Wolves And Women
By Wade Lipham
The supper had come to an abrupt halt; Buck's uncle left drunk, his girlfriend attempted to mop up the wine she spilled, the kitchen caught on fire. He shooed everyone out of the house in a cloud of gray, acrid smoke, telling them that yes, everything was fine, just please let me put out the fire.
By 2:00 AM he was satisfied that the rag and trashcan were indeed free of fire. He took off his shoes and shirt and lay down on the floor of his living room, sinking down into the carpet. He stared at the still ceiling fan while his girlfriend Pam changed her clothes in the other room.
"Pam?" he said.
"I was wondering." He put his hands underneath his head and shut his eyes. "Was this a good dinner or a bad dinner? I mean, I don't do this sort of thing. I don't know if fires are usually part of the program."
"Well," she said, "I knew things were going downhill when your uncle called you a son of a bitch."
"And when you spilled the wine?"
"Oh, that and the fire were just icing on the cake." She walked into the living room in shorts and a t-shirt. She pushed strawberry blonde hair over her shoulder. "So...I think this is my last dinner party for a while."
"Fine with me," he said, patting the carpet beside him. She laid down and he raised up on his arm, looking down at her face. "I'm not very social, anyway."
The next day he was in the summer heat with a guitar across his shoulders. He stood at the edge of a ten-foot stage and looked out toward a huge green field; it was rented farmland—just like Woodstock—and Buck's line of sight terminated at a line of trees in the distance. At that hour, the sun was just beginning to go down in a yellow haze behind them.
"Mac's pretty nice to put all this together," Mike Robillard was saying from the microphone, Buck listening with half an ear while he retuned his Gretsch. "I mean...does Texas really need another school?" He shook his head. "It never helped me. But Mac's nice for putting this together. Can you imagine what it cost?"
"And inviting us," Buck said.
"Yeah," Mike said.
Someone walked on stage behind them, negotiating the large wall of speakers and amplifiers. The man was dressed in khakis and looked out of place. He said, "You guys good to go?"
"Yeah," Mike said. "Will and Harry finished a long time ago. Drums up, bass tuned. John and me are just screwing around."
A polite signal: sound check was over. They came down the front steps of the stage together. Buck lit a cigarette and said, "Who's on the bill with us?"
"You didn't look?" Mike reached for a crumpled program in his pocket. "Blackbelt Jones, Green River Ordinance, Girls Rise With Heat...it's all pretty good."
"Oh." Mike smiled and pointed to small print underneath the big names. "And 'others'."
Buck saw a few people coming out on stage behind them. A girl with an acoustic guitar, a fat dude with a bass, some skinny, speed-headed guy behind the drums. "Hey," Buck said smiling, "I think that's 'others' right there."
The trio started to play. Folk rock stuff, another reminder of Woodstock. Buck nodded admiringly and turned around. The girl was singing now and Buck picked out a lyric here and there, something about wolves and women. He walked back to the stage and watched, checking out both her and her style: small and thin, blue jeans and blouse, a very pretty face. Her red lipstick made her look like a doll.
The band stopped the song short. The man in khakis shooed them off stage and Buck waved the girl over to him. She came slowly at first, a little suspicious, then smiled when she saw his face. She said, "Hey, John. I was hoping I might see you."
Buck squinted. Who...? "Good God, Vanessa."
He took her to the artist's tent: a big canvas job stocked with sandwiches and beer. They sat together at one of the picnic tables and drank domestic beer.
Vanessa leaned forward on her elbows. "You got there first, John. Your name is actually on the bill. I'm still trying to decide what to call my band."
"The Vanessa Binger Trio."
"That's pretty much it. Vanessa Binger and the Wilson Brothers."
"I know it's awful. You don't have to remind me."
Buck sipped at his beer and looked her over. She was still beautiful. Her face was soft and round, almost Asian. Her brown hair was dyed deep red near the roots. She still wore the Hindu creation necklace she had bought in high school. He said, "God, how long has it been? The last time I remember seeing you...the Wreck Room, I guess. Four years ago?"
