Marie smiled and scooted down the bench, closer to the camera.
“I was fifteen,” she said, straight into the lens, “when my stepfather came into my bedroom late at night….”
“Whoa!” Gary said, and turned off the camera. “I just want to hear about how you started sleeping rough,” he said. “This is a documentary on what it’s like to live out here, on the street.”
Marie smiled and said how sorry she was, then she adjusted herself on the bench again and prepared for another take.
She was dressed in a long, faded, and flower-patterned beach dress, waist-length fake fur jacket, and sandals with socks. Her hair was half in greasy dreadlocks.
“Okay,” Gary said. “Let’s try it again.”
His SONY video camera was so quiet you couldn’t tell when it was “rolling.”
“The first guy I moved in with,” Marie started up, “was nice to begin with, but he started beating me regularly within a couple of weeks.”
“No! No!” Gary said, and switched off the camera again. You could only tell when the camera was off because the light on its side clicked off automatically.
Gary opened his script and read a few paragraphs of his instructions to himself.
“This is where you’re supposed to tell me about what it’s like ‘sleeping rough,’” she said to Marie. “That’s what we want to know about. Okay?”
Marie reached for her absolutely sweetest voice. “I am sorry again,” she said. “All the parts of this seem to stick together. I have a hard time separating them.”
“Okay,” Gary allowed. “Shall we try it again?”
The light blazed up and the camera was on.
“I hadn’t been in the women’s center for even two days,” Marie said, as if reading from a prepared text,” when this Mexican pimp had me turning tricks for smokes”
“Oh, shit, Marie,” Gary yelled and forgot to turn the camera off. “Why can’t you stick to the plan?”
“My life never had much of a plan,” Marie said into the camera, which was still recording. She seemed to sense that posterity was waiting in the wings.
“I started out a pretty normal kid,” she said, “but then my mother and father were divorced and my mother married this asshole….”
“Stop! Stop! Gary screamed and just managed to get the camera turned off after a couple of fumbling efforts.
“What part of ‘sleeping rough’ don’t you understand?” he demanded.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Marie said, and reached over and switched the camera back on by herself.
“The rock bottom truth this time.”
Gary smiled and looked into the viewfinder on the camera. “Go,” he said.
“Well, I had a pretty strong taste for bourbon right from the start,” Marie began, “but I soon graduated to weed and from there it was an easy leap to smack and cocaine.”
“Fuck it,” Gary said under his breath, and just let the video keep on rolling.
“I was really a wreck, you know,” Marie was saying into the camera. “and I ended up sleeping outdoors next to a garbage can in an alley, asking myself: ‘What’s next? There’s not much left to lose.”
Charles Tarlton retired from college teaching and turned to poetry and flash fiction. In the last couple of years he published a bunch of poems and flash stories and was nominated for the Pushcart by Muse-Pie Press.
Copyright © 2014 by Charles Tarlton