BY LARRY BROWN
Copyright is held by the author.
YOUR LEG across the bench seat, sockless foot toeing my thigh. Together, we escaped.
My rusting Ford trembles up the two-lane leading away from town, sunny spring air swirling. Static crackling. You commandeer the radio, creep the needle back and forth on the a.m. dial like you’re the curvy safecracker in that heist movie I liked and you sat through. A station locks in, drums snapping. Your foot keeps time on my leg. I suggest Port Charles. You smile behind mirrored sunglasses, your arm out the window, swimming in the breeze.
You seemed fine. That’s how I remember it.
So. Port Charles.
Arctic Burgers on the Arctic Restaurant balcony, Arctic sauce dripping out the buns, gulls crying for fries, and the arcade below binging and bonging. We wash everything down with tall cups of orange Shine, a sweet-tasting mystery scooped out of a steel tub, then drift over to The Palace — my idea, our opportunity — the old dance hall with the hand-painted sign. Duke and Satchmo’s young smiles framed on the walls, the wood floor warped. The smell of Lake Erie through the screens.
This, I say, is worth a listen. A couple songs, then we can go.
C’mon, I say.
I shouldn’t be this tired, you say.
You fidget in your chair. I don’t get around to asking if you are all right but, usually, you tell that sort of thing at your own pace.
Sometimes you exaggerated.
Ninety minutes later the white-haired woman seated on a kitchen chair whisper-sings the final song. The fiddle jitters and pleads. The song ends too soon, it ends right when it must. The band leaves the stage. There is nothing to say, not when ambushed like this, by music that steals our balance, music that needs to be left alone to find its place and settle inside us.
A month earlier we were strangers.
Driving home from Port Charles, nighttime radio signals bounce up from the U.S. and I luck upon a station from St. Louis, crisp bright sound and deejay Harland Waters bleedin’ the blues for you, then 15 minutes from home I turn at the t-intersection and the night swallows Little Walter and his harp.
You don’t search the dial. You face your window. It doesn’t roll up tight, the air whistles.
Then you say, Two.
I glance over. Two?
I was ready to leave after two songs. That’s why after two songs I said I was ready.
It was just starting to get good, I say.
Two? I say.
You shove two fingers at me.
Maybe it’s the fingers.
You’re kidding me, I say.
Forget it, you say.
If it’s not your idea, I say, you’re half there, or fucking not at all.
I surprise myself when I say this.
Silence, until I pull into the lot at your apartment building. Then the slam of car door. You walk as if trying to be both fast and careful, a catch in your step.
I apologized the next day, or the one after that. And I did drive you to some of the doctor appointments. The one out of town, for instance, the one without proper parking. Hamilton, was it?
My wife is peering over her part of the newspaper, reading glasses low on her nose. I have no idea how long she has been watching me.
I pick up my coffee, my part of the newspaper open on the kitchen table.
What? I say.
What’re you thinking about? my wife says.
A question I rarely answer, truthfully anyhow, but now I say, I’d like to go to Port Charles.
Port Charles? The lines deepen around my wife’s mouth. Have fun.
I close the newspaper, which closes on your obituary. More coffee? I say, getting up. If my wife replies, I don’t hear her. I stand with my back to the table, fiddling with the window blind.
It was raining that night in St. Louis, I remember.