The Wolves are Waiting ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Published in Midwestern Gothic Literary Journal Summer Issue, 2011.)
The girl named Vicki-Vicki slept with her little suitcase behind her legs so nobody would steal it. She dreamed she was falling sideways so that she would never land; when she fell all the way around the earth to the place where she had started, she would just keep going and nothing would ever stop her. Trees, people, cars and buildings whizzed by her vision so fast that everything was blended together.
When the bus pulled into the station, Vicki-Vicki was awakened by the cessation of movement, as if that was the signal for her dream to end. She stayed in her seat while the other people got off the bus and then she stood on stiff legs and made her way slowly to the front of the bus and stepped down the three little steps onto the asphalt. Everybody, even the driver, had left; no one to say goodbye to.
She walked two blocks away from the dreary bus station; she thought she might still be dreaming. When she came to a street corner, she stood back against the building and looked in all directions from where she stood. The city—with its press of people, its clamor and endless traffic—was everything she imagined it would be. She knew she could walk in any direction from where she stood and it wouldn’t make any difference. All the streets would look the same and there would be no end of streets.
By and by Vicki-Vicki came to a little café with a jar of jonquils in the window. The jonquils seemed to her inviting, a touch of home, so she went inside and sat at a little table against the wall. She had the blue plate special—roast beef and cabbage—and after she had finished eating she asked the kind-faced waitress if she knew of a cheap hotel or rooming house where she could get a room for the night. The waitress told her about the Viceroy Hotel, which was only two blocks away on the corner.
When she told the desk clerk at the Viceroy Hotel that she wanted a room for the night, he looked at her suspiciously with a kind of sneer. He asked her if she was alone and when she said she was, he told her the only way he could let her have a room for the night was if she paid in advance. And if she wanted the room for more than one night, she would have to pay in advance every night. Otherwise she would have to move on. No exceptions; the management was very strict regarding these matters.
She opened her suitcase and took out the little coin purse in which she kept her money and counted out enough one-dollar bills to pay for the room for one night. She pushed the little pile of bills toward the desk clerk and after he had counted out the money and put it safely away, he gave her a little card and told her to write her name and address on it. Then he gave her a key and told her the room was on the third floor at the end of the hallway. He pointed toward the stairway and then began reading a newspaper as if he forgot that fast that she had ever been there.
Living in the city was going to take a lot of money—she could see that right away. After she had locked herself in the third-floor room, she opened her suitcase on the bed and counted out the money she had left. Paying for the room each night in advance, she was only going to have enough money for about one week, and that was only if she ate next to nothing. She would have to find a job right away if she was going to keep a roof over her head and food in her stomach.
Vicki-Vicki slept poorly the first night in the room. The bed seemed too soft and had a musty smell. The room was too light and all night long she could hear noise from the street—car horns and loud voices as if people were angry, about to get into a fight. As for sounds coming from inside the hotel, she heard voices and laughter, footsteps, and a kind of clanking noise as of somebody hitting a pipe with a wrench.
Even though she was fairly sure nobody could get into the room unless she let them in, she had the feeling all night long that she was not quite alone, that there were unwelcome visitors who might do her harm. When she finally went soundly to sleep about three in the morning, that feeling of unease caused her to have bad dreams. She dreamed she was trapped in a dark house and couldn’t get out, and later she dreamed that her brother, Baby Eddie, was crying out to her to come and help him and she couldn’t see him or find him.
When she awoke in the morning it was to sunlight streaming into the room. At first she didn’t quite remember where she was, but soon everything that had happened the last couple of days came rushing in and she couldn’t hold it back. The terrible fight she had with her mother. Her sister, Veradean, crying and Baby Eddie yelping in fright as she and her mother threw dishes at each other. The fight finally reaching such a crescendo of anger and violence that her mother threw her out of the house, calling her a worthless piece of trash and telling her she never wanted to see her again, in this life or the next. And then the long and tiresome bus ride to the strange city that was as alien to her as another planet. It all seemed more dream-like than real.
Vicki-Vicki bought a newspaper and went down the street to the same little café where she had had the blue plate special the day before and sat at the same little table. Already the city seemed less oppressive and less crowded than it had; she believed she was beginning to get used to it—to fit in—much quicker than she would have expected. She had a light breakfast of toast and coffee, looking over the want ads as she ate.
Several jobs seemed to hold promise. By the end of the day, though, they had all come to nothing. She was too young to legally serve alcoholic beverages and, besides, she would never feel comfortable in the skimpy costume she was going to have to wear. She needed experience—or at least references—to be a sales clerk, to wait on tables, type letters or work on an assembly line in a factory. She walked eight blocks to apply for a job cleaning offices, but when she saw that there were dozens of other girls applying for the same job, she became discouraged and left. She was about to get a job as an usherette in a movie theatre, but the manager, realizing he already had three girls on the staff, wanted a boy for the job instead.
The next day was the same and the day after that. All roads led to nowhere. There were no jobs for a young girl in the city with no experience. It didn’t matter that she had graduated from high school and was as smart as anybody she knew. She discovered at the end of three days that you almost have to know somebody, to have some kind of an inside connection, to get any kind of a job. The cards were not dealt in her favor.
Her fourth day in the city Vicki-Vicki stayed in her room most of the day, sitting at the window and looking out into the street or laying on the bed and dozing. She had only enough money left for one more night in the room, but that was only if she had nothing to eat. She was very hungry and her thoughts kept coming back to food—fried chicken and chocolate cake, tomatoes, corn flakes drowned in cold milk, butter beans, Hungarian goulash, pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy.
