You are reading Fiddleblack #15
Part of me feels really sorry, another part of me feels guilty for not feeling more sorry, and then there is this tiny bullet in me that holds no regret. I never understood machine guns, until now. Now I think I might love to shoot one. I’d love to pick up a big ol’ heavy one with a long, oily snout and if I had the courage to pull the trigger once I could shoot and shoot and shoot forever.
I don’t know what happens next. 99% of the nights you’ve been gone, and I’ve added it all up, I’ve been real good. When you first left, night after night, I fed the dog alone, scrubbed my teeth alone, and curled into our bed all by myself. But things got harder.
I gave up on cooking. I just eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. Lately I’ve just been scooping the peanut butter straight out of the jar into my mouth, and then shoving some bread in after, washing it down with boxed red wine.
I didn’t know it’d be this painful. In fact, I thought it’d be romantic. I told my grandmother about you leaving for ‘work’, and she pulled out a worn paper box full of the love letters she and my grandfather sent to each other while he was at war. The letters had turned yellow and frail, and I could barely read the faded ink. Many of the letters had split along their creases from so many reads.
Of course, I didn’t tell her you were driving down to Mexico to do God knows what. All I even knew was that you said when you come back money would be better, and we could maybe even have a baby. You said you’d be gone six months at most, and I didn’t want to know more. I just wanted that to be true. So I turned my head, sighed, and blinked. I said okay, but come home fast, and shot you a look to know I meant it.
The day you walked out of our house we had your bags all packed, we packed them together. I had slipped a letter in the side pouch of your leather suitcase. I walked you out to your truck. Our neighbors were on their porch watching us with craned necks, and I was so mad at them for ruining the moment. I pounded my fist into my hand, like ball to glove. You cried, but I couldn’t with the audience. I focused on my anger because I couldn’t focus on you leaving. I wanted to shoot them, but you told me to let it rest and then goodbye.
You hopped in your truck and drove into the sun. Just like in the movies, I stood in the middle of the road and squinted to watch you ride away. Dirt and rocks spat up as you peeled right. I hoped you’d turn back and wave, but you didn’t.
Once you were gone, I realized I was barefoot, and my feet hurt on the hot, flaky asphalt. I tiptoed inside. I turned on Patsy Cline and felt sorry for myself. I poured a glass of wine, and then another. I didn’t walk your dog, even though I was supposed to. I had another glass of wine and turned the music up a little louder. I smiled, realizing you probably left me something somewhere. I danced from room to room, looking in my favorite albums and jean pockets for a goodbye token. I pulled the shower curtain back, expecting you to be there.
And then I did all I could do. I sat on the couch, blasted the music a little louder, and waited.
Life was the same on the outside. I drove the old Pontiac to Hank’s Bar and Grill, where I kept waiting tables five nights a week. I took care of your dog the best I could. I kept my nails painted red like you like them.
I eyed the mail like a wolf. I wrote you daily, but I never sent the letters. I didn’t have your address, but even so, I wanted to get one from you first. If I had to wait and wonder, you did, too.
One night after a particularly grimy night at Hank’s, I got home and lit a cigarette. It tasted so sweet—my first puff since I quit a year ago. I hadn’t heard from you, and it’d been two months. So, what the hell? I made a pact, the moment I heard from you, I’d throw my Camels out. But until then, I drank wine and molded my lips into an O while blowing out smoke. I listened to Patsy over and over.
I got lonely, so I called my cousin, Sally, and she was up the street at this dimly lit blues club. I decided to meet her. I slicked my hair into a tight ponytail and marked my eyes black with sparkly eyeliner. I slid my feet into leather boots, grabbed my jean jacket, and went out walking after midnight.
I walked into The Flamingo. I couldn’t believe I’d never been there, but then again, you hated any place where you were supposed to sit still. And you really would have hated it. There was a jazz group all done up in ratty tuxedos, and the walls were a syrupy red velvet. The place was dark besides a few dingy lamps and of course all the starry cigarette ends.
I couldn’t find Sally. I went up to the bar to get a drink. I ordered gin and lime, and lit a cigarette. The smoke I blew stayed around me like a cloud. I couldn’t see anything but the puffy grey air. The gin felt good, so I stayed in my bubble and ordered another.
I screamed when Sally tapped me on the back. I started crying like someone with one of those shellshock diseases, like when people come back from war and can’t be touched. Once I got it together, she asked how I was doing.
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
Aren’t y’all talking filthy on the phone and writing dirty letters and all that?
No, haven’t heard from him.
