After that last house painting gig, when I got out eighteen months later, I had to register as a sex offender. My wife by then had sold the RV, emptied the bank account and split for otherland. Naturally nobody ever bought my story, or even much cares to hear.
See. Along with three other guys, I’m out there high up on the ladder, in fucking December, freezing my balls off, painting those dirty white clapboards a brighter white. Crystal being the paint color name on the can. Lots of them; forty maybe. It was a big house. Squirrels nesting in the gutters. Chewed clear through the fascia boards. We had to repair those, too. There was a certain humor to the whole job, being that we had to keep painting in between snow storms. The boss told the lady of the house that the temps were way below the recommended house painting temps, and we should pick up the job again when the temps were more moderate. The customer, being a lady of solitary (her husband had walked), well she wasn’t about to take shit off some painter supervisor shortly before Christmas. People have strange reactions to the holidays.
“Just paint when there’s no precip,” she ordered him.
So. We hauled ladders over snow drifts and damned near froze to death out there with the winds packing it. The paint was none too happy, either, lumping from the extreme cold temps. Back down the ladders we’d go and on into the garage where we stirred paint until our wrists were about to drop off.
One day. As it was moving toward dusk and I’m still slapping on paint, high at the third story level, gusts so violent my ladder’s shaking, and this female appears at a window right where I’m working. Looking of indeterminate age (words my lawyer used in court). But one thing was for sure: she was naked. And she wanted me to see. She just stood there, naked and skinny as all get out, light colored stringy hair to her shoulders. She had the raw material, and there she was inside that warm room. When she lifted the window, I bent and climbed in.
Now. Sixteen can look like sixty under certain circumstances. Well, at least twenty-six. At any rate this naked chick at my particular windows becomes this daily event. While the crew’s on the ground, cleaning up for the night – that was the moment. She floats to the window like a ghost. I never got her name until later with the court stuff. Irma. She smiled once in the court room when they led me out past the table where she sat prim in a lavender scoop neck sweater. Collar bones sticking out like a plucked chicken. Her mother, in a chair behind her, screamed out at me a string of obscenities. In that split second I noticed the pearl beads sewn like a necklace to Irma’s sweater. She’d grinned at me. A mouth full of rotting teeth. That she was pretty much out of her skull from meth and whatever was something I hadn’t really considered while I was banging her.
So. The painting contractor gets me a mafia lawyer who wrangles a reduced sentence based on Irma’s shaky mental behavior. Or, somesuch long winded argument. I was just happy to get the deal. Apparently there’d been a string of similar incidents concerning: lawn workers, an ice cream truck guy, their vet, and the chimney cleaner.
As for: Prison wasn’t what I’d call enjoyable by any stretch. My cell mate, Toby, a former linebacker, had his junk removed at Rikers. Guard told me all about it on our walk to the cell. I peed my jumpsuit. Toby was lying on the bottom bunk reading.
“I guess the top one is mine,” I said quivering with fear.
He held up a thick Bible. “I’m going through a religious transformation,” was all the big man said.
I climbed up and stretched out, like he was stretched out. I thought about being up on the ladder and kind of wished I had the bottom bunk. We stayed that way a while, him and his Bible, me and my thoughts. When the sirens blared for supper, I waited for him to get off his bunk before I stood up. It seemed a matter of – respect, fear, what the fuck – I don’t know.
We looked each other over without moving a muscle. His one eye sewn down tight gave me the advantage. Looks like it was more than his junk they took at Rikers. Maybe a lot more than was visible then. Then the big man said, “Don’t fret, whitey. I got your sorry ass.”
Susan Tepper is an award winning writer and author of seven published books of fiction and poetry. She has received 18 Pushcart Nominations, a Pulitzer Prize Nomination for a novel, and many other honors. She has a dark sense of humor, and loves to share it with the Oddball gang from time to time.
Glenn Bowie is a published poet, lyricist and photographer from the Boston area. He also owns and operates an elevator company that supplies custom-built elevators for clients from New England to Hollywood. Author of two poetry and photograph collections (Under the Weight of Whispers and Into the Thorns and Honey) on Big Table Publishing, he donates all profits from his books to various charities for the homeless and local animal shelters.