Ray slumped over his drink and watched as the melting ice faded into the brown liquid. He was fading too. It was the only place, other than the TV above the bar where he could stare that didn’t make him feel awkward. Like so many barflies before him, he gravitated to the warm glow of this sad environment to drown in liquor for reasons that he himself couldn’t quite define. Maybe it was in search of a sympathetic ear, or an effort to relive some of the thrills that the world of drinking used to provide him in his younger years, or maybe it was just to be openly what he really was in public, without judgment or criticism.

It was the judging eyes, and criticizing mouth of his ex-wife, Jessica, that he had become accustomed to. Until recently, when she finally had enough and washed her hands of him, and of them, and of everything that they had worked to be, together.

It was just a little thing, a tiny drink was enough to topple their entire ten-year marriage. It was enough for her to make the decision to breakup their family, to rip their six-year old daughter from her father's loving arms, condemning her to a life as a child of a broken home, and him to a life of cheap apartments, and cheap frozen dinners eaten alone.

Who the hell was Jessica to make such a call? It wasn’t as though he was hurting anybody. He drank responsibly, paid their bills, and went to work on time. He didn’t fuck other women, or abuse his family. The worst-case scenario was that on occasion, he would stumble in late at night and pass out with his clothes on. Was that so bad that she had to throw it all away. Fuck her.

And fuck her new life, with her new fiancé—Alan, and fuck his giant mansion and his expensive cars. What a cliché it was for her to jump into bed with Mr. moneybags so soon after Ray had moved out. After all, it was the life that she had always wanted, but he just couldn’t quite provide, no matter how many late hours he put in. As a junior level sales rep for a small software company, he was able to give them a decent middle-class lifestyle, but by no stretch of the imagination were they considered “well-to-do”. He did his best, but it was never quite enough, and he suspected that this was the real reason that she had left, only using his drinking as a guise to appear more righteous in her selfishness.

Ray picked up his drink and swirled it around to evenly distribute the melted water with the whiskey, then slurped the remnants from the glass; the taste so familiar like a song from his youth, it made him shutter and perspire at the cheeks as it warmed his gullet.

The humming sound of the ancient air conditioner nagged at Kristen with a high-pitched whistle laced with a low wine, like a sick animal moaning with pain. She lay on her back staring at the ceiling or rather staring through it, and through time itself, deep into her memories. She lay there tracing over her life to this point, her father, and her journey that led her to this cheap hotel room on a mattress covered in blood; Sweet's blood that had begun to turn into a dark black stain as the air oxidized the iron, and the air-conditioner mocked her with its terrible whine.

Kristen drew breath from her cigarette and let the smoke dance on her lips, drifting upwards to the ceiling seductively. She dropped her arm to her side and her hand dangled the burning cigarette over the edge of the bed, spilling ash that floated down towards the floor, where it made its final resting place upon Sweet's lifeless pimp face, collecting as a white pile on his dead eye.

Kristen had met Sweet after she had run-away from home at the age of fourteen. She grew up in a small trucking town outside of Grand Island, in a dumpy modular unit on a barren three-acre plot of land. Her father was mechanic that specialized in semi-truck engine repair. A quiet man, that drank his evenings away in front of the television. He never showed much interest in her or her mother-Janis's existence as long as the refrigerator was stocked and dinner was ready on time. That was until Kristen began to come of age early and developed some womanly features.

That’s when she began to notice his beady eyes upon her. She never noticed them before, but one day, there they were, and she couldn’t shake them or the unsettling feeling that they gave her, for reasons that she didn’t quite understand yet, but would soon learn.

He came to her late one humid summer night, sitting silently on the side of her bed as she slept. She woke startled by the dark silhouette of his profile against the bright night sky illuminating her bedroom window with a deep blue twilight. He slowly ran his greasy mechanic’s thumb along her full bottom lip and she pretended to still be asleep. Through the corner of her eye, she saw her mother pause in the hallway as she passed. Her mother looked at her father with a concerned glare, but he just stared back at her for a moment and then kicked the door shut with his boot. His touch was like acid on her skin, and every touch after felt the same, burning and awful.

Kristen closed her eyes as these memories came to her in waves of shame and anger, but she didn’t cry; the well of emotion had run dry and cracked in the burning suns of time. It wasn’t until she was fourteen years old that she finally got the courage to leave home. She packed only enough stuff to fit into a single backpack and about sixty dollars with some change. She didn’t have a much of plan. She wanted to go to Chicago or New York, basically anywhere that he couldn’t find her.

She caught a ride with a trucker named Dave at a Texaco outside of town. He was a cordial man that didn’t ask too many questions. He must have assumed that girls who left home at her age had their reasons. He did however talk a lot about Jesus’ love, and how it could redeem any soul no matter how lost they were. On more then one occasion, Kristen caught him stealing a peek down her blouse through the rear-view mirror, the beady eyes of men all the same. He just needed a glimpse to satisfy him for the long road ahead. She watched the barren landscape pass in the window. It represented a life that would soon be behind her. She didn’t know what was ahead, but was hopeful; maybe she could be a singer or an actress as she had once dreamed.

