Vasant (Spring) 2021 Stories - Christina Hoag


The Escape
By Christina Hoag


Emerald kicked the door shut. She almost yelled at the john like her mother used to scream at her, ‘You think you live in a tent?’ But she swallowed the words and instead unfolded the wad of notes, her night’s takings. With the eighty she’d just earned for the half-and-half, she had four hundred and forty. It wasn’t enough, considering she still owed for the motel.

Footsteps shuffled outside. Stopped. He’d found her. Her hand froze, her heart doing a boxer’s workout against her ribcage, as her eyes darted to the door. She waited for him to rage through with a shoulder or a foot as he’d done when a trick got hinky. The footsteps crunched on. She breathed. He wouldn’t come over here, not after that beef he had with the guy who ran this side of the track.

It was just after midnight. The bars would be closing soon, a good time to pick up tricks as they stumbled out. Just a couple more. Then she could buy the bus ticket to some place where shards of broken liquor bottles didn’t glint on streetlit pavements. She rolled the bills into tight cigarettes and stuffed them in the bottom of her bra cups, then poured a liberal amount of foundation onto her fingertips. Staring in the mirror, she rubbed it over the tattoo draping her collarbone, a bluish-green heavy chain necklace with a stylized ‘F’ pendant. The ink was too dark, too ingrained to be fully disguised with makeup. Still, it felt good to dilute it.


She’d get it lasered off as soon as she could, as soon as she got wherever she was going. Scars were a hell of a lot better than being branded as Fonzo’s property.

Tenderly, she smeared makeup over the black-and-blue on her jaw, but she still winced, whether it was the pain of the bruise or the memory of getting it, she didn’t know. The hurt was all the same. Blood still brightly coloured the corner of an eyeball. Not much she could do about that.

She pulled on her short shorts, stiletto-heeled boots and jacket trimmed with matted fake fur. After pumping up her breasts so they looked like scoops of ice cream popping out of her bustier, she headed out, slashing through the red flickers from the Cozy Time Motel’s neon sign. From the time she arrived on the track two years ago, or was it two lifetimes? that sign had looked like it was on its last gasp, but it never died. Just stayed on permanent fritz. Kind of like her life.

Windmilling her purse, she slowly sashayed her way over to the boulevard through the cloud of greasy air from the corner fried chicken restaurant as she tried to catch the eye of passing drivers.

Her ribs and back throbbed. She resisted the urge to swallow her last Vicodin. She had to save it to knock herself out on the bus, so she’d wake up and be in a new place like coming out of a dream.

A door to a bar swung open ahead, releasing a tall figure tottering on five-inch heels.

‘Crystal!’ Emerald called.

Crystal twisted, staring at Emerald vacantly from under the fringe of her slightly askew platinum wig. ‘It’s me, Emerald’.

Crystal focused hard on Emerald’s face in the glow from the Tecate sign in the bar’s oblong window. ‘Emerald, honey’. Her voice was whisky husky and her thighs too sinewy, but her high-cheekboned face passed for a woman’s. ‘What you doing here, girl? I thought you was long gone from the track’.

‘Fonzo got himself a new bottom and told me to go back to turning tricks. I said if I’m turning tricks again, I’m going independent’.

‘I bet he liked that’, Crystal said with a purse of her lips.

‘Yeah, I hardly been able to walk for three days. This is my first night out’.

‘Well, I told you that making you his bottom was just to sweeten you up. You still young. You worth more to him on the street. So’s who his bottom bitch now?’

‘Girl named Sapphire. She was always dissing me to him, saying I wasn’t treating her fair and giving other girls more clothes and makeup and stuff’.

Crystal nodded. ‘You know he ain’t going to let you go so easy. He gonna come after you. You taking a big risk being out here’.

‘This ain’t his turf. And I need the money. I’m getting out of here. Going somewhere where it never gets cold and start over. Whole new life’.

‘That’s what I always liked about you, girl, you got spunk. You never let go your dream like the rest of us’.

‘If I stay here any longer, then I have to let it go’, Emerald said. ‘That’s the only way to survive out here. Forget there’s anything else’. Her skin prickled. She was talking too much. That’s what three days holed up in a shitty motel room with only a chattering TV for company did. ‘Listen, if he comes around, you ain’t seen me, okay?’

‘Don’t you worry, girl. I’m as good as deaf, dumb and blind’.

