His Name Was Abe by Joanna Rose

Editor Acacia Blackwell, Editor's Choice, November 12th, 2018

"I was 19, thought I was in love, knew I was in over my head..."


Personal Essay by Joanna Rose

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     There was a Help Wanted sign at the dry cleaners on East Colfax, so I walked in. Abe was short, gray-haired, had a big gold watch, and a stump of cigar stuck in the side of his mouth. His lip was stained yellow on that side. He said I could have the job, and that it was the evening shift, and that I had to wear different clothes. I was a hippie then. We all were. I was probably wearing a granny-dress, or maybe overalls. He said, Got any mini-skirts? And he looked at my arm, at some old healing track marks. He said, Wear long sleeves.

East Colfax Avenue was all strip clubs and liquor stores and 2nd hand shops and bars. I was 19, strung out on heroin. In 1972 Denver was full of China white, a pure drug brought in from Vietnam and sold by people in the weird Irish-Jewish mafia. My boyfriend’s father was an Irish part of that bunch. I was trying to get away from the whole scene, including the boyfriend. I had no money and was crashing on a someone’s couch, someone my boyfriend didn’t know.

The strippers from the club next door to the dry cleaners brought their outfits in to be cleaned, little straps of sequins and satin. They were friendly and pretty. One was named Bambi. And businessmen brought in shirts and suits. There was a rack of neckties by the counter, pretty, wide and silky, woven muted colors, paisley or stripes, and I liked picking out a tie and trying to talk the businessmen into buying. They did too. I was good at it.

About a week in I was standing at the counter and my boyfriend showed up. I was shocked and scared. I didn’t know how he’d found me. He told me I should move back in with him, and I was crying, and said no. I was 19, thought I was in love, knew I was in over my head with the drugs and the needles and his friends and his father and his father’s friends.

But I just said no, and that he had to leave, I was working. And I took the silver spoon ring he’d given me off my finger and handed it to him. Then Abe came out from the back. He told my boyfriend to get out of there. My boyfriend threw the ring at me. It bounced off the counter and onto the floor behind the counter and left. I remember trying to just breathe. Abe put his arm around me and gave me a nice hug and said how that boy was no good. He said, There’s your ring. It was on the floor under the counter. He said, Get it. And I did. My heart was breaking and that ring seemed so important. I had to crawl under there in my blue jean mini skirt.

The next day I was showing a guy a tie and Abe came out from the back and stood next to me at the counter and was chatting to the guy, telling him what a good worker I was, and they kept talking as I laid a few beautiful ties on the counter next to the guy’s suit. Abe got closer and closer, and then he had his arm around my waist, and the guy was saying how he could tell I was a good worker. Then he and Abe were talking about some sports game, and Abe was rubbing my butt, and then his hand went under my skirt and he grabbed hard. The guy got out his money for his cleaning and his two ties he was buying, and that’s when Abe let go, and leaned on the counter next to me and watched me take the money and make change. My hands were shaking. My hands were always shaking, from drugs, or from no drugs. The guy left and Abe went into the back room.

At the end of my shift, I turned the Closed sign around and went back behind counter to get my jacket and Abe came out, and opened the cash drawer, which is what he usually did, usually to take it in the back room. This time he took out a ten and laid it on the counter. He said I deserved a commission for all the ties I sold. I remember feeling pleased with myself. And I needed that ten. I needed every cent I could get. I needed drugs, and a bus ticket. I didn’t know what I needed. But I reached for that ten and Abe grabbed my wrist and took that cigar out of his mouth and pushed me hard against the counter. I turned my whole body away and he was behind me pushing me against the counter. The formica edge of it felt like it was cutting into my ribs and his hand was under my skirt again. I said, Please, I really don’t want to, and he said, You don’t want to what? I said, This. I don’t want this. And he laughed and let me go.

The next night he pushed me against the counter again and put his hands under my skirt again and pulled at my underpants. I could feel his hard dick. I said, I don’t want to, and he said, You don’t want to what? He said, You don’t want to fuck? And I said, No, and he said, Say it. I remember I was crying, and trying not to let him see me crying, and I said, Say what? He said, Say you don’t want to fuck. So I said that, and he got more out of breath and said, Say it again. So I did. He made me say it again. Then he let go and went in the back room really fast, and I went out the front door.

The next day when I got there, in the late afternoon, he was there, in the back, smiling through the back room door at me, and he had that cigar in his mouth. After a while he went out, like he usually did, maybe for coffee or something. As soon as he was gone I opened the cash drawer and took out all the bills, and I left. I went to the Greyhound station downtown and bought a ticket for the first bus, which was going to Salt Lake City. My hands were shaking so hard I couldn’t count out the money I needed for my ticket, and I just put some bills on the counter and the woman there looked at me, took some of the money, pushed the rest back at me, and said, There’s your bus over there, hon.

That was how I got away.

I don’t know how much money I took. I know I was horribly ashamed for years, so ashamed I didn’t even think about it. Ashamed to steal from someone who had given me a job, had given me extra money.

I’m not ashamed now. Now I’m angry. My hands shake as I write this. I hope it was a lot of money.

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Header photograph courtesy of Alison Antario. To view more of her work, go here.

Joanna Rose has published one novel, several stories, some essays, a few poems, and other pieces that don’t fall into any of those categories. She lives in Portland where she teaches youth through Literary Arts and co-hosts The Pinewood Table critique group. She hangs out at www.joannarose.xyz.




Acacia Blackwell

Acacia is a writer from Portland, OR, which suits her because sunshine gives her anxiety. She is currently completing an MFA, despite being recently told by Tom Spanbauer that to become a better writer, she needs to "unlearn all that grad school stuff." She listened, and it seems to be working. Acacia is working on a collection of personal essays that she really doesn't want to admit might be a memoir, and a memoir that she really doesn't want to admit might be a novel.