For as long as Aggie could recall, strange people drifted in and out of the cozy doublewide she shared with her mother. Roby had a fondness for temporary people; wanderers, carnies, truckers and the like, just passing through. No attachments. No complications. They were flings and friendships minus the pain of prolonged endings, loud arguments, or resentful tears.
Aggie's childhood, as atypical as all things connected to Roby, was secure and joyful. She knew lots of fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles who joked and played with her. Sometimes they even brought presents; stuffed toys, glitter mirrors, and other trinkets from the fair, or new books and wall posters for her room. The folks her mother ran with infused her days with new music, mismatched colors, and weird stories from their travels. Sometimes, Roby would get in a little tighter with one of these ramblers and he'd stick around for a while. Then, one day he'd move on and no one felt sad. Roby said it was emptiness that caused people to feel sad, and she'd made certain that life for her and her daughter overflowed, even if they had little.
It was like this with all Roby's guys. Except Frog. He hung around as though his presence in their home were normal. Roby tolerated him, but Aggie sensed something about Frog irritated her mother, even though she never spoke of it. When he made surprise visits to their trailer, Aggie cringed at the way her mother's eyes didn't smile when she laughed; how her shoulders slumped as though she were trying to push them together. Roby never said a dark word about anyone, even when they deserved it. Up to her last day among the living, Aggie's mother had plenty of kindness for everyone, especially the downtrodden eccentrics who swarmed around her.
Without her mother's effervescence to light the place, it dimmed and became a less social place. Visits from mourners, friends, and well-wishers tapered off after a while. Aggie's boyfriend Tim moved in. He'd stretch out on the couch, remote in hand while Aggie washed the dishes, staring off toward the truck stop and highway with the fairgrounds in the distance. She'd wonder what sort of characters were milling about out there. She tried to give her home a new life, inviting a couple of friends over, hoping for a changing of the guards, where she might step into her mother's place as lover and den mother to all manner of vagabonds, weirdos, and broken oddballs.
But, Tim was too tired after work for bullshit and can't a guy eat dinner and watch some TV without a bunch of freaks running in and out for fuck's sake? Even Frog stopped coming around to check on her after Tim moved in.
Until Tim broke a coffee mug on her face because why did she have to be such a nosy bitch first thing in the fucking morning. An hour later, he rode away from her in the back of a police cruiser. A persistent female officer made an admirable effort to coax Aggie into a trip to the ER to treat the cuts and bruises on her now swollen visage.
"I'm fine." Aggie hoped her quavering voice didn't reveal the pain flashing through her cheekbone.
The officer insisted, but Aggie couldn't be persuaded.
"It's okay. I'll have my friend take me to the doctor later. I'm sure it'll be okay with a couple of stitches and some aloe."
Minutes later, Aggie sat alone at the kitchen table that was once surrounded by boisterous laughter, its scuffed surface covered with comfort food. She began to weep, in spite of the discomfort it caused her wrecked face, and longed for her mother.
Frog lowered his bulk onto the creaky threadbare sofa that years ago had been a lush velour. He gritted his teeth as he examined the shiny black and purple plum of Aggie's cheekbone; the ugly slice through her spotty red flesh. His dark, bushy brow furrowed and his nostrils flared as Aggie served him coffee and summarized the events of the past few days. He responded straight from the script most people refer to in these kinds of situations. Phrases such as, "that little sonofabitch," and "I'd better not see him around here," to show solidarity and make the victim feel safe and supported. Aggie didn't feel safe or supported. She didn't feel like being around anyone except Val, who stopped by every day. A couple of her coworkers at the auto parts store had called to check on her after they heard that she wouldn't be coming in for a while, but she didn't want to see them, either. Rather, she didn't want them to see her coffee mug-smashed face. Her victim face.
She asked Frog for a cigarette. Frowning, he shook one from the pack he kept in his shirt pocket, lit it, and passed it to her. Elbows on his knees, he folded his hands together and said, "So, you're eighteen now, aren't you?"
Aggie crossed her arms in front of her chest without realizing that she did so. "Yeah. Why?"
"I started sculpting, you know."
"Sculpting? Like statues and shit?" She tucked a stray strand of her sandy bob behind her ear.
