SHORT STORY
Grown Ass Men
by Daniel Crocker

Mark called while I was looking through the junk drawer for something I could use to reattach the cover of my rotating fan.  I was keeping my air conditioner off in an attempt to save money. My apartment was unbearable without at least circulating air, but I couldn't find the electrical tape.

            “Jackson,” Mark said.  He sounded drunk.  His New England accent heavier than usual.

            “What's up?”

            “She's going to leave me. Eli is going to leave me.”

            “What?”  I tried to sound concerned, but the truth is I'd gotten this phone call before. Eli was going leave Mark for something or another about every six months or so.

            “You know that girl I've been chatting with. The one who likes the band. Said she was going to interview me for a podcast.”

            I remembered. Her name was Gilda, or Glenda, something like that. She'd seen Mark's band, The Purples, playing around Manchester and later found them, then Mark in particular, on Facebook. They'd got to talking and the next thing you know she'd sent Mark a picture of herself in nothing but a corset and some frilly red and black underwear.  He forwarded it to me. She was an ego boost. I got it.

            “What about her?”

            “What's that noise?” Mark said.

            Iquit rustling through the drawer and closed it. I wasn't going to find anything for the fan anyway. I'd let it run without a cover until I could get to the Dollar Store for a new one. 

            “Nothing,” I said. “Tell me what's going on. You didn't fuck her, did you?” The last update I'd gotten was that after the picture, Mark figured he'd crossed a line and he'd told Gilda or Glenda not to contact him anymore. She'd written back, asked him about the podcast, and they'd started back up again.

            “God no. But Eli found everything. The emails, our Skype chats, everything.”

            “Did she say she wanted a divorce?” A horn squawked somewhere on Mark's side of the phone.

            “You driving?” I asked.

            “Crabby is.” 

            “Good. You don't sound in the shape.” I sat down in one of the two canvas camping chairs I'd set up in front of my TV and flipped on ESPN.

            “What the hell is with the Pats?” I asked.

            “Do you even care I'm getting a divorce?” 

            “You're not getting a divorce. If she's just thinking about it, it'll be fine. Right now she's at the height of her anger and she's just thinking. Just thinking, Mark.”

            “Yeah,” he said. “She also called Doris.”  Doris is my ex-wife. “She told her everything.” There was some rustling in the background on Mark's side. It sounded like a couple of chickens flapping around in a cardboard box.

            “I gotta get off here,” Mark said. “Crabby's lost and trying to read a map and drive at the same time.”

            “Where are you guys?”

            “Blytheville, Arkansas. We'll be there in about eight hours.”

* * * 

            I tried to call Mark back several times, but he wouldn't answer the phone, probably because he knew I'd talk him out of coming. The apartment I'd moved into after I left Doris was one room, no curtains, and I was using a blow up mattress that I'd gotten at a yard sale for ten bucks as a bed. I'd rented my apartment becauseit was cheap and only a few miles away from Doris, but it wasn'tthe sort of place where one had company. There were a dozen or so empty Sprite cans on the counter next to the sink. For dishes, I just had one of everything—a plate, a bowl, a spoon, a plastic cup with one of those dudes from Twilight on it that had come free with a Big Gulp.

            I hadn't seen Mark in a few years, Crabby in about six, and I wasn't sure I wanted to.  I did, however, want to know what Eli had told Doris. I imagined she'd told her about every woman I'd slept with when we'd been married. There hadn't been a lot, but too many for a guy married just nine years. I'd only been divorced a month and Iwas worried.  When Doris and I had split, I had the moral high ground, at least as far as she knew. I hadn't wanted the divorce even though I'd initiated it. I just wanted to make a point—stop sleeping with my cousin.  Now, however, she would know better,  and I couldn't imagine her letting it just roll off her back. Not after the guilt trips I'd laid on her. It's pretty easy to make a woman cry when she's in love with you and has fucked your cousin.

            Sitting around and worrying about it wasn't going to help anything, so I decided, despite the Mississippi heat, I'd shoot a few hoops to pass the time. My basketball was in the closet, along with most of the other crap I never used anymore, stuff I had to step over when I was looking for ashirt. My apartment wasn't much, but the closet was a fairly big walk in—probably because it also housed the water heater. I finally found the basketball under a pair of skis that I'd never used, but had refused to leave with Doris in case she decided to sell them, and it was surprisingly still holding air.