Dave dropped her off in Omaha and she spent the night walking around a park downtown. That was where she met Tayvon Jackson, aka Sweet. Sweet had swagger and charisma; he spoke fast and flashed money. He told her that with her looks she could earn all kinds of easy money. Supply and demand, and demand was always high.

Sweet was fun and exciting at first, life with no rules, out on the fringe. You could have and do whatever you wanted. It was liberating compared to the rigid upbringing that she was used to. He was always talking her up, telling her how beautiful she was, but that would all soon change.

Sweet was an astute student of the ‘pimpin arts’ passed down for generations of street hustlers. The theory was simple; all women were bitches that just needed to be taught. If you had a pussy you were a hoe in the making. All they needed was the right kind of motivation. Fear and affection were the cornerstones of good pimpin. Fill a bitch up with all the affection that she so desperately craves and then, suddenly, take it away and replace it with terror. Shower her with nice things, compliments, and love then bring the hammer down on that bitch.

Sweet's preferred method of 'bringing the hammer down' was strangulation. It sent a clear message without damaging the merchandise; if done right it didn’t leave hideous bruises or costly bone fractures. With nothing but the strength of his own two hands, he could bring a bitch to edge of death, just enough to catch a terrifying glimpse of it, so that they knew who had the power of god; the lord giveth and the lord taketh away.

On this particular evening, Sweet took Kristen too close to the edge and almost lost her there, but she didn’t she the face of God, instead she saw the terrible grinning face of father. She woke-up on the floor of the dumpy hotel room, gasping for air. Sweet sat at the edge of the bed smoking a cigarette, looking at her like a master looks at his dog.

"Now get over here bitch, and apologize." He unzipped his pants to release the all too familiar organ inside. She crawled over to the bed and went to work cupping Sweet’s testicles with her left hand, while taking the length of him into her sore throat. With her other hand she reached into her back pocket and pulled out a folding blade using the tips of her fingers. Sweet moaned. "That’s right, just like daddy taught you," he said unaware of the literal implication for Kristen.

She extended the blade and gripped it with her palm. As she suspected Sweet was about to cum, she drove the knife straight into his pelvis at the inguinal line where the thigh merges with the pubic region. Sweet shrieked and pulled back with surprise at the sudden rush of pain. His anger was quick with intentions of retaliation, but the damage was too great having severed the femoral artery inside. Blood came in massive warm spurts, like a running hose and Sweet's black skin was ghostly white within seconds. "Oh shit girl, what did you do," he sobbed and tried to stop the bleeding with his hands. Kristen smiled, "The lord giveth and the lord taketh away, Isn’t that right Sweet, you mother fucker!" she screamed.

"You fucking bitch, I’m gonna fucking…" Sweet sat up too quickly and lost blood pressure to the brain, his eyes rolled and he toppled over onto the floor. There where some spasms and high breath wines before he went still, laying stiff beside the bed where he continues to lay at this moment with a pile of cigarette ash collecting on his face; a human ashtray in death, the same as he was in life.

Kristen realized that she needed to leave before his rotting stink drew someone’s attention. There was a dive bar up the street that she could hit for a quick trick and some cash before she left town. Omaha had run its course, time to move on to better places.

Ray noticed a young woman enter the mostly empty bar in his peripheral view. She wore a skin-tight pink skirt that rode up high on her thighs; obviously a working girl but god, was she beautiful. She approached the bar next to him and lent over it with her elbows so that her ass was high in the air, an intentional stance of the trade. She smacked gum between her teeth and smiled when he looked over at her.

"What are you drinking?" Ray asked knowing that he should avoid her.

"Vodka and red bull," she said with a childish flirtation in her tone.

Something about her got Ray's pulse going, just being near her was like a dose of adrenaline.

He raised his hand to the bartender to indicate that he was going to pay for her drink.

"Thanks sweetie," she smiled.

When her drink arrived, she held it up to her beautiful mouth and played with the straw using her tongue, letting it ride along her luscious bottom lip. Her face was young, maybe twenty, she still had the baby-fat in her cheeks, but her eyes had the depth of a much older soul.

She held intense eye-contact with Ray, but to her, he was just a mark, a John, another disgusting pig that she had to please, that wanted to run his beady eyes and his greasy hands over her body. She placed her hand on his knee and whispered, "Let’s get out of here."

Ray knew that it wasn’t real, but he needed her, he needed to play along to feel something, a connection, even if it was just a fantasy, even if he had to pay for that brief moment of human contact and release.

She took his hand and guided him towards the back door. His legs swayed flimsy, he was drunk with excitement, entranced, but he felt a mounting shame for what he had become, as though he was sinking deeper into a pit of darkness. In that moment, he desperately wanted to change, to stop drinking and wasting away, for his daughter, and for himself. Tomorrow, he would begin a new. Tomorrow he could change, but tonight he needed this.

Behind the bar, there was an alleyway that was secluded by a dumpster. They took refuge in its shadow and he pressed her against the wall. Those fierce eyes and supple lips held him. He ran his thumb along her cheek then traced it over the cusp of her bottom lip. She smiled, and below her waist, she drew her blade.

Credited to Martin Vang