By Tom McDade, USA (Published in Issue 2)
When Owen took me over to meet Faith, I saw the outline of a body carved in the top of her table and thought of chalked pavement at a murder scene.
“Introducing my good buddy, Tom Sanford,” shouted Owen, like a MC in a nightclub using a bum microphone.
It was January 1965 at The Paddock Bar in Lincoln RI. Ten-thirty A.M. and Faith was halfway through a pitcher of beer. Wobbly-drunk as I was, there was no room to criticize a drinking style. Lately, I’d been drowning a pencil-scrawled “Dear John” that I’d received at the start of the six-month Med Cruise we’d recently completed. I’d been okay over there, but being back had me thinking about my lost love and lushing as if my legs were as hollow as I wanted my memory of Mary to be. I’d even caught myself trying to pray her into oblivion. “Our Father who art in heaven,” was as far as I ever got. I wondered what Faith’s excuse could be since she looked pregnant with triplets.
I noticed she was ring-less as she extended a slender hand. She might not have been beautiful, but I couldn’t tell, since booze tricks my eyelashes into generous artist brushes. I blinked and crowned her Miss Universe. Her long brown hair fell over a t-shirt that must have been extra large, VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS printed on it. As her dark eyes baked mine, her fingers slowly zigzagged along the carved bodyline like a polygraph needle.
“Pleased to meet you, Tom Sanford,” she said, giving my hand a quick, gentle squeeze. As she reached to refill her glass, Owen left for the parking lot phone booth to call his nurse girlfriend Maureen who didn’t get off work until twelve.
Owen Small was a shipmate on the USS Mullinnix tied up in Newport. Lincoln was Owen’s hometown.
I beat Faith to the pitcher and poured a beer with a nice head. “Hmmm,” she said, lighting a cigarette and dragging so passionately her cheeks might have touched, “a gentleman.”
“Try to be,” I said, suddenly wishing Owen would return.
“You must be here for the races, she said, only reason to visit Lincoln. My father used to have a tip-sheet.” She talked non-stop noting her dad’s biggest successes. She had a wall full of framed sheets. Once he’d nailed all nine races. A horse on that card named Naturalist returned $78.60. She reeled off names of horses, owners, jockeys and trainers as if she were the editor of a trade magazine then abruptly switched gears.
“Say, why do sailor trousers have thirteen buttons?” she asked. Such a question from a woman in her condition rocked me. I didn’t give the standard answer: “Thirteen chances to say ‘no’.”
“Thirteen original colonies,” I said. She laughed softly, bit her lower lip and stared at her nearly empty pitcher. I went to the bar for another one. I got a shot for myself.
The Paddock was located across from Lincoln Downs Race Track. The sweeper who’d given me my first and lasting impression when I’d arrived at nine-thirty.
He’d driven a pile of dirt into a corner as if he’d been practicing shuffleboard, not unusual in itself, but an old bloodhound mix named Howitzer who’d been napping was on the receiving end of the thrust. Howitzer had wagged his tail and yawned. The sweeper tossed a pickled egg to the mutt who devoured it and then sneezed.
The Paddock reminded me of Rosa’s Bar in Naples where Owen and I had gone to celebrate a winning afternoon at the Agnano Race Course. Rosa’s was a sailor bar not far from the USO. Like The Paddock, its jukebox was top heavy with country music and Patsy Cline was a favorite. Owen swore Maureen resembled Patsy in looks and voice. I missed any similarity in photos and she’d never sent some tape recording she’d made as he’d always promised she would.
Walking back to Faith’s table, I hoped the Naples horse luck would continue at Lincoln. Faith stopped me as I started to sit. She flicked each trouser button with her finger while naming the thirteen original colonies in a tone that made them sound like sex acts. She might have put an “n” before the last “t” in Connecticut but I wouldn’t swear to it. I was as unhinged as a tornado-flung door by her tongue occasionally wetting her lips while reciting the list. I was speechless but my hands remembered how to applaud.
One hand behind her back and the other on her belly, she gave a token bow. “Help me with the beer,” she said, “I’ve got to run.” She traced the bodyline and drank
quickly. Her eyes welled up and I wondered if it was from drinking too fast or just plain sadness. I wished I could comfort her, but at nineteen I didn’t feel I’d developed that skill. Tears never flowed and, before she left she gave me a twenty. “Pick a longshot for me,” she said. When I stood to say goodbye, she took my hand and moved it over her belly until a fingertip rested on her navel. “The fourteenth button is good luck,” she said.
