I can feel the soreness starting to set in as I get out of the pickup. The parking lot is a lot fuller tonight than it was the other night. Saturday night, I guess. I look at license plates--Canadian, several, some North Dakota, some Montana. I see a flash of lightning in the sky to the east and stop to listen for the thunder. It doesn't come. I go inside.
"Frank, I was wondering how long it would be before you came back. It's good to see you again," Calvin says when I come in. The place is almost full. I spot a few empty tables near the back. I don't recognize the girl on stage.
"Actually, I saw you this morning, Calvin, I was getting stones for Mister Davidson out by the creek. You came driving by," I say.
"Sorry, I must have been a million miles away. You know me when I drive, I get in there with the music playing and it's like I'm somewhere else." He leans forward on his stool and looks out the front door. A guy comes up to leave, and I get out of his way. Calvin waves at him as he goes. "Gonna be a hell of a busy night tonight, you figure?"
"Listen, Calvin, you had someone with you, a dancer that was here that night I was here."
He raises his hand, raises a finger for me to give him a second. "Hey, things are kind of hopping here right now. Tell you what, you have a seat, and then I'm going to come over and we'll sit down and we'll talk about old times, huh, when things settle down a little bit up here for me."
"Sure thing." I turn around and move toward an empty table in the back. When I turn around to look at him, he's gone from his stool. I look around the room for Davidson but I don't see him. That short little bastard with the big hat had told Jack and me to come back on Monday, that there was some yard work to do, which was exciting to both of us. Yard work was safe, and usually you were on the riding lawn mower the whole time, or else if you were watering you could stay cool, and plus it was another fifty bucks. That'd make Jenna happy, and if we did a good job we'd probably get a few days a month out there, tending the yard and such like that. I liked working with Jack. We worked, sipped each other's whiskey and talked, nothing to it.
I sit down and there's Rebecca. I say hi and I think she recognizes me from the other night, because she smiles back at me. She sets a napkin down on the table. "Another beer?"
"Please. Hey, you're Jack's daughter, right? I was working with him today out at Davidson's."
"Oh, yeah? That's good. He pay you anything?"
"Fifty. He didn't work us too late, though, so it works for me. Nice to have some cash in my pocket," I say. She laughs and looks up toward the stage. "Not for that," I say, but she just laughs harder when I say that, and she walks back to the bar to get my beer.
There's a young blonde up on stage, tall and skinny, with three brown moles on her left shoulder blade forming a kind of constellation. There's some old rock and roll song playing, something I remember from when I was a little kid, something Dad used to listen to on his hi-fi, but I can't place it. The music is loud, louder than it ever is in Charlie's, and I can feel the heartbeat shift to keep time with the bass drum, sink into my chair a bit. I look over toward the bar and see Rebecca coming over toward me with my beer and a couple of other drinks on her tray. As she passes she sets the beer down. I give her a five and she gives me three in change. I put one back in her hand and she says "Thanks" and keeps going. But I admit, I'm not really paying any attention to her. At the bar, I can see a middle-aged guy, must be forty or so, and he's laughing real hard and running his hand through his hair. Right next to him, lifting a drink to her lips, is Danine. She's not in the pigtails now, just in a ponytail, and her outfit is different, but she's got on the same red high-heeled shoes, and when she leans toward him so he can light her cigarette, I can see the corner of her tattoo rise over the low-cut collar of her leather top.
I see Calvin back at his stool. He's looking at her, too. He catches my eye then and blinks as if not recognizing me, then he gives me another broad smile and lifts his glass toward me and takes a drink. I nod back at him. He points up at the stage and makes an OK sign with his fingers. I nod again and turn back toward the stage. She's got three or four guys all waiting around the stage with dollar bills in hand, and she's in the center of the spotlight, sitting on the ground with her legs bent and apart, and she's rubbing her crotch and baring her teeth; she's got her eyes closed, and she's lifting and lowering her ass slowly, up and down. One of the guys has got his hand around her calf and is stroking her skin lightly with two fingers.
I look back to Danine, who is just getting up from the stool. She finishes her drink and sets the empty glass down, then leans out and gives the guy a kiss on the cheek. She starts to walk away and he reaches out and squeezes her, not on the ass, but high up on her thigh, reaching for the other side. She loses balance a little bit in her heels, catches herself, then turns around and sticks her tongue out at him and pulls her short skirt down around her legs. It doesn't do much good. As she walks, I can see a curve of skin form just beneath the skirt as she takes each step. She looks at me when she goes by, but she doesn't make any facial expression, she just stares at me; I think maybe she's just looking through me, but then she smiles, just a small curling of her lip, and with that she swivels her head around and walks through the door that leads backstage. I take a small drink--I'm pretty well fortified with vodka at the moment.
