There used to be a once upon a time when every princess knew that a prince, a super-charming hunk, waited for her to swell and burst from her cheerleader uniform into high heels and a slinky little dress. This guarantee of cartoon royalty is a girl thing that never leaves, as built-in as the carpet matching the drapes, and the first and last dream of every chick raised on Disney or Christ or a big bad wife-beating daddy.
We’re all princesses, no matter how many walks of shame have left us calloused and bitter and broken-heeled. I know my sparkle has smudged a bit, and at best I’ve got one last go-around before the sprinkles turn to gravel and the hard need for a man hip-checks my pride out of the way in favor of whatever smear of regal might be found on a barstool. I’m not looking for a guy to drop the little blue pill to boner-up and light up my life with the Kama Sutra: in my business it’s all about the looks, and the beauty parlor time machine costs money.
When a girl’s bod heads south and respectability becomes a delusion standing in the way of three squares and a new muffler, you need a plan and you better choose smart. Porn is too extreme, stripping too acrobatic, and hooking too dangerous. MILFs are hot these days but young guys have no money and all they want to do is fuck. I still looked pretty good for bumping my head on forty—no kids, stretch marks I can hide with a garter belt, a tired liver maybe, but most important was no sense of decency whatsoever. That’s why Florida was perfect for me. There were as many fresh starts there as pawnshops, so the best choice I had was to hock my past for The Magic Domain and feel the enchantment.
Slapped down on the cracked-earth flatlands in the middle of the state like the worst case scenario, The Magic Domain is the kind of place where guys with a ninth grade education and shared custody take their kids for a couple of days of sunburn, fried food, and wishing they could afford Disneyland. Single men mobbed it like the Budweiser tent at Daytona; I just needed to find one who didn’t have too many kids.
I passed the background check in under a minute after the HR guy locked his office and allowed me to make his short-term dreams come true. A real gentleman, he gave me a Dixie cup and directions to wardrobe where I got fitted for a wig and a gown. Stripper pink with a bodice of Vegas Xmas blue, the gown had all the cotton candy expectations of a pimp with a rotten sweet tooth.
Beneath the icing I was total commando, ready to pull the trigger for a little peek-a-boo-boom-boom. When a princess-in-training sat on my lap and gazed into my royal blue bloodshot eyes, I spread my legs and gave daddy an entirely different view. Dressed for an occasion that had finally arrived after too many years loitering on the dollar menu I was a certifiable princess-deluxe with a side of large fries. I had enough magic to soothe little girls and the power to lead men to levels of jackassery so blinding they thought road to the bedroom was greased with KY. The rest of my gear consisted of a vial of Seconal, some condoms, and a second-hand .38. Guns scared me, but when I handled this one at the pawnshop, spun the cylinder and felt the weight of it, I knew I could keep my priorities straight. The zit-faced clerk that kept poking my tits with his eyes helped me with that. The rubbers were the last resort.
On the job for a couple of weeks I saw quick how it worked. The little girls approach you and you put your arms around them, and then a beer-bellied dad with a Yogi Bear body stuffed into ankle-long Bermuda shorts and a sleeveless NASCAR tee-shirt takes pictures with his phone. The kids laid their broken hearts on me with a little Q and A like, "Can you make my parents get married again," or "Why did daddy give my dog away?" Some were coached, I could tell, and when summer vacation began this kind began to show up, and not a moment too soon. They were the ones with the daddies who had cash.
The girl was cute, a little older than most, about fourteen or even fifteen, with a wad of watermelon bubble gum in her mouth and a row of piercings that ran up her ear like tacks on an old chair. When I glanced at her father, who smiled behind a huge cup of beer (how else could you compete with the gold standard of amusement parks on the other side of the dried-up lake except with cheap medicine for dad?), I finally heard "My dad wants to know if you live around here," and I felt my lucky star shining brighter than a highway patrolman’s flashlight. I crouched in the approved position taught by the princess training team, a squat over your feet, thighs protruding for a seat, legs together—and the girl, Britteeny, sat on my royal crotch as dad took pictures.
