AN EXCERPT - Shirley sat up and flexed her back muscles. She put her hands on her waist and bent forward then arched back, circled her shoulders. The pile of carpets beneath her were the cheap kind, hard and without much give, so that when they were finished she always felt like her spine would break in two.
He was already standing and half into his pants. She watched him as he put his foot into the other leg of the pants and zipped himself.
“It was good, yes? Yes?”
“It was alright,” she said, shrugging. She rose and stepped into her panties, clipped on her bra, dropped her dress over her head, her movements small and precise.
He ducked his head and sweat appeared on his nose.
“Sorry, Shirley. Sorry. I know you did not come, not really but I’m late. Layla, she’s giving a dinner tonight. Next time I will try to go slower.”
Shirley rolled her eyes. He had misunderstood.
“Please, Shirley. I will make it better next time. You will see. Smile for me. I do not want you angry.”
Shirley shrugged again. She was tired. People in and out of the shop all day long because in four months it would be Christmas and everyone wanted to make sure they had new furniture, new rugs, new beds. Nobody wanted relatives visiting for the holidays to think they couldn’t afford to change up the house for Christmas. The only people Shirley didn’t see coming into the store were the white people and the rich locals who lived in places like Belle Vue and Diamond Bay. Perhaps they had too many things to consider replacing them every year. Shirley remembered when the house of an elderly couple in Belle Vue was broken into and lots of silverware and jewellery were taken. The cops had no luck finding the burglar until one day the woman heard noises in a part of the house they hardly used. When the police came they discovered that the burglar had been living in the house with the couple ever since the burglary, weeks ago. Shirley had laughed and laughed when she heard about it on the news. She, herself, could see every room in her house from the front door.
“It’s okay, Mr. Kabalan. No problem.”
“Good, Shirley.” A smile spread over his cherubic face and Shirley felt a flash of what was almost affection for him. He dug into his pants, took out his wallet and turned his back to her. When he turned around again he held out a wad of bills.
“Thank you, Mr. Kabalan.”
“Good. I will see you tomorrow then, yes?”
“Yes, Mr. Kabalan.”
Shirley picked up her handbag and stuffed the money into a side pocket. She walked past him, out to the showroom and then out to the street. That was always how it had been from the time she started working at Kabalan’s Furniture Emporium. Just because they were now having sex didn’t mean she could be trusted to come out behind him without trying to slip a flowered rug under her dress or a velvet sofa into her panties. At first this had mildly irritated her but now she didn’t mind and hardly even noticed it. As she walked to the bus stop down the street she heard Mr. Kabalan pulling down the hurricane shutters he used to protect his store from thieves.
When the Pinelands bus came into sight, she flagged it down and got on. She took a window seat in the half empty bus and opened her bag. He had given her sixty American dollars. Usually he gave her a fifty dollar bill but he had given her ten extra because he was feeling guilty he hadn’t made her come. She slipped the money back into her bag and felt like she could have sung out loud. She was now making an extra hundred and fifty dollars a week because even on days when he couldn’t get it up and just wanted to lie in her arms and tell her about his problems with his no-good children he still paid her like if they’d sexed.
Eight stops later, Shirley got off the bus. Although the dark was dangerous in a place like the Pinelands because of kids and crackheads wielding kitchen knives and stolen guns she preferred arriving late. Twilight forgave a lot in the Pinelands. In twilight, the McDonald’s bags and KFC boxes strewn on the ground, the sewage water running on the sides of the street and the half-naked little boys with their pee-pees out didn’t look so bad and she could always pretend she wasn’t smelling what she was smelling.
“Evening, Miss Clara,” Shirley called out to a woman sitting in her house, braiding her grey hair by an open window.
“Evening, dearie. How you do?”
“Good, thank you.”
At the door to the house Shirley and her husband rented she took out her key and let herself in. Tomorrow she would deposit the money in the bank during her lunch hour but, tonight, it went into a box under the loose floorboard beneath the threadbare rug she had bought second-hand at the Red Cross shop on Mercy Road. She had begun saving long before Mr. Kabalan reached over to touch her nipples in January and she had felt opportunity in his fumbled caress. Now she had more than eight thousand St. Crescian dollars in the account her husband knew nothing about.
Available April 25th from most online booksellers.