“That colony will be named Ellis jr.” She winked and left me behind asking the pitcher and her table, “Don’t that beat all?” I muttered in the direction of Howitzer.
Before long, The Paddock was full of men talking horses and peeking into Racing Forms as if they were checking on sleeping babies. Owen returned from the phone and
after selecting “Sweet Dreams” several times on the jukebox, he bought a Slim Jim and sky-hooked it into Howitzer’s hoop of a waiting mouth.
“How’s Florence Nightingale?” I asked.
“Has to work two hours over,” he said. “Pisses me off.”
“Come to the track for the Double,” I suggested.
“Only Double I need involves scotch and then nap time.” For all the drinking I’d done with Owen Small, I’d never seen him smashed. He always rescued himself with a nap. I’d seen him sleep against a Spanish whorehouse wall and among a merchant’s wares in a Turkish bazaar.
“How come you never told me about Faith?” I asked.
“Yeah, I left you talking with Faith. How come you don’t have a permanent blush?”
“Nothing to blush about,” I said, suddenly feeling like guarding my conversation with her. “We talked about horses like everyone else around here.”
“The mating habits of horses, if I know Faith.”
“No,” I said, “but what’s her story?”
“More stories than a dozen libraries,” said Owen, searching out a spot in the bar mirror that didn’t need re-silvering. He combed his jet-black hair and fiddled with his mustache. Owen was a handsome bastard, always getting freebees from the hookers.
Hanging around with him boosted my stock since I looked about fifteen and was prone to acne outbursts, not to mention one ear sticking out farther than the other.
“Tell a couple,” I said.
“The only one that matters right now,” said Owen, “is the baby she’s carrying. The father is my cousin Ellis. A couple of months ago, that sorry shit was killed by a state trooper while resisting arrest. Watch out, she might be husband hunting.” He mussed my hair like he always did.
“Hell, she must be twenty-five or twenty-six,” I said, liking the idea of such a beauty wanting me whatever the motive.
While Owen went to the men’s room, I borrowed a Racing Form, sat at the crazy table and tried to pick a longshot to haul Faith’s twenty. One of my techniques was to look for a horse with “star” in its name because my favorite thing about being at sea was
the sky having so many more than on land. No luck, then I got some help from “Sweet Dreams” still playing on the jukebox. A filly listed at twenty to one galloped off the page: Dream Countess, a chronic quitter. She’d led to the to the quarter pole last out. Cicero, the bartender, brought me a shot of Crown Royal. “On Owen,” he said. It went down as smoothly as apple juice. Owen stood watching, hands on hips as I ran my finger slowly along the Faith line. A chill came over me that I figured was nothing more than this Paddock Bar story that I’d tell and retell until doomsday, registering on my soul as
indelibly as “The Lord’s Prayer,” first six words anyway. Owen must have read my mind and decided to complicate any notions I had about Faith.
“Did you see the body outline in the table?” he asked.
“Couldn’t miss it,” I answered, “she was always running her finger over it like there was gold dust to be smuggled out under her nails.”
“One Saturday night, Ellis cut around Faith with his hunting knife. He’d just finished going down on her in front of a packed house.”
“Hell of an imagination you got,” I said. He called over an old bearded gent wearing a leather cowboy hat and mirrored sunglasses. He swore to it on a mountain of dead souls. “Quite a woman,” I said, without cracking a smile, my voice full of admiration. They laughed as if I were Bob Hope clowning in a war zone.
“I thought she might have seen a chalk outline of Ellis’s body at the death scene, carved it in the table with a nail file from memory,” I said. Just then, the table lit up, startling me. It was like a sci-fi scene but it was just sun. The clouds had lifted.
“You better not look at any of those nags across the street like that,” said Owen. You’ll spook them sure as shit.”
I was sure as shit, beginning to wonder where in the cosmos I’d landed while at the same time hoping Faith would carve an adventure out for me -- yeah, that’s right, carve one out for me.
Thomas Michael McDade lives in Monroe, CT. He's a computer programmer working in Meriden, CT on software used in the wholesale / retail plumbing house industry. McDade is married, no kids or pets. He’s U.S. Navy Vet. His fiction has most recently appeared in The Unheard Magazine, poetry in Nerve Cowboy. Three chapbooks of his have been published, E Pluribus Aluminum, Liquid Paper Press, Austin, TX and Our Wounds, Pitchfork Press, also Austin and Thrill and Swill, Kendra Steiner Editions, San Antonio, TX.