            As I climbed out of the closet, my phone rang. It was Doris' ring tone—a snippet from Marvin Gaye's “Sexual Healing.”  I didn't answer. I wasn't ready for that yet. I wanted to talk to Mark first. I changed into a pair of basketball shorts. They were shiny and hung past my knees. At thirty-eight, I felt too old for them, but my other option was a stained pair of sweatpants that would be too hot to play in.

            I hoped in my car, which I hadn't cleaned since the divorce. It had become infested with tiny, brown ants. I don't think they were fire ants because they never bit me. I didn't bother them either. It seemed like too much trouble and it would probably have been some kind of bad karma.  They also kept me from having to drive what few friends I had in Mississippi around. No one wanted to ride in a car full of empty Sprite bottles and ants.

            The basketball court was made of blacktop and I could see the heat coming off of it. After a few missed shots and long rebounds, chasing the ball off the court,  I was out of breath and my knees were starting to hurt. I'd been a good athlete when Doris and I first got married, but I'd let myself go to hell. She tried to get me to exercise with her, and I always promised I would, but I didn't.

           * * * 

            I'd met Mark and Crabby at the University of New Hampshire. I had wanted to get out of Mississippi so bad that I applied to the schools farthest away—Boston, NY, anywhere out east. Mark and I shared a dorm room, and we ended up forming a short-lived country band. We weren't bad. I had a hell of a voice, and Mark was a decent guitar player. There just wasn't much demand for country music around campus. We played a few small shows here and there, but we never got a crowd. Mark hated country music anyway. He was into hair metal, and I just couldn't get rid of my accent enough to make singing that sound anything other than sad.

            Crabby had been friends with Mark since they were kids. They were both from Rhode Island. The three of us hit it off right away. We were all a little scared to be out on our own—like the freedom was too much for us, and at first it was. Too many nights drinking, smoking dope, chasing skirts (except in Crabby's case, but he'd still go along for the fun). I flunked out my third year, but Crabby and Mark made it. Mark, besides still playing in a cover band, teaches high school English. Crabby's parents left him a trust fund, and I cooked at an Applebees in Purvis, MS for four or five years, saved some money, married Doris, who'd also saved some money, and we opened a small bar and grill calledThe Pit.  We made enough that we didn't have to worry about bills. We could even travel once or twice a year,  and we were both happy with that.

           * * * 

            I gave up on basketball after fifteen minutes. I was drenched in sweat and tired, so I decided to head back to my apartment to watch television. I hadn't been going into The Pit.  Though we both still technically owned it, Doris had hired another cook and was doing most of the rest of the work herself. She sent me a little money every week. I grabbed my cellphone off of the front seat of my car, watched an ant crawl across my steering wheel, and saw that Doris had tried to call twice more while I was playing ball. I hit the call back button, let it ring once, and then turned my phone off. I'd have to face the music eventually, but not yet.

            I still half-thought Mark and Crabby's trip was a joke. It's a hell of a drive and to not call me until they were in Blytheville was a sneaky move even for them. Then again, it was exactly the sort of thing we'd do when we were younger.

           * * * 

            Mark called again just as the sun was going down, shining through my living room window in soft, purple strands. I threw my empty Sprite into the sink from where I sat. It was either a joke, or they were in town, and I didn't know which one I preferred.

            “Hello,” I said.

            “We're in fuckin' Purvis,” Mark said. “How do we get to your place?” Istood up, looked out my window. A group of kids were playing wiffle ball in the parking lot. Eventually someone, their mothers probably, would yell at them to watch out for cars or to come in because it was getting dark. The parking lot, the road beyond it, the strip mall beyond that. It all looked beautiful.

            “It's easy,” I said. “You're probably already on Main Street. Keep going until you see Fifth Street. Take a right. You'll see Pinewoods Apartments. I'm 12 B, second floor.” 

            They arrived a few minutes later. I watched them pull into a non-visitor parking space, get out of Crabby's truck with a case of Miller Lite, and stumble up to my apartment. They knocked loudly, and I let them in. Crabby looked almost exactly the same. Handsome, sharp features. Red hair that was only now beginning to recede, a thick pair of curly chops I'd been trying to get him to shave since we were kids. He was a big guy that liked to dress like a lumberjack. Mark was thinner and now had streaks of gray in hair that fell past his shoulders. He was wearing a wrinkled White Snake T-shirt that looked to be a size too big. He had been doing yoga with Eli for the past six months and he looked fit. His jeans were faded with holes cut so perfectly in the knees you'd think he'd worn them out if you didn't know he bought them that way.

