“Woman with a Snubnose Revolver” by Nancy Werking Poling

18Feb11

I caught him glancing at me in the rearview mirror. Black fearful eyes set behind thick glasses resting on a long hooked nose. See, I pay attention to details, a lot better than he did. Okay, so he had to concentrate on the road, though even in Chicago there’s not much traffic at three in the morning—especially when the temperature’s fifteen degrees and there’s six inches of new snow on the ground.

The “Police Blotter” in this week’s Inside says I wore a long black dress and a furry kind of coat. That’s what he told police. Actually, the dress was teal, and the shit about a coat—just your regular kind. All goes to show men don’t notice a damn thing, whether it’s the dress you’re wearing or the hurt in your eyes. For a week a guy’ll review every fucking detail of a football game with his friends, or describe the markings of a horse that won the third race, clear down to the white patch of hair on its left rear leg. But ask him what color his woman’s eyes are and he’s all confused, like you just sat him down in a fancy restaurant and he has to figure out which fork to use.

No, I’m the stupid one. Dumbest woman on the face of the earth. All the time falling for no-good men. Desperate to believe they really love me when all they want is pussy.

Cops’ll be watching my neighborhood now. Doesn’t matter. If I couldn’t recognize myself when I got home and looked in the mirror, the taxi driver sure as hell won’t be able to identify me. The woman he saw through his rearview mirror had a puffy mouth and eyes, a clown nose, smeared mascara.

Okay, so I shouldn’t have gotten out practically in front of my own place. But how could he know for sure where I live, there being so many apartment buildings around, and I never gave him an address or anything, just said, Turn left here, now right, now left again, like I’d been doing for three hours. He had no idea where we’d end up.

Okay, so I had a gun. For protection, for chrissake, not to hurt anybody. Bought it a year ago, after I got mugged in Grant Park.

I was trying to decide what to do about Buddy, searching my purse for another tissue, when I felt the cool steel between my wallet and my compact. Just sort of slipped into my hand, it did. Turn off the goddamn meter, I shouted, reaching up to the front seat to show him the gun. So he’d take me seriously, that’s why I did it. You’ve got to put fear in a man for him to take you seriously. Would he have hauled me around half the night if I hadn’t sat behind him with a gun? Hell no.

That’s the problem with Buddy, he’s not afraid. Not like I am. Love can’t last unless the man’s afraid too. Before he’ll listen to his woman, really listen, he’s got to be afraid she’ll stop loving him. You’re too controlling, she can tell him, or Quit treating me like a child, but he won’t pay any attention, not unless he’s afraid. I’ve been the scared one. Scared he’d leave me, that he doesn’t love me as much as I love him.

Scared because I’m weak, that’s the real problem. I wouldn’t be clinging to such jerks if I wasn’t weak, and stupid, and needy. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I should have pointed the gun at myself. First Clive, then Robert, now Buddy—a woman with any sense at all wouldn’t let it keep happening.

No, it’s not a weakness to want love. Men are the problem. Self-centered bastards. Sex-crazed.

He told the police, the cabbie did, that for the whole three hours I did nothing but rant and rave against men, that I was crazy. As if he’s so all-fired knowledgeable about the difference between a woman who’s crazy and one who’s pissed. Working it all out, I was, trying to calm myself down.

Trying to settle my nerves after the—mortifying, that’s the word Grandma would have used—night I’d had with Buddy.

I let myself into his apartment, waded through the mess. He never throws anything away. Here it is the end of February and his artificial Christmas tree’s still up, half the ornaments on, half off. Boxes all over the place, some overflowing with clothes, some with papers. Papers on top of clothes on top of boxes, a narrow path between the door and couch.

He was watching a western on TV, didn’t even take his eyes off it. Didn’t notice my new dress, which for your information, Mr. Taxi Driver is teal, not black.

You could wish me a happy birthday, I finally said.

Happy birthday. Satisfied?

No, I’m not. I went over and sat on his lap.

But he didn’t pay any attention. He wasn’t afraid of me, wasn’t afraid I’d leave and take my love with me.

I was hoping we’d go out, I said, dinner and dancing.

He laughed. Who’s paying?

He’s got money. Won big down in Indiana the other week. What does he spend it all on? Betting on a Blackhawks game. He won there too, so he had reason enough to take me out, especially after I showed up at his place in a new dress.

Bought it for Buddy so he’d be real proud to be seen with me. But he acted like he wasn’t impressed with the dress. Or with me. We didn’t go anywhere.