Emerald hurried away. Dammit, why did she run her mouth? She hoped she could still trust Crystal, but she was looking strung out again. She could be bought real cheap.

Two men staggered down the sidewalk, swigging from bottles in paper bags.

‘You looking for a date?’ Emerald cocked a hip.

‘Only date we buying tonight is this’. The guy held up his bag.

‘Good thing about bottles, they don’t talk back’, the other one said. They high-fived each other and laughed too loudly. Emerald moved on.

A car pulled up beside her. She eyed it. A Crown Victoria with two clean-cut men sitting in the front seat. She quickly looked ahead and kept moving. Shit.

‘It is you’, one of the men said out the passenger window. The deep voice was familiar. Curiosity made swivel her head. Combed back hair, crow black with white streaks. The uniform she used to blow in his cruiser? ‘I thought it was’, he said.

So, he was a detective now. He had picked her up when she was underage, before Fonzo took her off the track to do a stint on Craigslist dates. ‘How old are you?’ the cop had asked her.

‘Eighteen’, she lied.

‘Let’s see your ID’. She’d fished a fake driver’s license from her bra and given it to him. He checked her face with the photo. ‘Is this your current address?’
‘Yes’. Another lie. When had she last told the truth? She couldn’t remember.

He studied her. She flicked back her hair. She knew he knew she was underage. They struck a bargain that enabled her to keep strolling without getting busted. Juveniles were a big hassle, he told her later as he hitched his trousers, too much paperwork, calling social services and all that.

He was staring at her now. ‘Who you working for these days?’

She shrugged and glanced down the street. The track had emptied. The plainwrap hadn’t gone unnoticed.

‘When are you girls going to learn? Pimps are not your daddies, but you girls always gotta protect those scumbags, even when they beat you’.
She shrugged again.

‘Well, you take care now’, he said after a moment. She walked away as the car gunned into the traffic flow.

You take care now. Yeah, right. If he’d bothered to call social services, maybe she wouldn’t be freezing her arse off here right now. If anyone had called social services when she was a kid, maybe she’d still be Beth Bickers and working somewhere decent like a shop or a beauty salon instead of slinging her ass as Emerald.
‘I am Elizabeth Bickers’, she murmured. It felt strange to even say it.

She’d never had anyone but herself. With her mum cranked up on crystal, she got slick at shoplifting. It was either that or starve, and then she started stealing bigger stuff that she could sell. That was how she met Lee. He always told her that if anyone gave her a hard time, he’d take care of it. So, when Mum’s boyfriend started coming in her bedroom at night, she went to Lee. He took care of him—and her.

A white pickup slowed. She smiled at the driver. He sped away. A few minutes later he pulled up alongside her, his bald dome glistening in the lights of oncoming traffic. She leaned in the passenger window he’d opened for their parley.

‘Looking for a date?’ she said.

‘Maybe’. A tribal design tattoo wound around a beefy bicep.

‘What you got in mind?’

‘I don’t know, BJ maybe’. He eyed her cleavage. She leaned in further.

‘Fifty, covered’.

‘How much for bareback?’

‘Don’t do bareback’.

He paused. ‘Okay’.

‘Pull in there’. She pointed to the Cozy Time down the side street then strode to the motel’s front office and held out a hand.

Blinky, the receptionist, reached under the counter and dropped a condom in her palm. ‘Hey, you doing good tonight so you can pay up now’, he said.

‘Can you wait ten minutes?’

‘I guess. Remember, it’s an extra twenty for keeping the stash’. She frowned. ‘Hey, it’s insurance’, he added. ‘Five-o just rolled by. You don’t want ‘em to find that shit on you, right?’

She rushed to her waiting customer before he took off.


Emerald watched the truck pull out of the parking lot. She wiped her mouth with a tissue and chucked it into a bush. She’d had enough trucks to last her a lifetime.
When Lee had pulled into the truck stop and announced, ‘Now it’s time for you to do something for me’, she’d smiled at him. She thought he wanted her to boost something from one of the rigs lined up in rows like canyons. When he spelled out her what he wanted her to do, she thought he was joking. But his rage was no joke.

‘Who bought them clothes you’re wearing? Who bought you that gold chain with the diamond? Who took you to Red Lobster, TGIFs and all them fancy places for steak dinners?’ He leaned his face into hers, the cloying sweetness of whiskey on his breath blowing in her face. Her stomach churned. ‘You think things come free, bitch?’ His palm cracked across her cheek.

