Walking along the highway, Cara had the sense that if she had not yet hit rock bottom, then surely she was getting ever-closer. Ambling languidly toward it at this very moment, the sound of the huge Mack truck honking at her for veering a little too far outside of the shoulder (or perhaps because she dared to walk on the shoulder of a highway at all) heightened the ominous sensation that kept building as she drew nearer to Frenchtown–the town that was anything but French–in Montana. She had turned a trick a few hitches back, at a truck stop where the driver recommended that she stay at the Tamarack Inn. “Tell ‘em… Dickey sent you. They’ll treat you real nice.” Cara declined to make that mention when she eventually reached the dingy white edifice, her feet riddled with cuts and blisters as a result of the second-hand red pumps she was wearing, bought from a thrift store a few weeks ago. She told herself the faded and peeling faux patent leather would last a bit longer, that she could make the ten dollars she was going to spend on them count by ensuring that she didn’t cause too much wear and tear upon them. And then, lo and behold, came this unexpected journey. This journey that was never intended to be made on foot.
But, as with all things that seemed to happen in Cara’s erratic existence, the events that catalyzed her expedition were completely unforeseeable. While everyone can say that life is filled with the unexpected, Cara begged to differ. Liked to point out that, for the most part, the average person could fairly accurately predict what was going to happen to them based on a pattern of experiences and occurrences that generally foretold whether or not something, let’s say, “fucked” (or even “fabulous”) might transpire next. For Cara, that sort of logic did not apply. There was no rhyme or reason to why, one day, she could rake in as much as a thousand dollars after a good hooking route–and the following evening, she would suddenly find herself needing to bail a friend out of jail with it. Why one second, she might be fearing the end of her life at the hands of her irascible and unpredictable pimp, Ray, and the next he’d be treating her to a spa day because he had arbitrarily decided she had “earned it.” A rationale she could never argue with but that she also knew couldn’t possibly make sense in Ray’s head, who viewed her as a piece of shit no better than the sidewalk bits of which clung to the cleats of his shoes. And yes, his oddest character quirk was that he wore soccer cleats like regular shoes. It was as though when he was “struck” with the idea to treat her well, it was a literal thunderbolt from the hand of Zeus.
In any case, the bottom line was that the trajectory of Cara’s life was more up and down than any stock market chart, and she knew that, after enough time spent on that jolting roller coaster, it was foolish to ever feel secure about anything. So she didn’t. Well, except for one thing. That her only daughter, a four-year-old named Angela was safe over in Frenchtown. Far enough away from her whore’s life in Missoula with Cara’s sister, Natalie. And then, a few days ago, she got the call from Natalie: Angela had been taken while the two were feeding the ducks at the pond in the state park right up the road from Natalie’s house. The house where Cara had stupidly believed Angela’s father, Jessup, would never find her. Could never even imagine it as a place to find the spawn Cara had plucked from him in the middle of the night four years ago when she fled Helena with her for greener, less physically and verbally abusive pastures.
Although she wanted to stay with Angela, to take care of her and be the mother her own never was, things quickly got out of hand. She found herself living out of her car–for most landlords wouldn’t even glance at her, let alone her dubious rental application, before turning a cold shoulder. Despite being estranged from Natalie, two years her senior, for almost seven years, she knew she could still count on her if absolutely necessary. And it was absolutely necessary. She did not risk it all just for Angela to be forced to live with a vehicular non-address. She deserved more… better. And though it was the most excruciating pain she had ever known to part with her, she vowed to both Angela and Natalie that she would return to collect the former once she had finagled an adequate job, therefore stable living situation.
The “adequate” job turned out to be prostitute, as it so often did for women both desperate and “presentable” enough. But Cara was more than merely presentable, she had the kind of looks that could stop traffic, and did–which might have been part of her curse, her damnation to incur an inevitable fall. Even in her trashiest attire (peeling red pumps included), her least amount of effort put forth, she couldn’t keep them from crawling all over her–so often thinking they deserved her time and affection for free. They did not, and she was frequently left with no choice but to remind them of this with the brisk awakening of her pepper spray, or even just a simple fist to the face (she had, at one point, ascended all the way to a purple belt before her karate instructor awkwardly notified her that her mother had stopped paying for the lessons).
