Eleven Primrose Street: Sofia

It was 2:00 a.m. The exchange of words had been mixed with alcohol around seven. The colour of the words had darkened like clouds on a horizon. Alcohol was running low as tempers began to heat up. It wasn’t long before his response, seething through his teeth, was joined by a fist to the side or her head, knocking her to the floor. And yet it was she who was apologizing as she picked herself up off the floor. She heard Nicolas crying upstairs.

“I’m going to Nicolas. I need to see if he’s okay.”

Mike grabbed her arm.

“I’ll be right back.” She shook his arm free and went upstairs to Nicolas, hoping to settle him back to sleep. Sofia’s heart sank as she climbed the stairs. Nicolas’s bedtime stories always seemed to be loud voices of adults fighting downstairs. She worried about him. The damage she was doing to him by her poor choices. Nicolas’s father had been a poor choice. In the beginning, it had been all smiles and flowers and making out at the back of the cinema. Then she got pregnant. She didn’t even finish high school. Ralph wasn’t going to let a baby and a woman ruin his plans. He was still going to college. So they all moved into a one-bedroom apartment together in the big city. Having a small baby meant Sofia just stayed at home. She did her best cooking and cleaning and looking after the baby. But she had no idea how. Not really.

Ralph was no help. He finished classes and went right to his job at the factory. When he came home, he was tired and wanted to sit and drink beer by the TV. Any conversation turned into a screaming match, and soon they were punctuated with violence. When he started staying out late and coming home smelling like a different perfume every night, Sofia packed up her bag, her baby, and walked out. Ralph didn’t follow or try to find her. She stayed in women’s shelters for a while, then a low-income housing apartment complex. Jobs were scarce with no high school diploma, and it was hard to make ends meet. She was often behind with her rent. Nicolas never had new clothes, and she couldn’t remember the last time she wore shoes without holes in them. Fresh fruit and vegetables were things she’d look at longingly in the grocery store aisles. She had put a few apples in her pockets here and there, but for the most part they ate noodles out of a can for a dollar, mustard on white bread she could buy at the dollar stores, and water from the tap, when it worked. She had tried cat food a few times, just to have some meat. It wasn’t the taste that put her off, more the realization that a cat down the road was having the same meal. She applied for jobs at McDonald’s and Tim Hortons as a dishwasher, but competition was fierce, and often she didn’t even get an interview. She was living off the thin amount that mother’s allowance sent each month. She was getting desperate.

That was when she started selling drugs. She had considered selling her body but didn’t know how that would work with small Nicolas in the next room. And she couldn’t use hotel rooms; she had no childcare for Nicolas. So, when Martin approached her one day, she said yes. Martin was her slum landlord. He had never said too much when she couldn’t pay rent, but she had watched what happened to other tenants, and she knew it wouldn’t be long until she was next. He was offering her an out, and she was smart enough to know to take it. At first it felt so wrong, so sneaky, so dangerous. He had said she could sell to a different kind of buyer, younger women, even kids. He’d set up all the deals. All she had to do was deliver the goods and bring back the money. He would leave the goods in a paper bag in her recycle bin and tell her the drop details an hour before.

Her first drop was horrible. Nicolas was in the stroller. Martin liked that idea, but she didn’t stop shaking for days. She handed over the paper bag, not knowing what was inside, not wanting to even look, and took an envelope, tucking it into the stroller. She didn’t take a breath the whole way home. But nothing happened, and each time it got easier. She stopped shaking, she breathed easier, and her cheques got bigger and bigger. She could buy warm clothes for Nicolas and a new coat for herself. Nicolas had wrapped toys at Christmas and food that wasn’t out of a cat food tin. She didn’t have to steal fruit anymore, and her shoes were new and warm. She was able to move to a better apartment, out of the housing complex. Soon she began to dream. What she really wanted was to move out of the city, buy a house in a small town, and give Nicolas a normal life. She started to save.

Then she got comfortable and made a mistake. One drop, she looked at the buyer and smiled, tried to make conversation. He turned and walked away without taking her bag or giving her his envelope. Martin gave her a black eye and a fat lip. He told her next time he’d put her in the hospital. She considered going to the cops, but she really liked the new coat she just bought, light tan wool with a big hood trimmed with real fur. She decided she’d keep selling a little longer until she had enough for a small house. No more mistakes. When she looked at the map, Martineville was a small town not too far away by bus. She’d buy a house there just in time for Nicolas to start in kindergarten. She’d get her high school diploma and look for a real job.