            “This place is a hell hole,” Mark said, looking around my apartment. “From the outside, it looks like a prison.”

            He had a point. The apartment complex was red brick, each room had only two windows, a big one in the living room, and one about the size of a sheet of paper in the bedroom. Both had dirty screens. The stairs, and the walkway on the second floor, were concrete in steel frames.

            “I like to think of it as no frills,” I said.

            “That's about right,” Crabby said and sat the beer down.  “Want one?”

            “No thanks,” I said.

            “Me either,” Crabby said. “Give me one of those Sprites.”

            Then the awkwardness was over and we hugged. It really was good to see them. I told them to put their stuff wherever they wanted. They set it all down in the living room. I offered them the camping chairs, and I sat on a foldout stool I used when I was at my laptop. 

            “Got anything to eat?” Mark asked. “It's been a long ass drive. We never stoppedexcept to piss and get gas. Just kept trading off back and forth.”

            “Not really,” I said.

            “Jackson's got nothing to eat?” Crabby rolled his eyes, and exaggerated gesture. “We've been talking about your cooking the whole trip.”

            “Eli's leaving Mark and you're all talking about my cooking. I'm flattered.”

            “I don't think she's going to leave,” Mark said. “She thinks I'm an idiot, but she's forty years old with three kids from three different fathers. Who else would have her?”

            “She's still pretty hot,” Crabby said.

            “Fuck you.” Mark sat his empty beer can down, and I picked it up and put it on the counter with my empty Sprites.

            “So what we gonna do?” Crabby asked. This was a question I knew was coming, had prepared for even, but suddenly didn't have an answer for.

            “I usually watch TV.”  It was on and tuned to ESPN. The only time it really left that channel were in the mornings when I watched Regis and The View.

            “Fuck television.” Mark flipped his hair back in a practiced way.

            “We could go grab something to eat, I guess. You need to tell me what all Eli told Doris anyway.”

            “In due time. Forget the food. What's that karaoke bar you're always talking about?”

            “Yeah,” Crabby said. “Haven't heard you sing in years, Jackson.”

            “Hey Jude's,” I said.

            “That's the one.”

            “The place where miracles happen,” I said.

            “What?” I was sure I'd told them this story before.

            “It's just something the locals say.  Anyway, sure. Why not?”

* * * 

            There was already a decent sized crowd at Jude's, there always was by the time karaoke started. What I liked most about the place is that there was no irony in it. It wasn't like some karaoke bars where everyone is trying to out do each other, or others where a bunch of hipsters get up and sing corny Conway Twitty songs badly just to make an angst ridden statement. Jude's brought in a crowd that actually liked to sing. Most of them weren't very good at it, but it didn't matter. They were appreciated anyway.

            A short, potbellied man was standing at the front door of Jude's handing out tracts. He wore a St. Louis Cardinals hat and a trench coat that hung to the floor.

            “Have you men accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” he asked, before taking a sip of his drink.

            “Of course we have,” Crabby said, taking a tract with a badly drawn picture of the devil on it and pushing it down into his front pocket.

            “Gabby's working,” I said. Gabby had been mine and Doris' favorite bartender. She wasn't pretty in a conventional way, but we'd both thought she was sexy. She was a little overweight, not much,  and it didn't stop her from wearing tube tops and short skirts. She liked to show off her boobs and for good reason. People liked to say they were fake, but I think that was mostly out of jealousy.

            The three of us squeezed in between an elderly couple at the bar and ordered drinks. Mark got a beer, and Crabby ordered a rum and Coke.

            “Hey, Gabby,” I said. “I'll just take a Sprite.”

            “Do I know you?”

            “I come in here, well I used to, come in here every Friday and Saturday night and sing with my wife.”

            She grunted, shrugged her shoulders, and handed me my drink.

            Mark had already struck claim to a table and was halfway through his beer. Crabby and I joined him. The red vinyl cloth covering the table was sticky and every time we picked our drinks up, it would rise a few inches, clinging to the bottoms, before finally peeling off.

            “This place smells like grease,” Mark said.

            “They cook appetizers and stuff in the back.”

            “I don't think I'd eat here. Maybe we can go to your place later.”

            “Probably not,” I said.

            I hadn't been to Hey Jude's since the divorce, but I saw familiar faces. I knew Bill, with the prosthetic leg, would sing “Copperhead Road.”  Claire would warble her way through “Walking After Midnight,” perhaps twice if drunk enough.  Mike would play pool all night, lose most of the games, and not clap for anyone.