The next day she brought me a pink, shiny vibrator, it was the biggest thing I’d ever seen. She said all I needed to do was get batteries, and then I’d barely know you were gone. I must have looked like someone who needed a good fuck.
Compared to the old, sick bastards that frequent Hank’s, I loved going to The Flamingo. I started walking there almost every evening since they stayed open so late. Sometimes the moon would light up my walk, and I’d wonder where you were. I’d ask the moon, but it was smug and never told me. I’d ask the stars, but you know we can’t see them here with all the city lights. A few times guys at The Flamingo would tell me I was a looker and try to buy my drink. I’d usually let them buy a round but then I’d blow smoke in their faces. I was waiting for my man, I’d tell them.
But you never came, and you never wrote. And I still had months to wait. You warned me you might not be able to write, and definitely not call. But I thought you’d find a way. I thought you wouldn’t be able to live without finding a way. If you had to fold your letters in some sort of fancy airplane shape with tiny motors attached and fly them all the way up to me, I thought you’d do it. You were always a crazy son of a bitch. But I loved you anyways because I thought you were so crazy for me.
I started to really hate the dog. I wouldn’t let him on the bed with me at night. I needed it all to myself, to roll in the too clean sheets and empty feeling. The dog would howl and I’d howl back, but meaner, gritting my teeth.
I stopped writing you altogether, and I cried. I looked through our wedding album, sipped whiskey and howled some more. The dog and I kept howling every night, but not together. I’d hiss at him, and he’d show me his teeth. I only fed him for you, and I’d lock him in the closet for hours at a time.
One night I went to The Flamingo and decided not to sit at the bar. There was some guy singing with a bluesy voice that drew me in like water. I sat at one of the empty tables near the front. I didn’t even smoke. I wanted to see. I’d never heard the songs he was singing, and I tried to really pay attention. I focused on the way the man strummed his guitar and the pretty blonde saxophone player behind him. He had bright blue eyes, like rhinestones. I imagined them as married, and I imagined that every night they’d go home after a show and make love. He’d lift up her puffy red dress, and she’d be his peach.
You said you left for us, but it didn’t feel that way. You’d always wanted things crazy, even though I was just fine with how things were. But that’s you. I’d be so happy, couldn’t believe my life, my luck. And you’d be bored. I wasn’t surprised when your mama told me how you broke your arm five times as a child falling from trees. You had to out climb everyone, even if it meant you fell the hardest. You’ve always been a dumb little shit like that. Then again, what am I if I fall to pieces without you?
Time moved so slow. Every second lasted longer than watching milk freeze.
The weather was getting hot so I started wearing less to The Flamingo. And finally, when one young kid put his hand on my knee, I didn’t move it right away. I let it sit for three seconds before I ashed on his hand and got up to pee.
Mr. Blue Eyes was playing again that night, so I moved from the bar to the stage. I tapped my fingernails on the table in beat with the base. I looked into his eyes, and occasionally he looked into mine, and drew out a smile. He had a strong jaw and wore tight slacks. I bet myself he would have turned me to liquid, if he touched me.
When I got home that night, I pulled out the pink vibrator Sally gave me. Just looking at it I got all mashed up inside. All I ever wanted was you. But it’d been three and half months, and all I’d heard was nothing. I took the batteries out of our fire alarm and stuck them in. I then stood up and put one hand on our chestnut dresser for balance. I tapped my fingers on the wood as I turned it on. I didn’t think of you. I hated you, so I pulled the trigger and got off to Mr. Blue Eyes from the Flamingo.
With you gone, gradually my days fell into a new kind of rhythm. I slept all day, went to work, then came home to feed the damn dog, walked to the Flamingo, and came home and fucked myself. But I always slept alone.
I started to wonder if you’d died. I even called a couple of your friends, but they knew nothing. You’d given me enough money to pay bills for six months. If you didn’t come back, I didn’t know what I’d do. I guess pawn all your shit. I started walking around the house, looking for things I could sell. I found two stacks of hundred dollar bills in the back of the freezer behind some frozen fish. I left them back there. I found a cardboard box full of hundreds of tiny plastic baggies and a heavy scale. I found a silver pistol at the bottom of your dresser drawer. I ran my hands all over its smooth, shiny surface. The gun felt like teeth. I sucked on the barrel, and it had a mineral flavor, like blood. I stuck the barrel up my pussy, and this time I thought of you.
I knew you hadn’t died. As much of a piece of shit as you could be, you were mine and I was yours. I could still feel you, which is why I was so damn mad you hadn’t written me. I’d know if you died. I’d of felt it. A part of me would have fallen out, one of my kidneys would be gone or something. I probably would stop breathing. I’d just know.