Dad had risen as high on the food chain as he was going to get and it showed. He wore green Dickies, steel-toed shoes and a short-sleeved shirt with his name embroidered on it. I was hoping it would be something old-school and honorable like Floyd or Ferlin or Hank, but this being the middle of Florida, at a no-name theme park, with a bunch of rednecks and cheap beer, dude’s name turned out to be Cody. What clinched the deal for me was the pencil stuck behind his ear. Not only was the guy here to pig out on chicken fingers and show his daughter the style to which she’d most likely become accustomed, but he looked like he was bidding on an addition to the magic castle. Anybody who was all business on vacation had to have cash stowed away.
I was all business, too. This was a family destination, so I eased my legs open and pulled up my dress just enough to give dad as lady-like a beaver shot as I could, gamey as I was in the afternoon heat. He lowered the phone and snapped away like it was first one he’d ever seen. Usually this would get me a discreet tip, ten or twenty dollars, but my car was acting up again and I needed this guy to empty his wallet. I opened my mouth wide as I could and swallowed the hook, making sure papa understood it was time to reel me in.
“Of course I live around here,” I said, pointing to the half-assed castle that looked like His Highness had it trucked over from the place by the airport that sold sheet-metal garden sheds. Then I looked at dad.
“But sometimes I stay in the Orange Grove Apartments, about a mile away,” I said. “Where are you staying, princess?”
Dad had hovered around me like it was parent/teacher day at the titty bar; but now that the girl had sealed the deal he swooped in like Tarzan on a vine to sweep me up to his tree house. He stuck a wad of crumpled bills into Britteeny’s hand, and the twinkle in her eyes dulled to ice and her smile went flat with numb satisfaction. All business, she’d done her part. Now it was time for her payday.
“We’re down the highway just past you,” he said, sipping his beer and pulling his Bass Masters cap forward. He was sunburned like all the rest of them wandering the park like half-lit Pillsbury Dough pervs, and his chubby face was the kind that would always look young and cheerful and clueless; the kind men don’t take seriously and women think belongs to a chump. Cody was from Missouri and Nana, his mom, was with them back at the hotel getting her nails done—or sharpened—said Britteeny. After dinner she and Nana were going to the movies. Cody heard his cue and pulled his face out of the beer cup. A foam Fu Manchu dripped down the stubble onto his chin.
“After the movie, maybe the princess would like to tuck you into bed and wish you sweet dreams,” said Cody.
Britteeny stopped counting the bills and got right on it. “You mean she’s coming to visit?”
“If she’d like,” said Cody. “I’ll bet princesses get hungry for dinner, don’t they?” He leered at me like a chuck wagon Romeo drooling over me like my underwear was made of pork rinds.
“We get hungry alright,” I said. “And not always for things on the menu.”
A man of action, Cody tossed back his beer and crushed the paper cup. “I hear you on that,” he said. “But just in case, the Chinese place across the highway has a menu you wouldn’t believe.”
Cody really needed some direction. No wonder Nana came along.
“I hope princesses get thirsty, too, right?”
“Princesses can always use a drink,” I said.
“Me too,” said Cody. He tapped away on his phone with his nose to the screen and admired his photography. Britteeny tugged on his arm for a look-see but Cody shrugged away.
“Hey girl, that’s private,” he said.
Britteeny pouted. “I wanna see,” she said.
“I don’t think so,” said Cody. “Hot damn. Here’s one—you and the princess,” Cody said. Britteeny pulled the phone to her and she and dad high-fived and wandered off, two birds admiring the stone that got them.
The Seminole Inn was a helluva lot further than Cody said. Stretched between a 7 - Eleven and a carwash, it was two stories high and really long, like a skyscraper had quit in the Florida heat and collapsed on its side in a deserted orange grove. The place was hopping with future deadbeat dads and their stripper girlfriends shooting it out with pellet pistols along the balcony and up and down the stairways as their parents hollered from open apartments, TVs blasting Wheel of Fortune. Britteeny sat on a concrete landing, pellet gun in hand, protecting her honor, I suppose. She wore pink hot pants, a halter top that stressed a just-sprouting chest, and wedges that gave enough inches to reach age eighteen. This chick was a teeny-bopper wannabe looking to get bopped. She put her finger to her lips and stood next to me to make me a shield. Two boys ran by. They wore baggy pants and bad haircuts and looked like locals trolling for vacation action. Britteeny popped from behind me and put a couple of pellets into the heads of each.
