I’ve been excited to share excerpt from “Marlboro Man,” folks, for a while now, because it may just be my favorite story in the whole of Malin James’ Roadhouse Blues. Oh boy! It moves me to tears, every time I read it — and I mean that in the best of ways. So since the launch is just a week away (7/11/17), here is the excerpt, all intimate and noir and yearning and poetic.
Quick note: There is implied incest in the following intro and excerpt. “Marlboro Man” is a moving, dark, and potent read.
Maybelline yearns for her daddy, who died many years ago, and Tom, the man she meets in the bar where she dances, reminds her of him. Maybelline wanted to marry her daddy when she was young. “But you can’t marry your daddy,” says the narrator in the story, “no matter how hard you cry.”
He could tell she didn’t do a lot of private shows. The eye contact was gone. All of a sudden, he felt embarrassed for them both — two people in a seedy back room in a seedy-ass bar in a seedy-ass town. But then she hit the pole. She slipped into that magical, coal-fire place. One … two … three tight arcs. Then she looked at him, nailed him with her moonlight eyes, and there was nowhere else to look.
He forgot about the bad news tugging on his coat and the end of his fucked-up, cancer-riddled road. The way she danced took him past all that, to nights full of sweaty what-ifs. He wanted to touch every inch of her, from the nape of her neck, to the arch of her foot. He knew the rules, but he wanted to. Wanting to felt good.
The music caught hold of her and moved her like a hand, dipping and spinning her round. She looked so alive, all strong arms and legs — long, long legs that went the only place worth going. Then she started dancing toward him, nice and easy, like they were at home and she was his girl.
His heart thumped hard, like he was standing on the dance floor. Like the prom queen was choosing him. She was choosing him … there was no one else to choose. She chose him because he was paying her. But that was okay. Tom shifted in his seat. That was okay.
Maybelline wanted to touch herself. She wanted to do everything strippers were supposed to do, but she wanted to do it honest, and she wanted to do it for him. So, she touched herself, feeling strange and shy.
She cupped her tits, loving, for once, that they didn’t spill out of her hands. She rolled her hips and slid her palms over acres of naked skin. She watched him as she did it, and the look on his face, dark and hot as ash, made her toss her hair, and arch her back, and do it all over again.
The song changed and he’d smiled, a big jaw-cracking smile. Her daddy would have called it a watermelon grin. It’s the song, she thought. He likes the song. It made her smile, too. It was her favorite song on the mix. He held her gaze and kept smiling, like the song was their song, like she was wearing a sundress with nothing underneath, like he knew because he loved her, like he’d sneak her out back and fuck her before he drove them home.
She was supposed to rub and gyrate. She was supposed to fucking strip. But she wanted to dance with him.
Maybelline held out her hand. Tom let her pull him up. He coughed, but managed to stop.
He wanted to pretend that they weren’t at a bar, that she was barefoot on her tiptoes, that the floor wasn’t sticky, that there wasn’t a pole in the room. He wanted to pretend that they were alone in the desert, that she was his girl, that they were married, that there was no bad news, that the years stretched out around them in a never-ending spill.
They swayed together, holding hands. Her breasts were small, and he liked that. He liked that a lot. Meant he could tuck her right into his chest, so he did. Then her arms went around him, and her hips pressed his, and he could feel the living heat of her, even through his jeans.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “You remind me of my dad.”
She looked away before he could respond. Time slowed down. Hours, minutes, years. Her lips brushed his neck. “I’m not supposed to do this.”
“What?” he asked.
“Dance like we’re at prom.”
The skin around his eyes felt hot and tight. “I never went to prom.”
Her mouth curved. “That’s okay. Neither did I.”
Maybelline peeked around the curtain. Mick was slinging drinks, Rowdy was scowling, and truckers were watching Krystal’s famous tits. Maybelline slipped the curtain closed. She was running on instinct and not much else, but her daddy’d always said her instincts were good, and her instincts were screaming for her to get her mouth on him. “Just this once,” she murmured.
He said something, but she didn’t hear what, so Maybelline didn’t answer. She liked him — liked his cigarette scent and his young-old face and sad, lonesome eyes. She liked the way his hands felt honest and good, like magnets on her skin. Maybelline knelt in front of him and began to undo his belt. All of a sudden, his hand covered hers.
“Wait,” he said. He was short of breath. She could practically feel his pulse, too heavy, too slow to be right. Her fingertips went cold.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought…. I wasn’t even going to charge you for the dance.”
“No,” he said. “It’s just….” He coughed into his fist, hard and dry, like his lungs were full of sand. Then he smiled and he was fine. He helped her off the floor. “It’s just, if we’re heading that way, I’d like to touch you first. Is that all right?”
It’s okay, Baby May….
Maybelline nodded. He was so like her daddy it made her want to cry.
–Lana Fox, sharing Roadhouse Blues by Malin James