I kept the gun in my purse and walked around in high heels. I dyed my hair blonde and painted my nails black. I imagined going down to Mexico and blowing your brains out, but then holding you close. Afterward, I’d select what parts of your brain to put back in your head. I’d then sew your skull back together, and you’d come on home.
Every morning, I awoke to my own sobbing. But then I’d kiss your gun and feel calmed.
Mr. Blue Eyes started playing every night, and his turnout grew. His little blonde saxophone player was usually there, too. During his set breaks, he went outside and leaned against the brick wall, smoking his stick of fire. I made sure I was always out there smoking as well.
I began to love Mr. Blue Eyes from a distance. While he sang he’d press his pelvis just slightly forward in beat to the music. I was starting to forget what you looked like. Mr. Blue Eyes was so real and palpable, an arm’s length away. You were just this thing in my mind, I wasn’t even sure if you were real anymore. One day while we were both outside smoking and getting fresh air, he talked to me. I felt a flutter in my chest, but I played it cool.
Hey, I see you here almost every night.
Yeah, they’ve got good gin.
I’m Bobby, who are you?
Nice to meet you.
So the saxophone player, she your girl?
I don’t know her name.
Yeah, yeah she is I guess.
She’s a real peach.
I had known Mr. Blue Eyes and the saxophone slut were a pair, but somehow hearing it burned. My guts were starting to spill out without you there holding them together. I hated you for doing this to me, for ripping yourself out of my life. When I walked home, I took off my boots and ran barefoot just to hurt. I walked on glass and stickers and sharp rocks. When I got home, I went out back and started punching trees, imagining they were your face. My hands grew bloody and bark mixed in the open wounds. I wanted to scream but I didn’t want to give my neighbors the satisfaction. I let the dog out and pulled out the pistol. I practiced aiming at the dog, giddying around like a turkey. I wanted to shoot, but instead I just bled.
I fell asleep outside and woke up in the dirt. You’d been gone for five months. One month to go. I had a new sense of relief. I’d done it for five months, and though I was murderously mad at you, I could do anything for one month.
I stopped going to The Flamingo. I gave the dog a bone. I washed my hands and feet and bandaged them up. I started sweeping the house and buying fresh flowers. I framed a wedding picture and placed it in the living room. I waited with a new sense of purpose. I went to the hardware store on my way to work to look at paint colors. I imagined you knocking me up on your first night back, and I wanted to be able to move quickly with decorating the baby’s room.
On the last night before it’d been exactly six months, I put the gun back in your dresser. I took a long bath and shaved my legs. I rubbed lotions into my body and sprayed myself with perfume.
But you didn’t come home. You didn’t come home the next week either. And after another week, I took the pistol out again, I threw the dog in my car, and I drove. I drove three hours outside of town to where the flat ranches go on like days. I turned down a dirt road, and told your dog to get out and play. While your dog ran around and sniffed weeds, I put a bullet in his stomach, and left him there to die, whimpering.
I stopped at a liquor store and bought some whiskey. I drank and drove and swerved all the way to the Flamingo. I skipped work. I went up to Mr. Blue Eyes, who was lighting a cigarette.
Do you want me or not?
Whoa, there. What?
It seems you like me. Do you want to do something about it?
Damn! Give me thirty minutes, and then we can go to your place.
What about Mae?
Mae won’t know. Don’t worry about that. Just be ready.
I waited, even though I was so sick of waiting. After a while, I walked out back to see Mr. Blue Eyes leaning against the wall.
Damn, you look good in that dress.
Get in the car.
We drove in silence, but he stroked my right thigh until we reached our home. As we walked in, I turned down the wedding picture of us before he could see it. I poured drinks and took him to the bedroom. I could barely walk.
I just can’t get over that dress.
More gently than I expected, he pressed his lips to mine. I felt sick and tears began to fall down my face. He was older and harder-looking than up on stage. His lips were crusty and dry. I wanted you so badly to walk in and stop us.
Don’t you love Mae?
Yeah, but Mae don’t have to know about you and me.
While he fucked me against our bedroom wall, I never felt so lonely in all my life.
Part of me feels really sorry, another part of me feels guilty for not feeling more sorry, but then, what does it even matter? You aren’t coming home. I imagine if you did, I’d shoot you. I like to think of shooting you over and over and watching your body flap around as I’d put hole after hole in your body, like you did to me. I guess I’m the crazy one. Crazy for loving you.
Shannon Perri lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and menagerie of pets. She is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Texas State University and holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Texas. Her writing has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Buffalo Almanack, Fiddleblack, and In The Fray.