I need to tell you a little bit about Carol, the girl who lives in my head and whose story my editor covets, the girl whose plight drove me to the bar in which I was sitting staring at a wall of pictures of transvestites, the girl I was becoming to know better than either of my two wives or the woman, whom having gotten fed up with my sleeping to the crack of dusk and wandering around complaining I couldn’t find the words until sun-up, finally tossed be a few days prior. After grousing and begging for a fifth chance without effect , I moved my stuff into a storage unit near Hobby Airport and landed at the Commodore where the words continued not to come.
The words might not have come, but Carol was insistent I know everything about her and her problems, which she thought began when she went to Fat Rat Records in Fort Smith wearing high heels and a raincoat and nothing else, stepped in front of the pimply-faced clerk who had been ignoring her for weeks, unbuttoned the raincoat and opened it, leaving nothing to his imagination. The problem with this—other than the abject lack or decorum—was that he was twenty-seven and she was thirteen and the worry of decent society everywhere: an amazingly developed and precocious girl whose appearance rivaled that of any actress or model.
But her problems began so long ago as to have never registered to her as problems. Like the lobster in the pot of water not realizing something was amiss until it was too late, the water of her world had gotten too hot for most when her mother ran away three years ago and her oldest sister vanished shortly after that. And that was when her father noticed her and noticed she was becoming a woman and became more interested in her than any man should be with his daughter. “Don’t tell anyone, Carol. No one will believe you anyway, and it’s really just our special secret,” he would say as he slipped from her bed. He had some self-control; he never consummated anything, but he touched her and she would cry all night until finally, she adjusted to the water and simply fell asleep when he left her room.
They lived on a dirt road off highway 22, between a truck stop and a diner. Her mother had worked at the diner for as long as Carol could remember and her work was what supported the family because her father was a Ralph Cramden without the bus driving gig kind of guy—always scheming and dreaming and hatching one or another plans to start a business or develop the mythically improved mouse trap, and while he got close a couple of times, he inevitably failed and the failure led to drinking, the drinking to arguments, arguments to fights and eventually, mom, face swollen, would move out and sleep on one of the cots in the upper rooms of the truck stop.
The times her mother slept at the truck stop were the good times. Carol, her sisters and brother, would sit in a booth at the diner after school, doing homework and watching the black and white television and talking to the cooks, eating dinner with their mother, who, late at night would pick up her little brother and sister, and herding Carol and her older sister in front of her, slipped them in the house and kissed them goodnight. This would last a couple of weeks until her father would sober up and clean up, steal some flowers from somewhere, and go courting her mother again, and no matter what had transpired between them, he could make her laugh and she would give up and move back in and things were good until the next plan fell apart.
A woman was sitting in Bob’s chair. How she had gotten in past me, I cannot say, because she would have had to pass within three feet of my back and the chairs were directly in my line of sight. Lost in Carol’s story, I guess. in that internal but very real landscape.
She was the first woman I had seen in these last few days, except for the maid to exchange towels, and she was slender and attractive, wearing four-inch spiked heels and an emerald green dress that only drew attention to skin so pale as to be almost translucent.
I thought of the David Houston song. Last night all alone in a barroom, met a girl with a drink in her hand. She had ruby red lips and coal black hair and eyes that would tempt any man. Her hair had those electric blue highlights in them, which, when I sat down across from her, I saw matched her eyes.
“This Bob’s drink,” she asked as she picked up the glass holding the opalescent liquid. I nodded and she took a sip, leaving red lip smudges on the rim. She winced a bit. “A little on the medicinal side, don’t you think?”
“Yes. Too much so for me, which is why I switched for a minute to Mr. Turkey?” I was uncomfortable. Where did Bob go? Events like this, sitting innocently with another man’s girl in a strange bar did not generally end well. I knew this, had learned the lesson many times. Well, I was taught it many times, but the learning never seemed to stick, because here I was again. Temptation was flowing like wine. Yes, thank you Mr. Houston, it was. “My name is Bill. Would you like me to get you something more suitable?”
“Why that would be just lovely,” she said and settled into the chair and crossed her legs.
“Anything in particular?” I asked and she shook her head and said to surprise her. When I got to the bar, the guy behind it was laughing and not much help, but eventually, he told me what she drank and I carried her vodka tonic and my Pernod back to the table.