Nicolle Elizabeth


I'm lucky. I bring people luck. Men like to take me places: casinos, poker games, tailgates, barbecues, corporate-sponsored Christmas parties. A man recently told me that I was a Friday night kind of girl but not a Sunday night kind of girl—that I could visit but I couldn’t stay. I leaned to his cards and I looked at the clock, counting the minutes until the night would be over and I could go home and take off my makeup and think about how to change my life.

Other people have said I’m lucky, too, that I bring them luck. I was waiting tables in the East Village, and this girl who had come over from Ireland and reminded me of the legend about the Sunday morning girls, who were these Irish girls that came here by boat and would work in these sweatshops on Cape Cod (where I’m from); they would work all day Sundays, sitting behind huge glass windows looking out from the other side of the Atlantic, hand-painting ceramic teacups and music boxes, as many as they could at a time. This girl reminded me of one of them from the stories. Eyes wide like Big Sky. So we’re waiting tables together and it’s a New York City brunch shift and I’m walking and talking and explaining to her that you can always tell your profit by your sugar jars and sweetener packets and syrup pourers: if at the end of a shift, your sugar jars and boxes of sweetener packets and syrup pourers are low and need to be filled, it means you’ll have big cash that day. This is a mathematical certainty. I think it has to do with people staying a while. She tells me she thinks it has to do with luck, and then we both have to mop the same floor together, with our differences of opinion and our same sore ankles.

When you’re waiting tables you need at least one cook who doesn’t hate you so that when table 7 sends something back he doesn’t overheat the plate on purpose and your hands get burnt, bloody, and scarred forever. You need at least a busser so when your water glasses need refilling and you’re halfway across the room there’ll be someone there with a pitcher. Another mathematical certainty: Your luck depends on other people.

So it’s a Friday night and the line’s out the door and I need extra ketchup on table 2 but my orders aren’t in so a busser comes running, then spins past me and says, “You’re lucky. I’m doing this because I like you.”

After some time, I get to thinking that maybe I was using all my own luck up on everybody else's lunch. I wasn't making astronomical money, I hadn't really won a lottery or anything like that. I'd never been anywhere, never really gotten to do anything. Just seemed like a whole lot of re-creating a scene out of Dorothy Parker's "Big Blonde" story or something, when she ends up old and wrinkled and drinking and used up. Or like at the end of that James Tate poem when he says, "Hell, I love everybody."

I packed it in. I went home. I figured I'd spend the summer working on one of the farms out on the Cape, wading in the cranberry bogs and carrying a straw basket, looking out over miles of red-painted horizon floating, cleansing turf in acidic waves, spending nights sore and looking up and wondering about luck and the fates and who's who. There were men I'd met in the past coming up and out again like picnic ants looking for salt, looking for sugar. There was a new man who'd come to town while I was out city living, apparently. He was working at the gas station and I'd been tossing my eyes at him like dice, and for months I didn't have to pay anything except soul when I needed to fill up my truck. He had the kind of hands American men don't realize they know about, don't know what to do with. Worn into something stable, hands that turn a woman's body into sculpture in slow motion on some hot afternoon in July. Today, he tells me, he's leaving.

"I want a day off and the boss he says to me, 'no'." He wipes his forehead with a black bandana from his back pocket.

I turn down my truck radio, NPR. It's raining in Budapest.

I look at his brown eyes, deep pools I haven't swam around in.

"Can I take you to dinner?" His breath smells like cinnamon. "I like steak for dinner. I don't know what you eat."

He looks down and I think, you are a man with a life outside of this place and you have been thinking about eating dinner; you have a place in which you like to eat, and it is where people eat steak, no less. I will pull over 1/4 a mile down the road away from here and I will write this down, I will write about this. He puts his hands on my open car door window, leans back like he's stretching his hamstrings, looks up at me, says, "You make me feel lucky, do you gamble? Are you a good liar?"

Nicolle Elizabeth had a chapbook published by Paper Hero, an e-chap by Publishing Genius, has an e-book forthcoming from Dark Sky, and a chapbook forthcoming from PANK. She is at work on a novel, in hiding, and in a lot of therapy. She also has been published in Word Riot and a bunch of other places and loves everybody.
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