“Ow goddammit no head shots,” they said.
Britteeny aimed at their crotches and fired a couple of rounds dead center on their balls. “That better?” she asked and took off for the room.
I followed along and knocked on the door. Nana answered, and what I saw was a brick wall with a face. She couldn’t have been more than a hundred pounds, but every one of them counted. “So you’re the princess I’ve been hearing about,” she said.
She patted me down with an eye-balling once over, pausing when she found something she didn’t like. She found plenty, too. Aside from no bra and panties obvious from the sun at my back it also might’ve been the .38 in my purse. Or the Trojans. Or the Seconal. She was the kind of woman who didn’t like surprises, and the glass of wine in her hand seemed to vibrate with pent-up resistance. Britteeny poked her head between Nana and the door jamb, on the lookout for pellet gun pistoleros. One of the kids moved slowly along he walkway, gun leading the way. Britteeny ducked inside but Nana grabbed her pistol. When the kid moved past Nana opened fire and the kid ran screaming. Britteeny laughed.
“Bitch!” Nana called.
“See, Nana,” she said. “I told you my princess would come.” She thrust a hand towards Nana and Nana snatched a wad of cash from her.
“C’mon in,” Nana said, with just a little slur. “We were just on our way out. Cody’s in the shower.”
Nana took a healthy swallow. “He must like you,” she said. “Been in there for a while. Drink?”
“No, thank you,” I said.
Nana slung her purse over her shoulder and placed a hand on Britteeny to get her along. “We won’t be late,” she said.
They passed through the doorway and Nana turned and gave me a last minute wisecrack. “Easy does it, your majesty. The walls are pretty thin.”
“I’ll be careful,” I said.
“Even if these walls were made of cement, I’d still hear you loud and clear,” she said.
I sat on a couch stained and sunken and defeated by years of fast food, fat asses, and slim chances. The shower turned off with a squeak and I heard Cody humming away at Camptown Races. He stuck his head around the corner of a hallway, towel around his waist and a can of beer in his hand. If Cody needed a roadie for a trip to the bathroom this was going to be easy. “Don’t mind me,” he said. “I’ll be out in a sec. Toss me the shorts on the chair, wouldja?”
The towel slipped to the floor and Cody stood in his lounge wear of choice—tighty-whitey’s and nothing else but him, and plenty of it. He had man boobs, a tractor tire around his middle, and enough body hair to stuff a pillow. I picked up the camo cargos and aimed for his head. He thought I was flirting and caught them in his mouth like a terrier, growled then gave them a shake for laughs. He slipped back to the john, but the meat of this matter was sitting on the chair. It was a wallet. Another beer snapped open and I knew the coast was clear so I grabbed it. Fatter than a catcher’s mitt with almost an inch of green, I helped myself to a bunch of hundreds. Because it was for my car repairs I took a phone pic of his Sears card and his driver’s license.
Spray deodorant hissed and Cody belched over a toilet flush. I knew he was ready. I sat on the couch with my legs together and hands on my lap like a lady, taught to me in sixth grade by nuns with rulers. But my skirt was pulled way over my knees like Ben Franklin on the C-note had taught me. My tan kind of hid the spider web veins on my thighs but I wasn’t going to worry about that. I palmed two hits of Seconal so I could seal the deal but the door buzzer went off like a wrong answer on Jeopardy.
Cody bounced into the room and let the pizza guy in. He had to be twenty years old and he gave me the up and down without bothering to hide it. Like most twenty year olds he didn’t think he was twenty years old. Cody dropped an extra-large garbage pie onto the coffee table. It stank to high heaven which had to mean I was pretty special. I thought people from Missouri didn’t go for anchovies and garlic but Cody had a special kind of debonair that was hard to spot at first, but when he was presented with the basic choices of life it didn’t take long for you to figure him out. He tapped his pockets for the wallet, looked scared for a second then saw it on the chair. He got confused by what to do with his can of beer so I reached for it. Cody paid the kid, and as he did, the brotherly chit chat that working guys are able to rouse between themselves when they recognize one of their own kicked in and I dropped the pills into the beer. The kid left, and a car started with a snort over the rattle and throb of the beaten-down air conditioners. Cody tossed the wallet back onto the chair.
