For once we didn't argue about the pros and cons of picking up a hitchhiker, we just opened the door and let her slide in, fur coat and all. Out in the middle of Texas, for godsakes. Leaves and twigs were stuck to the back of it, but it was a beautiful fur, who knows what kind. Like Zeke said after she was gone, she acted like royalty right from the start. Once she was in the car she demanded a cigarette, so I rolled one quick and even lit it for her. We were hauling through the night on our way to Mardi Gras, but she wasn't in costume, she was on the run. To think of a beautiful girl like that out on the road alone, dressed to the nines, well, we wanted to know the story. He was a motherfucker, she said, as if that answered the question. Exactly who "he" was she never told us, but we guessed he was rich, a banker or oilman. Deal me in, she said, when Zeke pulled the flask out of the glove compartment, and she took such a long pull I was sure there wasn't going to be any left for me. Emptiness with others is a strange feeling to have, but I did after that, even trading places with her so she could control the radio and sing along to the songs, always the sad ones, while I slumped in the back and tried not to notice how much more animated Zeke seemed all of a sudden. At last we crossed the border into Louisiana. Lucy-Anne, she called it, laughing, and took another long drink. Oh, let me tell you, I was not feeling very good by then. New Orleans had been hanging out at the front of my mind like Shangri-La before she showed up, but now? Dawn was breaking over the bayou when we got to Morgan City and stopped for breakfast, and Zeke said Mam'selle to her when he opened the door to the cafe. Once we sat down and she shrugged off her fur we saw the tracks on her arms. We ate in silence then, but she kept looking out the window and checking her phone, and I guess I wasn't all that surprised when the limo showed up and out she ran. Now she's just a story Zeke and I trade back and forth when we're high, as if a woman like her couldn't have had him without half trying, as if it wouldn't have been me they left behind on their way to Mardi Gras.
Beth Spencer runs Bear Star Press, publisher of poetry and short fiction by writers in western states. "The Empress" is from an unpublished manuscript called Bebop Galactic.