Sugar: a Study in Noir

after Bobby Darin's 'Mack the Knife' & Nina Simone's 'Pirate Jenny'

Sugar: a Study in Noir
Photo by Zoltan Tasi / Unsplash

by Sirianna Helleloid

It starts when he sits at the bar & drinks
whiskey, sour on his lips & says, "Sugar."

He takes his thumb, smooths it over his upper
lip, & turns to the broad leaning against the bar.

"Sugar," he says, "What's a lady like you doing
in a place like this?" Her hair brushes over

her shoulder as the whiskey swirls in his mouth
& he traces that shoulder with his eyes, a dark curve

so fragile it looks like cigarette smoke. He says, "Sugar,"
& she turns. Have you ever seen a face so cold

it makes the ice cubes in your drink go hard? No?
Well then you've never seen this broad's face.

Beautiful like a handgun. Beautiful like a handgun,
still smoking. She's smoking, the cigarette

leaving ash on her fingertips, her lipstick leaving
red on the filter as she takes it from her mouth

& blows. "Sugar," she says, the sneer on her wide
lips a curled grimace, "Sugar?" He swallows,

his throat dry, "Sugar," he repeats & she walks off.
Truth is, he'd been looking for a bit of a fight,

but the kind of fight he could press against his dim-lit
hotel room wall. The kind of trouble who gasped.

He isn't sure he hasn't found it. Sugar. It can level
factories in an explosion. Sugar. Aren't you sweet?

A murder down by the docks that morning
& he's drinking the blood away. He just escaped

from a string of unsolved murders out East. It's supposed
to be different here & this one is. This one smells

like dead sardines in a tin. This one has the girl at the bar,
still walking away. He follows the girl. He follows the instinct

to keep moving, like a great white shark. Murder's the thing
he knows best, but great whites don't go swimming

with concrete boots. They don't stop. He pops
his trench coat collar up against the rain. It's coming

down hard, like bullets. She's the kind of beautiful
that makes people part when she walks

down the sidewalk, the kind of magnet that draws
the crowd back to cover her wake until he loses her trail.

Damn it. He stands under a lamp post in the rain
feeling down on his luck. He's even out of cigarettes.

But sharks keep swimming. He heads to the docks.
The waves slap up against the boardwalk while the rain

hits like an angry man in a stained white wife-beater,
liquored up & storming. The storm's enraged now

& the ocean foams like brackish blood. It's boiling
as much as he is, looking for a fight. He hears a scream.

He sees the outline of tall ships, gunning. He's an alley
knife against a rising fleet, just starting to understand

the game. He starts to run. He starts to run
like the people he's chased down with a knife,

like the blood on his boots, like the lies that foam
in his wake, like the mascara slicked over her face.

If he sees the woman, she's a goner, but if she sees
him first then he's already gone. He feels her bullet lodged

beneath his sternum, feels her bullet lodged into his chest.
Feels her bullet lodged like a tenant short on rent.

He blinks up at her, a dark blur, & she says,
"Sugar," & his lights snuff out. If you ask her,

she's dodging knives in her back. If you ask her,
they all have it coming. If you ask her she'll say

he ended when he sat at the bar & drank
whiskey, sour on his lips & said, "Sugar."

"Sugar," he said, "What's a gal like you doing
in a place like this?" Her hair brushed over

her shoulder as the whiskey swirled in his mouth
& he traced that shoulder with his fingers,

a dark curve so fragile it looked like cigarette
smoke. He said, "Sugar," & she turned.

Sirianna Helleloid is a production accountant by day & by night is mostly asleep; somewhere between the two she writes. She's had poems in Kettle Blue Review & Catapult. Her manuscript &maybe was recently a finalist for the 2023 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize. You can find her on Twitter at @elelelelloyd.