Bonnie Stanard | The Payoff

Pleasure’s on the phone
and Rosetta has putty fingers
and a memory of soaring,
was it last Friday?
usually afternoons, absolute anytime.
Too horizontal to make the call herself
she puts her ear to the sound of Benny
plunging along Saturday streets
telling her to rise to the physical,
try on filters,
look through gravity glasses
touch the riff in the backbone
taste the trigger that forks the tongue.

Feelings tried for eight hours or not at all
except every day and knuckles,
a bad tire, no job, rubber band bedroom doors.
City fractions are too perplexing for feet
but better times are coming
for Benny carries a bag.
Oh, yes! Benny’s beaded bag. 

Her mother argued almost to flight
about Benny for four hours
as if Rosetta had tokens for travel
after paying for appointments with him
often enough to stay eager and squeezed into a seat.
It’s not like she can just kiss him and say good-bye
no matter what her mother says.

Benny’s a bum and always late,
been around for a while
and in her place, her invitation.
Her walk-up smells like machine oil,
line work, inspectors, punch clocks,
electric wires on the rug.

In the corner the baby’s cradle cries
depending on whether the blanket’s thick
or Benny’s back.
The baby was a present for Rosetta,
the father said, in case she got lonely
while he was gone to get a job
somewhere in Michigan
which made sense
until Rosetta saw him uptown
with somebody else.

Rosetta would pick up the baby
if it was something different
from a statistic but…back that Benny?
Benny’s back?
Rosetta opens the door.
She’s on to something good
and strong enough to say yes.
In the bathroom where long overdue tile
recognizes a moment of betting,
Benny rolls a surface on her
unviolated with scarred skin
her inner elbow
she grows round and Benny rides a vein
and sinks a wad.
She swallows a chill full,
her blood runs after rhapsody
but it hurts so much
every offer’s a sacrifice.
“Fix it,” she says to the cheaper site
and Benny knows abuse by name
and gives her what she needs.

The video she gets her skin in
is spreading in her buttocks
to the rhythm of a distant flute.
Her hair parts from mousy smells,
oily old day taproots,
her mouth no longer an open case
of misunderstood.

Outside the window the jugular street throbs,
mingling voices spool sympathy
in different tones, a woman’s kind word.
Rosetta doesn’t hate the baby anymore.
She’s a wide-lipped woman
slipping in and out of a person
in the manner of music
entering and in pleasure so hammering
her skin thrums with unnatural warmth.

She doesn’t have the jitters any more,
her walls spring free of day old paste
and itchings to make Jamaica come alive
in a beach, maybe Benny’s eyes.

 He looks like tea around the ankles.
The intense flute sweetens her room
now white with glass shadows.
Light from the lamp soaks into her stomach,
lining the inside.
Her porous tongue grows hungry
for the glory of sound, a snicker erupts,
and Benny tastes like glue and breathes sweat,
Benny, collecting his pay for the stuff.
She can’t interrupt his metal sheets
come to claim her.

But she’s where Benny can’t be,
she has a hold on the flute.
His mean monument
seems like the lover she’s been waiting for,
a hormone with straight teeth,
leather breath,
and the rich feel of rough hands,
and for a time, she sees works of art
colored on the walls.
Fear is flat under her foot,
like a crushed cola can.

The baby’s horror is junior life
and she could hear him
if his father was around,
or at least a last name.

Benny bends in an arch
and their ripe connection
smells of raw meat and lipstick.
“Sprinkle lace on the pillow,”
she murmurs to him,
working an alto movement,
unloaded and sticky.

Her already skin is beginning the week-end
back in the bag, she’s bad another Saturday.
She doesn’t hate the baby anymore.
She will be better to him, even if it takes a cut-down,
half lethal with rips.

Benny packs his bag for another garage side of town.
He’s better in a line of work that’s been around for a while.
She sits up because she has the answer.
She whispers in smoke rings.
“So long Benny.” She’s a flutter.
“See ya later, Benny.”

Bonnie Stanard draws on her rural upbringing and an interest in history to write novels, short stories, and poems with credits in publications such as The American Journal of Poetry, Wisconsin Review, Harpur Palate, The South Carolina Review, and The Museum of Americana. She has published six historical fiction novels and a children’s book. She lives in South Carolina. Her website is

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