Author's note: In an effort to keep the content more varied on this site, the following story is unrelated to the six novella chapter's posted in recent weeks. The novella will continue soon enough, and I hope to continue writing other short stories in the meantime.
A woman’s voice twanged a sad song on the country jukebox. It was nearly the only life inside the dusky barroom. Peanut shells and old John Wayne movie posters decorated the place. Initials of forgotten people were carved into the ring-stained pinewood of the bar and table tops. It sure didn't seem like it then, but it was heaven before me.
To be a passerby in that place gave me a depressing sense of joy. Joy because I knew that I was only stopping there for a beer or two on my way through the droopy, dying town. Soon enough, the nowhere place would be forgotten to me. It was a reality I could readily escape. I looked at the faces staring into gold-tinted swill, their glasses reflecting lights of the next-door gas station, and I shuddered to imagine being tied to such a place for the rest of my adult life.
I grew up in an armpit, but now I was a man, free to go anywhere, and I did, even though I always seemed to end up in other armpits. So maybe I was stuck after all.
Anyway, I sat at a table in a dark corner, vacantly watching the scene. There was no TV in the place and the jukebox seemed to be the only thing alive. Even then, the country drawls over steel guitar chords weren’t conducive to a lively pulse.
The most interesting person there was a buxom blond. She sat at the end of the bar farthest from me. She had her legs crossed and leaned on an elbow with her chair swiveled slightly away from me as she nursed a glass of pale yellow liquid.
I could tell her hair was once quite naturally blond, but it had been bleached so many times the bleach was mostly all that remained. A vague outline of a knockout woman still shadowed her, but she looked as abandoned as the town. I wondered about her story, and perhaps I started to stare more than I realized. I was finishing my second beer when the forceful pressure of a man’s hand gripped me on the shoulder.
“OK, the lady’s had enough of you. Time to go.”
I looked up and saw the bartender, a Harley-Davidson type of guy with an American flag bandana tied over his bare scalp. A salty handlebar mustache curled around his mouth past his chin, and he was missing one of his yellow teeth – the eyetooth. The talons of the bald eagle on the bandanna seemed to reach down for me from the 200-pound man’s forehead.
I nodded at him and gathered my things. I gave the man a $20 bill and told him to keep the change as I stepped outside into the searing white light of the gas station.
"I'll give you twenty bucks for a ride."
The voice came from behind me in the dark alley. I turned around. My car key scratched the side panel looking for the lock.
"What?" I said.
A blond girl stepped forward into the light. A backpack was slung on her shoulder. She had short shorts and magnificent legs, with cleavage straining underneath the buttons of a jean jacket.
"Can I hop in with you or what?" she said, eyes burning into me.
She seemed about my age, 22, or perhaps a little younger, like 19. I didn't think too much about it. Who does when a person seems perfectly independent?
"Sure," I said, doing my best to mask my excitement. It seemed too good to be true, and it was.
We drove off and had a smash-up week together, like in the movies. I was so lonely at the time she got into my car, I didn't care if I was dreaming while sleeping on the railroad tracks. She was confident and full of sarcasm that made me laugh. She stepped into my life from that alley and we drove late into the night. She pulled my hand onto her leg, then begged me to pull over so we could lie down in a field. Every night was like that until the state police caught up with us.
That time lives in my brain now, like the unwavering florescent lights of the gas station. The girl was 15, the daughter of the woman I watched at the bar. Plenty of witnesses had a description of me and my car – including her daddy, the bartender – and it wasn't the first time Stacey ran off. I still don't blame her. I'd want to leave, too. You might think I regret it now that I'm in jail for at least six months. I've got a year and a half hanging over my head, but I'm eligible for parole in six months. But I don't regret it. It was the most exciting experience of my life.
I've got a momma back east in Kansas, but we ain't been so close anyhow. She doesn't know I'm in here and I don't think about it. All I think of is Stacey's smoky eyes searing into me. Her hand on my thigh. She'd put the moves on me and I didn't do anything but say yes, and I'm still saying yes.
Shit, I felt more alive than I ever did stealin' from a store, or redlining my scrap-heap on the highways. I write her letters in my head all the time, but I can't send 'em for real 'cause it would violate the restraining order. I plan to see her again, though, soon as I get out. In the meantime, I'm just staring at the bars, wishing I was back in the one spot I thought I didn't want to be in the first place.
Just the thinking of her name is like the bright star shinin' over the flat, dark country beyond the window of my cell. Stacey. I'm comin' ... soon as I can get a move on. I'm gettin' outta here. I'm gettin' outta here. You'll see.