by Mark Reep
Zips or Myhalyks or the River Bend, that kind. A scarecrow or two hunched down at the end, watching an afternoon game with the sound off. The bartender’s no youngblood either. The table bears its scars– stains, cigarette burns, the usual– but the pockets are tight, no gimmes. Rolling Rock, she says, if you’ve got it. No glass.
She does her stretches, takes her cue from its case. Racks nine balls and breaks, taking something off, driving the four into the corner. Plays the rest as they lay. Racks the balls again, breaks.
She’s working on cut shots when the bartender brings another Rolling Rock unasked.
On the house, he says. Pleasure to have you here.
An ageless little guy, fifty or seventy, and he knows who she is. Or was.
Thanks, she says. He lingers. She drinks some beer.
Saw you once at Mohegan Sun, he says. You beat that Black Widow girl four straight games, ran the table on her twice. You took a picture with me, after. Wondered if you might remember.
I’m sorry, she says. It’s been a long time.
Sure, he says. It surely has.
Her leg’s tingling, all the way up. She puts her beer down, does some more stretches.
Heard you hurt your back, he says, watching. Always wondered what happened, after that.
She straightens, shrugs. You’re looking at it, pretty much.
Listen, if you’re lookin’ for a game or two– Probably wouldn’t be no more’n gasmoney, but I could make a couple calls if you want.
She nods. Thanks, she says.
Well, I’ll leave you to it then. You need anything, you holler.
The tingling in her leg’s become a buzzing. She puts her cue away, takes her empty to the bar.
Gonna go get off my feet awhile, she says. Be back in a couple hours.
Got a old couch in the office, he says. I catch a nap there sometimes. You’re welcome to.
She looks at him. He shakes his head.
Ain’t like that, he says. Door’s got a good deadbolt. I’ll show you how to lock it, you can stretch out, take it easy.
Somebody calls for a draft. He goes to pour it. Makes change, wipes down the bar on his way back.
Don’t imagine you’re real trustin’, he says. I was you, I wouldn’t be either. Nobody’ll bother you. You got my word.
She nods. Thanks, she says. I appreciate it.
Someone’s knocking at the door. It’s dark out. She looks at her watch. Almost nine.
Be right there, she says, and starts getting up.
He’s brought a sandwich. Ham on whole wheat, mayo, mustard. Plateful of chips, a pickle. Another beer.
Thought you could use a bite. Nothin’ fancy.
Fancy’s overrated, she says. Thanks.
He turns on the desklamp, surveys a wall of cheaply framed photographs. Takes one down, wipes the glass with his shirttail.
Guess it has been awhile, he says.
She’s chewing, lifts an inquiring eyebrow.
He perches on the sofa’s arm, shows her: Crazy nineties hair, the Black Label vest she’d always worn, those years. Whatever happened to that vest. That skinny kid, all of it still in front of her. No clue.
What I always remember, he says, that last shot, you didn’t watch the nine go in. Everybody standin’ up to see would it get there– Time it fell, you’d walked away, you were already takin’ your stick apart.
I was a kid, she says. I was cocky.
Show me one ain’t. You knew you had it.
Yeah. I did. Well, I was pretty sure.
He likes that. She tells him what Jeanette said when they shook hands: Girl, you just kicked my ass, you know? Surprising her, laughing– What’s your name again?
I was right there, she says. Showing him with a thumb and forefinger: That close.
Yes you were, he says. And you will be again.
She makes a dismissive gesture, drinks some beer.
Hey, he says. You still want it, or what?
Wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t. Dunno if I’m being realistic, though.
Realistic’s overrated. Better finish that sammich ‘fore it gets cold.
When she comes back from the ladies he’s gone. She takes the photo down again, studies it. The clips on the back turn easily, and she slips the photo from the frame. It’s been awhile since she signed anything, and she rummages in the wastebasket, smoothes a crumpled envelope to practice on. No words seem right, say enough. She tries again.