Magic Fingers by Elizabeth Bruce

One dollar. For a jiggle, a jostle, a shake.

“Put four quarters in the slot, miss,” the motel clerk had said, the burn scar on his top lip stretched into a smile, “and let the Magic Fingers ease all your troubles away. You won’t find this in any of your fancy New York hotels, I can tell you that.”

Francine handed the laminated photo of the room back to him and peeled twenty bucks off her roll of tips from the Ladies Room at the Waldorf Astoria.

“Great,” she’d said giving him her best lopsided smile, careful not to show the broken tooth there on the left side of her smile. “What’s another dollar,” she said, waving her hand with the same merciless distain of her customers tossing a stray bill into the tip basket strategically placed beside the door of the marble floored Ladies Room. For the past 21 months she had hidden there from him, silencing terror in her heart with a sing-songy, unfailing cheeriness. “Care for a towel, Madam?”

What did they know, though, these ladies of the auxiliary clubs, of the meaning—the true value—of a dollar?

“You won’t regret it, miss,” the night clerk with the disfigured face had said and smiled, and she’d smiled back at him, a closed lipped earnest, midnight in nowhere smile, one damaged soul to another.

And she hadn’t regretted it. She’d lain face down on the faded purple bedspread with the port wine stain on the pillow and plunked four quarters into the box of the Magic Fingers and drifted. She dreamt that she was Dorothy, spinning, spinning far far away where he could never find her, Toto by her side and Glenda, the Good Witch of the North looking after her.

“Hey!” A woman’s voice came to her. The Wicked Witch of the West, she thought. Oh God, she’s found me.

“H-e-e-ey!”

Francine, face down on the bed, scrambled to sit up.

“He-e-e-ey. You in there!” The woman was drunk. Her tongue floated in the back of her throat.

“Come on, darlin’,” a man’s voice interrupted. He was drunk too, but happy drunk, got-him-a-woman-and-I’m gonna-get laid drunk.”

Francine waited. Drunk she knew. Drunk she could handle. And happy drunk, that was a walk in the park. Not like him, her ex, a volcanic drunk he was, breathing fire over the phone at the Waldorf Astoria once he’d tracked her down, violated the sanctity of her Ladies Room and gotten her fired.

“You understand, Francine,” her boss had said. “A place like this, we just can’t have any trouble.”

“He-e-e-y!” the woman called again, beating the door with her palm. “You got a dollar? I want me some Magic Fingers and I ain’t got a dime.”

Francine stifled a laugh. What the hell did she have to laugh about, she thought, holed up in a seedy motel outside of Pittsburgh with a crazy drunk woman at the door?

“Pu-u-l-e-e-e-e-z!” the woman pleaded, and, despite her better judgement, despite everything she knew about drunks and strangers and trouble, Francine reached into her handbag and, creeping on all fours, slid four shiny quarters under the door.

“O-o-o-h, thank you-u-u!” gurgled the woman. “God is gonna bless you, bless you, bless you!   Bless all the days of your life,” she shouted, and the man giggled like a girl.

“You got us a dollar, sugar,” he said. “Magic Fingers here we come.”

Francine crawled back to the bed and, leaning over it like she had as a child, she put her hands together. “Dear God,” she said, “please bless me, bless me, bless me, for all the days of my life. Amen.” And she slid another dollar into the slots and let the Magic Fingers chase all her troubles away.

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