Ch. 10: Fear of Sex (and the slippery slope to prostitution). July 21, 1987.

Ch. 10: Fear of Sex (and the slippery slope to prostitution). July 21, 1987.

A Chapter by Gee Roughin

Suzie-Q’s legs were tired after running all day the day before, and she wasn’t able to get much further than the bend in the river where she couldn’t be seen anymore. Suzie-Q panted and slowed down to a walk. The day glimmered despite her desperation. Suzie-Q breathed in the day. The area around her was almost wild. The river, swollen and brown from the rains of the night before, smelled of wet mud banks. Suzie-Q felt the soft ground under her feet and the sun soothing her neck and shoulders. Suzie-Q wondered how it was possible for such intense beauty to mingle with despair.

Suzie-Q began to ask herself where she would go. She couldn’t very well run away from every shadow, or live forever under a bridge. She wasn’t even quite sure where she was. The sun glimmered, but Suzie-Q was far from what she needed. The sun glimmered, and Suzie-Q felt magnificently free"free like she’d never been in all her life"but an underneath gnawing told her that freedom might not always be so kind as she felt it right now. Suzie-Q wondered some about freedom and need. Suzie-Q thought about her father, whom she needed and hated at the same time. She thought about how the one place where she knew her needs would be met was a place of fear and intimidation. Suzie-Q wondered what freedom was. Suzie-Q wondered if it was possible to have freedom without need, and Suzie-Q wondered what that would be.

Before she arrived at the practical end of the question with regard to where she was going, Suzie-Q began to get hungry again. She spent about 45 minutes walking and wondering if she would hit civilization any time soon, when she rounded a river bend and saw a mansion. The old mansion looked empty and isolated, but sitting on the front porch was a woman. The woman was dressed in black lace. Suzie-Q pulled her baseball cap down low and put her hands in her pockets. She looked at the woman shyly as she passed and as their eyes met she felt herself blushing. The woman’s eyes were cold. The black lace was cut as low and high as possible, and the woman wore stockings with porte-jaretelle, heels and heavily caked make-up. Suzie-Q had already begun walking toward the woman before it had registered what she was doing there. Suzie-Q experienced personal heat and embarrassment, but continued walking towards the woman till she was close enough to speak to her in a normal voice. “Excuse me, do you know if there’s a store anywhere near here?” Suzie-Q asked the woman.

The woman raised her eyebrows. Suzie-Q felt the beauty of the woman overwhelm her in a hot stream despite the woman’s make-up. Suzie-Q worked hard to keep her balance. The woman finally answered, “You’ll find one just around the next bend.” Then the woman’s face went blank and expressionless again as she turned away her eyes. Suzie-Q walked away flushed, awkward and moist. Just as she reached the road again with her back to the house, she saw a black Mercedes driving slowly toward her. Suzie-Q’s body tightened and she looked toward the river. The car slowed down even more as it approached her. She looked in spite of herself. The man had rolled down his automatic window and was gawking at her. When she looked toward him, he took his chance and said, “Wanna go for a ride, lovely?”

Suzie-Q, as terrified as she was, felt flattered, dizzy and sick as well. She felt sick and flattered thinking about the beauty of the woman she had just left. “I’m not here for that,” Suzie-Q muttered and walked faster away from the car.

At the next bend, Suzie-Q saw the run-down store the woman had indicated. The convenience store was one in a small strip mall that included several boarded-up properties, a liquor store and a bar with an unlit neon sign above it that read “strip-tease.” There were two cars in the parking lot, both empty, but one had the engine running. Suzie-Q pushed open the convenience store door. The first thing she noticed was a lot of empty shelves. The second thing was the man behind the cash register. The man was leering at her. Suzie-Q had seen men leer before, but never so openly. He was drooling with his eyes. Suzie-Q felt something gnaw and go queasy. Suzie-Q thought about the couple from that morning, and the beer she had drunk, and the temptation she had known. She wondered if those bad thoughts had somehow brought her to this lurid place. Suzie-Q felt as if something in her must have brought her to this place. Suzie-Q thought that freedom and cupidity had somehow brought her to this place, and she wondered if she would have the strength to resist what disgusted her.

Suzie-Q slid around behind the shelves, which were mostly chips and candy. She picked up a pack of ridged no-name potato chips and rounded the bend to the cold section. There was cream, Coke, Gingerale, beer and a 3-day old soggy tuna sandwich on white bread that cost $5.50. Suzie-Q was staring at it, wondering if she should spend the money when a voice spoke just above her head.

“Did you find what you’re looking for?”