Jenna had caught me as I was just about to leave the house. I had my keys out and was opening the screen door when she appeared in the hall, naked except for a tiny nightshirt that didn't fit her real well anymore, on her way to the bathroom. "Where you going?" she asked me. "Down for a drink," I said. "Just have a drink here, honey," she said, and I nodded. "I'll be right back," I said, "and I'm starting to feel pretty tired. I think I'll probably get to sleep here tonight." She didn't say anything, just shuffled into the bathroom. I heard the hollow knock of porcelain as she raised the lid, and I heard her yawn as she sat down, then I opened the door and left.
When she comes on, Rebecca's already brought me my second beer and the few remaining tables have filled up. There's even another girl working the tables, and a bartender setting out orders, a tall thin blond guy who looks familiar, but I can't quite think of where I've seen him. I think he used to play basketball for Glasgow High, back a few years ago when I would go and watch a game every now and then. She's got on the leather top I saw her with earlier, only her hair is piled up on top of her head, and she's got bright red lipstick on. A bunch of guys start clapping, and I look over at Calvin and see him lift his fingers to his lips and whistle, a loud shrill sound that hisses over the top of the music. She smiles around the room, then looks down at the floor and starts swaying to the beat, pursing her lips and thrusting her hips forward in small circles. A couple of guys get up and move toward the stage. I look at the small stack of dollar bills sitting next to my beer on the table and take one in my hand--there's condensation on it from the beer bottle, and I wipe the moisture away between my thumb and finger.
I get up from the table, and the whole room pitches upward towards me, but I know it's just my eyes, just my balance thrown off by the vodka and the lack of sleep, and so I steady myself against the chair and wait for it to pass. There's a droning bass note in the music, and it's like I'm floating on it. I can hear voices, shouting over the music, as I move toward the stage.
"Tell me how he sounded, I want to know how he sounded . . . "
" . . . the son of a bitch could just as well have dropped off the, for Christ's sake, I buried that dog with my own two hands, these two hands . . . "
" . . . not bad, but fake."
"Man, those are real. You dumbass. . . "
" . . . like Sally Granger, years ago, back then years ago, Jesus, those were the times, huh . . . "
About ten feet from the stage she sees me, gives me the same look she gave me the last time, just lowers her forehead and looks up at me, but it almost looks like she's looking right through me, right past me. I'm very aware of the dollar bill in my hand, and I hold onto it like something sacred. She spins around when I get to the stage, puts her ass toward me, spreads her legs and then leans over, keeping her back straight, until she's looking at me through her legs. She runs her hands over the backs of her thighs, then takes her middle finger and runs it along the ridge of her G-string, lifting her head and arching her back, and the droning noise starts to raise in pitch, ramp up like and get louder like an airplane about to take off; it's hard to hear the music anymore through the drone.
She raises herself up, still with her back to me, and takes something out of her hair--a clip or pin or something--and all of her falls down around her shoulders, covering up the tattoo, but she's close enough that I can see the snake's fangs, a brilliant white. She turns. She takes both breasts in her hands and cups them, lifts them up and keeps staring at me, her lips apart. As she bends down toward me, I can see there's some kind of light in her throat, some kind of thrown shadow against the back of her mouth, a dim red glow rising from deep down within her. There's no music now, just the drone, its pitch rising. There's two guys on either side of me, but it's like they're down at the end of a long hallway, and here where I am it's just the two of us, and the whole time there's the glow in her throat and the drone in my ears and I'm trying to hold onto the dollar bill but I can hardly keep my fingers together. She's got her face up right next to mine, and I can smell the faint trace of cigarettes on her breath. She closes her eyes and puts her mouth against my neck, and I feel her hair scatter over my face and her hot breath against the skin of my neck.
With one hand, she reaches down and pulls the thin white strap of her G-string out away from her hip. My left hand raises and I slide the dollar bill in. She snaps it shut catching my finger, but I pull it free, and I can feel her laughing by the bursts of heat against my neck. She kisses me then, lightly, underneath my chin as she pulls back, and her eyes are open now, and her mouth is closed, but I can still see the glow coming from somewhere down deep, like in her stomach, scissoring through the spaces between her teeth, and the sound is now a whine, a high-pitched static-filled screech. My head hurts. Bad.
"You gonna come see me again?" she says, staring at me.
I answer her, but I can't hear myself. She smiles at me and moves away, moves to the guy on my left, turns her ass toward him and bends down real low, like she did for me. I stagger back, and some guy sitting at a table reaches out his hand and gives me the thumbs-up sign; I get back to my seat, and the sound fractures and dies out, and through it I can hear the music again, can hear the crowd. Over by the stage door, I see Calvin standing staring at Danine. Next to him, I see Big Hat, his arms crossed over his tiny frame, only he's staring right at me.
Rebecca is standing next to my table. She sets another beer down on the table and holds out a towel to me. "Your nose is bleeding."
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