I visit Rufus, Martin’s dog, to console him. He had surgery to remove a tumor and he appreciates my company while Martin is at work. I left my phone on Martin’s patio last week and my first instinct was to text Martin to make sure it was there. Duh! When I swung by several minutes later Martin confessed that he had texted me to let me know he had my phone. How did we become this dependent on a piece of technology? And this stupid.
I overheard a conversation among young people at Iris. They mostly work minimum wage jobs and have crushing levels of student loan debt, tens of thousands of dollars, that they have no hope of repaying. One young man, the only one among the group without student debt, contended that it revealed higher education as a scam since there aren’t any jobs for you when you graduate anyway. I had to pipe in to say that the problem wasn’t higher education as a concept but higher education as a profit center. College was never intended to be strictly a vocational school. A broad based education was to prepare you for a richer life in general. Low information voters and low voter turnout, I argued, are, at least in part, the result of poor education which results in detachment, apathy and cynicism. Germany understands this and has made a college education free for all citizens. A well rounded, liberal arts education imparts critical thinking skills and knowledge about the deeper issues and furthers the purpose and processes of democracy. This has more inherent value than military adventurism for a free society. Unfortunately, it doesn’t serve the oligarchy and their corporate media propagandists. A stupid, distracted and compliant populous best serves them.
You can’t leave all of your options open. Even if you try. A concept I have struggled with all my life. There’s always another job. Another girl. Another place to live. But rather than a way to move forward, that kind of thinking guarantees you’ll get stuck.
Besides there’s the island of unintended results. Small decisions made with little thought because of seemingly small consequences have a way of cumulatively ballooning into big decisions. Life making or breaking results. The sum total of your life, the calculus of your existence. Jobs taken or quit. Women wooed or abandoned. How do you balance the rewards and disasters of a carefree life with the safe, and secure but possibly sterile planned life?
your next pay raise
A phone call
your tax refund
the end of the wash cycle
The end of the chapter, the last verse, the punch line, the final scene, the guitar solo
Patience is worthless
as is impatience
in its own time
The Guinness will settle
the paint will dry
the cab will arrive
the rain will stop
the smoke will clear
Waiting for the ball to drop on New Year’s Eve, to close out another year of joy and disappointment and frustration and ecstasy and misery and the greying hair and swelling prostate continue unabated while you take one more shower or drink one more beer although nobody is counting
Much of life waiting
for petty events
you wait for death
and what happens after
which is probably
He dialed up his humor and intellect settings. Also sensitivity and empathy. Rolled back sarcasm and cynicism. Adjusted his configuration to those he knew appealed to most Earth women. He could always adjust on the fly if he encountered an unusual specimen.
He looked around the room. His language app seemed to be working sporadically. The species recognition utility was on the fritz. Too many inhabitants of the room registered as bovine or porcine to make sense. He scanned his own entity to make sure he had assumed human form. He had to be careful. He was getting a poor signal. It had been quite some time since his last visit. Humanoids came in a number of varieties throughout the universe. He needed to be careful to get the anatomy correct even when he locked onto the correct species. Did he need one or two penises or more? Arturian women accommodated several and yet their anatomy was more straightforward. Earth women reacted to his genital mistakes sometimes with horror, often with delight. Earth women like the Arturians had functionally specific orifices but in such odd proximity as to cause confusion.
There were amusing errors as well as the tragic ones. Once he realized he had entered a drinking establishment in the form of a chicken. He had to make adjustments in a hurry to prevent ending up on the menu.
“Are you from out of town? I’ve not seen you here before,“ she asked.
“What color is your bedspread?” he responded.
He knew there was something wrong with his response. She laughed which was encouraging. He made adjustments anyway.
“You’re a comedian, right? Here for open mic night.”
“You’ll like my braunschweiger,” he said.
She laughed again. “You certainly get to the point.”
She summoned the bartender. “I’ll have another gin and tonic and get my friend here another beer. What are you drinking?” she asked him, looking at him narrowed eyes that indicated many questions.
“Due birra,” he said, knowing that was an accurate assessment of his level of consumption but not quite appropriate for what she had asked. And in the wrong language.
“He’s a drunk comedian,” she said to the bartender. ‘Serve him another of what he was drinking.” She pointed to the empty pint glass.