            “Well,” I said. “What all did Eli tell Doris?”

            “Everything,” Mark said. “The nineteen year old, the waitress at your work, that other one.”

            “Damn it.  Why can't you keep your mouth shut? I mean, why'd you have to tell her about all of that?”

            “She's my wife.”

            “Maybe not for long,” Crabby said. He picked up his drink, it came off the table cloth like a suction cup, thought better of it, and sat it back down. “I don't know why I ordered this. I'm just not feeling it tonight.”

             My phone beeped. It was a text from Doris. I opened it, no words, just a picture of a fat guy's bare ass, possibly mine.  I got the point.

            “What are you smiling about?” Crabby asked.

            “Nothing,” I said. “The singing will probably start soon.” I nodded my head in the direction of the stage. It was small, and there was a black and orange Jagermeister poster, with a picture of a jack-o-lantern, covering most of the back wall. It had been there since Halloween.

            “I'm not going to sing,” I said. “Just so you know.”

            Mark sighed. “Jesus Christ, Jackson. You're a drag. We drive all the way here. No food. No singing. You're not even drinking, and this place you're always talk about is a dive. Even the bartender's fat.”

            Mark was just drunk, tired, and probably still worried about Eli, so I let his outburst slide and stepped up to the bar to buy him another beer.

            “You sure you don't remember me, Gabby? I've only been gone about a month.”

            “Nope.”

            Mark apologized when I got back to the table. I'm a bit on edge, he said.

            “What happened with you and Doris anyway?” Crabby asked. “You guys were perfect.”

            “She fucked my cousin,” I said.

            “That's it?  Some cousin fucking. That can't be it.”

            "The cousin with the big schlong?"  Mark asked.

            My Sprite was empty and I didn't want to go back up to the bar, so I shook a piece of ice into my mouth and sucked on it.

            “I guess it doesn't bother me much," I said.

            “Bullshit,” Mark said. “I'm worried shitless over Eli.”

            Crabby stroked his ridiculous sideburns. “What I'm saying is that these things are usually a two way street. People, especially women, don't just cheat. There's usually something deeper.”

            “Now's not the time to go all gay on us,” Mark said, but he was being good-natured about it. Even though Crabby had pretty much had the easy life when it came to money, he was more manly than either ofus.  I'd seen him kick the shit out of more than one homophobe.

            “I don't know,” I said. “She just did it and then told me about it. I would have never known otherwise.”

            “How's your hog?”

            “My what?”

            “Your cock,” Crabby said. “Maybe it's that.”  The stage lights went up, and Cat, the karaoke MC, welcomed us all to Hey Jude's and reminded us to tip our friendly bartender.

            “We slept together our Freshman year,” I said.

            “We did?”

            “Sort of.”  I couldn't tell if he was fucking with me or not.

            “It must not have made much of an impression,” he said. “That's probably it then. You just weren't doing it for her in the sack.”

            “Maybe.”

            “I just can't picture you two not together. I mean, I can't even imagine it.” Mark said.

            Cat welcomed Tim, Petey, and Corey, the guy who had been handing out tracts at the door,  to the stage for an a capella performance of “Hush.”

            Mark wanted to know if they usually sang gospel at Jude's. Sometimes, I said, and sat back to listen. It was pretty good.

            “This is just like that scene in Crossroads,” Crabby said. “'Who's next? Who's gonna get their head cut?'” It had been one of our favorite movies in college, despite the constant smirk of Ralph Macchio.

            “It's a bit creepy,” I said.

            Mark asked Crabby and I if we wanted anything from the bar, and when we both said no he made his way up there himself. I watched him. He looked like he'd been in a fight—shoulders slumped, walking like an old man.

            “I guess this is pretty hard on him,” I said.

            “It happens all the time,” Crabby said. “You know how those two are. Hell, they'll probably be together forever. Personally, I'm a bit sick of hearing him whine about it.”

            “Are you kidding me? When you and Jeff broke up we had to listen to you for months. Calling us in the middle of the night saying you couldn't sleep without him. Posting such gems on Facebook as, 'My rose is gone. My life is over.'”

            Crabby laughed. “That was pretty fuckin' corny, but it was a long time ago.”

            “Last year,” I said.

            Corey and company were just finishing up when Mark got back with a beer and a shot. He offered me the shot, I refused, and he took it himself.