Finally she arose from the bed and washed up in the little bathroom (no bathtub). She drank as much water as she could hold, put her few meager belongings back into her suitcase that she had taken out and spread about the room. After one last look to make sure she wasn’t leaving anything behind, she took her suitcase and went out of the room, down to the lobby, and deposited her key under the nose of the desk clerk without looking at him.
Leaving the Viceroy Hotel for the last time, she began walking she knew not where. After she had walked long enough to be tired and winded, she stopped at a restaurant named Mabel’s. She was drawn to the place because a man dressed in a chicken costume was standing in front, trying to draw customers inside. She went in and was seated at a pleasant table beside a window. She ordered a complete roast chicken dinner and cherry pie with vanilla ice cream for dessert. After she paid for her dinner, she had one dollar and thirty-five cents left and it was all the money she had in the world.
By the time she left the restaurant, it was almost seven o’clock and would soon be dark. With night coming on, she was faced with the realization that, for the first time in her life, she had no place to sleep for the night and she didn’t know where the next food she ate would be coming from.
She walked along the street, past the hotels, bars, movie theatres, restaurants. She went into a drugstore and walked up and down the aisles and stopped and thumbed through a couple of magazines until a woman came out from behind a counter and asked if she needed help in finding anything. The woman, whose eyebrows met in the middle, frowned at her and made her feel uncomfortable, so she left.
She walked on until she came to a roller skating rink. She had always liked roller skating, even though she was never very good at it herself, so she went inside. She took a seat on the back row of a section of chairs arranged in tiers for spectators and watched the skaters going around and around on the floor to recorded organ music. If anybody told her she had no right to be sitting there without at least buying some refreshments, she could always say she was waiting for someone who so far had failed to show up.
After she had watched the skaters for an hour or so, she began to feel drowsy. The place was overly warm and the sound of skate wheels on wood, to the accompaniment of dance music, had a soporific effect. She was just about to fall asleep, which probably would have resulted in her being asked to leave, when a woman came and sat down to her right. A minute later a man came and sat in front of her. She wondered why anybody would need to crowd her in that way with all the empty seats available, but she had learned long ago to stop trying to figure out the actions of other people. She was thinking about leaving when the woman to her right spoke to her.
“Hello, Vicki-Vicki,” she said.
Vicki-Vicki turned and looked at the woman. “Hello,” she said.
“You don’t know me,” the woman said.
“How do you know my name?”
“My name is Ruby and this is Benny.”
The man sitting in front of Vicki-Vicki turned around and smiled at her. “How do you do?” he said. He had a long face and sad, dark eyes. He was younger than the woman but older than Vicki-Vicki, about thirty.
“You were put out of your hotel, weren’t you?” Ruby said.
“I left,” Vicki-Vicki said.
“You’re new to the city and you don’t have any money left, do you?”
“Who are you?” Vicki-Vicki asked.
“We’ve seen you every day since you came to the city. We’ve been following you.”
“Following me? Why?”
“We wanted to get to you before they do?”
“Who are they?”
“Remember the desk clerk at your hotel?”
“I didn’t like him.”
“He called them and told them about you. He told them what time you checked out of your hotel. They’re going to come after you, but we got to you first.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Vicki-Vicki said. “I never saw you before.”
Benny laughed sympathetically, covering his mouth with his hand.
“They’ll pick you up and they’ll know you don’t have any money and no place to go. They’ll offer you a place to stay and food to eat. They’ll get you hooked on dope to control you. Then you’ll have to start whoring for them. You’ll be a shoplifter by day and a whore by night to support your habit.”
“I have to go,” Vicki-Vicki said. “I have friends waiting for me.”
“If you go outside that door, they’ll be waiting for you out there.”
“You won’t survive on your own in the city without any friends and with no place to go,” Benny said. “If they don’t get you, somebody else will. There are people out there who would kill you just for the fun of it. If you have five cents on you, there’s somebody out there who would kill you for it.”
“He’s right,” Ruby said.
“You should go back home if you can,” Benny said.
“I can’t do that,” Vicki-Vicki said. “My mother threw me out. She said she never wanted to see me again.”
“We can help you,” Ruby said, “if you’ll let us.”
“Why would you want to help me? You don’t even know me.”
“We’ve seen it all before and we know what will happen. The wolves are waiting to devour you.”
Benny nodded his head in encouragement.
“What’s the catch?” Vicki-Vicki asked.
“There isn’t any catch,” Ruby said. “You go with us and we’ll help to watch out for you.”
“There’s safety in numbers,” Benny said.
“You have about one minute to make up your mind,” Ruby said.
Vicki-Vicki looked toward the door, beyond which she saw nothing but darkness. She thought of the city out there and her alone in it, with no destination in mind. She thought of the long hours of the night that stretched away to the morning and what she would do to fill them. And if she made it through the night to morning, what then? Another day followed by another night followed by another day.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll go with you. I don’t care very much anymore what happens to me.”
When they were outside the skating rink on the sidewalk, they began walking, with Vicki-Vicki in the middle between Ruby and Benny. The night had turned unexpectedly cool. The streetlamp on the corner flickered once and went out. In the distance a siren blatted its warning.
They came to an intersection and stopped walking; just at that moment, as if on cue, a car pulled up to the curb. Benny stepped forward and opened the back door of the car. Ruby got inside and then Benny took Vicki-Vicki’s suitcase and held the door for her. When she hesitated to get into the car, he gave her arm a reassuring squeeze just above the elbow and smiled. She got into the back seat next to Ruby and then Benny got in beside her and slammed the door. The car sped off into the night. Vicki-Vicki couldn’t tell who was driving the car because it was so dark, but for a moment she thought he looked from the back like the desk clerk from her hotel.
Copyright © 2011 by Allen Kopp