Sunday, May 8, 2011

Taking a Gamble on a Little Sorrow

I did go back to the Pigpen, obviously. It took me two weeks to work up my nerve (it’s a big one, that’s why it took so long), but I did. There was nobody there again (there often isn’t; you’ll get used to that), so I played pool by myself for a while, and was sitting outside on the picnic table smoking with the Owner (who I don’t think I knew was the Owner at the time) when the Kid showed up.

“You’re back!” he hollered across the parking lot to me as he walked in from his truck. I don’t remember my reply, but I’m sure it was something wise-ass, and I'm sure he does.

“Watch out for that one,” said the Owner when the Kid had gone inside. “He sleeps with all the single women who come in here."

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” I said. "I’m a big girl; I can spot ‘em. Plus he’s like twelve. And even if he wasn’t – or I was – he wouldn’t be getting anywhere near this with that goatee.”

See what I mean? My ass is so wise it oughta have its own advice column.

I don’t know how much time passed, but I know we hadn’t finished smoking yet before that goatee got stuck back out the door.

“You shootin’?” it hollered.

“Which one of us you talkin’ to?” I hollered back.

“You!”

“Yeah, I’m shootin’.” 

I tossed my butt in the bucket and stood up.

“Watch out for him,” the Owner said. “I’m serious.”

“Don’t worry,” I waved him off. “I got this. Kid’s in fucking diapers, for chrissake.”

The Owner laughed.

So I went in and the Kid and I shot pool all night. As far as I remember no one else ever showed up, and when I left he walked me to my car.

“I had fun,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I had fun, too.”

And then I got in my car and drove away.


It was a few weeks again before I went back for a third time (but it wasn't about working up the big old nerve this time: I just had Business to Attend to Elsewhere), and the same thing happened. Kid showed up, we shot all night, he walked me to my car.

“I had fun.”

“I had fun, too.”

“A bunch of us – the Guide and his Girlfriend and those guys, remember? – always come in here on Wednesday nights. You should come by, it's fun.”

“Oh, I don’t know about Wednesdays.”

I wasn’t trying to be coy. I innocently believed (as I still do, almost nine months later) that I was close to finishing the book, and didn’t think I should be going out on school nights.

“Well, what nights will you be here?”

“What night is this?”

“Friday.”

“Probably Friday, then. But I don’t know...”

And I got in my car and drove away.

Yeah, you got me. That time I was trying to be coy. How did I do?
 


So the next time I went back it was a Wednesday, and—

Oh, shut it.

—the Guide and his Girlfriend were there when I arrived. I apologized for my behavior last time, they didn't think it was all that big a deal, and we hung out for a few hours before the Kid showed up.

“I almost didn’t come,” he said, “because you said you wouldn’t be here.”

Oh yeah, right.

So we played pool and got flirty, and at one point when I couldn’t decide what shot to take he said: “Shoot the two-six. It’s the perfect combination, like your blue eyes and my green eyes.”

Because the 2-ball’s blue, you see, and the 6-ball is green.

I lowered my cue stick, turned around, and gagged.

“Did you seriously just say that to me?”

He laughed.

“I bet you thought I didn’t notice, huh?”

Oh, yeah, that’s why I'm gagging. Cocky little shit.

“Twenty-two-year-old studmuffin,” the Guide’s Girlfriend whispered wryly in my ear. I don’t think she heard the thing about the 2-ball, but she'd been around him long enough. She knew.

“Is that how old he is?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Something like that.”

So the next time I went back his way, I asked him.

“How old are you, Kid?”

“Twenty-three.”

“Oh, well then,” I laughed over my shoulder and I went outside to smoke. But I came back, and at the end of the night he walked to my car again.

“I had fun,” he said.

“I had fun, too."

Then I decided it was time to end it.

"We do have fun together, you and I," I said. "And we probably would have a lot of fun.”

If you know what I mean.

“But do you have any idea how old I am?”

Because, not to toot my own or anything, but the Faustian bargain I seem to have struck with the universe this year is: you do your damnedest to bury me, and I will get younger- and younger-looking with every ball of shit you throw. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to be 27 again – not for all the outsourced jobs in China. But getting occasionally mistaken for it is not a bad condolence prize when you're knee-deep in Satan scat. You know?

He shrugged.

“I’m forty-one.”

“So?” He shrugged again. “Not like it'd be statutory.”

I laughed. Hard.

And then I got in my car and drove away.


I stayed away on purpose this time. I knew what I was thinking, and I didn’t think I should be, so I guess you could say I was working down the big old nerve. But my sister and her family came to visit in the meantime, and I told my brother-in-law about the Kid and his statutory line.

“Well played, Kid!” he said, with a big grin. Then the family went to York Beach for the day, and when they came home in the evening he pulled me aside.

“You know, Erin,” he said, “I’ve been thinking about that Kid of yours, and I think you should go for it. You’re hot right now [thank you, Satan], and he’s obviously hot for you. You’re going to be fifty soon—”

“Excuse me!? I’m forty-one!”

“Well, you know what I mean: it’s out there [thank you, Sally], and then it will be gross. You might as well. A man would do it in a heartbeat, and he’d be getting high-fives all around.”

My sister came in at that point and we brought her up to speed.

“Yeah,” she said. “I know you, Erin. You’re going to do it eventually. Every time you see him will be a night of deciding not to, until one night you get drunk enough, or horny enough, and give in. You might as well take control of it while you still can.”

Really? 

Well, in the absence of a mother, I guess that’s as close to Official Permission as a girl can get. Not that she needs it. She is almost fifty, after all.

All right, then, I decided that I would. 

But not that weekend. That weekend I had my motorcycle lessons, and I really shouldn't stay out late or drink.


So on Saturday—

Didn’t I tell you shut it once already? Shut it again.

—I got on a motorcycle for the first time and was too excited to sit still. I wanted to go to the biker bar (have I mentioned that the Pigpen is a biker bar? It sort of is) and talk about it. The Kid was there, we were very flirty, and everyone warned me to stay away. Even the Bartender.

“Hey Bartender,” I asked her once over a cigarette. “That Kid's hitting on me pretty hard. Should I hit that?”

“No.” she said. “He sleeps with everyone.”

“Okay,” I said. “I won’t.” But I didn't mean it.

When I went back in the bar and he came over, I said “I think you're a dog.” It was supposed to be a prelude to a conversation, but when he heard it he put his tail between his legs and ran away!

I chased him.

“No,” I said. “What I mean is, that’s a good thing. You are who you are and I am who I am: we’re obviously never getting married. But we do have fun together, so why shouldn’t we have more? As long as we both know that’s all it is.”

There was a lot more said than that, but the rest of that business is none of yours.
 

And so we did.

I was late for my motorcycle road test the next morning, but I passed it, which is why I'll never forget the date: September 4th. Just over eight months ago as I write this, and we still do have an awful lot of fun. We’re not Together, and we never will be, but he makes me happy. And although I don't presume to speak for him, eight months is a long time in dog-years; I don't think he would've hung up his collar if I didn't make him a little happy, too. Other people don't understand what we're doing, and the things they say sometimes come close to fucking it all up, but then we take a breather and start again. We make each others lives just a little less wild. For now, for as long as it lasts. Until he meets some tender sweet young thing who makes him happier, or I meet some rich old coot and decide to pull an Anna Nicole before Satan comes calling for his chips. Or else till I turn fifty and it’s gross. Because as my mother’s alter-ego, Janis Joplin, used to say:


And so while we can, the Kid and I, we do.


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