Frog nodded. "Statues. Small ones. Busts. Figurines. All kinds of sculptures."
Aggie exhaled a small plume of smoke and gingerly touched her fingertips to her swollen cheekbone. It jutted out in a bizarre, pointy way that resembled an elbow more than a cheekbone.
"Well," she said, "I guess it's good to have a hobby to pass the time." She didn't look at him as she said this, but at the carpet, and she spoke in the soft, far away tones of a person on autopilot. Why was he telling her this? She had no interest in him, his hobbies, or anything at all aside from putting the past few days behind her and having her face back to normal. She crushed out her half-smoked cigarette, and decided to ask him to leave, but then considered he might be attempting to distract her from her problems for a short time.
Frog cleared his throat, then removed the pack of cigarettes from his pocket again and lit one for himself. Scratching his temple as smoke blew out of his considerable nostrils, he said, "You know, if you need some extra cash now that you're on your own, I sometimes hire models for my sculpting projects."
"Models?" Aggie looked up at him. His wide nose and small eyes. The wiry hairs growing from his ears. He leaned back on the sofa, one foot resting on his knee, as though he was lighter and able to open himself up now that he had released his offer out into the room. She pointed at herself. "Do you see my face? Do I look like I'm up for any modelling gigs?"
He raised a defensive hand. "I'm not trying to get you riled up, I just want to help you out in whatever way I can."
Aggie's mind wandered back to the days before Tim, how it used to be when she'd had a kind of family. Frog had been there. Sure, her mother wasn't as tight with him as she'd been with some of the other carnies and drifters, but he'd been around some, and those fellas had all been big brothers and uncles and fathers to her.
"It's been a rough few days." She ran her fingers through her hair, and squinted at him with her unblemished eye, which was also red due to tears and lack of decent sleep. "How much do you pay your models?"
"Twenty bucks an hour, give or take."
"For modelling their whole body?"
"Nah." Frog waved a hand dismissively. He leaned forward and smashed his cigarette butt in the heavy brown glass ashtray. "Just faces, you know. For busts."
"Busts? Like Mozart, or Beethoven, or some shit?"
"Sure." Frog's face flashed a smirk that made Aggie feel uneasy again.
He thinks I'm stupid, she thought.
They were interrupted by a knock on the screen door and Val stepped inside. Aggie made a brief introduction, then Frog rose from the ugly green sofa and announced his departure, stating that he was just, "keeping our girl company," and he'd be on his way, now.
Val and Aggie stood next to one another, watching the taillights of Frog's powder blue van kick up dust as it rolled toward the highway and faded into twilight. After he'd gone a distance she was satisfied with, Val took his place on the sofa. She raised an eyebrow. "Friend of your mom's?"
"Yeah. He offered me a job."
"A job?" Val straightened up and narrowed her mahogany eyes. "What kind of a job?"
"Modelling for some sculpture. Weird, right?"
Val jerked her head back. "The fuck?"
"And get this—he wanted to know if I turned eighteen yet."
"Aw, hell no. That's always a bad sign." Val shook her head and kicked her shoes off.
"Right? But, he said he'd pay me twenty bucks an hour."
"And that old dude has that kind of money?"
"I doubt it. He's a retired truck driver living in a shitty one-bedroom apartment."
Val sniffed at the stinking ashtray on the coffee table in front of her and pushed it farther away. She made a dismissive gesture with her hand. "Dude, I told you. This shit is nasty."
"It's way nasty. But I need the outlet right now."
"I know." Val's voice softened. She rose from the couch and went to Aggie. Val moved to touch her face and Aggie winced. "Just let me have a look at it."
Aggie relaxed and Val put both of her smooth, brown hands on either side of Aggie's head. "It looks a little better today. I still say you should've had a few stitches, though."
"It'll heal up fine without 'em. Besides. Stitches and doctor visits cost money."
Val smiled wide. "Now why are you being such a cheap ass when you're getting ready to embark on a big modeling career?"
There was a pause, then they both began laughing. Aggie strutted around the trailer catwalk style in her sweatpants and bruised face. Their giggling grew more hysterical and giddy and for a moment, Aggie felt relief in the absurdity. But the moment came and went.