These types of encounters had undeniably hardened her over the years, and she was starting to recognize that she had reached a point of no return when it came to the matter of innocence lost. She had seen too much–done too much–now. Enough to know that she never wanted an even remotely similar fate to befall her daughter. So yes, there was absolutely no option but to wrest her back from Jessup by any means. Including the perils of hitchhiking thanks to the fact that Ray had only a week ago crashed her car, and it was still being held hostage in the shop because the bastard wouldn’t pay, and if he did pay, it would come directly out of her “paycheck.” Well, fuck him (not literally though, that move had been played too many times in the past, only to garner nothing in return except for a slap in the face). She was going to find a way to get to Angela even if it meant risking a rape with every “free ride.” Instead, for the most part, she got off (a poor choice of words perhaps) with garden variety blow jobs, evading full-tilt penetration because these men were possibly aware that a mere ride was only worth a dick-sucking; to ask for more would have been… inappropriate, to say the least.
But her ride well ran dry about four miles from Dickey’s recommended Tamarack Inn. And that’s when the red pumps practically did her in from the journey. Hobbling into the establishment with the gait of an eighty-year-old woman barely equipped with a suitable cane, Cara demanded, “A room please. One night only.” The unflappable front desk agent, a balding man somewhere in his mid-40s, responded, “Cash?” Cara nodded as she slapped down the eighty dollars in twenties. Holding her head high as she took the stairs (the elevator was broken, she was informed) up six flights, she plopped herself down on the bed and went to sleep, knowing full well she was bathed in jizz as a result of not even bothering to remove the comforter. Or her pumps for that matter, too afraid on some level to gauge just how fucked her feet looked.
In the morning, she awoke at about six a.m. The sound of a car honking in the parking lot was partially what stirred her, but also the crippling anxiety of worrying about whether she would make it to Angela in time before her mind was infected by Jessup. Lord knows he would have no difficulty telling her all kinds of things about what a “little whore” her mother was. Cara couldn’t let that happen, because once Angela had been turned against her, the courts would never see it another way either.
Her feet throbbed as she finally found the courage to remove her shoes so that she could take a shower. She would wash away all the grime, all the blood until nothing was left. No trace of her trauma. That’s what it was to be a woman on the frontlines of hygiene. She would even shave her legs, imagining they were coated with glittery shaving cream to match the decadent lifestyle she needed to pretend she was partaking of at the Tamarack in order to get to her daughter, who was simply “visiting” her dad, and would be back in Cara’s arms in just a few hours.
Outside, the car horn was no longer intermittent, but a long, sustained blare that felt like it was right in Cara’s ear. She took her leg, still doused in shaving cream, off the toilet seat to look out the window. What she saw was a flash of the balding front desk agent scurrying away from another man whose bloodied head was now the responsible cause for laying on the horn of his steering wheel.
What the fuck? was all Cara could think. And then: I have to get the hell out of here. An alarm went off in her brain as part of the fight or flight response that told her an immediate flight was of the utmost urgency. She barely washed the shaving cream off, patches of her remaining coarse hair standing out amid the smooth areas, as she rushed to put her clothes on and shove her feet back into the shoes. No sooner had she flung the door open than the man at the front desk, whose name tag, she finally noticed, bore the moniker “ALLAN,” was standing before her panting with a lascivious glare.
“Well, darlin’ it’s just you and me now. I done killed the only other customer here. Or at least if I didn’t, he gon’ be knocked out for a while.”
Cara was no stranger to rape. She would even endure it without putting up a fight if it meant she could get to her next goal or destination faster. But something about Allan informed her that this was going to be far beyond just another sexual assault. That he had more sinister aims at play. More torturous, life-threatening motives for wanting to corner her alone in this room. Every intuitive fiber of her being told her as much, and so she did the only thing she could think to do: took her shoe off and tried to stab him with it right in his eye. But again, a man who seemed barely capable of standing upright was somehow competent enough to fuck up her whole life. She supposed it didn’t take much brain power to do that to someone–if anything, it was a prerequisite for effective life-ruining. Maybe now that her brains were splattered all over the beige-ish carpet around her, she would have the sort of refashioned pituitary gland–the undiluted rage–to do the same to someone else.