Somehow, Martin got wind of her plans.

“Martineville, eh. Nice. Good plan. I ain’t got too many people in that area. You can help more of them develop an ice cream habit, eh?”

“But I don’t want to sell anymore, Martin. I want out.”

“Ya want out. Out. Out ain’t an option. But I’ll get ya outta here at least. Leave it with me. I’ll have a house for ya in a month. Move in the summer, and the kid can start in a new school.”

She never imagined Martin would actually do it, buy the house and put her name on the deed. But here she was, Primrose Street in Martineville. The house was more than she could have dreamed of. Glassed-in front porch, fireplace in the living room/kitchen with a vaulted ceiling. A big living room and dining room. A big room for Nicolas furnished with a captain’s bed and desk. And a newly decorated bedroom for her in soft green, with a brass bed furnished with pink and white porcelain globes. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi bathtub and a black granite stone countertop surrounding a drop-down white sink. The whole house was furnished, and there was food in the fridge. The backyard had a jungle gym, a treehouse, huge cedar trees, and a little flower garden with a small fountain in the centre. It was a dream. The price was high, though; more drops, more deals, bigger money. She was nervous. This was a much smaller town. It wouldn’t take long for people to figure things out. She’d have to be so very careful. She had thought that Martin would somehow still provide her with the bags for the deals. But he said he had a contact, a partner who lived in Martineville. She’d be dealing with him now. His name was Mike. He was handsome, no doubt about it. He had charm. She was rather swept off her feet when he first came to the house to introduce himself. The first couple of deals were simple enough. Mike was efficient and expected the same of her. One deal had been a little bit delicate, he had told her, and she needed to massage things a little bit. But everything went smoothly, and when Mike came around he was surprised to see the envelope.

“This means a celebration. I thought we might lose this guy. Well done.” He returned with a bottle of champagne and some Pepsi for Nicolas and a large pizza. They watched a Disney movie together, and Nicolas went happily to bed that night. Sofia was tired and was looking forward to an early night herself. But Mike had other ideas. He walked over to her and slid one arm around her waist and the other around her ass. Slowly, he put his mouth on hers. It had been a long time since Sofia had been with a man. She was caught between her voice saying this was a bad idea and the wetness between her legs. He had pushed her up against the kitchen counter, slid his hand under her shirt, and pulled hard on her nipples, kissing her mouth roughly. His other hand manoeuvred her out of her pants, unzipping his own and pulled her leg up around his waist, moving her onto him. She cried out as he entered her. Both his hands moved to hold her ass so he could pull her closer, fuck her hard as he came. He stood back after, zipped up, told her he hoped for more sales like this, and gave her ass a slap. “Next time I look forward to my cock in your mouth. Nice to have a money shot.” He smiled and walked out the door. She stood there panting, her pants beside her feet. She thought she might vomit. That was a few months ago.

She finished singing to Nicolas as his eyes started to close, and she pulled the covers up, tucking him in. Ralph was a poor choice. She had made a lot of poor choices, but Nicolas was the best thing that had ever happened to her. He was her angel. Sometimes he was the only reason she didn’t want to check out permanently. She kissed his forehead and pulled his door closed. She knew Mike was waiting downstairs. She took a deep breath as she came back into the kitchen. Mike was waiting impatiently. He was usually impatient.

Now she stood opposite him, putting the table between her and him.

“Nicolas is asleep. Please keep your voice down now.”

Mike just looked down and began to speak. “Martin told you once before, and I’ll tell you again, there is no out. You do a good job, and you’ll keep doing a good job.”

“Let’s just keep it to the deals then, Mike.” She spoke quietly, no emotion.

“That’s what you say now, but I know you want it.”

“Let’s just stick to the transactions for a while.” Mike didn’t reply; he just walked out the door. She turned the lock behind him and shut off the lights. She needed a dog, a big dog. Merlin. She would name him Merlin the magician. Might slow Mike down, and she wouldn’t feel the need to sleep on the floor in Nicolas’s room anymore. She would start looking around tomorrow.