Carpet

I am a carpet of pornography formed by discarded sex worker advertisements along the Las Vegas strip, circa 1995. Once or twice a week, I am swept into oblivion, but I recur, because there are always more tourists, and always more women, and always more fliers, and always more guys to drop the fliers.

From empty pavement, Jeff and another twelve or so guys reconstruct me, dropping fliers, until I am all but continuous, until a tourist could walk from Circus Circus to Trump International Las Vegas without setting foot on pavement.

They step instead on skin — mine — and that of a thousand nude bodies, bent-over women, staring wanton over their hanging breasts, merged now into a single image of obscenity. Like a gravid snake I have one body, extensive, slithering kinky down Las Vegas Road, but holding within me a thousand half-formed bodies, each nested nude inside me.

“Cheap and hot!” calls Jeff. He presses Candie into the hand of a tourist, a casually dressed white man. The tourist frowns at Jeff, but he holds the card walking away. Then he giggles at it with a friend, also casually dressed and white. Eyes float sideways – the tourist possessed of Candie wants to see whether his friend is looking before deciding what to do with the flier.

I can tell that the man wants to put Candie into his pocket, maybe to call and meet with her, or maybe just to have the image, since it is 1995 and there is yet very little internet porn.

But he is embarrassed to pocket the image in front of his friend, and I know the flier will be mine. I am right: it flutters down and merges into me. Candie is kneeling, nearly prone, and the red of her high heels draw the eye from the amalgam of breast and buttock that crowd around her.

Jeff hands the next four fliers out without comment. He gives one to a Taiwanese businessman, who turns to him puzzled. The man points at the number but Jeff just nods, so the businessman turns and drops the card.

“Jeff,” I say, “what about your commission?” He receives a small bonus each time a patron uses his name when ordering a woman.

“He didn’t seem like he was into it,” Jeff says.

“But you don’t know that,” I say.

Jeff looks away from me to hand out another card. It goes to a pair of older African-American women, one of whom jams it back in his chest.

“No!” she says. Her eyes trace my contour into the intersection, and she grimaces at the other flier men.

Jeff looks down at me again. He used to look at the bodies within me. Now he sees me as I am. He shrugs.

“Something is wrong,” I say.

He pretends to look at Candie’s buttocks with sexual interest – this is his way of avoiding eye contact with me.

“They don’t even have her anymore,” Jeff says, of Candie. “They should take her off the flier. It isn’t fair to the others. The customers think they’re getting someone else, and it doesn’t go well for the girls. Kayla got beat up for that last night. She went out to see a guy and he got mad that she wasn’t the one on the flier. I saw her coming in for her paycheck when I picked these up today, and she had a black eye. Told me all about it.”

“And that’s what’s on your mind?” I ask.

He shrugs, nods slowly. Then he jumps about in boredom, trying to regain his energy. He steps back and forth, hopping over me out of respect.

Now his eyes pass beyond me, out toward my vanishing point, between the block angles of the hotels, up the long line of cars passing up the bad-land mountains. Another line crosses back down the same road, white lit, like a trail of ants bringing treasure into the Queen. In the distance, the twin red and white lights run in between the sharply peaking mountains.

Jeff watches the lines a moment, then looks back down at me, searching for Marlee, whose red necklace runs provocatively between her breasts. The road and the mountains have reminded him of her, but tonight she is scarce within me.

“It’s strange,” he says. “That’s really the same shape out there.” He points toward the mountains, which protrude breast-like from the ground. As he points, Jeff slaps a card into the hands of a middle-aged Hispanic man, here with his wife. The man takes it, apologizes to his wife, and then drops it. This adds another Candie to my Northwest tail.

“Mountains, they’re the same shape, but they have no effect on me. No effect on any men. Same thing, if you squint, sort of, but nobody pays money or gets excited or gets…” The end of the sentence waits patiently for him.

An older woman – white and hobbling – slips on a pair of supine Ninas. The upper Nina slides over the bottom Nina’s glossy surface, under the old lady’s heel, so that the older lady swings backwards like a comedian on a banana peel.

In another ten years she would have been using an assisted mobility device, but this is not quite that era, and Jeff must lurch into action to catch her by the shoulders. It isn’t the first incident of older people slipping on me.

