Siren

It was some kind of rainy day the second time I saw her. That sort of rainy where it ain’t, not really, but it kind of is. Mist of rain so fine its almost fog. But it ain’t. That sort of day.

It was a Sunday, and I was where I always was on a Sunday: the Gulp ‘n’ Go on the outskirts of town, ‘bout a mile down from the trailer park. Mrs. Lopez two trailers down and I had a thing going. She’d spend Saturday making as many red and green burritos as she could before her arthritis would set in, and I’d sit outside the Gulp ‘n’ Go at my little folding table and sell them for two bucks each. We’d split the profits, forty-sixty on account of her doing all the kitchen work and me being a kid and all, but forty percent was enough to keep me in hot lunches all week and let me put a little in the base of the ceramic lamp next to my bed.

I had a piggy bank, but I also had three older brothers.

No one inside ever seemed to mind me as long as I set up my table away from the big window. This was way back, when it was still owned by that guy with the hook arm and glass eye. Darryl, I think his name was, I don’t know for sure ‘cause he was never there. But if he knew about me he didn’t care, and he told his staff not to care, neither. It was small, then, nothing more than the counter and a couple rows of chips and snack cakes and jerky and a couple coolers of sodas and beers. No air conditioning in the summer and an overworked heater in the winter. No hot food. Naw, they wouldn’t get hot food until that national chain, the one that makes their employees wear those stupid paper hats, bought it up, tore it down, and built that ugly thing twice as big in the same place. Now that place would never let a broke kid from the trailer park sell two dollar burritos out front, but Darryl? Darryl didn’t mind nothing.

I was at my little table, and the rain was sort of happening and sort of not, and I was almost out of burritos which was good because most of my clothes were soaked through, when she sort of just…appeared. She probably came from somewhere. Probably walked up the road and I didn’t notice her. Probably.

She stepped up to the glass, under the gas station awning, and I thought she’d go in but she didn’t. She had long hair, brown, loose, down her back over a brown leather jacket, and tight pants that hugged her hips and then flared out down around her ankles and boots. She hugged the window, leaning up against it, and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of the jacket.

Her lighter wouldn’t light. Maybe she never would have spoken to me if her lighter would have worked. But it didn’t. Flick, nothing. Flick, nothing. Flick, nothing. Her nails were painted a bright red, same as her lips, and over and over those painted nails went across the wheel.

Nothing.

I had a tiny little butane lamp, the sort you put under a tin foil tray of red and green burritos.

“Hey. Kid.”

I looked at her like I hadn’t been looking at her that whole time. She gestured with her cigarette, then at the little blue flame. I shrugged, and she ducked her cigarette under the tray.

“Thanks.”

We was silent for a little bit. She looked like she was waiting for someone and I wasn’t too good at talking to anyone. Still ain’t, I guess, only now it matters less. Whoever she was waiting for still hadn’t rolled in by the time she finished her first cigarette, so she lit the second without asking.

“What you selling, anyway?” she asked.

“Burritos.”

“You make ‘em?”

“Nah. Mrs. Lopez does.”

“That’s good. You’re kinda white. To be selling burritos. They any good?”

Because I knew who she was (and didn’t know if she knew I knew) I lifted the corner of the tin foil lid.

“Free sample.”

She shrugged, stubbed out her cigarette early, and took one.

“I know what you are.”

To this day, I don’t know why I said it. Maybe I thought she remembered me and was pretending she didn’t. Maybe I thought I’d be next. Maybe I was an awkward kid and couldn’t hold a conversation to save my life. Don’t remember.

She squinted at me and swallowed a bite. “Who am I, then?”

“A siren.”

“Like that alarm that goes off when there’s a twister around?”

I shook my head. I could have said nothing. I didn’t.

“No, like the creature. You lure men in. Bad men. Until you’re alone.”

Half her mouth went up in a smile. The other half didn’t move. “And then?”

In for a penny, or whatever.

“You kill them.”

“And why am I killing them?”

“To eat them.”

She gestured at her burrito, already half eaten, and I understood the point she was trying to make.

“I eat lots of candy,” I said. “But I know that’s not good for me.”

I shouldn’t have been saying any of that, but I kept on talking. I’ve always wondered, was it her magic working on me? I knew sirens could draw men in, further, further, past the point of hope, but maybe it wasn’t something she could fully control. Maybe it was always there, pulsing out of her, and just standing next to me for ten minutes was enough to sink into my brain. Or something.

She looked at me. Really looked at me. I should have been scared, but I wasn’t. Sirens went after bad men, and I wasn’t bad. Not really. I’d seen the men she went after.

“And why do you think I’m a siren?” she asked.

“Because I saw you,” I said. “Two Sundays ago. You left here with that man, the one with the red puffy hat and the mustache that goes like this.”

I drew two lines down from under my nose to the bottom of my chin.

“And then two days later, I saw him on the news ‘cause he was missing. Then the next day he was dead. Found him in the quarry.”

She’d eaten the burrito while we’d been talking and turned the foil wrapped into a tight, perfect little ball. Slowly, like she didn’t even know she was doing it, she rolled that ball of foil between her palms, around and around and around.

“I think you killed my uncle, too. About three years back? He died the same way, and he didn’t have no business being by that quarry.”

“It’s a good drinking spot,” the woman said.

“He did all his drinking at my house.”

The ball stopped. She took a step closer. I think maybe she was trying to intimidate me, but like I said. I wasn’t that bad.

“And what. You gonna tell someone?”

I shook my head. “Naw. They was bad men. Well, my uncle definitely was, anyway. And that man from two weeks ago…I ain’t never seen him before, but I saw him then. I saw the way he grabbed your behind. Pushed you in the car. He didn’t seem like a nice man, neither.”

She really looked at me again. The rain was letting up. My butane lantern was on fumes and I was cold.

The siren opened up her purse and pulled out a couple of singles.

“Money for the food,” she said. “Advice for free. Next time you think you’re talking to a killer of men? Keep your mouth shut.”

An ugly blue car pulled in right then, and whatever had gone on between us dried up like the rain. She was in his car, the two of them peeling out of the parking lot, before I even finished packing up.

I took her advice to heart, anyway. Now when I see monsters, I keep my fool mouth shut.


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