Suzie-Q didn’t move. She felt the man right behind her, and as she couldn’t move forward at all she thought that with the slightest move in any other direction she would necessarily bump into him. She thought with dread about the leering face behind the cash register. She said, “Not yet,” without moving her head, but she stared into the mirror behind the cold section to see where to move.

As if posed for the camera, behind her stood a couple; the girl, baby-faced but sombre, with baseball cap, jogging suit and a red pony-tail, and heavy eye make-up that blacked out deep circles below her eyes; behind her, a head taller and 10 years older, muscular, tanned, with thick dirty-blond hair and 5 o’clock shadow, and the tattoo of a scorpion on his left forearm. The man was smiling into the camera. When Suzie-Q saw how close to her the man was standing, she felt hot all over. Then she realized he was smiling into the mirror at her, and she smiled timidly back while blushing and turning her head to avoid his glance.

The man moved in closer till he was pressed up against her, then put his hands on her shoulders and slid them down her arms to her hands. After standing there gripping her hands for a minute, he then slid his fingers onto her thighs and followed the contour of her body up to her breasts, which he pressed just long enough to make Suzie-Q’s heart explode in a racket in her ribcage, then he liberated her from her violent emotions, leaned over to kiss the side of her neck, and said, “When you’ve figured out what you need, I’ll be waiting in the car outside.”

Of course the man assumed she was a prostitute, thought Suzie-Q. Suzie-Q was practically out of breath, and her body was inflamed worse than that morning, so that she had with difficulty restrained herself from responding immediately to his caresses and holding his hands against her breasts. Suzie-Q stared at herself in the mirror. How would she leave? Could she walk past his car, pretending not to see him? Would he react in some dangerous way if she refused to go with him? She didn’t know where she was or where she was going, so she wasn’t sure how she could lose him there by the river.

Suzie-Q looked at the soggy tuna sandwich again. There didn’t seem to be anything else to eat. She took the sandwich and chips up to the leering man at the register. “$7.72,” said the leering man.

Suzie-Q fished in her bag for some money. She only found loose change. It came to 89¢. I thought I had a twenty, thought Suzie-Q.

“Oh, I don’t have cash,” she said. “Can I pay with a check?”

“Do you have ID, little Miss?” said the leering man.

Suzie-Q shot forward towards the open pit, fiddling around in her sack and pretending to look for the learner’s permit. She already knew she had left it at home, roasting in the back pocket of her Sunday evening pants.

“I’m sorry, I guess I left it at home,” said Suzie-Q with a sweet smile. She only had $50 more in her bank account, but $50 was enough to buy her food for a week while she figured out what to do next, or at least for a few days.

“No ID, no check,” leered the leering man. He seemed pleased to cause her some problems.

“Look,” said Suzie-Q, “I’m really hungry and you can see very well this is the middle of nowhere. It’ll take me a half a day for me to get home from here!”

“Well, this ain’t no charity bank. Anyway, you can get a meal or some cash, if you knows how,” said the leering man.

“Ok fine, what can I eat here for 89¢?”

“The bubble gum is 79¢,” leered the leering man.

Suzie-Q ran behind one of the back shelves again and scoured all the items in the store, but even the hamburger buns were $1.09. She ran out of the store in a rage, forgetting about the man waiting outside in his car for her.

“That was long!” said the man in the car, squinting into the sun. “Did you get what you needed?”

“Actually, I didn’t have enough cash.”

“That sucks,” said the man. “Was it lunch you wanted?”

“Never mind. It doesn’t matter.”

“There’s a great restaurant just back there"if you want me to treat you.”

The man smiled and talked to her normal. Suzie-Q thought about his hands coming up the sides of her body to her breasts, and blushed. She put her head down and wondered what to say. Was this prostitution? She certainly wouldn’t get out of that one without yielding to temptation, she thought, if she went to lunch with him. At the same time, how was she going to go without food and money and get to a place where she could have help? She couldn’t even pay for the bus with 89¢. Suzie-Q had never been on a date before. Would she give in to desire, against God, all for an empty stomach?

“Come on, get in,” said the man. Suzie-Q saw the leering thing in his eye. “You’re so pretty,” he went on, “I just wanna give you a kiss right now.” Suzie-Q took a step back from the car. She felt the pull from her body, but another steely, icy hand grew up from inside her chest and broke through her skin to put a stop to it.

“I’m a minor,” she finally said. She started to walk away.

“Well if you’re a minor, what are you doing in a place like this?” said the man, following her in his car.

“It’s none of your business,” said Suzie-Q, walking faster as her annoyance and panic levels rose. She was looking around for where she could run to.