Fear clutched her. She knew she had crossed a line somewhere, somehow, and there was no going back. Not that she had anything to go back to anyway. There was only Lee.

He took a breath. ‘Take this and you’ll be fine’. He handed her a tab of Ecstasy. ‘Now get your pretty little arse out there’.

The fear moved in that night and stayed until the last dance with Fonzo’s fists knocked it right out of her and she ran. Another line crossed.

The pain in Emerald’s back and sides sharpened. She felt wetness on the side of her neck and swiped it with a finger. Blood. The cut from Fonzo’s ring had opened again. She started to limp a little. One more trick and she’d call it quits. She’d grab a taxi to the bus station and buy herself a one-way ticket to the future.

Crystal’s warning about walking the track being risky echoed in her head. She’d taken a chance because the business was good, but maybe it was too big of a chance. She glanced at the motel front office window. Blinky wasn’t there. She’d pay him later. Or maybe not at all if she could get away with it. She wondered if he’d agree to her services instead of cash.

She walked to the Cozy Time’s rear entrance, which backed onto a side street. Only one other girl was working back there, but there was no traffic. The chill of the wee hours was setting in. Emerald zipped up her jacket and sauntered up and down.

After she got beat up and robbed by a trucker one night, Lee drove her out along the freeway. He wouldn’t tell her where they were going. They pulled up alongside a car that was waiting in darkness off an exit ramp. A man the size of a linebacker got out. ‘Wait here’, Lee said.

He and the man talked. Then the man came over and peered at her, smiling widely. She stared back at him. Something wasn’t right. He returned to Lee and they talked some more. Then the man handed Lee four foil-wrapped bricks from his car. Lee came back and slipped behind the wheel.

‘You’re his now’, he said.

Emerald didn’t understand.

‘Don’t worry. Fonzo treats his girls real nice. You’re gonna go on the circuit for a while, maybe even New York, Vegas’. Lee started the car. Emerald didn’t move. He raised his voice. ‘You gonna get out or do I gotta push your arse out?’

Emerald got out. She watched Lee’s brake lights shrink into pinpricks then vanish in the night. Fonzo pulled up alongside her.

She headed down the street. A car crawled up. She put on her best kitten-smile and unzipped her jacket at the driver, but he passed by. She dropped the smile. As she zipped her jacket back up, she caught sight of two men leaning into the motel’s front office window. One was burly, the other wiry. Fonzo and his cousin. Fuck. Someone had seen her, ratted her out. Crystal maybe. Probably. She should’ve known better. There were no friends on the track.

She walked on, trying to steady her legs that had turned to pudding. Had Blinky seen her go to the back street? He’d snitch on her if Fonzo paid him the money she owed, maybe even if he didn’t.

She reached a shadowed alley between two apartment buildings and wheeled herself in, blood pounding in her eardrums. She heard steps and sucked in her breath. The steps scuffed to a stop. She pressed herself into the wall, wishing it would swallow her.

‘You seen anyone else working back here?’ Fonzo called to the other girl.

Emerald squeezed her eyes shut.

‘I ain’t seen nobody’, the girl called back.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

When Fonzo’s footsteps faded into silence, she launched into a sprint away from the motel. Then the street lit up behind her like a stage. She twisted her head. The twin blinding white glares of high beams were closing in on her. She ran, kicking off her heels. She pushed herself into overdrive. If she could get to the boulevard, maybe that cop would be there. Someone would be there. Anyone.

The car screeched to a halt.

She heard thuds at her back. A hand gripped her upper arm and yanked. She toppled to the ground. She sunk her fingernails of her free hand into his cheek. He grunted. Then a fist slammed the side of her head and she flopped.

Emerald felt herself being scooped up and thrown in the back seat. She chuckled like a creaky door as the car moved. It hurt to laugh, but she couldn’t stop, even when Fonzo yelled at her to ‘shut the fuck up’, even when his cousin leaned over the front set and smacked her face. She laughed so hard that her tears flowed into the blood, a muddy sluice dripping down her neck. Didn’t they get it? Why weren’t they laughing? The joke was on her.

There was no escape.


Christina Hoag from US is the author of novels Girl on the Brink and Skin of Tattoos. A former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press, she also reported from Latin America for Time, Business Week, Financial Times, New York Times and others. In 2020, she won prizes for essay and fiction in the International Human Rights Arts Festival Literary Awards and the Soul-Making Keats Writing Competition.


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