A slice of drooping pizza in one hand and a spiked beer in the other, Cody went at it. A real multitasker, he didn’t let a full mouth interfere with conversation. “Where you from, dear?” he said.
“You mean originally?”
“Sure. Take it back a coupla stops from the Orange Grove Apartments.”
“All you need to know is that it snows way too much in Buffalo, New York.”
“Buffalo? Ain’t that where people shuffle off to?”
“Not if they can help it.”
He stuffed a huge bite-full into his mouth and chewed real hard. He said, “Say, you need something to drink. There a box o’ vino in the fridge. Like some?”
To steer this ride to my destination I had to get on board. But I had to be careful. “Sure,” I said, “I’ll get it. Got wine glasses there?”
He chugged his beer and put the can in my path. “Yup. Help yourself. And get me a beer, please.”
I took my purse to get Cody loaded.
“Britteeny took to you real nice,” he said. “Since we got back to the motel all she did was talk about you,” he said.
“I’m glad I made a friend,” I said.
“She’s a smart one, I’ll say.” He grabbed a fresh slice.
“Mind if I ask a personal question?” I said.
He stopped in mid-bite. His mouth hung open like he was about to French a cankered dragon-tongue of pizza. “What’s that,” he said, turning to me.
I shimmied closer so he’d think he was catching a whiff of honesty. He swished his mouth out with beer and bounced on his ass to get closer to me. “Is Britteeny’s mother around,” I said.
“You mean the ex?” Cody pushed his hat back to indicate thinking mode. “Not exactly. Britteeny’s mom skipped out a while back. She comes around every now and then, but mostly she has better things to do. Britteeny doesn’t see her very much, if that’s what you mean.”
That’s what I meant. The way to a man’s wallet was through his motherless, Nana-pecked daughter, and there’s nothing dads like more than a babysitter who they think’ll get him off when the kids have gone to bed. The drugs were taking an effect and Cody had to pause and think to get the words out quick enough so they wouldn’t hold up traffic. But he wasn’t going to give up without a fight. He put his arm around me and pulled me to him, opening his heart like only a home improvement contractor could. “I think you’re pretty special too,” he said.
“I could tell,” I said, pulling off a piece of pizza and chewing the blast-furnace-hard crust.
Then he began to feel me up. His hands were rough and his fingers were fat and strong and all over me. I slapped his paws and he laughed. He was having fun. Foreplay to this boy was arm-wrestling to see who’d get on top.
“When Britteeny said ‘Hey look at her!’ I knew you were super-duper,” he said. “I mean, you are a princess. Even without the dress on I’ll bet, right? Deserve the royal treatment and everything for being so nice to my girl.”
“Thanks, Cody,” I said, pulling away and using my inside voice so the neighbors wouldn’t hear. “Princesses want to get acquainted before giving you a feel on the first date. ’Nother beer?”
I got up quick to get this over with but he was right on top of me. As graceful as a drunken rhumba he bumped a lamp off a table, lunged to grab it, kicked a footstool then fell me-first into an armchair so hard I had to bend over and grip the arms to keep from getting crushed. He was behind me, the teeth of his zipper chewing on my ass as he grunted and snorted, like he was galloping down the homestretch for a little doggie style doo-dah, doo-dah. I wasn’t having any of that. My payday with Cody had already arrived; I was hanging around for a chance of a little more icing on the cupcake, but now it was time to split, with no long faces from Britteeny or sneers from the old lady who’d gladly see me to the door. I tried to shake him off as I reached for my purse and the .38 when the front door opened. Nana and Britteeny walked in.
“That’s a nice cozy conga line,” Nana said.
Britteeny put her hands on her hips and let her mouth hang open for a sec. “Christ, daddy,” Britteeny said, “She’s a princess.”