“Ok, ok,” said the man, “I’m just trying to help. Where in the world are you trying to go?”

Suzie-Q nodded towards the strip-tease bar, the only place that seemed like it might have some anonymity. “My sister works in that bar, if you want to know, and she’ll get in trouble if I get mixed up with the clients.”

At that point Suzie-Q ran for the bar and pulled open the heavy oak door.

There was a woman jiggling bare breasts on a small stage, with two men looking almost bored but staring without turning away. Suzie-Q hoped she would not have to pretend that the woman on stage was her sister. Suzie-Q felt shocked by her own cupidity. She wondered where the bouncer was, and when she would get carded. Suzie-Q felt intense movements in her groin when she glanced even furtively at the woman. Suzie-Q felt an extreme desire to touch the woman’s breasts and to stare at them, and she had a brief unwitting fantasy that her own bare breasts were brushing up against the woman’s. The woman dancing looked Suzie-Q in the eye. Suzie-Q felt ashamed to be there and witness her dancing. She felt ashamed to feel desire and ashamed to disturb this woman with her shamed eyes. Suzie-Q had a strong sense of guilt about all this sexuality in one day, and she wondered where it would take her. She averted her eyes. A large man had emerged from the wings and was lumbering towards her through the smoke. He would certainly kick her out. The oak door opened behind her.

Suzie-Q searched and pleaded with the room until she noticed at the far end of the bar a woman wiping down the counters. The woman’s clothing was sexy, but her breasts were not bared. Suzie-Q breathed into the seedy room, wrapped her consciousness around her body and walked over to the woman at the bar. She got up on the bar stool and looked at the woman wiping. The woman did not look up at her.

“I’m sorry to bother you but I need to talk fast before this guy walks over, and before they kick me out.” Suzie-Q spoke simply and quietly. She thought it might look like she knew the woman if she stayed real calm.

The woman finished a stroke, put down the cloth and slowly looked up. “How old are you, child?” the woman breathed.

“I just turned 16. This guy’s trying to pick me up"I told him my sister works here. I know I’m not allowed in but I’m scared.”

“How in the hell did you end up in this armpit of the universe?” the woman whispered back. She leaned over the counter towards Suzie-Q, flaunting cleavage but also confidentiality, in a gesture that was sure to confirm sisterhood.

“I’m lost. I ran away from home yesterday.”

The woman looked at her long, the way she might look at her own daughter, lost and then found. She was ignoring the impatient blond man at the other end of the bar. “I got a daughter your age. You shouldn’t be here.”

The blond man whistled. “Hey Lida, stop pretending you don’t know I came in!” he yelled. Suzie-Q was surprised the man hadn’t followed her over where she was. Maybe he was afraid of the woman named “Lida.” Lida took her time walking down to the other end of the bar, and even stopped half way there to dry two glasses and chat with the bouncer. When she got to the other end, she slapped down her hand on the bar and spoke in a loud voice, “So, you caught snooping down minors again for your dirty business? How come you always end up trying to test out members of my family?”

The man spoke so low Suzie-Q couldn’t hear his replies. After a few minutes he got up and left. He didn’t look back at Suzie-Q.

When Lida came back over, she gave Suzie-Q a big, open smile and took her hat off. “Don’t hide,” she said, “Nobody’s gonna bother you while I’m tending here.” The lilt in Lida’s warm voice filled up the space between them. “So, before I send you out back, why’d you leave home?”

“My Dad killed a guy.”

“Anything else?”

“He always hit me anyway. Now he’s mad at me; besides, I’m a witness.”

“And your Mom?”

“She left home when I was 6.”

“No idea where she is? Two of you could make it.”

“No idea.”

“Sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles?”


“That’s bad news. The first thing you need to get in your head is that, at 16, you can’t make it alone. You just can’t. They won’t let you. If you don’t want to be sent back to your father, you’ll have to testify against him"and you may lose. They can pull some tricks. If you’re caught running, you’ll be sent to juvie, and they’ll contact him too. But the streets are worse.”

Suzie-Q began to feel light-headed. Her vision closed in on her for about 5 seconds, and she nearly lost her balance on the bar stool. Lida looked at Suzie-Q and frowned. “You turned all white! What’s going on?”

“I’m a little hungry,” said Suzie-Q. “I tried to buy something at the store next door, and realized I’m out of cash. The guy wouldn’t take my checks cause I left my ID at home. There’s only $50 left anyway, but that’s enough to buy food and transport for long enough to think! And of course the blond guy invited me to lunch.”