They throw us out there underprepared to fend for ourselves, he is thinking, risking life and limb no matter the quantity or configuration. Perhaps he could get lost in this backwater region of the universe. Abandon the corps. Go A.W.O.L. He knew that many had tried but none succeeded, to his knowledge. He was fated to his destiny as a Breeder, charged with spreading the seed of the Empire until no habitable star system was left unfertilized.
A scan showed the chronological status, health and dimensions of his present company to be suitable for impregnation.
The work is not altogether unpleasant. The sensations are powerful yet fleeting. Just as you become fond of one of them she begins to rot, so brief are their lifespans. One of them labeled Sarah, a frail and fragile specimen had been the one to sow seeds of doubt in his own mind. Maybe they had it right. Brevity inspires intensity, a sense of urgency unfamiliar to his own who lived many, many Earthly centuries. Sarah’s whatthefuckedness attitude made a mockery of the philosophies and grand schemes in which he had been been steeped since inception.
Like every life form, Sarah was reabsorbed, in her due time, in the great vortex of cosmic energy and pooped out in another form and, perhaps, in another time.
Perhaps as a chicken who mistakenly walks into a bar to become dinner. He laughed at his own perverse, foul (fowl) witticism that Sarah would have appreciated and turned his attention back to the current human woman under examination, who’s name he had already forgotten.
After a few more drinks, she invited him to her room, as expected. He conjured two penises and a prehensile tongue, hoping that would be enough.
Old Man Resting
In a random direction to an uncertain destination but one cannot question his determination. He’ll sense the route. Eventually. The tugging of magnetic forces. A formation of flying fowl like an arrow pointing somewhere. He’ll discover a trail or breadcrumbs on the ground leading to a magical place. Or follow an enticing aroma carried on the soft autumn breeze. Something will show the way.
The joy of the truly lost and aimless. The freedom. Rejecting the fetishes of productivity and efficiency. Appointments. Goals. Measured accomplishments other than the length of your stride. It’s enough to be alive. On the move. Or not.
He stops to sit on a park bench. Awaiting the company of other park benchers. An unlikelihood among the scurrying, tight lipped starers at distant horizons that may or may not exist or have meaning.
Perhaps he should have consulted a manual. Had his cards or palm read. Rolled the dice. Hired a guide. Found someone who presents a card that reads Psychic Repair Free Estimates. Long ago. Instead he lingers on a park bench of puzzling placement. No bus stop before him. Only a leafy tree and a parking lot behind. The lot looks new. Maybe a building was razed but the bench spared. A sentry with none to serve and nothing to protect.
The bench has a wrought iron base. Fancy curlicued metal. The wooden seat and back slats with cracked and peeling blue-gray paint. A solid bench that will outlast him unless progress strolls by, takes note and finds itself offended (it’s easy to piss off progress) by this worn and abandoned relic. He’s talking about the bench, mind you.
A chorus of birds in the tree that provides unneeded shade. The sun will set soon. Perhaps the family of birds is preparing for bedtime. The sky is taking on the blue-gray hue of the bench. When the birds momentarily quieten the tree whispers to him in a language he’s beginning to understand. The tree has not shed its leaves yet but will soon. Perhaps that’s the source of complaint. Or the annoying, talkative birds
This could be Pittsburgh or Cleveland. A rustbelt town rendered cheerful by it’s charming dreariness. A delightfully desolate outpost. The perfect place to take a final stand. From a seated position. A place where you will not feel over-whelmed. Perhaps merely whelmed.
Suddenly a little girl wearing a simple smock dress stands before him. The dress has giraffes. She studies the old man perhaps wondering if he comes with the bench. She neither smiles nor frowns nor blinks, her eyes sparkle like tiny jewels against a fading background that is slowly losing definition. She holds a red balloon. Up the street her mother calls in a weary, vexed voice. The child hands him the balloon and scampers off.
He’ll sit for a while longer holding the red balloon until he gathers his wits, sorts his moods, musters his reserves, counts his blessings, discards his regrets, ties his shoes and scratches his crotch.
Or until something else happens.