Cody fell onto the couch and closed his eyes, his face melting into an expression of blissful I-don’t-give-a-shit.
“Nana said we couldn’t see a movie.” Britteeny looked at her grandmother then to Cody, as if she expected him to do something.
Cody lifted his arms in the international sign of ‘oh, well.’
“And she called Princess an ass-wipe,” Britteeny said.
This got a rise from Cody; his belly jiggled with a silent laugh.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” I said, pulling the dress from my ass crack.
Nana steered Britteeny to the bedroom and then came back. “Don’t worry.” she said. “I won’t.”
Nana sat next to Cody and shook her head. “Sometimes a boy never outgrows his mama,” she said, without a trace of affection. She flicked a crumb from the corner of his mouth and lifted his beer to check the amount. “What are you doing here, anyway? What’s the plan?” Nana said.
“Britteeny deserves some time with a princess, don’t you think?”
“You for real? He’s your type of guy?” she said.
“Maybe,” I said. “But the prince in him better hurry up out. If not, the wine’s good. Want some?”
“Might as well. I bought it. Make yourself at home, hostess with the most-ess.”
I picked up my purse and walked around Cody to the kitchen. Nana kept on talking. I needed to put her under and split.
“If he’s been hitting the vodka in the freezer then it serves him right,” Nana said. “Stuff sits in your stomach until it warms up then bang! you’re lit. With beer on top you’re a goner.”
Nana was about to get real done as I swirled the wine glass and dissolved the Seconal. I poured half a glass so she’d drink the whole thing quick. She downed it with a toss of the head and gave me the glass for another. I settled in to wait her out. Britteeny crept in and sat on a corner of my chair. She had a hair brush with her so I pulled it through her hair over and over and asked to her let me know when I’d gone a hundred strokes. Nana moved her lips like she was counting, and it didn’t take long for her to begin to snore softly. I took my time with Britteeny and we talked.
“How old are you, Britteeny?”
“Just asking,” I said.
“How old do you think I am,” said Britteeny.
“I think you’re too old to sit on my lap at The Enchanted Domain.”
“You’re right. It was dad’s idea, though.”
“To sit on my lap?”
“Yup. Didn’t really want to. But The Enchanted Domain was my idea. I like it there.”
Britteeny stared at something outside the window, at something far from Florida, at something far, far away.
“Do you ever speak to your mother?” I asked, pulling the brush through her thick brown hair.
Britteeny grabbed the brush. “A hundred,” she said, and slid from the chair.
Nana was curled on the couch and Cody was restless, his lips trying to make words, talking to his dream girl, probably. It was time for a getaway. Britteeny picked up Cody’s wallet and flipped through it.
“Daddy sure has a lot of money,” she said.
She went to my purse and opened it before I could stop her. “Hey you’re loaded, too.”
Britteeny was right; I’d taken over five hundred dollars during the evening. She took several hundreds from Cody’s wallet and stuffed them into my purse. “I like you,” she said. “You’re OK.”
Then she removed the gun, two hands on the grip, like a child would who really didn’t understand what it could do. “Daddy has one of these.”
“Do you know how to use it?”
“No. But he shoots it in the backyard sometimes, she said. “Is it loaded?"
“Yes, your highness,” I said. “May I have it, please?”
Then she pointed it, finger inside the guard, at Nana. This was going no place good. “How come you have a gun?” she said.
“Princesses have to protect themselves, too,” I said.
“You’re not like all the other princesses. When daddy falls asleep they steal from him. That’s what he says.”
“You’re right, I’m not like other princesses,” I said.
“Nana steals from him. All the time. Me, too." Britteeny put the gun back and took my out my perfume. She sprayed herself. “Can we go to the movies? Nana gypped me.”
“It’s kinda late, don’t you think,” I said.
Brittany helped herself to a fistful of hundreds from Cody’s wallet. “This one’s on daddy,” she said.
“I like that. Can I keep the change?”
“Sure,” said Britteeny. “Can I drive?”
“Do you know how?”
She picked up the pellet gun on the table and jammed it into the waist of her pants. “I drive daddy home from the bar sometimes. Let’s party!”