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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.

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