by Ron D’Alena
[filmed at Howiees on Front in Medford, Oregon]
December: a good time to be indoors.
I’m two stools away from men hunched over beers, conversing in low tones. Work my lighter against a cigarette; watch Jenny push a bottle of Miller to a man wearing an Oakland Raiders cap.
She’s talkative. Loves holidays. Loves to eat. Then comes January/hell: no beer, no fried food, lots of water, 115 lbs by summer. It’s a ritual. Doing it nearly a decade.
She’s talking up a storm.
But she’s a good listener too.
Been searching for some nerve to ask her out.
Two months of tug-of-war about it.
Waited too long, I tell myself. Waited too damn long
and now the timing is rotten.
Jenny cuts limes into small wedges.
Wipes her hands on the front of her flimsy tank top.
I wobble over to the happy hour table pushed against a wall spruced up with Marilyn Monroe posters. Scoop the last piece of lemon chicken onto my soggy paper plate,
hold the plate with both hands,
thumbs curled over the edge.
Crescents of dirt under cracked nails.
San Francisco is new to me. Traffic. Crowds. Melting pot. I miss N. Dakota.
But you have to go where there’s work.
You know what I mean?
Put down the plate without eating.
Go across the room.
Lean over the juke, drop eight quarters into the slot, return to my stool.
Jenny works a dishcloth across the bar top.
No, she’ll never go out with me now that those sons of bitches knocked me for a loop.
For no good reason I think about this wrinkled woman I saw earlier in the supermarket parking lot. Hunched in the rain over her license plate.
Putting on registration tags.
Using Kleenex to flatten corners.
Looking at the police car in the adjacent slot.
Christ, how some people live their lives.
Jenny comes over.
So, heard about what happened today at the construction site.
Yeah. Nailed five of us to the cross. Blamed it on the economy and the people in Washington.
Push red flannel sleeves to elbows,
withdraw rectangular piece of pink paper from back pocket.
Put the paper on the bar.
Stare at it.
Jenny reaches over,
writes a string of numbers in the pink margin.
Well, if you ever need to talk or something just give a call. Okay?
Put the rim of my beer bottle against my lips.
Hide my smile.
She changes the blood flow underneath my skin.
My heart wallops.
Okay… you bet.
She leaves me for the other side of the bar.
Looks up at the TV hanging from the ceiling over the refrigerator.
Stands on a stool.
Men drinking beer notice her short skirt.
She pushes the channel selector.
Stops at some kung fu movie.
Steps off the stool.