Whoever designated Sunday as a day of rest
was a fucking genius
Or one crafty, lazy motherfucker
Sundays are my time
Get out of my face
Leave me alone
I can sleep the day away but that would be
a wasted Sunday
Better to do that on a day when I
should be working
I could make it a day of adventure,
start the day by shaving my balls with a rusty
No morning church since I do not
I’m not sure the church believes either
If there is a God I’m pretty sure It doesn’t believe
Drinking is a fall back option
but how would that differentiate
Meet a woman with a glass eye
or missing front teeth
or a harelip
Okay, no bad breathe or yeast infections
nothing that stinks
Just something to make me less
We could fall in love with each other’s
that’s how it ends up
Get divorced after she tires of my drunken ass
and lack of conviction
Go to the movies
Play the ponies
So many possibilities
Keep those cards and letters coming. Slip a sawbuck into the next envelope, will you? Please.
I’ll keep trying to offend and provoke. To tease. To abuse. How else can I get attention? Hate mail is grist for the mill. Your torches provide light. Your pitchforks, tar, feathers, rotten tomatoes. All useful and appreciated.
I want to keep you awake at night with doubt and confusion. To corrupt you and your family. Your spouse. Your sons. Your daughters. Especially your daughters. Your second cousins twice removed I will remove thricely.
I’m coming for you and yours. All of it and all of them.
You, my loyal fan. Whoever you are.
When I saw her again
on the street, she was
like an animal
the dotted lines
on the chart
tenderloin chuck round
I was heading
in the opposite
on the street
and the weight
whereas I was
I should have
but was afraid
of her appetites
On the street
where we stood
Tragedy at Troublesome Creek
Deja Vu, Kentucky. Somewhere around Harlan or Hazard or Hindman or Hell or another place that starts with an H.
You’ve been there before.
Deja Vu is just up the road from the little hamlet of Decoy which kinda looks like Deja Vu but isn’t. It’ll fool you if you’re not careful. Decoy is a fake.
On the gravel road between Decoy and Deja Vu, on the right before you get to the rough hewn, one room post office, is a swinging bridge that spans Troubled Creek. That’s where Blaine and his childhood sweetheart, Black-Eyed Susan, would stroll, throwing stones into the shallow, churning, fast flowing, water below as they swayed and stepped carefully to avoid missing or rotting planks.
Legend had it that lovers, forbidden their desires by feuding families, threw themselves to their deaths off the swinging bridge. In retrospect it’s an unlikely story since the bridge is not high. You could probably only drown in Troubled if you landed face down with a broken neck. The locals make up stories to entertain themselves between shooting, skinning and frying up squirrels. It was a romantic enough story for the youngsters whose love might have been forbidden if they had been detected because they were cousins. Though not blood relatives. Black Eyed Susan had been taken in by the great aunt under unexplained circumstances. Her dark complexion, hair and eyes and chiseled features suggested Native American blood.
Blaine and Black-Eyed Susan had grown up together as almost brother and sister. They were of, essentially, identical age. Had been bathed together, back to back, in a huge galvanized trough, repeatedly replenished with boiling water from the pot on the coal stove. On Blaine’s grandmother’s back porch. They paid no mind to their nakedness at the time but it was soon enough that the “show me and I’ll show you” moment arrived. Thrilling and yet confusing.
Blain and Black-Eyed Susan made the most of the swinging bridge legend, standing in the middle of the bridge, swaying and holding hands and pretending they were about to jump.
The inevitable coupling would have soon occurred except for intervening circumstances. Blaine came down with strep throat but recovered after ministrations by the cranky and ill informed country doctor and various home remedies involving paregoric, honey, tea and even a little bourbon.
Naturally Blaine passed the infection on to Black-Eyed Susan whose throat also recovered but she would later develop rheumatic fever. Her tiny, young heart became inflamed and swollen and exploded, Blaine imagined, from unrequited love..
The street sweeper
Wakes me at 3 a.m.
I listen to the roar
My eyes closed
Big brushes brushing
Sucking up debris
A vacuum on wheels
With a driver driving
Alone while the world sleeps
He sweeps with
Solitary singular purpose
Like a lighthouse keeper
Or a drawbridge operator
Or a night watchman
In dew settled morning
a poet in a courtyard
companioned only by words
not ready for the world
Wounds that won’t heal
As are pussies
Thought to be icky
But I must confess
I’ve seen beautiful butt-holes
Porous creatures, we are
A world sensed through openings
The sight of her
salty or sweet
It can grab, you know
As if independent
Something to consider
Crapping. Puking. Pissing.
