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:
ROY’S MUFFLER SHOP IS NO LONGER IN BUSINESS.
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.
“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.
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.
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