            “I don't know what the fuck your problem is,” Mark said. “You act like none of this shit with Doris bothers you.”

            “It doesn't,” I said.

            “The whore cheated on you.”

            Crabby shook his head no at Mark, but I told them both not to worry about it. Mark was never much of a drinker, but when he did he was always on the edge of belligerent.

            “I cheated on her all the time.”

            “But she didn't know that.” Mark said, throwing his hands up in the air.

            “Maybe she did,” Crabby said.

            I'd never thought of it before, but he could have been right. Doris was sharp, always in tune with my moods. It was possible.  Jude's was starting to get crowded, more crowded than I'd ever seen it,  and the karaoke had gone back to tear in your beer songs and classic rock standards. A big guy, bigger even than Crabby, brushed passed me on his way to the stage. He wore a plain white T-shirt with a jean vest over it that someone had Bedazzled “Blackbeard” on the back, and he did have the blackest beard I'd ever seen.

            “I think a raven died on that guy's face,” Crabby said. “I wonder what he'll sing.”

            “It's raining men,” I said. Crabby punched me in the arm—he was just joking around, but it hurt. It would leave a bruise.

            “Gay jokes are so '90s,” he said.  Mark looked like he could barely keep his eyes open.

            “Start the countdown,” I said.

            “Fuck you,” Mark said.

            “I give it two minutes.” Crabby feigned setting his watch.

            “I'll be fine. Even if Eli leaves me, I'll be fine.”

            It really was starting to get annoying. I excused myself to go the bathroom just as Blackbeard began his undeniably flat version of“Jesus is Just All Right With Me.” The bar seemed hot as hell all ofa sudden, probably the crowd. They had to be over the Fire Marshal's limit, but no one seemed to give a damn.  I forced my way through them and toward the only bathroom. There was a short line of men, all older than me. I recognized one of them as Jim Brewer, a foreman at the Pepsi plant who sang nothing but Neil Diamond.

            “Hey, Jim.  Nice crowd tonight.” Jim looked at me like I was nuts, nodded, and turned away to talk to the guy in front of him. By the time I got into the bathroom, I was about to pop. I figured I was going to be in there awhile, and thought about counting it out. When we were in college, it was something Mark did all the time. I'd hear him in the bathroom, pissing and counting, One Mississippi, Two Mississippi. The highest I ever heard him get was 73.

            I had one hand against the wall, propping myself up as I leaned into the urinal. It wasn't sanitary, but I'd been having problems getting started. Something I needed to go to the doctor for, but just hadn't. The restroom was small, one stool and one urinal. The walls were white and encouraged graffiti. As I tried to pee, I read two versions of the timeless classic: Here I sit all broken hearted/ tried to shit/ but only farted. But what caught my eye looked like it had been written recently. The purple marker that had been used was still bright, and the handwriting was frilly, a lot of long strokes and loops. If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out. I started to sweat, and I was pissing in stops and starts. It was painful. Someone kept knocking on the door, which wasn't helping. “What the hell are you doing in there,” he said.

            I finally finished, zipped up, and stepped back into the bar. A kid who looked to be in his twenties stood there. “Jesus,” he said. “About time.”

            “I have a hard time pissing,” I said.

            “Sucks to be you then.”

            I was about to agree with him, but there was a of ruckus over at my table. Mark, Crabby and Blackbeard were jawing at each other and it looked pretty heated. A crowd was forming around them. I started that way, and then the karaoke stopped dead. I could hear them yelling at each other.

            “This guy,” Blackbeard pointed at Mark, “said it looked like I'd gone a little overboard with the Just For Men. Like I don't know what that means.  This one,” he pointed at Crabby, “is a fag.” Crabby stood up. The top of his head came to Blackbeard's chin.

            “So?” Crabby asked.

            “Normally I wouldn't care, but your Yankee buddy here had to go and make a comment about my beard in his snooty Boston accent.”

            “I'm from Rhode Island,” Mark said. Then he repeated himself very slowly. “Rhode Island. People from Boston say 'Pahk the cah in the Hahvahd Yahd.' We say, 'Pahk the ca . . .”

            “I don't give a fuck,” Blackbeard said. “There's got to be recompense. Corey, hand me my chucks.”

            Corey of the religious tracks reached into an inner pocket of his trench coat, pulled out a pair of nunchucks and tossed them to Blackbeard.

            “Holy shit,” Mark said.