Ear and nose boogers
Blackheads, and pimples and boils
Pustules emitting vile substances from within
Styes and pink eye
And tears of shame
Or joy or grief
Try not to think about it
We’d be sealed
Your basic leaking essence
Embrace your holes
He pulled the sheet from the printer and read what he had written. Crap! He help the paper vertically to crumple it and throw it into the waste can. The letters slid off the page and onto the table. He laid the blank, white page beside the printer.
He began sorting the letters into like piles. A’s with A’s. B’s with B’s and so forth. When he was done he noticed that he had no Q’s or Z’s. He began typing rows of Q’s and Z’s. He printed the page. Held it up and shook it. The Q’s and Z’s wouldn’t fall from the page.
Meanwhile the piles of letters had been marching onto the blank page. Arranging themselves into words, sentences, paragraphs. He read the passages. They made no sense but were better than the original. He shook the page but the letters were stuck.
He folded the page and put it into an envelope addressed to his agent. A few months later he received a check.
It goes to show that the best stories often write themselves.
Fried baloney sandwiches and tater tots at Nation on 13th. Even a toast bar popping up (literally) at Blue Oven in Findlay Market. Blue Oven bread is delicious and I’m sure the toppings are fabulous but I can’t help but giggle at the notion of a Toast Bar. All these foods from my childhood regaining prominence.
I think I’ll buy an old film projector caddy. The kind on wheels that the high school geek, with his glasses taped together, would roll into the class room to show a film strip. I already have a toaster. I’ll get a supply of Pop Tarts. Plain and frosted. I’ll wheel the projector cart with the toaster and tarts down to Fountain Square, plug in and offer gourmet Pop Tarts. I don’t yet know what makes them gourmet. I’ll work it out, something will pop up. I’ll sell them for $5 a tart. A business concept so stupid that it can’t fail.
Or cans of Vienna sausages. The little sausages packed in gelatin. Stick a toothpick with a squiggly, colorful, cellophane embellishment. Dust a little parsley. Oui. Oui. Ouinies. Pretend they are a French delicacy. $6 bucks. Genius.
Wash day. We had a wringer washer. A wringer washer, in case you don’t know, is a powered machine that churns and sloshes your clothes around like any other washer but has a set of rollers mounted on the top which squeezes the water out so you can hang the clothing on the line to finish drying. As a child I was fascinated by the flattening of the clothes. I wanted to help feed the clothes into the wringers but I wasn’t allowed because the rollers might grab my fingers and pull my hand through and crush it. In my cartoon inspired mind, I imagined the whole of me being wrung dry and flattened into a two-dimensional Mick. That would have been cool.
Summer wash days had the wheeled, wringer washer on the back porch in the fresh air. In the winter it would be wheeled into my older sister’s abandoned back bedroom. On those days with the house closed up tight against the cold, humidity clouding up the windows and the chug, chug of the machine and, perhaps, my mother’s relentless playing of Jim Reeves records sometimes prompted the horror. Paisley shapes, like swimming sperm, in my peripheral vision signaled the onset of a migraine.
The closet was my refuge. Seated on a box filled with Christmas lights amidst the hanging clothes with the vague aromas of their wearers. Shut out the light. Muffle the sound. It was my only hope. But odds were that my head would split as if rift with a meat cleaver. If I’d had sufficient grasp of the concept of suicide in those days I might have taken more effective action.
I’d usually have to empty my stomach in the bathroom. The headache prompted the vomiting, the vomiting exacerbated the headache. As if my head were being crushed dry through the wringers.
It would eventually pass, of course. The migraines became less frequent when in high school and faded into near non-existence by the time I entered college. I grew out of it, they would say. Perhaps I just found better uses for swimming sperm.
I want to launch a newspaper. Or a literary magazine. Paper based. A fool’s errand. I might as well tilt at windmills.
The newspaper would focus on O.T.R. Everything that happens here. Everything elsewhere that causes everything that happens here. In that way, it would encompass the world. Real news from real reporters instead of ideologues.
I’ll call the Literary Magazine, Itchy Brother, named after a character in The King and Odie cartoon series. Itchy was the ne’er-do-well brother of lion king, King Leonardo. Itchy suffered from the mange and constantly scratched himself. Itchy’s accomplice was the nefarious Biggy Rat. Biggy and Itchy conspired to take over Leonardo’s kingdom but the plan was always foiled by Odie, the skunk. More information than you need, I realize. Anyway, the literary journal will be called Itchy Brother. It will publish short fiction, essays, poetry, art, cartoons, photographs. An outlet for our considerable, repressed creative spirit. It will not make a dime and probably operate in the red until my passing.