“Careful, beautiful,” he says, “you’re way too gorgeous for a bruise.”

Her face twists confused, and then into a smile.

“Charmer,” she says, “you know I’ve already got some bruises from the shower.”

“Well you can come by and show me sometime,” he says. Jeff rotates her body up 45 degrees like a mover tilting a heavy dresser on a dolly. She cuffs him on the shoulder and tells him to stop. She is not thinking about liability or police officers, so Jeff has succeeded.

The pedestrian flow picks up a little, and Jeff does too. He sets up three potential commissions to ASU fraternity boys in rapid succession.

“Asian?” one of them asks. “Asian? Asian?”

“Oh yeah,” Jeff says, “whatever you like. Don’t forget to tell them Jeff sent you. Jeff, got that? I’m making a living out here.”

The frat boys stumble out, and one of them stumbles drunk on me, nearly falling like the elderly lady. His eyes fall onto Alana, prone, eyes closed, mouth circled, and he picks her off of me.

“I like her better,” he says. It’s the same phone number, though.

“That was well done,” I say.

“They weren’t hard sells,” he says, “guys like that. Come on.”

A pause returns. “So, the mountains,” I say. “They don’t make guys excited. Most of them, anyway.”

“Maybe weirdos,” he says. “Or explorers. But not sexually excited. Or maybe mountain climbing and exploring is a kind of sexual excitement. Maybe they’re just trying to make love to the ground, climb around on it, appreciate it, lose themselves in it, like a woman’s body. Or a man’s, you know,” he chuckles, “I’m not here to judge. God knows that. But I can, I could see how someone could fall in love with the ground,” he chucks me playfully with his foot, displacing a Nina, “after all we’ve come to mean to each other, carpet of pornographic escort fliers.”

“Thanks, Jeff,” I say. “You’re my favorite flier-guy. But what were you saying before? For the most part, men don’t get excited by the shape of mountains, even though they’re just like breasts, and they don’t get …”

He looks down me, and then away.

“Used to it.” We say it together.

“It’s an occupational hazard,” I tell him. “Some guys fall off of buildings washing windows or building giant hotels.” The wind helps me point my East tail at the MGM Grand, which rises up amid the distant blinking. “The MGM Grand lost five builders falling off roofs. And then poor Kayla. That’s just as bad. You not being able to … not so bad in the grand scheme.”   

Jeff nods a little. “Not so bad.” He breathes. “Carpet,” he says, “boy am I glad I caught that old lady when I did. Hoo. Didn’t need any part of where that coulda gone.”

“I bet,” I say, “and you sure didn’t need to see another bruise on a woman.”

Jeff swallows, and bends his knees in a squat. In the Vegas skyline, he is multiply dwarfed, by mountains, and by cascades of ever growing hotel-casinos, each emphasizing the smallness of its predecessor, and so of him. Now he is on his knees.

“Does your girlfriend have a bruise right now?” I ask.

He nods.

#

Jeff did not return to me again after that night, which I suppose is for the best. I know it’s best for him to be out of this gig.

But I miss him, and I have needs too, so I don’t think it’s selfish to wish him back now and then. Sometimes I consider maybe appearing in one of his dreams, just to chat. After all we meant to each other, and all we talked about in the years he stood and made me, surely at least part of him would be happy to see me.

But I haven’t; I’ve left him alone. I don’t think I could handle it if I showed up in his dream and appeared monstrous to him.

Joel Page

Joel Page is a public defender in Dallas, where he writes briefs for federal prisoners, and now this. His fiction has appeared in Word Machine Magazine, the Red Dirt Review, and is forthcoming in Thimble Literary Magazine. He shares his home with his wife Peggy, and cats Woodward and Bernstein (pictured). He is indebted to Harry Kim of Los Angeles for observing the similarity between the headlights of cars entering Las Vegas and a line of ants in 1995.
Joel Page

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Joel Page

Joel Page is a public defender in Dallas, where he writes briefs for federal prisoners, and now this. His fiction has appeared in Word Machine Magazine, the Red Dirt Review, and is forthcoming in Thimble Literary Magazine. He shares his home with his wife Peggy, and cats Woodward and Bernstein (pictured). He is indebted to Harry Kim of Los Angeles for observing the similarity between the headlights of cars entering Las Vegas and a line of ants in 1995.

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