A butch walked up to me and said "Great dress" with a nod. But i knew the dress was nothing special and what she meant was "Great tits" and I didn't really mind. I'd already decided I wanted the man onstage behind the karaoke monitors. The one in the three-piece suit who picked an M.I.A. song this town is too small to recognize. He meant it too, with his finger guns in the air, while the softball team that likes to ironically sing Taylor Swift murmured impatiently around him. He was the one I wanted.
I turned to the butch and smiled. I started telling her about this species of wild potato native to Alaska whose flowers are wonderful and nutritious and good for eating, but whose roots slowly break down the body's ability to convert food into energy, so you eat and eat and shit and starve to death all at the same time. It wasn't a good story but it was long and I could tell it loudly and talk with my hands as I said it, in the hopes that Three-piece would notice from the stage. The butch wasn't interested and said she was going to the bathroom, so I loudly said "Knock 'em dead" because I am an asshole and I'd already had some gin.
I'd spent that afternoon in my mother's hospital room. She was going to be fine, it was just a little pneumonia. While I sat there picking at a scab on my elbow and bouncing one knee impatiently, three different women came in to lay hands on her and proclaim healing in the name of Jesus Christ. Just like that. Every time. "Proclaim healing in the name of Jesus Christ". When we were finally alone and she could see I was fidgety, my mother handed me the TV remote that was also a nurse call button. It had extra large buttons for elderly eyes and was attached to her bed by a thick gray wire. I knew it was a nice hospital because she got the Sundance Channel. I stopped there and Isabella Rossellini was talking to us about duck vaginas. It made my mother uncomfortable and I turned it off so she could go to sleep and I could lift a twenty from her handbag. She was going to be fine. It was just a little pneumonia.
I used my mother's twenty to buy four gin and tonics without tipping. Three-piece lifted one leg like a pissing dog and thrust his hips back and forth and looked at me while he sang the chorus. I pulled my shoulders back and tried to seem disinterested. Butch came back from the ladies' and I casually put an arm on hers. I laughed at nothing and tossed my hair around, leaned close to say witty things in her ear and did my best to seem with her every time I thought Three-piece might be looking over. If not a long-term source of income, he'd be a hot meal and a place to sleep tonight. I could see that much.
The night before I'd eaten garlic soup and watched PBS. The recipe was my own invention and the PBS was how I learned so much about wild potatoes native to Alaska. It was basically garlic and water and salt because that was pretty much all I had. It was hot at least, but I could still feel the garlic seeping out of my skin. Maybe Butch could smell it and that's why she didn't want me. The internet said garlic is good for tuberculosis and sexual stimulation, so at least I've got those bases covered.
Three-piece was wrapping up, swaying left to right in an awkward musical break. Butch's skin was purple in the glow of the bar sign. She had a new girl she was macking on down front in the area that could or could not be a dance floor depending on the song selection. I knew mine was coming up soon, because my name popped up in line on the monitor. I'd made an obscure choice from Dean Martin's country phase. I was out of cash, but went up to the bar anyway for another drink. Three-piece walked up and sidled beside me. He looked me up and down, pushed his long hair back from his face and said "Great tits". I set them down on the bar and did my best to act offended. He bought my gin and tonic and I ate the lime straight away and held it goofily over my teeth with my lips to let him know I'd had just enough to drink. If my mother had been there, she'd have said that all that acidity would eat at my enamel. I didn't care though. I flung the rind onto the bar and took the glass with me on stage.
All of a sudden I was praying for rain in California and holding the vowel long and slow on wi-i-ine. When my heart was broken and woman was on my mind, I winked at Butch, but the rest of the time I sang to every man in the room but Three-piece. When the last line twanged out I shook the ice in my glass and handed my mic to the DJ. He smiled and I touched his face and he grabbed my ass and said "Let's hear it" to the crowd. Everybody clapped but Three-piece. He just leaned and adjusted his crotch and called me over silently with his chin. I went, because it was time, and followed him out. A sweet-faced kid beamed as I passed. "You moved me," he said, and traced an invisible tear down his cheek with his forefinger.
He pushed me in the back of his Taurus and started tugging at my underwear. I unbuttoned his suit jacket and tried to run my hand underneath around him, but all I hit was seam. The vest was just a front, sewn into the lining. I pushed his mouth off mine with my face. I looked down at the vest. Its buttons couldn't close, but were safety-pinned instead. He fidgeted with them for a second then pulled the whole thing off over his head like a child. He smiled and let his face hover over mine and the gravity pulling all around made him seem rounder and redder. I kissed him just so I could stop looking.
I heard my cell phone vibrating on the floorboard and reached around for it. He leaned to the side and I pulled my dress back down and held it tight at my crotch as I bent over to see the screen. It was that expensive hospital--I could tell by the area code. But I didn't answer it. I know she just found that twenty missing. She was going to be fine. It was just a little pneumonia.
Lesley Clayton compiles obituaries in Austin, Texas. Her fiction has appeared in Esopus and Knee-Jerk.