I need a benefactor. A patron of the arts who has more money than she or he knows what to do with. Someone who likes acknowledgement. A do-gooder. If you know such person, put me in touch.
On a more modest scale, I need a laptop. Do you have an old functioning laptop you don’t need? My requirements are modest. Microsoft Word and internet/email ability. I’ll trade you something I have but don’t need. Items of furniture. DVDs.
Rita has children. Twin boys. They play baseball. One is more talented than the other. How can that be with identical twins? Apparently identical twins aren’t identical in every respect, he thinks.
Mike’s at the ball field at her request. Night game. The field lights are harsh. His head aches in the distance like an arriving train. He’s a little bit drunk. Drink is what it takes to tolerate the not-quite-identical twins and her enthusiasm for their all-too-ordinary athletic prowess. He has learned that all children, especially in America, are gifted and destined for greatness in their mother’s eyes.
He wonders if she knows he is a bit hammered. Probably. But she isn’t making a fuss. He is the most recent in a long parade of disappointments and she’ll make the most of it until a white knight comes along who can truly appreciate her brats.
He leaves his seat to go to the bathroom. He goes to the concession for a couple of beers and hot dogs. On his way back he dumps one of the beers down his leg. He hands her a dog and the remaining beer. Takes a bite of the other dog. She smiles, impressed with his lack of beerness, until she notices the drenched pants leg, then frowns and shakes her head.
The more talented son misplays a fly ball to the outfield. The ball rolls all the way into the thick grass at the perimeter where the change in the grass defines the field. There is no outfield wall. The twin can’t find the ball. Just stands there stupefied. Inside the park home run. Rita is crestfallen as if she, herself, has somehow committed the error. The pressure, unspoken or not, that parents of a certain type put on their offspring is enough to crush their spirits and turn them into sheeplike corporate drones. Or push a select few, the lucky ones, into open, creative rebellion, Mike thinks. “Baaah!” bleat the twins.
The dry hot dog sticks in Mike’s throat. Rita hasn’t offered him a sip of her beer and he isn’t about to ask. “Are you having a good time?” she asks, turning to him with those pale blue eyes that are icily beautiful. He knows that she is working up to a deeper, more important question. “Of course I am”, he says, “I’m spending the evening with you.”
“And the boys”, she corrects.
Rita was late having children. She turned 47 last week. She had been married for almost twenty childless years. Mike suspects the twins are the result of some biologically induced shenanigans though they’ve never talked about it. They also haven’t talked about the fact that the marriage pretty much went to hell immediately after the spawning.
A strike out by one of the progeny. Mike can never tell them apart. He suppresses a yawn. Rita is boiling over with frustration. With the boys. With her stagnated life. With Mike. At times like this she launches a full frontal assault.
“What are we Mike?”, she asks with her steely blues narrowed to slits in her still pretty face. “Are we a couple or are we just fuck buddies?”
“Can’t we be both?” He wants to retract his response having not thought through the opportunity she presented. She stares at him. He laughs nervously. “Of course we’re a couple. We’re a fantastic couple. I love you more than I can possibly express.” This brings the smile he had hoped for, her face open and beaming for a moment but just as quickly clouds over again.
“Tammy said she saw you with Jennifer.”
“At Tony’s. We’re occasional drinking buddies, honey. You know that. I would have invited you but it was last minute and I knew you were off doing something with the boys and we were only going to have one. Jenny bought a new car and offered to sell me her old Honda for a song.” He made this last part up to provide important authenticity. It’s time to shut up and let the crisis pass.
“Okay but you should have told me. I know the history between you two.”
“I understand. It was so brief and insignificant it slipped my mind. I’m sorry.” At this point he wraps an arm around her supple waist. Supple is a euphemism. Rita has thickened in the middle with age like warmed over soup. He doesn’t really mind. She looks damned good for her age. He’s too old and tired to be chasing after the thirty-somethings anyway. If not for the damned twins. She leans into him and rests a cheek on his shoulder. Her hair, flecked with a little gray, smells fresh and clean. Mike kisses the top of her head. She lifts her face and he kisses her warmly and sincerely on the mouth. She offers a little flick of tongue.
Okay, the opening he has been looking for, “Want another beer and dog?”
“No, but go ahead.”
