Friday, May 13, 2011

The Beer Girl

The blister on Jessie’s left ankle had popped, so that the strap of her black leather Calvin Klein knockoff sandal with the four-inch-heel rubbed directly against the raw flesh. The blister on her right ankle had not popped, but it would, soon. She could not decide which one hurt more. Her brain reconsidered with every step—the right one, no, the left one, no, the right one—but, to her credit, she continued to smile and say her line. What choice did she have?

“Would you like to try a free sample of Mountain Light Cerveza y Limon, this summer’s new taste sensation for beer lovers? Would you like to try a free sample of Mountain Light Cerveza y Limon, this summer’s new taste sensation for beer lovers?”

She smiled until her cheeks hurt, her mind consumed not only with the pain in her ankles, but also the way her thighs chafed, and the sweat dripping down her legs, and the possibility that she was allergic to this new foundation, even though she couldn’t scratch her face for fear of dropping the tray of Dixie cups.

There also existed that vague nausea in her abdomen, a feeling she would not acknowledge for fear that her morning Saltines and diet Pepsi might consider it an invitation to make a return performance.

Very soon, she would have that problem licked. She just needed to figure out how to negotiate another nine and a half days in these shoes. Two weeks ‘til payday.

“I’d like a free sample,” a kid said.

She smiled a little harder. “Twenty-one and over. Please drink responsibly.” She lifted the tray up higher, walked on, turning sideways to edge through the crowd. Someone’s hand brushed her ass, a deliberate touch, ending in a gentle squeeze, but she knew she would never pick out the culprit in this mob. It just pleased her not to spill anything this time.

First day of her new summer job and she’d already seen everything. She passed the last two Dixie cups to a bald, middle-age guy and his young girlfriend, whose funky sneakers Jessie suddenly envied.

“This beer tastes like piss,” the girl laughed once Jessie turned her back.

“Lemon-flavored piss,” the guy said.

Jessie limped back to her station. “Do you have some Band-aids?” she whispered to Catalina, the other beer girl on this shift. “These shoes are killing me.”

“Oh, what you’re supposed to do is you take a panty liner and cut it up and stick it on the inside of the strap before you wear them,” Catalina whispered back.

“Is that a thing?” Jessie asked. “Is that something people do?”

Catalina shrugged. “I don’t have a Band-aid.”

They refilled their trays from bottles in the cooler and pressed back into the festival. “Would you like to try a free sample of Mountain Light Cerveza y Limon, this summer’s new taste sensation for beer lovers? Would you like to try a free sample of Mountain Light Cerveza y Limon, this summer’s new taste sensation for beer lovers?”

The beer smelled sort of unnatural to Jessie, and she held the tray up, away from her nose, as she minced through the crowd. If she slid her feet forward in the sandals, curled her toes, and lifted her arches…no, that didn’t help matters. The leather straps—or perhaps they were really plastic—were cutting her. A panty liner wouldn’t help in the least. Maybe a tampon, at this point. She wouldn’t be at all surprised to look back and see a trail of blood dripping from her ankle.

Of course, she didn’t have any reason to carry either of those items right now. She wouldn’t even be here right now. “Cerveza y Limon…Cerveza y Limon,” she heard herself parroting. There were boys, cute ones and hideous ones, smiling and gawking and grabbing. She was supposed to be on an unpaid internship this summer. She was supposed to be networking in broadcast journalism, looking perky and helpful, flirting with anchormen, or even cameramen, and maybe, just maybe, getting a few minutes on air before she started her senior year. Something to put on her resume.

Back at her station, she leaned against the table, relieving the pressure on her ankles for a moment as she refilled her tray.

“Hey, hey, beer girl” said the bartender, shaking a box of Band-Aids. “Do you want this?” He looked down, not at her ass, like every other guy had today, but at her ankles. He even helped her into the little tent behind the bar, lifted her up onto a keg, and slid her shoes off himself. “First time?” he asked, and she laughed.

“I’m not cut out for this.”

“You’ve gotta wear those shoes, huh?” he said.

“That’s the uniform.” Her brow creased. “Black heels, minimum height three and a half inches. Black skirt, minimum six inches above the knee, official black tank top or baby doll tee with Mountain Light logo, and if you’re not at least a C-cup, you’ve got to wear a Wonderbra.”

She regretted her words immediately, but he didn’t ask her whether she was a C-cup, or wore a push-up, or whether she had bought her uniform at a thrift store with the money she made selling back her textbooks because she was broke and desperate and didn’t have an outfit like that in her closet and was too ashamed to ask anyone for money. He just shook his head, sympathetic eyes rolling. The last thing she needed right now was another pair of sympathetic eyes. Sympathetic eyes, she had determined, were nothing but trouble. Sympathetic eyes did not necessarily indicate a sympathetic person.

“We both better get back out there,” he said, holding out his hand to ease her off the keg. “You don’t seem like the type, you know. Most beer girls are more in their element.”

She shrugged and tried to sound casual. “I need the money.” It came out as a whisper. Her stomach lurched. Her hand felt funny in his. She never asked for help. It surprised her to be offered.

“Don’t we all?” He grinned. “Don’t we all?”