounds of steel arrive and the prairies, their hawks and dying mice are gone. I can look forward. To the city. To the feral dogs and cats. The auctioneers and the bidders. And I need to practice smiling and hide my tears better. Who knew a girl could risk so much and fight so hard to keep her dignity, her sense of personal value, only to keep falling in the same man-trap?
[end part 3: West or East?]