Gay Degani has been published in print as well as online at Night Train. 3 A.M Magazine, Tattoo Highway, and others. "Spring Melt"
was a finalist for The 2nd Annual Micro Fiction Award and was nominated by Every Day Fiction for a Pushcart Prize. "Monsoon"
was a finalist in Glimmer Train's 2008 Fiction Open and "Wounded Moon" was short listed for 2009 Fish Prize Anthology. She
recently won 1st place in the Women on Writing Winter 2009 Flash Fiction Contest with "Beyond the Curve." She is currently - still
- working on her novel, What Came Before. You can find Gay's work online at www.gaydegani.com and
Doing Mr. Velvet
All the dead bodies end up in Riverside County and my cousin Emma says one more won’t matter. We’re on the 10 freeway,
slipping over the San Bernardino-Riverside line, Emma up ahead in Mr. Velvet’s gold Cadillac DeVille, Mr. Velvet in the trunk. I’m
following behind in Emma’s station wagon. It’s about two in the morning and I’m staring at a shitload of cars traveling in both
directions. This is exactly why Californians need more day spas. They don’t know enough to stay home and get a good night’s
We’re not bad people, Emma and I, but she says we’ve worked too hard planning our day spa to waste time going to court to
prove my innocence. And since she’s the sole heir to Mr. Velvet’s House of Hair in the event of his death, she doesn’t want to
draw any unnecessary attention to herself. If anyone asks, Harold Warren Velvet went to Vegas.
We’re deep in the desert when Emma exits the freeway and turns onto a gravel road. It’s as dark and lonely as a hair salon on
Monday mornings; the clouds like spit curls around the moon.
There’s a thump behind me. A sudden shadow. A voice: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
I scream and jerk the steering wheel. The wagon sways and bumps over the shoulder, spewing sand and grit. I don’t throw up;
I pee my pants.
In the rear view mirror is Jesus himself, all riveting eyes and bearded chin.
Shit. The Almighty knows my name.
The stink of fries and heavy sweat helps me to calm down. This particular smell belongs to Holy Roller, the guy who preaches in
the middle of the intersection of Baseline and Haven back in Rancho Cucamonga.
“What the hell are you doing in Emma’s station wagon?” I ask.
“Hiding from the cops.” He starts to slide between the bucket seats and into the front and I swat him back. Emma’s gonna be
hotter than an uncertified curling iron about this new development.
“Is that Mr. Velvet up there?” Emma’s taillights flash red across Holy’s hairy face.
We’ve caught up to the Cadillac, its bumper recognizable, so I hit the brakes, fishtailing a little, to let the Caddie move ahead.
I met Holy Roller my first day washing hair and sweeping up at the House of Hair where Emma’s been the head honcho forever.
He was digging through the dumpster out back and said to me, “I used to be in the Truth and now I’m not. I’ve accepted Jesus
Christ as my personal savior.” I bought him a couple Whoppers and been feeding him ever since.
Up ahead, Emma turns off the road and into squishy sand. The clouded moon turns the yucca trees into bandits, the boulders
into bears. We’re finally in the middle of nowhere.
Emma parks the DeVille on a ridge of rocks. She’s not gonna like having a witness our crime, so I stop a distance away.
“Holy,” I say. “You gotta stay in the wagon and be quiet, you understand? I mean it.”
“Fear not, little flock.”
A long gulch stretches below the ridge, willows on both sides. When I reach Emma, I lean against the Caddie’s front grill to keep
from shaking apart.
“Don’t wimp out on me now, Gilly. It’s your neck, don’t forget.”
“But I didn’t mean —”
“No one’s gonna believe that now, so let’s get this car in the gully and light it up.”
She’s right, of course. Emma’s always right, and yet…
I glance over my shoulder, but the station wagon’s dark and quiet.
Mr. Velvet went stiff back at Mr. Velvet’s House of Hair. We had to work to pack him into the trunk. Now we heave him up,
smacking his head on the metal rim of the trunk, and carry him to the driver’s side of the DeVille. The plan is to put him in the
front seat like he was driving the car out here for god-only-knows-what-reason when something went wrong, but he’s too rigid,
so we just slide him in along the front seat.
“That Mr. Velvet in there?” Holy Roller. Popping up next to me.
“Ah, Gilly,” says Emma. “Dammit.”
“I didn’t ask him to come.”
“Yeah.” Emma turns and looks Holy straight in the eyeballs. “Gilly’s in trouble and I’m helping her out. Don’t screw with me. You
go wait in my car, you hear?”
“Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and —”
Emma grabs his arm and pulls him back to the wagon, me hurrying behind.
“It was an accident, Holy. I was washing his hair —”
“You don’t have to explain to the likes of —”
“But I didn’t murder Mr. Velvet. I was washing his hair —”
“Shut up, Gil —”
“He jumped up when I sprayed him with water and slipped —”
“Stop it, you stupid, stupid girl.”
“And hit his head.” I’m hanging my own.
Holy halts, looks from Emma to me and back to Emma. Says, “So when you put the plastic over his face, Emma, you were
Her body goes stiff. “What plastic, you idiot?”
“I was hungry so I was looking for Gilly through the window. And when Mr. Velvet moved, you covered his face with Saran. Held
it there until he stopped moving.”
I stare at my cousin, my life-long best friend. “You were gonna let me think I killed —”
“Don’t believe this junkie —”
Fumbling for the wagon keys in my pocket, I drag Holy with me.
“Where are you going?” Emma starts after us.
I shove Holy into the passenger seat, but Emma grips my shoulder. I shrug her off and slam the door. She grabs at me; I push
her hard and haul it around the car.
“Stop this foolishness right now.”
I jump into the driver’s seat, lock doors. She's there, hammering on the roof, peering in the window, her face violet with rage.
I slam the accelerator. The wheels churn sand, then shoot us forward. We hit the black top hard, and Holy Roller says to me, “I
am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall live.”
It isn’t until we see the first billboard for the International House of Pancakes, and Holy Roller mutters something about
Whoppers, that I roll down the window and poke my head into the cool morning air. Behind us, at the foot of the mountains, I
can still see a rod of smoke twisting to the sky.
Emma, if nothing else, is a practical woman. Somehow she’s managed to light up Mr. Velvet in his Cadillac crypt, sticking to her
plan. And if I know Emma, and I guess now I do, that means she’s not going to let anything or anyone stand in the way of her
transformation of Mr. Velvet’s House of Hair into Emma Elkins European Day Spa and someone’s going to have to take the
blame for doing Mr. Velvet.
I turn to Holy Roller. “What do you say we take a vacation? I need to ponder awhile on the strange ways of the Lord and his
“Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, didn’t he?”
“I’m think I’m done with deserts. How about the beach?”
“I hear they got good weed in Ensenada.”
I say, “Amen.”