Instead, he dragged me into the bedroom, threw me down on that filthy bed. Its sheets haven’t been washed in months. Wrinkled my new dress. Then as soon as he was finished with me, he went back to watch TV in the living room. A cooking show, for chrissake.

That’s what I was talking about in the taxi, what I was saying to myself: what asses men are, how they can’t even tell when a woman’s trying to make them proud and happy, or maybe they know but don’t want to give her any satisfaction. So determined to keep the upper hand, which is probably what I was saying in the cab, though to be honest I don’t remember.

Buddy thinks our relationship’s just for fucking. Doesn’t notice I’m a human being, a woman with needs. A horse, now he knows all there is to know about a horse, what its winning record is, who its mama and poppa are, knows the name of every body part. The only word he knows that has anything to do with my body is cunt. Didn’t even remember it was my birthday.

I never put the gun to the cabbie’s head or anything like that. Never threatened him. I’m not that kind of person to go around threatening people. Just knew that if I went home, Stephanie’d be there, and Morris would be spending the night, and they’d be going at it hot and heavy. There’s no way I could have concentrated with all that moaning going on, bed banging against the wall. Riding around in a taxi was about as much quiet as I could get. Needed a place to think. Is it a crime for a woman to think out loud?

Most of the streets were deserted, the wind blowing so hard the traffic lights were swaying back and forth, street signs quivering and rattling. Safer than most places, the taxi was, though anybody in town can tell you Chicago cabs don’t usually offer much in the way of atmosphere: vinyl seat patched with duct tape, a cloud of air freshener mixed with cigarette smoke hovering over your head.

I opened the window, partly so the odor wouldn’t make me sick, but mostly to let some fresh air slap me in the face, help me think straight. He closed it. Would you please? he asked with a strong accent. I’m sure it was Russian. Not that I know what a Russian accent sounds like, only that his reminded me of that Doctor What’s His Name I saw on TV late one night, the movie where all those Russians ride over snowy fields in sleighs and all the bells jingle. Anybody who can stand riding in a sleigh in the middle of winter—they’re a sturdy bunch, those Russians. And this guy wants me to believe that having one fucking window open is going to give him pneumonia or something? I rolled the window back down.

You won’t be picking up any more passengers for a while, Sergei, or whatever your friggin’ name is, so you may as well relax, I said, waving the gun. When I saw his scared eyes in the rearview mirror, I almost told him he didn’t have to be afraid, but changed my mind. A man’s got to be afraid of a woman before he’ll listen to her.

Just keep driving, Sergei. Turn left up here. Now right. Go slow. The Ice Bar, where Buddy and I met. Even though the late night air was cold, people stood around outside, waiting to get in. A few coming out. One man, when he saw the cab, let go of his girlfriend’s hand and ran toward the curb whistling and waving.

I told Sergei to keep going, leaned forward to show him the gun again. Go to the end of this street, then turn left. We drove along for a while. Left, down three blocks. Now drive real slow. Except for a few street lamps that followed the path, the forest preserve was dark. I knew there was a pond just over that small rise. The last time Buddy and I were there, we walked that path to the pond, our arms wrapped around each other. The leaves were bright red, yellow, brown, and we watched them float real dainty-like across the top of the water. Before Buddy got his divorce, we met there a lot, sometimes stepping into a cluster of trees, where we kissed and he’d stick his hand in my blouse.

Turn right. No, next street. Keep going, it’s a long ways. Cars parked on both sides, all so close to each other you couldn’t fit a tampon between them. Except for where two chairs held somebody’s parking spot. What was that guy doing out so late? Probably screwing some young chick who thought he was the next best thing to God. Did I have shit to tell her!

I had him stop in front of the apartment where Buddy used to live, where we first did it, up on the third floor. “Vintage,” they call those old buildings with high ceilings and dark wood trim. On hot summer nights we slept by French doors that opened onto a narrow balcony. Mornings he’d make us a big breakfast. How he loves sausage. Hope it kills you someday, you asshole, the cholesterol clogging your arteries, blocking the way to your fuckin’ heart. You have no heart.

Sergei might have heard me say that. Maybe that’s what made him tell the police I spent the whole night ranting and raving against men.

Stay on Clark awhile. Snow was starting to come down, hitting the front window so he had to turn on the wipers. Some blowing in the window beside me, hitting my face, the snow and my tears all mixed together, forming a river that rolled down my cheeks. A White Castle, all lit up, seemed like a refuge in the storm, a giant igloo.

