I sit with my beer waiting for her to come out on stage and I dream of Canada again. I talked about it with Jenna last night as she was getting ready for bed, but she just shook her head. "Mom's really sick right now, you know that. Maybe, when the time comes, we'll talk about it then."
"She's been sick for years now," I said.
"She's been fighting this for years now," she said to me. "And what about my job at the elevator, huh? I'm just supposed to find another job, I'm supposed to leave behind all of my friends and everything here? Running away isn't going to solve anything, Frank. You'll find something steady pretty soon, that'll make things better, I know it will."
"But we've never been anywhere, never gone anywhere," I said, but she was getting into bed and just shook her head. "I'll be to bed soon," I said to her, and then went into the living room and turned the television on. I watched TV until midnight, then I'd gotten into the truck and driven out to the Dancing Bear, even though I knew they weren't open. I saw Calvin's car in the parking lot. I turned off the lights and sat there listening to the radio and smoking the pack of cigarettes I'd broke down and bought that night. Nothing happened, though, and Calvin never came out, so I turned around and drove back home, and that night I was glad Jenna had wanted to get cable otherwise I would have just lain there on the couch staring at the ceiling; instead I watched infomercials and old sitcoms until six o'clock, when I took my shower to head out to Davidson's.
So tonight I sip at my beer and dream of Canada. My skin is tingling from sunburn, and my eyes are feeling heavy and scratchy from having been open so much. Almost a week now, I think, two days longer than it's ever lasted before. I think something must be about to happen, something big. Maybe it's a sign, something, telling me that now is the time, just pull up stakes and head north. I could drive all night, just keep the radio on, everywhere you go you can find an AM station somewhere, and drive until I hit the Rockies. Call Jenna from somewhere in British Columbia, somewhere up north, and tell her that it's over, that we both knew we weren't happy anymore, that we'd both be better now. That everything would be better now.
The Dancing Bear is empty tonight. Monday nights, I guess, everyone recuperating from the weekend. Even the dancers are tired, the music isn't as loud, the energy seems drained out of the place. Yet there's a buzzing inside me, my heart's leaping, waiting for Danine to come out and dance. I've counted about five now, including her. The blonde is on stage now, but there's no one up giving her money, and so she's staring out into space and once even scratches at her nipple idly, like she's somewhere else entirely. I saw Davidson when I came in, and I waved at him, figured that I should thank him again for letting me work out at his place--that hundred bucks'll come in handy -- but he didn't see me and about two minutes later went backstage.
I'm staring at the blonde when I see someone plop down in the chair across from me. "You want some company?" Danine asks, and the buzzing in my chest rises a notch or two. I wipe at my eyes and order another drink. I offer to buy her one. "Yeah, thanks. 'Becca, let me have a gin and tonic, okay, and make it real."
"Sure thing," Rebecca says, puts a napkin down in front of her and walks back to the bar.
"So you came back," she says.
"You know, I really like your tattoo," I say.
"Oh, yeah?" She twists around a little bit as if to show it to me, but realizes it doesn't show over her outfit. She unbuttons her half-shirt and drops it over her shoulders and down across her arms, then sweeps her hair out of the way with one hand. I lean in and look, see the "It's the infinity symbol, and the snake eating its tail is from the Aztec symbol of eternity. You ever seen one of those?" I shake my head. "Well, mine's a little different."
"Is it a rattlesnake?"
"I don't know. I guess it could be. I've never thought about it. Yeah. I think it is." She takes out a cigarette and holds it up to her lips. I take out my lighter, spark it and hold it out towards her. She puts her hand on my wrist to steady it and inhales. The end of her cigarette glows, and she leans her head back, takes the cigarette out and exhales a long stream of smoke. Only then does she let go of my wrist. I set the lighter down on the table. "You got any tattoos?"
"No. There's really no place around here to get one, except maybe over in Havre, but that's a long drive just for a tattoo. You get that in Houston?" I ask.
"How'd you know I was from Houston?"
"I'd heard that that's where a ... lot of you are from."
"Yeah, I guess. I mean, I guess that is where a lot of us are from. I know that I'm from Houston." She leans back in her chair, and I look at her bare stomach; a thin ridge of sweat runs from her waist up to her belly button. She reaches down with a hand and wipes it away with the flat of her palm. Rebecca passes by us and looks at me, but I can't read anything in her look. I wonder if she'll tell Jack that I'm talking to her. "So. You know what I do for a living."
"Oh. I just work here and there, you know. I'm looking for something permanent, but so far not much luck," I say.
"Probably not the best economy in the world, up here," she says.
"Not a lot of opportunity here, no," I say. "I've been thinking about maybe moving somewhere, you know, some place with more chances. I guess some place like Houston, you know."
"Yeah. And besides, now, you know someone from there. Except I don't know how long I'll be there," she says. "I'm here for a while, and then I hope I can get out to San Francisco one of these days, you know, get some money saved and make a clean start." She stops there, and is looking over my shoulder. I turn around and see Calvin there, who's staring back at her, but he drops a hand onto my shoulder.
"Hey, bud. Phone call for you," he says, pulling the chair back a little bit. "It's Jenna. Listen, I never heard that you two got married. I always liked her. Two grades below us, right?"
I nod and get up slowly. I look at Danine, who is looking at the wall. She catches my eye. "Uh oh," she says, and laughs. I laugh, then, too, and Calvin does, like it's all a big joke between us.
"Jenna?" I say into the phone. When her voice comes back, I can barely hear her. I cover one ear with my hand and jam the phone into the other.
"How'd you know I was out here?" I say, trying to sound casual. I never asked myself whether I thought she would care. Jenna's weird about a lot of things; she never jumps the way I think she will. If truth be told, it's one of the things I love about her.
"I've been calling around for you. I narrowed it down. You having fun out there?" She sounds so far away, it's hard to focus on her. I watch Calvin; he leans across the chair to say something to Danine, but she continues leaning back and just waves at him, cigarette in hand, and turns to look at the stage.
"Stopped out here for a drink, yeah. Couldn't sleep." Then she says something I can't hear.
"What's that, Jen?" I ask.
"Nothing, sorry. So she's a dancer?"
"She's a dancer, is that right? I didn't think you could move so quick, I hear they rotate out every month."
"Jenna, don't be ridiculous. I'm having a drink. Charlie's is closed. Look, I'll be right home." I see Big Hat suddenly appear behind Calvin. He taps him on the shoulder and whispers in his ear. Calvin gets up and looks around for a second, pulls up his pants, then turns and points to Danine and says something, something short, a couple of words at most. Then he walks back toward me, heading for his stool by the door. He doesn't look at me as he goes by. Big Hat starts talking to Danine now, his hands moving all the time as he talks, his fingers wide apart.
"Why? Jesus, Frank, don't even bother. Just don't even bother anymore, okay?"
"What are you talking about? Don't say that. Listen, I'm leaving now anyway, I'm coming home," I say. Danine gets up and stuffs her cigarette pack into a tiny purse, then says something to Big Hat and he walks away, puts his hands in his pockets and struts across the room like he owns the place. She looks back over toward me and waves, looks up and sees a tassel of hair that's come loose, and she pulls at it, then blows upward toward it and the handful of hairs float perpendicular to her. She smiles then, and I smile back.
"It doesn't matter, Frank. I won't be there," Jenna says, then I hear a faint click.
"Shit." Danine turns around and heads backstage. She dances next, I think. Rebecca approaches the table, lifts my empty beer and looks around. She sees me and holds it up, raises her eyebrow at me. I nod, and she heads for the bar to get me another.
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