Mike has been a good boy and is being rewarded. He slips from her side. She turns her attention back to the meaningless game.
He hears cheering as he walks away. He pretends it’s for him.
The concession stand isn’t busy. Mike orders two beers. Stands there gulping happily at one. Then attacks the other. He orders a third beer to take back to his seat. He’ll say there was a line. He’ll ask about the boys and whether she can get a sitter for the weekend so they can get away to renew their vows. It’s a joke between them. He’ll pander and set her up to grant him another reward.
Gavin first tried his hand at music. Or rather his mouth. He became competent at harmonica and a gravely voice suitable for the blues. Somehow music didn’t stick.
He decided to write a novel. Henry Miller or Charles Bukowski-ish. Writing that attracted a certain smart, curious woman and repelled the straight and narrow and curiosity deficient. The writing didn’t stick either.
What blues and writing had in common was a lifestyle. Gritty and raw and uncompromising coupled with drinking. The drinking part stuck.
Gavin became a drinker but not a drunk. A drunkard drinks morning, noon and night and gets the shakes and can’t function without the booze and eventually even with the booze. He was a drinking hobbyist, like guys who spend hours assembling sailing ships in bottles. Partly of Irish descent, Gavin had drinking in his blood, literally and figuratively, so he figured he was immune to the raging alcoholism that was all too familiar in the family.
Probably he was kidding himself.
Gavin also played cards and chased skirts. He was equally adept at both. He had just enough residual musician and writer in him to pass as either, like a high yellow Negro who could pass undetected in white society in olden days. And Gavin was funny when he wasn’t too deep into the bottle (and sometimes funnier when he was) or overly absorbed in a card game. Gavin didn’t care about winning so much as competing. Saving face and earning the respect of the other card players was his game. Overall, a congenial and generous sort but with the occasional outburst of volatile Irish temper, rare but utterly unpredictable in force and occurrence, like a dormant but still active volcano.
Such was the state in which Carlene found Gavin. A not exactly handsome man but with an offbeat charisma. No longer young but not quite old and with talents and potential that were unlikely to be realized. This same summary could be loosely applied to Carlene herself.
Carlene was once fat. Not pudgy, outright fat. She had dramatically lost weight years ago. The downsizng left her with a flap of extra skin on her belly like the unused pouch on a kangaroo. She knew it could be eliminated through cosmetic surgery but such procedures were elective and not covered by the insurance that she no longer had anyway since she had been laid off by the sports marketing company. Carlene was pretty in an unconventional way with small breasts, wide hips, a nose a little too big and a crooked smile. The crooked smile was cute but puzzling. I eft you wondering what she was thinking. The faults were overwhelmed by silky, shiny hair, great legs, a smooth complexion that made you want to touch her and big, expressive brown eyes.
Also, Carlene could sing. Her voice had deepened and been rendered breathy in a sexy way over the years, attributable to a smoking habit she knew she should break but could not. Her voice would roll and break and crash like a rough, rhythmic wave. Carlene wrote her own songs. She no longer performed on a regular basis but was noted for sitting in with bands that suited her style. This is how Carlene and Gavin met. She on stage rendering the Allman Brothers’ Jessica in a totally original female way and Gavin fishing the harmonica in the key of C out of his hip pocket and joining the band’s regular harp player. He had been inspired by Carlene’s smoky voice and sensual presence.
A single song Carlene sang and left the stage, declining pleas for more. Gavin went back to the card table while watching Carlene saunter (she swayed and rocked like a ship at sea) to her table and her friend. He watched her directly and studiously while she indirectly watched him watching her in the way that only women can.
Gavin had been on a losing streak at cards before the break that he figured couldn’t bode but for the better. Jimmy had taken his seat and was playing a winning hand. Jimmy rose and offered Gavin his cards but Gavin put his hand on Jimmy’s shoulder and guided him back down into the chair. He had watching and thinking to do. Carlene and her female friend, who was prettier but somehow less interesting, were involved in animated conversation. Gavin wondered if he had a play other than the tired come-on of sending over a round of drinks.
In a few minutes the band gave him his opening. They went on break. The music stopped. Gavin walked to the jukebox which had several good blues and jazz standards. He bought ten selections. He punched in seven of them. He walked to Carlene’s table to offer the women the remaining three. They thanked him. The other woman introduced herself as Edith or Edna or some other old fashioned name that didn’t suit her persona. Gavin already knew Carlene’s name. The band had introduced her but not him. She was the star, the band didn’t give a shit who he was.
