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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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The Good Charlatan


by Quintilio Rose




Sharlot’s a harlot and Charlotte is not.


The hard streets of Harlem make runners’ joints sore. Sharlot, however, walks, and so her joints feel fine. Charlotte runs each morning, and so she rubs her knees.


When the sun goes down, Sharlot rises. She works hard and she knows the streets well, from the wide, well-lit, busy avenues that have never heard the sound of silence, to the dark and dangerous alleyways that are the only ears to sounds shocking in their violent brevity. She needs them all and they often take her places she has never been. The places are not always nice.


But that is life, she says.


Charlotte rises with the sun. She used to run in Harlem but the streets are too hard. Now she goes to the park and runs on the grass. That way her joints feel fine.


When Sharlot finishes with her work, she goes home and washes off her hoary paint, though she herself is not hoary in the least. She looks at the mirror. The reflection is beautiful, but it is tired. The reflection yawns and so does Sharlot. Yawns are contagious. She keeps a box of cash under her bed. She saves, for what she knows not, but she saves. Before she sleeps, she takes out her pay and counts it with pleasure. She adds it to her box with satisfaction. Someday she won’t have to do this, she tells herself.


Someday I won’t be able to do this, is what she really thinks.


Charlotte works in an office. She feels bored when she is there, but a girl must eat. In the adjoining cubicle sits Ted. Ted is infatuated with Charlotte, but she doesn’t think he truly loves her. They have been on four dates. They are always pleasant, but sometimes Charlotte feels bored which makes her feel bad. Ted is nice.


Sharlot eats an early dinner and takes a nap at six. The streets do not welcome those who are tired. She sets an alarm for ten but sometimes wakes up early. She likes to watch television in order to relax. She especially likes to watch Barbara Walters, though she is not sure why. Perhaps she wants to be like her; she thinks she has a nice life. At ten, she applies her make-up; it is not yet hoary. Before she leaves, she scans the room to make sure everything has been turned off. Anything turned on must later be turned off. It is simple logic, though oft forgotten. The streets welcome her familiar step. Perhaps tonight they will take her somewhere familiar. They sometimes do.


Every Sunday, Charlotte goes to church. Sinners come one, come all. That is what the reverend likes to say. She sits respectfully in the pew and listens intently. The reverend has such nice things to say. The reverend, like Ted, is infatuated with Charlotte. There is something about her that draws men. The reverend is handsome but attached to a wife. They can never be together.


But that is life, she says.


Sharlot is never alone on the streets. Sinners come one, come all. A group congregates on the corner. Some are Sharlot’s friends, others her competition. Some are both. They talk to pass the time. Apparently Candy is home sick tonight. Nobody knows anybody’s real name. Nobody is who they truly are on the dark city streets. Or maybe it’s the other way around, and in the light, like cockroaches, their true selves scatter.


Charlotte eats lunch with Ted. They talk of heavy things like terrorism and televisions. He is taking Friday off to visit his sister in Hoboken. She nods politely but can’t bring herself to care all that much. He asks if she would like to come. She is not listening and says that sounds lovely. He is delighted and tells her they will leave at noon. For where? She asks. To Hoboken, of course. She laughs and says she couldn’t possibly go there. She has things to do.


Sharlot loves the thrill of a new customer. She swears she has had the mayor once. Although if pressed, she admits it may or may not have been him. She always looks to see if her customer wears a ring. She doesn’t judge them if they do, but it makes her sad. She can tell when the men feel guilty, ring or no ring. The tears of men are rare indeed, but in the darkness, where Sharlot lies, feigning sleep, she knows they are more common than one thinks. The first time is the hardest and often starts with a pretext. Once, a man took her to the movies and they watched the latest Batman film from the back row, though not much watching was done. She was disappointed because she had wanted to see it, and now the ending was spoiled.


Ted’s train pulls into Penn Station late at night. He had a nice visit with his sister. He waits for a taxi to take him home. One stops and he climbs in. Ted’s taxi rolls down the street. The fare climbs at an alarming rate. Ted decides to look out the window instead. The streets are seedy at this time of night. He smiles at the idea of stopping the taxi and joining them. But of course that is preposterous. Isn’t it? A woman catches his attention. He tells the taxi driver to stop. He steps out and onto the sidewalk. The woman’s back is turned.


Charlotte?


But Charlotte is nowhere to be found, and Sharlot turns around.