Sunday Sampler: Queeny by Janice Ernest
August 9, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Saturday’s Sampler is an excerpt from Queeny, fiction from Janice Ernest.
Queeny was a semi-finalist in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards for Works in Progress.
The First Chapter
The crisp November breeze wafted around her shabby cotton dress lifting it like a crinkled autumn leaf exposing the stained sweatshirt and paint stained sweat pants beneath. She appeared large, obese, but that was only due to the the many layers of clothing she was wearing. She pushed her overflowing shopping cart into the alley, looked around to see if anyone was watching and began her dig through the smelly, dumpster.
“Everything will be okay, you will be alright. Just live and let live. Oh, looky here.” She reached in with her hand and pulled from amid the refuse a large silk printed scarf. “Oh so pretty.” She placed it around her neck, not even noticing the flecks of food and wet stain which it held. She danced about to music heard only in her head. “Look, Princess,” she said. “Aren’t I beautiful? This is Ralph Lauren. Maybe I’ll let you play with it or maybe you can wear it sometime.” She removed the scarf and placed it in her shopping cart.
“Awful cold today, I’ll bet you’re freezing. You know mummy loves you.” She reached into the old Louie Vuitton handbag and petted the torn stuffed Chihuahua toy. “Mummy will take care of you. She sure will.” Digging further into the dumpster she found one half of a recently discarded sandwich and an apple. “We’ll save these for later.” She gingerly placed both into her shopping cart and began to hum a made up tune to herself.
“My, My, it is cold today, Princess let’s go in this hotel and find ourselves a place to sleep.”
In her world, a loading dock had come to equal the grand hotels of her past. “Mr. Barney,” she said to the invisible doorman, “Princess and I are ready to go upstairs now.” She stepped up the three steps onto the dock of the back door of the Litton Hotel.
The hotel cook happened to be out on the alley and saw her. “Hey, old Lady, what are you doing? Get off the loading dock, now!”
She looked at him and smiled, then said, “Mr. Barney, there you are, Princess and I are ready to go upstairs now.”
“I told you to get off the dock! Go on shew!” The cook lurched toward her on the dock.
For just one moment, reality struck and realizing that she was about to be attacked she pushed herself and her cart hard to get away. The metal basket crashed off the end of the loading dock spewing its contents all over the alleyway. She was pulled along with it. “oh no, oh no, oh no.” She managed to pull herself up from the ground. Tears filled her eyes as she tried to gather together the tattered bits of treasured belongings and to upright the cart now on its side.
“Princess, are you alright?” She didn’t even notice the cut on her upper right temple or the pain in her right hip. “Princess? Princess?” She found the Louie Vuitton bag and the pitiful stuffed Chihuahua. She hugged it all to her chest. “mummy will take care of you.”
The cook started, “Lady, are you alright?” He raced to her.
She did not respond, as she was busy with her life, placing each piece and remnant of it into her shopping cart. “Get away from me! Leave me be! Help! Help!” She pushed him away.
From where he stood he could see the cut on her head, but what was he supposed to do anyway, help some old homeless lady who didn‘t want or need his help. She‘ll be gone in a minute. He decided to leave her alone and go back into work.
She managed to pick up her belongings and stuff them into the shopping cart making sure that Princess ended up safely on top in her bag. Her head had stopped bleeding. A cold sticky clot of bloody film glued itself within her hairline. She righted herself and began a limping journey out toward the street. Her broken femur remained in place just long enough that she was able to reach the alley opening when the bone shifted cutting the femoral artery. She felt a sharp pain and descended to the ground. “Oh, my, my!” she said as she faded into unconsciousness and then death.
Officer Mike had been patrolling this area for the last 10 years now. Nothing went down on his beat that he wasn’t aware of. He knew every wino, drug dealer, pimp, prostitute and homeless person on his part of the city. Another day, another dollar; time to get started. Going through his usual routine he pulled up to the curve, parked his car, got out, and walked the first two blocks of his territory. As he passed the first alley, he looked in and saw Louie, the homeless wino lying in a fetal position, asleep and loudly snoring. The wine bottle was still grasped in his hand as it extended out from the tent Louie had constructed from two sides of a cardboard box. He decided not to wake Louie today because number one, he was snoring in a loud rhythmic manner and number two, which identified that Louie was indeed alive. He moved on down the street. Along about number 1500 he noted an old Buick drive up to the curb and eject three ladies of the night onto the street.
“Okay, you girls, you better get off my street right now before I have to arrest you. Go on, hurry up.”
The three scantily clad prostitutes said almost in unison, “Yes Sir, Officer Mike, see ya later.” The two younger ones headed into a building close by. The older stayed out. “Hey Mike, how’s everything on your side of the railroad? Word out on the street is that you’re thinking about giving up this life of luxury amongst all us great people. If you ever decide to, come see me, I’ll help you celebrate your new free life. I always have liked men in uniform.”
“Maggie, get your scantily clad little ass off my street right now before I have to haul it off.” He smiled then patted her but.
Looking over her shoulder at him she flashed him a grin, “Bye Mike”, then disappeared into the same doorway her predecessors had. He continued his walk to the corner then made the first turn of his journey. About halfway down the next block he saw the shopping cart and someone’s legs protruding beyond it on the ground. As he got closer, a coldness formed in his gut. This person was definitely not asleep and their legs were askew. When he arrived at the scene, he recognized the wizened face and wispy hair of ‘Queeny’ as she was known to everyone on the street. “Oh, Queeny, not you.” He bent down to examine her more closely and noticed a dried clump of blood just above her right temple and a brown stain on her right hand. Her right leg was turned outward at an odd angle. She was still holding onto the leg of her shopping cart with a frozen death grasp. “Oh, Queeny.” Three years ago while walking his beat he had first met this strange, paranoid, woman. Back then, she would guard her cart against all comers. He would always try to speak to her from a distance and after a while he started bringing her a morning donut and cup of coffee. He would deliver both to her on his way back to the car. At first she would say, “no, no, go away.” As he would leave, he would hear her scurry forward like a rat to get the food he left for her. By the end of the first three months, she would actually approach him and sometimes in her most lucid moments they would converse. One time she approached him with an injured pigeon. She had picked it up out of the road after a car hit it and she had doctored it, rather well indeed, for a crazy lady. She showed it to him and told him that it would need lots of watching over until it could be “discharged” from her care. “Well, today, Queenie, there will be no donut for you or for me.” He turned and walked back to his car, picked up the radio and requested the Justice of the Peace be sent immediately to number 1500 Commerce, a homeless person had passed away. He got out of the car taking with him a small box containing a fingerprint kit, evidence tags, and a digital camera and started back to the scene. Good thing I caught this early before the main traffic hits the pavement, maybe we can get her off the streets pretty quick.
While waiting for the Justice of the Peace to arrive he took a set of prints, then checked out the scene, looking for clues. Was this a homicide or just a freak accident?