Joe

He's sitting alone, mournfully singing along with the jukebox to November Rain.

"Lulu." He calls me over, and grips my wrist. "This song reminds me of my ex-wife." As he says this, sadness or theatrics twist his face into an exaggerated grimace.

"You have an ex-wife?" This is startling news. He has been a customer at the bar from the beginning, and he has never once mentioned her. I want to meet whatever woman once slept with this man.

Did she love him? Had she actually been attracted to him? He's extremely muscular, built by years of hard physical labor, but the parts of his face look like they've been thrown together in the bottom of a bucket of fishing tackle, and his teeth look like bits of rotten crackers wedged into his gums where his teeth should have been. He never talks about anything other his work: the pain in his back from lifting frozen fish all day, the annoyance of driving a van back and forth to farmer's markets, how terrible it was to reorganize the cooler at the store. For hours and hours he will complain, hardly pausing for a breath, continuing to complain to me even if I walk away and am clearly talking to someone else. Maybe his ex-wife found this to be stimulating conversation. Maybe she didn't speak English and it never mattered what he said.

"She's Polish. She's a real bitch. Now she lives in Wisconsin." He continues to mutter unintelligibly about their life together, but I can't understand him now. After almost a year of spending Sunday nights with him at the bar, I've learned to mostly decipher his garbled, slurred speech. Not that it matters. Mostly I just smile and nod.

"Good riddance to bad rubbish," I offer, and he finds this hilarious.

I wonder if they were together before or after his homelessness. Maybe she is the reason he was once homeless? Now he lives alone in a tiny one room basement studio. He works 80 hour weeks and makes around $300 a week, cash. He says he has friends, but I've only ever seen him with an abusive alcoholic woman who curses at him, demanding he buy her shots until her toothless husband descends from upstairs to drag her back home.

He has fallen in love with me. I suspected as much, and then the other night, he came around the bar and gripped me, kissing my hair, and told me. I let him hug me, even though he smells like sweat and sausages. The hug lasted too long, and I had to push him off with some effort.

"I want to take you to the movies. Just as friends."

The alcoholic woman rolls her eyes, and motions me towards her.

"Don't trust him." She cackles, brimming with secrets.

"Oh no?"

She smirks for a moment, thinking to herself. She blinks, and it seems she falls asleep for a minute.

"Don't trust him," she whispers loudly, coming to life again. "He says it's just as friends, but he wants the sex from you." She punches him hard in the lower back, and he howls in pain. Her husband suddenly appears out of the darkness, shrieking at her from the doorway, and she runs outside.

"There goes Coo-Coo," he says as he stares after her.

My friends arrive, and now I sit with them. He stares down the bar at me for an hour or so, until he motions me back over. He gives me his number.

"I'm old fashioned, Lulu. I just want to take you to the movies." He presses a dollar into my palm, and he smiles as I tell a lie: "I will try to call you."

I love him too, in a way, just not in a way where I'd give him the sex.

He disappears into the darkness, hunched and stumbling, back into his tiny basement where he lives alone, back to his life of low-paying back-breaking labor.

 

- Lulu Callier