He plays pool by instinct, he says, which makes her roll her eyes. Maybe Pittsburg U doesn’t give out degrees on the topic, but he had to put in his time at Bartelli’s Blue Goose Bar before he got to be any good. Leaning on the table’s edge (white Tee sleeve pulling back to show his dark-complected skin), he’d line up a shot with a style distilled from the best he’d seen in pool halls up and down the Midwest, watching him play kind of like the fair being in town, listening to him talk himself up, a sideshow act—keep yer eye on the ball—sinking a shot in his careless way, smile like it was nothing, counting on luck like it’s something to lean against, the brick side of a building that won’t let him down short of a California quake.
Then he’d sit down, a good sweat going, put his arm around her and the floor’d begin to tip to one side, his eyes black volcanic glass while he talked about where he’d been (careful to skip the pages where the names of women are written). Red, Willie, Earl (his over-white dentures the only thing smooth in his craggy face) would be at their table, full beers materialized while the stories flowed and only the question of why it couldn’t always be that way went unasked.
One story about a Navajo dance he called Yay Bi Chay (spelling it a mystery right up there with the Trinity) out there in New Mexico, winter, the dusty earth gone cold, smoke from fires headed for the ancient light a stars. The men wore masks, he said, opted for paint steada shirts, and danced all night with a strange little hoo-hoo sound like no animal he ever heard, around and around with the gravity of a planet, pattin down the dry earth with their feet in a longwise circle, a billion bright holes poked in the dark mask a the sky to get a peek at the dancers—why did it seem their feet landed up there too, up in that blacked-over nothin? Fill the nothin with a little dancin is why they did it, hoo-hoo away the silence for a while—you never know, the earth might lose its shape, flatten out without em. Dust settling almost as soon as their short quick-time steps kicked it up, only firelight and a little sky-sparkle to see those Navajos by, they traveled to the curved far end a vision and back, the faces watching shadowy and rigid, one old man with glasses on like a smoldery-eyed demon Zirque didn’t know why smoke wasn’t comin outta his mouth. The painted dancers—gray and black if he recalled right, like they’d rubbed their bare chests with charcoal and ash—the masked dancers kept up until the stars faded (though the fires still burned) and the sky grew gray-blue. He stayed and watched and drank, passing his bottle around, later picking up a toothless Navajo hitcher who smelled like smoke and beer, both of them with eyes itching and red, running on something the dancers had passed on. Zirque road him near 200 miles home for which he received a blessing in a language he didn’t understand.
Jack Hanes interrupted, complaining loudly the painting business was damn well bad enough to make another beer about as hazy a possibility as the Second Coming.
Hope the beer makes it first, Zirque said, taking a swallow of his own before going back to the dance.
It was hypnotic, he said, staring down at something at his feet, like watching the waves roll in over the shore. No matter how many you watch, you can still sit for one more. Felt it about the same place, too, a deep, deliberate pull, like a peek at infinity, and the big surprise is you’re part of it.
The dancing painted men in their masks, antlers branching from their heads (he mentioned antlers, didn’t he?) got her thinking maybe he’s not … well maybe he’s just wearing a mask himself, he’ll never die, just change the mask. Right about the time something like that came to mind, he’d put a quarter in the jukebox and play that song and sing to her.
See her shake on the movie screen.
Hollywood doesn’t know what it’s missing. Tall, shapely, green-eyed as cut glass, hair the color of a two-year-old penny, the shine of a fish cutting away, a flash and gone, still a few shades darker than Red.
Prettiest girl I ever seen.
Red always reminded them, before the night burned softly down to gray ashes they threw to the stars, what a right handsome couple they made. The three of them driving off in a convertible if Zee Gee could manage one, up route 69, on to the place where dawn meets the road.
Zirque the Jerk, Red would say shaking his head when he got stood up for drinks. Red—he has about the most angelic smile you’ve ever seen and hands wide enough to palm a truck tire—wouldn’t know what to say or do to make her feel there was anything between Kansas and the Moon worth living for.
He’ll be back, was the best he could manage.
He’s a refrain from a song, she wanted to tell Red, you never know when you’ll hear it again, but when you do, you keep hoping the words will be different. They never are. Maybe because everyone’s willing to grant forgiveness, she the abused saint of them all.