"Sounds right." She grinned. "You've had a very productive four years."
"Yeah, I guess so. Couple of albums. We've pretty much toured non-stop. But nobody's gonna call us the next Beatles. I'm not rich."
"I bet you're doing alright for yourself."
He said nothing. He fidgeted and took the performer's ID from around his neck.
She said, "You guys still get along?"
"Oh yeah. Better than when we first met."
"I always get creeps." She grinned and leaned forward. "The drummer? He's a speed freak."
"Yeah," Buck said. "He's got that look."
She laughed and rubbed her temples. "Do you ever wonder why we're in this damn sleazy business?"
Buck shrugged. "Because it's rock and roll."
Buck despised platitudes; nevertheless, he knew the truth in his statement when he played his final solo at the edge of the stage. It was rock and roll. His blood boiled. He slung the guitar off his back and wiped the sweat from his brow as Mike crudely introduced the next band.
They came down backstage. Night had fallen now and the air was thick and humid. He patted the others on the back, laughed and congratulated, then said, "I have to take a piss."
He wandered over to the performer's bank of Port-a-potties. He walked in, locked the door and relieved himself. When he emerged he saw a man standing in front of the door. Buck squinted as a flashlight flashed across his face. The man said, "What are you doing in the artist's facilities?"
"I'm a performer," Buck said, reaching for his ID tag. Which wasn't there. Shit.
"Where's your ID?"
Buck scanned the man in front of him. Uniform, hat, badge—a cop. Holy shit. "Listen, I'm John Buck, I play with—"
"I need to see some ID, sir."
Buck looked over the cop's shoulder. Somebody was standing back there. He couldn't quite make out who. Maybe it was Mike. Mike could set this straight, or bring the ID, or—
"Hey, you damned pig bastard!"
Buck recognized the voice immediately: it was Vanessa. The cop turned around, swung the flashlight toward her. Buck bolted. He was past the Port-a-potties before the cop knew what was happening. Buck ran off into the darkness, seeing nothing but rolling green field in front of him. He heard footsteps and breathing—the cop was following him. But after about five minutes the cop's heavy breathing disappeared and he could hear smooth footsteps: Vanessa. Adrenaline carried them until they were completely winded. They collapsed together in the grass. They were soaked with sweat. They were both laughing.
"God, Vanessa..." he tried to catch his breath. "What's the idea?"
"I don't know," she huffed, "it just ... seemed like the thing to do."
He couldn't stop laughing. He regained a little breath and realized Vanessa was right up against him, her breasts pressing his chest. Ignoring the obvious he said, "He was too fat."
"The cop. He was too fat."
She giggled. "And underpaid."
Their breathing became regular and synched together. Her body was warm against him. He stood up. She sighed and rolled over onto her back. He said, "I can't go back, you know. That bastard'll get with his friends and roust me."
"What are you gonna do, then?"
He laughed. "I go home and you try and sneak back in." He gave her an appraising glance. "It might work."
She laughed and shook her head. "I don't have to go on till after midnight."
He looked out and saw the stage glowing in the distance. The insistent thump of someone's bass carried through the night. Then she was standing behind him.
She said, "Where are the cars from here?"
"A long way. It's a long walk."
She came around to face him. "Hey, I like long walks...especially on the beach, but this'll do."
Buck's Volvo still had the new-car smell, the leather seats still clean and unstained. Vanessa refused to ride with her seat belt on and sat with her knees under her chin. She looked cute and small. They cruised the dark roads around the farm, lights off to avoid attention, Buck taking every back road he found.
She said, "I want to hear your last album."
"I don't have it."
She looked at him quizzically. "You mean to tell me you don't have your own CD in your car?"
"No." He shook his head. "I don't listen to my own albums. That's...stupid."
Vanessa laughed. "Man, if I had my own album, I'd be listening to it all the time."
He turned on the radio. He was trying to distract himself. PJ Harvey came on. They both perked up and listened for a minute. Buck said, "Where are we going?"