“The a*****e! I know he don’t wanna pay for the prostitutes, but preying on young runaways who just ran outa cash is sick. Anyway, he’s supposed to test for the big boss"he gets a cut"and the younger the girl is, the more he likes his job. Now come with me.” Suzie-Q got down off the stool. Lida took her by the hand and led her into a small kitchen where a man was washing dishes. “What’s your name?”

Suzie-Q hesitated. “Alice,” she finally said.

“Joey, this is Alice. She’s 16, and she’s my half-sister. Make her some real food to eat, and don’t let anybody lay their hands on her.” Lida disappeared back into the bar.

Without saying a word, the man made Suzie-Q a hamburger with grilled onions, french fries, and avocado salad. He set her a place at the small table in the kitchen where he took his own meals, and pulled out a banana and some orange juice to add to the meal. Suzie-Q said, “That’s a lot of food. Thanks.” But the man just said, “Eat.” He then continued to clean up the kitchen.

Suzie-Q ate the whole plate of food, including the banana, and drank the orange juice. When the orange juice was gone, Joey rinsed out the glass and replaced it with water. When she had eaten everything, Joey said, “Want coffee?”

Suzie-Q didn’t usually drink coffee, but she thought she might need to stay awake. After making her coffee, the man said to Suzie-Q, “Now do your dishes. I’m going out for a smoke.” Suzie-Q did her dishes. She thought, that’s twice in one day I’ve been given a full meal by total strangers. I can’t count on that. Where in the world am I going to go next? When she finished her dishes Joey was still nowhere to be found, so Suzie-Q went back in the strip bar to find Lida. This time she didn’t even look at the dancer. Lida was busy talking to customers"the bar had filled up since lunch time"but when she saw Suzie-Q she came right over, saying in a loud voice, “It’s my 16-year old half-sister in town this week, wait a minute.” Then to Suzie-Q, “Eat okay?”

“Lots and well, thanks.”

“So, have you thought about it?”

Of course Lida expected Suzie-Q to come up with a solution for herself. Suzie-Q wasn’t used to thinking for herself. After an awkward silence, she finally said, “Maybe you can help me think it through?”

“Ok, Alice, here’s the deal. I can help get you somewhere today, but that’s the limit of my resources. I’m stretched paper thin with myself and my daughter. You need to think of someone you can trust, who can help you. Do you have any friends?”

“My best friend was the cousin of the guy my Dad killed. He’ll never speak to me again.”

“Stop whining!” snapped Lida. “Your story is tragic, but you do not have the luxury to wallow in it now. Give me some solutions.”

Lida was right. Suzie-Q thought about Lida’s life, the bag lady who fed her breakfast, and Suzie-Q felt ashamed. Suzie-Q was acting like a lost princess, and she felt shamed to have taken so much. Stop whining and think, said Suzie-Q in her head. But who? Who could she knock on their door and ask to be kept that wasn’t friends with her Dad? The music teacher floated through her head, but that seemed wrong. Her Dad paid the music teacher for her lessons"she couldn’t very well hide Suzie-Q from him and give her room and board to boot. Suzie-Q sighed long outloud, a sigh of shame and guilt, a sigh of looking at herself. Finally she said, “I have one other friend. I haven’t seen much of her this summer, but she lives in my neighborhood, and she kinda likes secrets.”

“Why would you want to stay in your old neighborhood?”

“I don’t. But I don’t think there’s anybody else I could ask such a favor from. She could hide me in her room for a while"or in her cellar"and then maybe during the day I could sneak in my house and get my ID. If I got my ID, I could get a real job. No one would know I wasn’t living at home. At least till school started in the fall.”

“Sounds like a short term plan. You’ll need an adult to help for the long run, but if you at least have a place to sleep and be fed, maybe you can find an adult to help you. If you’re sure that’s what you want to do, I’ll ask Joey to drive you to the bus.” Lida reached into her bra to pull out some cash. “Here’s some money for transport, and in case your friend’s not home. Don’t ever come here again.”

Suzie-Q took the $20 bill and stared at it. Suzie-Q was seeing money for the first time. “Thanks,” said Suzie-Q.

“Take care of yourself,” said Lida


© 2011 Gee Roughin

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Added on November 6, 2011
Last Updated on November 6, 2011
Tags: fear, paranoia, America, 80s, fear of sex, prostitution, paranoid wasp


Gee Roughin
Gee Roughin

Cairo, Egypt

Before spending seven years writing Paranoid Wasp, I studied literature at Wheaton College (IL), Yale University and the University of Chicago. I moved to Paris in 1999. In addition to ten years in Fr.. more..