What a faker, those early months, acting like he wanted to please me. Winning my love in a way not all that different from betting on a horse. You’re all excited about this race, put everything you’ve got on it, then when the horse wins for you, you’ve got the cash, so you don’t need that horse anymore. Another race is about to begin; you bet what you just won on the next one. And on it goes.

You squandered it all, Buddy, the love we had, the good times. Had to bet all the winnings on the next race. Couldn’t be happy with what you had. Goddamn men—always thinking something better’s just around the corner.

Turn left. The corner where I saw him with another woman. She was wearing a saffron yellow blouse with sepia colored pants, gold bracelets halfway up her arm. The arm that wasn’t wrapped around his waist. See, I notice what a woman’s wearing. A black dress, the dumb-ass taxi driver told the police. She had sandy blond hair that barely touched her shoulders, the hair on one side pulled behind her ear. I can see it still, her face turned up to his, love in her eyes.

We were in Buddy’s car when I told him I’d seen them together, acting all lovey-dovey. She means nothing to me, he said, and accused me of stalking him, which I wasn’t. For probably half an hour or so we yelled at each other, until just as we were going around a corner, he reached across me, opened the car door, and pushed me out.

Turn right, stay on this street awhile. Just as we passed a sign that said “Quiet, Hospital Zone,” an ambulance, its siren fading, turned into the circular drive. Was there a woman inside, her arm broken, her face red and swollen, a woman who’d been pushed out of a car onto the pavement? Looking up at the quiet building, I saw shadows in the lit hallways, faint room lights every now and then.

Turn right, head to Old Town. We went past the Roadhouse, where Buddy got drunk and thought I was getting cozy with one of his friends, and when we went outside he cursed at me and pushed me down on the sidewalk. The sight of blood, a big smudge of it on the sleeve of my blouse—that’s what it took before he’d say he was sorry and beg for my forgiveness.

Under “Police Blotter,” the article is. Says I forced the driver to haul me around for three hours, and that I ranted and raved against men. Must have scared him shitless, a woman waving a gun, cursing men.

Suddenly I was tired. Pictured myself undressed, stretched across my bed, an arm wrapped around the giant teddy bear Buddy won for me by shooting at a moving line of plastic gorillas. Without thinking where we were headed, I gave the cabbie directions to my neighborhood.

Okay, so I probably shouldn’t have robbed him. I hadn’t planned to, but when he stopped, just around the corner from the building where I live, I thought about how long it’d take me, on a receptionist’s salary, to pay what I still owed on the dress. I looked down, saw the gun, and thought why not? It only came to a little over a hundred dollars, the money he had with him. Then he said he was almost out of gas, and would I leave him twenty dollars so he could at least get some. I said sure.

“Woman wearing a black dress,” the paper says. The police are searching for her. Why? Because she forced a cabbie to drive all over Chicago for three hours then made him hand over his money. Seems a minor offense to me, given the alternative: “Woman wearing a stunning teal dress is wanted for the murder of her ex-boyfriend.”

 


Nancy Werking Poling is a late-bloomer. Since she retired, two of her books have been published: Out of the Pumpkin Shell, a novel bringing together the themes of aging angst, female friendship, and domestic violence; and a story collection, Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman. After spending more than twenty years in the Chicago area, she and her husband now live in the mountains of North Carolina.


To read Nancy Werking Poling’s comments on Ezra Fox’s “Going Down,” click here.

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Notes from K. Anne Unger, Editor
The frenetic energy of “Woman With a Snubnose Revolver” keeps readers entertained and thoroughly engaged from the beginning to the end. It’s like a rollercoaster ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat, anticipating the next big thrill or freakish scare, not knowing what might possibly happen next. But this story offers more than simple amusement. By the end, regardless of how you feel about the narrator, you come to appreciate how the author captured and presented this serious and heartbreaking matter.

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Comments on this story by A.K. Small, author of “The Diving Board”
I found the story to be a fast read. I love the enclosed taxicab, the tight ride we embark on as readers. Like the poor driver, I felt imprisoned by this multi-layered narrator. I like the voice, the dry anger that flows through her as she waves the gun in the passenger seat. Anything can happen which is what makes the story veer forward and what makes the reader want to keep reading. I also like the setting, Chicago, in the snow. It’s a great contrast to the wild emotions coursing through the protagonist. Last, but not least, I always think of women who have been poorly treated both sexually and physically by men as victims, yet in this story the narrator has turned to predator. I found that aspect of her character fresh and unexpected.




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