Carlene and Edith went to the jukebox, continuing to talk while they chose their three songs. On the way back to their table they stopped at the bar for drinks. Gavin had the feeling that without the jukebox offer they would have left at the break.
Gavin went to the bar to get a fresh beer and on the way back to cards, as he passed the table of women, Edith asked if he might join them for a bit. He would since he wasn’t involved in a card game. They talked music, Carlene expertly, Edith cluelessly. But Edith did all the fishing – winking and smiling and flirting. Her questions and comments, intended to be chum in the water, revealed her vapidness, besides, Gavin had chosen his course and was busy studying the charts on Carlene’s face.
Carlene had insisted they undress with the lights off. She was no prude. She willingly explained her embarrassment over the belly flap and the causes thereof. The incident inspired an endearment rather than revulsion. The mysterious surplus belly skin generated mere curiosity. He would try to feel the flap with his own slightly distended belly owing to the large quantities of beer he consumed and he wondered if he laid off the beer and lost his stomach would he have a flap to match her own.
Carlene wasn’t wild in bed but she was active and involved. She had a way of rocking and swaying her pelvis underneath him trying to find the most pleasant angles for his thrusts. In the moonlight he could see her face. Her mouth would register approval by forming a perfect O shape. Her wetness created an exciting sloshing sound like waves slapping against the side of a boat. She didn’t scream or moan with orgasm but simply went slack with release.
After sex Carlene wanted to smoke and have a glass of wine. Gavin pulled an old Cleveland Browns jersey out of a dresser drawer so she wouldn’t feel the need to dress. It had been folded and put away unwashed and smelled vaguely of him.
Feeling safe and comfortable and plied with drink, Carlene talked freely. About her failed music career which she attributed to a lack of momentum stemming from a insufficient drive. Her failed relationships had followed more or less the same pattern, she thought. The fat years she deemed a period of purposeful self abuse and self loathing. Almost a force-feeding. Gavin joked that it might have resulted in a fine pate. She laughed half-heartedly and poured herself another glass of Syrah.
She kept talking. Tongue freed by a day of drinking. Gavin listened, not allowing himself to break her narrative by referencing his somewhat parallel life. Besides, it wouldn’t have mattered in the least. What was clear was that they were equally adrift. They would eventually drown, separately or together. Together sounded nicer.
Then it came. He knew it would. He had feared it as much as it was expected. Everything had to be her fault Carlene reasoned. How else could it all be explained? Her mother’s lack of warmth and love was because she was simply not lovable. Her father. Never mind that her father had abandoned them equally, rumored to have run off with a stripper who had been a former elementary school teacher and church organist. None of this could be verified. Carlene was ten years old at the time of desertion and her mother refused to talk about it.
The years of virtual homelessness where they beached themselves like drift wood at the homes of one relative after another until each relative grew weary of them. Eventually they found themselves in the care of her mother’s new boyfriend who showered them with money and affection and gifts and crept into Carlene’s bedroom during her mid-day nap when she was thirteen while her mother was off shoplifting at a Kmart which she didn’t need to do but habits and skills acquired during hardship are difficult to shake. This continued for a couple of years until Charlie, the boyfriend, set Carlene free when he got rear ended on his motorcycle by an Oldsmobile. A few weeks later her pregnancy was diagnosed. Things were taken care of in “back alley” fashion but her mother, refusing to accept the truth about her lost Charlie, called her a slut and a whore until Carlene took matters into her own hands and ran off to California with a female college student and musician who had befriended her.
Carlene ultimately had to decide whether she wanted to be a lesbian or not.
Gavin realized by now that his stupid harmonica and unpublished novel were of little relevance and for the first time he could see the shores of the promised land in the form of a woman with a belly flap wearing a soiled Browns jersey.
Gavin saved the file and shut down the laptop after satisfying his self imposed 800 word daily quota knowing that only half that amount would survive the edit. He settled into his easy chair with a glass of Scotch, neat, to await Carlene who had an early evening, midweek gig with her new band. She’d be home by 11 or so and they’d have a late night stir fry dinner. He’d already chopped up the vegetables and the pork was marinating in the refrigerator. They would eat, drink wine and then make love. She would undulate beneath him like a soft, gentle wave and he would ride along to whatever future awaited them.