Trouble in River City
Andy looked at Jennifer. She was stunning, sporting a shiny red dress.
"And she, she was the great bath of life, he worshiped her. Mother and substance of all life she was. And he, child and man, received of her and was made whole. His pure body was almost killed. But the miraculous, soft effluence of her breast suffused over him, over his seared, damaged brain, like a healing lymph, like a soft, soothing flow of life itself, perfect as if he were bathed in the womb again."
His internal conflict between emotions and desire needed a referee, and preferably not D. H. Lawrence. He knew that he had to let go of the fictions of the past if he was ever to live in the present. He liked the fact the Jennifer wasn’t needy, that she hadn’t exchanged phone numbers with him yet. And she came back!
The noise in the back of the pub had something to do with one of the pool players. The bouncer had collared the miscreant and hauled him out through the pub’s back door. Jennifer looked at the ruckus for a moment, then shifted her gaze back to Andy. The server came and took their orders.
“Now, where were we?” said Jennifer, “Or perhaps you’d like to start again, on a fresh page?"
“Don’t look back, look to the future!” Andy said, “Life begins now!”
“Fair enough,” said Jennifer. Her smile had a hard edge to it, as if she’d had this conversation before. “So tell me about yourself. I gather that you make your living doing some kind of proof-reading? That must be interesting.”
“Sometimes,” said Andy, thinking about the tedium of his technical work as well as the mawkish memoirs he’d been working on lately. He was determined to keep a positive spin on this conversation. “It’s a discipline. How about you?”
“I work in real estate, not sales, dealing with the paperwork side of things. I guess you could say I’m a reader as well, although the stories aren’t very interesting. Nine to five, five days a week, three weeks PTO per year. Health insurance. It pays the bills.”
The server brought them their beers, while the bouncer returned to his perch next to the door. The band began a Junior Walker medley with the song Roadrunner:
Money, who needs it
Let me live a life free and easy
Put a toothbrush in my hand
Let me be a traveling man
I'm a roadrunner, baby
Andy chuckled at the lyric. His life was as far from free and easy as one could get. He wondered if Jennifer liked to travel.
“Three weeks of PTO! I guess that is one disadvantage I have in being self-employed,” said Andy, “Where do you like to travel?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I guess that California is my favorite: San Francisco, Sausalito, San Rafael. The wine tours. How about you?”
Don't want no woman to tie me down
Gotta be free baby to roam around
All my life I've been like this
You can love me at your own risk
When the dust hits my shoes
I got the urge to move
Andy thought that it might be all right if he
were tied down by Jennifer. He hadn’t done any traveling since college—a spring break trip
to London on a cheap charter flight. God, that was thirty years ago, everything
has changed by now
, he thought. He had better tell her something: “I like London, The British Museum. Going to old book stores, just bumming around.”
'Cause I'm a road runner baby,
Gotta keep on, keepin' on
And I live the life I love
And I'm gonna love the life I live
I'm a roadrunner, baby
Andy took a sip of his stout as the band segued into What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)
What does it take
To win your love for me
How can I make
This dream come true for me
Ooh I just got to know
Oh baby cause I love you so…
The lyrics made Andy feel as if his heart would burst. He never had such an emotional response to a song before. Was he finally becoming a human being?
“London… that makes sense,” said Jennifer, “The Reader
in his natural habitat. I’m more of a murder mystery fan myself, the gruesome Scandinavian ones, like Stieg Larsson, where the veneer of normalcy is shattered in a moment of violence, and everything is ugly underneath. I hope you don’t hold it against me… ” Her eyes flashed when she said the word ‘violence.’
A series of rim-shots in rapid succession from the band’s drummer announced the beginning of the Junior Walker song Shotgun:
I said, Shotgun shoot em ‘fore he runs now
Do the jerk baby
Do the jerk now
“Ooh! This a great song!” said Jennifer, rising, “Let’s dance!”
At that instant, Andy saw the pub’s door open.
Put on your red dress
And then you go downtown now
I said buy yourself a shotgun now
The bouncer rose from his stool, directly behind Jennifer, blocking Andy’s view.
We’re gonna break it down baby now
We’re gonna load it up baby now
And then you shoot him ‘fore he runs now
A deafening blast came from the doorway, and the bouncer reeled back, falling against Jennifer, she fell to the table with the burly bouncer lying awkwardly on top of her.
I said it's Twine Time
I said it’s Twine Time
I said it’s Twine Time
Andy caught a glimpse of a man in the doorway, holding a shotgun. His face was twisted in rage. The man turned and ran out into the night. The band had stopped playing.
There was blood.
The Reader is serial fiction, published every Friday.