Johnny America


My Ex-Girl­friend’s Wed­ding Day


Six hours un­til my ex-girl­friend gets mar­ried and I need cash to buy her some sort of gift. I de­cide to stop by work, pick up my pay­check, hit the pawn­shop on the way to the wed­ding, and get Su­san some­thing. At work, I find the doors locked. There is a hand-writ­ten note with a half-assed ex­pla­na­tion taped to the in­side of the glass en­try door:


I turn from the note, sum­mer sun­light beats against my face. Be­yond the grav­el park­ing lot cars and semis hum up and down High­way 101.

Oh, shit, I think.


Back at Par­adise Apart­ments I tap out a Marl­boro, set it be­tween my lips, work my lighter against it. I sit on my couch, try­ing to watch John Wayne on mid-morn­ing TV, try­ing to fig­ure out how to come up with mon­ey for Susan’s gift. But it’s dif­fi­cult to con­cen­trate. Out­side some­one had left a bark­ing pit bull tied to the stairway.



He won’t stop barking.

I fin­ish my last beer; look at the wall clock — four hours to go. Then it hits me — Ike. Ike is a bar­tender at Mo­Jo Lounge. He would lend me some bucks.

I park in front of the bar, get out. Sun­shine ham­mers against St. James Street, mak­ing the as­phalt (used to plug the scat­tered pot­holes) soft. I walk to the fad­ed black door. The met­al han­dle is hot and un­pleas­ant in my grip. I go in. The bar is dark. A tele­phone is ring­ing in the back­room. In front of the juke stands one of the reg­u­lars. She drops a few coins in­to the bright­ly lit slot. Her chapped fin­ger­tips punch the codes to sev­er­al songs. Elvis comes on. Then she makes her way around the pool ta­ble and slides on­to the stool be­side me.

Mi­ran­da is Puer­to Ri­can, 4’ 11’’, short-skirt­ed/high heeled, and likes play­ing pick-up games of hoop at the high school yard every Sun­day af­ter church. HOOPS, can you imagine?

“Hel­lo, Mi­ran­da,” I say.

“Hel­lo, Frank.”

“It’s been one shit­ty day for me,” she says, and then she tells me about crash­ing her van in­to a tele­phone pole ear­li­er that morning.

“Don’t get me start­ed,” I say.

I bor­row $40 from Ike, and then use some of the mon­ey to buy two shots of dark rum. I emp­ty my shot and set the glass on the counter next to a fly with one wing — buzzing in cir­cles, try­ing to muster a liftoff. Ike re­fills our shots. We drink and talk and laugh — suc­cess­ful­ly de­fect­ing from the out­side world. I tell her about the Su­san thing and about how lone­ly I feel. Just when I think I’d bet­ter get to Susan’s big day, Mi­ran­da sug­gests get­ting a bot­tle and head­ing to my place. She says our con­ver­sa­tion is like med­i­cine to her.

We slide off our stools, take our­selves from the bar and in­to the wan­ing Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon to my car. When I pull out of the park­ing spot, I near­ly clip a truck tow­ing a bull­doz­er. We back­track east, across town, to my neigh­bor­hood. Near my apart­ment, we hit the cor­ner liquor store for more dark rum — dark rum is her fa­vorite. We make it to my place, park in the car­port, walk through the cen­ter of the com­plex, past the swim­ming pool (half drained and filled with al­gae), up the stairs (the pit bull is gone).

We take off our shoes and sit on the couch. We spend hours smok­ing cig­a­rettes, drink­ing rum, eat­ing pota­to chips and slices of cold piz­za, and lis­ten­ing to Elvis and dead cow­boy stuff like Hank Jr. Mi­ran­da fid­gets with the gold plat­ed cross dan­gling from a chain around her neck and tells me that on bad days like to­day she thinks about a 30-car pile-up that hap­pened in Mi­a­mi on a stormy day when she was a lit­tle girl. She was in one of the cars. Peo­ple died. She tells me that in adult­hood she takes life se­ri­ous­ly and de­spis­es su­per­fi­cial­i­ty. She cries and I hug her sexy, 4’ 11’’, Puer­to Ri­can body. She smells like pep­per­oni pizza.

“Frank,” she says (run­ning her fin­gers over the scar on my left fore­arm — an ex­haust pipe burn got­ten years ago from my first day at the muf­fler shop), “I think a har­mo­ny of feel­ings is go­ing on here.”

“So do I, ba­by,” I say, “so do I.”

Mi­ran­da was nev­er a lover to me and I don’t think things are about to get sex­u­al. And they don’t. Any­way, hang­ing around and killing our lone­li­ness beats go­ing to Susan’s wedding.

We fin­ish the pint of rum and I call her a cab. I use some more of the mon­ey Ike loaned me to pay her fare to Fremont.

Now city lights grate against the un­der­bel­lies of San Jose clouds. I light a Marl­boro and call Susan’s cell. I imag­ine her with her wed­ding dress hiked up around her naked hips and her jew­el­ry-store-own­er-hus­band stand­ing over her with his tux slacks around his ankles.

Su­san answers.

I keep qui­et, too chick­en shit to say anything.

“Frank, I know it’s you…” Then she hangs up.

I go to the clos­et and pull out our pho­to al­bum, flip through the last pic­tures of us as a cou­ple — our trip to the Sali­nas Rodeo. One pho­to in par­tic­u­lar: us stand­ing on each side of the roast­ed peanut con­ces­sion girl. I lean over the damn pho­to and take a clos­er look at that girl who briefly stood be­tween Su­san and me.

I think about how much of a mixed-up son of a bitch I am. Then I feel calmer.

Filed under Fiction on August 21st, 2009

Care to Share?

Consider posting a note of comment on this item:


Previous Post


Next Post


Join our Irregular Mailing List

For very occasional ramblings, word about new print ephemera, and of course exciting investment opportunities.