            “Holy shit is right,” Blackbeard said, but before he could do anything, Crabby pushed him to the ground, pulled Mark up from his seat, and drug him toward the door. I followed them out. I could hear Blackbeard asking Corey to help him up, and I knew it wouldn't be long until they were behind us.  Luckily, Crabby had parked close to the entrance. I opened the passenger side door, Mark climbed in, and I slid in beside him, but Crabby was reaching for something in the bed of his truck. Even though it was dark out, there was enough light in the parking lot from the red neon Hey Jude's sign, that I could see what he had in his hands. It was a chainsaw.

            “Fuckin' Jesus, Crabby. Put that thing down and let's get the hell out of here.” I practically tumbled out oftruck's cab, hoping I could defuse the situation.

            “Fuck that,” Mark said. He crawled out, fell, and started laughing.

            Blackbeard, Corey and the rest poured out of the door, pushing and shoving each other—even Gabby was in the parking lot, leaving no one to watch the bar. I was pretty much just muttering, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, over and over to myself. Mark was still on the ground laughing, and Crabby was walking toward Blackbeard with a chainsaw in his hands.

            “It doesn't have a chain,” Mark said. “I don't even think it works.”

            Blackbeard was fluidly working the nunchucks behind his neck, under his arms, between his legs.  Crabby raised the chainsaw, pretended to pull the cord, and yelled as loudly as he could, “Nun nun nun nun.” It sounded nothing like a chainsaw. If anything, it was more like a kid trying to sound like a motorcycle, but Blackbeard's eyes widened and he nearly dropped his nunchucks before Corey said, “it's not on.”

            Blackbeard took a swing at Crabby. Crabby blocked the nunchucks with the guide bar, and pulled the chainsaw back over his head, taking the nunchucks with it.

            “That's impossible,” Blackbeard said. “I'm master of the Nunchaku.” Crabby dropped him in three hits and looked at Corey, who raised his hands and shook his head.

            “Good,” Crabby said. “Everyone go back to their shitty singing.”  It took a few minutes, but they all did. Fights weren't that uncommon at Jude's. Crabby even helped Blackbeard up, patted him on the ass, and sent him back into the bar with a smile.

            “Let's go,” Crabby said.

            “Back to Jackson's? I'm just getting started.”

            “Back to New England,” he said.

            “But what about Eli?” Mark bent over, putting his hands on his knees to hold his weight. Eventually, he was going to puke.

            “That's the point,” Crabby said. “You didn't even tell her where you were going. I don't know what in the hell we were thinking. It's been two days.” 

            Mark nodded. “I just want to go to sleep,” he said. “Get back home, see my son.” Crabby helped him off the ground and into the truck.

            “You coming, Jackson?” he asked.

            “I think I'll stick around here for a bit. You guys going to be okay?”

            “Yeah, but do you mind if we sleep at your place for a few hours before we take back off?”

            “Not at all.”  I handed him my key. “Stay all night. We'll go to the Waffle House in the morning before you take off.”

            “Sounds good,” Crabby said.

 

            I sat at the bar for a while and drank Sprites. When Doris called again, I answered.

            “Well,” I said. “I guess you know everything now.”

            “I guess I do,” she said.

            “Are you mad?”

            “Yeah.”

            I missed her voice. I didn't even realize it until I'd heard it again. “You want to meet me at Jude's?”

            “No,” she said. I motioned for Gabby to bring me another Sprite. Corey sat down beside me, looked like he was about to say something, and closed his mouth when he saw I was on the phone.

            “I'll wait here for a bit just in case,” I said.

            “Don't hold your breath, darlin'.” Corey slid a tract across the bar to Gabby. She waded it up and threw it in the trash.

            “Mark and Eli are getting a divorce,” Doris said.

            “For real?”

            “For real.”

            “Damn,” I said. We stayed on the phone for a bit, neither of us saying anything, before I hung mine up without even saying goodbye. When Doris walked through the door, a cool breeze came with her. It was raining outside. I was in a heated debate with Corey over existentialism that Doris put a quick end to by asking him to move. She sat down beside me. She was wearing my favorite dress.

            “What do you want to sing?” she asked.

            “It's up to you.”

            Gabby, without asking Doris what she wanted, fixed her a slow gin fizz. Then she looked at me. “I remember you now,” she said. “You cook over at The Pit.” 


Daniel Crocker used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home. He can remember when he was a little boy. He and his grandmother could hold conversations entirely without ever opening their mouths. She called it "shining". And for a long time, he thought it was just the two of them that had the shine. Just like you probably thought you was the only one.