She gave a little smile. "I thought you were going home."
He didn't say anything.
Vanessa shrugged. "I thought maybe we could go somewhere. Get caught up. We haven't had a really good talk since college."
He looked at her. The only sensible thing to do was drive home immediately, get a drink, crawl in bed with Pam and try to forget the whole night. But Vanessa smiled and he almost unconsciously eased his foot on the accelerator, taking the turn toward the nearest town.
The bar they found was dank and very dark. It smelled like strong beer and piss. Large neon signs from Budweiser and Tecate hung on the wall. They sat at a table near the front door, in a corner, and ordered two beers. He insisted that he pay for both. A very rough looking red-haired woman named 'Linda' arrived with their drinks. Vanessa began to put her beer away like an old pro.
She said, "How did we lose touch?"
"You stayed in college. I dropped out so I could tour with the guys."
"That's how you survive the road, isn't it? The guys."
"Yeah," he said, sipping his whiskey. "In the early days it was them. Now I've got Pam, too."
"Yeah. I met her in New Orleans. I started seeing her every time we passed through. One thing led to another."
She smiled. "Does Pam make you happy?"
"Yes." Buck took a big gulp of whiskey. "She makes me very happy."
Vanessa leaned forward. "I broke up with my boyfriend two months ago. Turned out he was an asshole."
"What was wrong with him?"
"He tried to hit me."
"I'd have killed the bastard, then." He grinned, starting to get charged off the booze. "That was always why you liked me, wasn't it? That I'd protect you?"
"Who says I ever liked you, John?"
He grinned. "I sure as hell liked you."
"Why didn't you ever tell me, then?"
He didn't answer. They finished their drinks and ordered another round. He put his hand on her hand. "I hope you find somebody really great."
"Maybe I already have," she said. He was too buzzed by now to figure out what she meant.
Despite his inebriation, Vanessa insisted he drive. She took off her flip-flops and pulled her feet up under her, sitting lotus style in the passenger seat. He was looking for a record store. He cruised down the roads of the little backwater town at twenty miles per hour. "There," she said, pointing toward a little spot in the middle of a strip center. "Right there."
He parked and tried three times to get the key from the ignition. They wandered in together, Buck drunk and Vanessa barefoot, walking through the rows of CDs. Under the fluorescent lighting he saw that her makeup had begun to run with sweat. She led him to the M's and grabbed his CD. At the checkout the clerk looked at Buck curiously, almost recognizing his face, but said nothing.
Back in the Volvo he put the CD in the player and shut his eyes. The music started and Vanessa said, "No. Sit in the back. We'll be closer to the speakers." So they sat down together in the back and Buck put his head on Vanessa's shoulder. He couldn't hear the album without thinking of recording it. "Keep your eyes open," she said, poking him in the ribs. "Listen."
As the chorus started his mind filled with the image of Harry playing the bass part. It all seemed vaguely funny. He turned his head and looked at Vanessa. She locked eyes with him. He put his arms around her and kissed her. He could taste beer in her mouth. The warmth of her body up against him felt good. He kissed her again as the song ended. He drew back and looked at her. "I can't do this."
"I know you can't."
He kissed her again.
Buck awoke the next morning, still in the back seat. He had a tremendous headache. He felt sick to his stomach. He forced his eyelids open.
The seat beside him was empty. Two things left: the CD and her necklace. He picked up the necklace and the movement almost made him vomit. He leaned his head against the front seat and caught his breath.
He opened the side door and got out. He struggled to his feet. His bearings were coming back to him. As always, he swore to never again get drunk. The sun was fresh in the sky. He checked his watch: 7:45. He put the necklace around his neck and fished in his pocket for the car keys.
Wade Lipham is an author from Fort Worth, Texas. His work has
previously appeared on Pindeldyboz and 3AM. He makes fun of people who
confuse Sartre with Camus. Really.
Photo "Bad Luck Charm" courtesy of Nas Kamui, New York, USA.
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