Hau Tree Green

The breeze from the water was warm, but getting cooler. Across the street, people were leaving the beach for the day. The amusement park at the pier still went full speed, and I could hear the roller coaster rattling and faint screams from its riders. They sounded like they were having more fun than I was.

I got my suitcase out of the back of the car and set it down. A line of small trees decorated the edge of the lot, and the ground under my feet was littered with fallen blossoms. They smelled dark green, a strange fermented perfume that went well with the air coming off of the ocean.

A woman left the sidewalk and moved across the lot toward me. When she got close enough she stopped, as if to let me get a good look at her. She moved as though she had just gotten up from a nap. Her blue dress was dingy, her lipstick had been hurried on, and I caught a whiff of booze. On top, it smelled fresh, but underneath it carried the stale reek of bad habit.

“You staying here, mister?” she asked.

I said that I was, and she eyed my suitcase and shifted her weight from one foot to the other.

“You want some company?” she asked. “Buy a girl some dinner and a drink, maybe? Have some fun?”

Company was the last thing I wanted, and I didn’t know the first thing about fun. I was too slow saying so, and something like hope crossed her tired face.

“I could use a bath first,” she said. “A place to lie down for a little while.”

She looked awfully young, and somehow didn’t seem the type. She was pretty enough, and if she cleaned up and pampered herself a little, she might have been more than just pretty. There was a slight coarseness to her complexion, though, the kind that comes from sleeping too often in unfamiliar places, and too long being wanted but not loved.

I wondered what her story was, but only briefly. You hear a lot of stories in my line of work, and you learn not to get interested in them unless you’re being paid for it. Maybe she and I weren’t all that different. I fished out my wallet, and handed her a five.

“Get yourself a bath, a place to lie down, and some dinner,” I said. “It will have to be without me, though. I’m busy right now.”

The hurt in her eyes surprised me. She took the money I held out, though. The fingers that brushed mine were ice cold.

“Suit yourself,” she said. “Thanks for the date.”

I watched her walk back across the parking lot, and then I picked up my bag. I wondered what was next for her. It made me feel even sadder than I usually did.

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