I have never known the love of a good woman. I have only known the temporary affections of a few bad.
Her name is Denise. When she was small she could not pronounce it correctly, so her stepdad nicknamed her “Dancey” because that’s how she pronounced it. I always called her “Dancey”, but I always referred to her as “Denise.”
“I believe in God now,” I said, and I meant it.
“You are like, the thousandth guy I’ve blown, so I should be good at it.”
I said nothing.
She laughed again.
“Well, more like half that. Might as well be a thousand though. I used to drink a lot. Every night after work I’d hit the bar. It was a party all the time. Somewhere, anywhere. Who can count everything? Who wants to?”
She got up and went into the bathroom. I lay there in a mathematical silence, counting glasses of wine in my head, dividing by the number of days in a year, in a week, and then multiplying, then adding, then losing track and starting again.
Leap years, fuck, what about leap years?
My cousin Mike picks me up in his truck. Dancey had emailed to say she’d left my stuff in a box on her step. She said to come and get it while she was at work. If it’s not there when I get there it’s stolen, the neighbor’s kids are assholes, and not to ask her again. I’d emailed back to tell her to put this and that in the box – just to make sure she remembered – but the email bounced back. She’d already closed that account.
“You up for this?” He asks.
“I’m up for it.”
“If you just give me the address, I’ll go get it.”
“I’m good. I should be the one to get it.”
“You want breakfast?”
“McDonald’s would be good.”
We stop at McDonald’s.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get it’” he says.
Mike goes in. There are no drive-throughs here among the palm trees. There is actually a by-law. It’s a resort town full of retirees, cue-tips, constipated blue-hairs, people dying expensively slow, and drive-throughs offend their collective sensibility, their class’s idea of class. No one here works, except for the ignored. These are the people behind counters, or under hard hats. They work while the walking cadavers complain and golf and nap. Once they can’t golf anymore, they just sit. They want to die warm and the climate obliges.
“Remember who loves you,” I said.
“Can’t you just say “’I love you?’” She replied.
“That would be something everyone says. I don’t want to say things, the important things, the same way everyone else does.”
“I just want what everyone else gets.”
“McDonald’s coffee is actually pretty fucking good.”
We’re in the truck, eating our breakfast sandwiches and drinking our coffee. Mike is actually right about the coffee – it is pretty fucking good. Too bad we can’t get it at a drive-thru window like every other place in the world. Out here in the desert, two hours from LA, and four from Vegas or Phoenix, the gentry make their own rules to no one’s convenience but their own.
We get to Dancey’s and there is a lizard on the white stucco wall of the townhouse, brown and still. At the end of the driveway there is a roadrunner. The roadrunner has seen the lizard on the wall. The lizard knows. The roadrunner wheels away with that peculiar gait they have – the cartoons aren’t wrong – only leaving once we step out of the truck.
There is not a cloud in the sky. There is no box on the step.
“Asshole neighbor kids took my stuff,” I say.
“Are you sure?” Mike says. “Maybe it’s off to the side.”
We look around a bit, even inside the gate to the condo’s pool. It’s early in the morning so no one is at the pool yet. There is nothing there. We can look into Dancey’s little yard from there. There is nothing there.
“Maybe she’s just fucking with you, man.” Mike says quietly.
“No” I say. “It was kids. Fuck it. Let’s go.”
We get back in the truck.
“I always felt it said something that her own kid won’t live with her,” Mike said. “You know what family law is like. ‘Mother’s house, father’s income.’ And yet …”
I shrug and we go.
The lizard is off the wall, gone to someplace else now to wait out the heat of the day and hide away from the roadrunner’s gaze.
She always fell asleep with the TV on. The “ID” channel. “Murder porn,” I called it. “Yep,” she’d say, “Murder porn.” Every night. After she fell asleep she’d wake up and check her phone. She’d do this at least two or three times a night. She’d wake up and it would wake me up. One time I said, “C’mon baby, put the phone down for a bit and come on over and let me put an arm around you.”
She got up.
“I don’t like the way you said that.”
She went out to the couch and turned on the TV. I could hear her crying.
I looked at the ceiling fan turning slowly around and around and listened to her cry under the murmur of the TV and eventually I fell back to sleep.
“What all did you lose in the box?” Mike asks.
“Just some personal shit,” I say, “And my DVD of Conan the Barbarian.”
“The greatest movie of all time!” Mike says. “I mean that. I’ll get you another copy myself, even if I have to steal it.”
I nod. Thank God for Arnold crushing his enemies, driving them before him, and hearing the lamentations of the women. In the length of time it takes to hear that line in my mind, I don’t think about Dancey.
When Mike gets me back to my place we just sit in the truck for a while.
“Do you want to go to Vegas?” Mike Asks.
I shake my head.
“LA? We can go into LA if you want. Let’s go out to the pier. Redondo even. Less crowded – We can get lunch on the pier and watch some old fuckers fish.”
“I’ll be alright.”
“Ok man, but if you aren’t better by next weekend we’re going to Vegas.”
I get out of the car and start walking in. There is a lizard on my stucco too, yellow-brown like sand and big-eyed, alert.
Mike backs up, stops, and leans out the window. “Next weekend I’m going to Vegas – With or without you!”
I half-smile and walk in. The lizard runs for the shadows around the corner and is gone.
Van Halen played on the radio. She told me, “Van Halen played my High School before they were called Van Halen. There’s a picture in my yearbook.”
I started to sing “Dance the Night Away” and she took over from me and finished it singing every verse and chorus in turn, a little slower and a little sweeter than Van Halen’s own recording, and it made me think that this was the way that the song should be sung. She had a softness to her voice, a purity, beautiful like her handwriting, and I believed her about the band playing her high school. But I told her that “everyone knows that song,” and I asked, “Do you know any others?”
“Try me,” She said.
I’d name one song after another and she’d lie there with her head on my shoulder and sing them, a little down tempo like she had “Dance the Night Away,” and every song I named she knew exactly. I even threw out “Never Had a Lot to Lose,” and she looked up at me and raised her eyebrow and said “That’s a Cheap Trick song,” and then she sang it too, chorus and verse, in that voice, her voice, her head on my shoulder looking away.
When I first told her that I loved her I told her over the phone. I said “I love you,” just like anyone else would, just that one time. So when I told her “remember who loves you,” it was always like everyone else says “I love you,” I was just referencing that first time. Like it will feel that way forever. But I never told her that. I never thought of explaining it that way until after it was over.
Why do things have to end?
Because they have to end.
It is never what is that beats you. It’s thinking about what should have been. When you are young you are soft until the first cut, and when you are old your scars rub against their scars, no matter how carefully you lie down beside one another, and you open up and bleed again.
I think of the lizards on the walls, holding their breath to be still against the overwhelming white and of Van Halen on the radio, and of how she knew all of the words to all of the songs. Maybe next weekend I will go to Vegas with Mike, or go into Redondo for lunch on the pier and watch the old men fish. I could go to Phoenix for a ball game with the kids. It doesn’t really matter. There will be a long and perfect drive with the radio on, playing all of the songs I know, lullabies to hypnotize, a little slower and a little sweeter than ever they were before.
Steve Passey is from Southern Alberta. Previous fiction has appeared in Canada, the UK, and the USA in Existere Journal, Big Pulp, The Molotov Cocktail, Minor Literature[s], The J.J. Outre’ Review, and others.