by Devin Kelly
The drums on Call Me on Your Way Back Home, I said.
Yeah, Bunny said.
They don’t come in till so late. And he don’t sing over them. Just moans over the harp. It’s like he’s got to stop singing to beat out his heartache on the drums.
You got it, Bunny said. That sounds right.
Bunny wasn’t listening, but I was. He had his car dreams and screw dreams and high dreams and fast dreams. You give a man a bunch of dreams and it’s like he’s living life asleep. I had dreams too but they made no sense and each morning when I woke trying to piece them together was like trying to scramble eggs with no cheese. Just no point. Cheese makes everything better.
We had just got back from playing 8 ball down past the other dives and next to the overhang of the no-more theater where sometimes we climbed onto the roof from the parking lot behind to smoke and look at stars and, too drunk, try to reach up and grab them. One time I swear to god I got one, and I opened my hand and saw this burst of light and my hand burned for days but I didn’t care. I had touched the stuff of sky and felt its magic.
But Bunny at the pool hall listened. We put five dollars in the juke for five songs and I ended with that slow one but we began with Danger Zone and somewhere in there Stevie Nicks made us feel sexy enough to hit on the girls dancing by themselves, though nothing came of that and that was alright. Bunny, though, always had the game in mind. We played singles for a bit, a few dozen dollar games, Bunny breaking and drumming the balls like door knockers, saying hello before he said goodbye, each ball falling called into the pocket he pointed toward like he was a shepherd or a magician or the man at the switchboard of a train yard. I smoked my smokes and watched myself lose, knowing I’d be on his team soon.
Bunny, look there, I said. And he did and nodded.
Two men came over and took their beers to their mouths at the same time like something rehearsed and then one, beer still at his lips, pulled out a wad of bills and the other stripped a five from the fold his friend was holding and it was too graceful and strange for real life. On the speakers Jimmy Buffett sang and nothing seemed right. Bunny chalked his cue, motioned for one of them to rack the balls. I stood still.
We won two-fifty that night from these men who looked like convicts from a vaudeville show. Bunny broke and broke and broke and broke. Bunny talked to himself. Bunny talked to the balls.
He said send yourself home buddy.
He said be a little softer next time.
He said curve like a woman’s skin.
He said treat me good, love.
He said I’m gonna take you for a ride.
Our collective ash piled on the floor and I thought of volcanoes. Our embers lit the air around our faces and I thought of someone I had once loved and how I could’ve watched her floor-sit and put makeup on her face. Take it off, I would’ve said. And do it again. Take if off. And we would’ve been like that for days, stripping ourselves before making ourselves again. And somewhere in there some loving would make itself known and present and it would be good and I would make coffee after and kiss the stain her lipstick made on the mug. I know I can be better than I am at everything.
So when Bunny was running the table without my help I walked half-drunk to the pay phone and leaned against it and called her. Somewhere above me it was Jethro Tull and nothing felt right.
Hello, I said.
Yes, she said.
It’s me, I said.
I know, she said.
Across the room, Bunny leaned through what seemed six different colors of light to kiss the cue ball off a solid. The vaudeville twins still sipped their beers in unison like men escaped from a tintype.
Can I ask you something, I said. Was there ever a thing I was good enough at that it made you stop what you were doing just to watch?
No, she said.
Nothing? Nothing even simple?
No, nothing. Nothing even simple.
What about anyone else?
You know I won’t answer that.
You getting love from other people these days, I said.
What do you think?
I paused. I didn’t know what to think. Sometimes the whole world swirls around me and I don’t know what it was that made me dizzy. Sometimes I got nothing firm to keep me company. Even the stars move, I heard. They’re moving round all my stillness. I scratched my what-you-could-call-a-beard.
It hurts, I said.
If it don’t, there’s something wrong.
Can I call you on my w-
And then the tone. And the Eagles playing up above. What soft shit. From across the bar, Bunny gazed at me and all the way through me, from his hands peeked out the battered and tattered leaves of bills.
Back home, Bunny paged through a magazine. We sat among photos in a painting of smoke.
When Bunny wasn’t listening, I said I love you, Bunny.
He said you got it.
When Bunny wasn’t listening, I said I could watch you all day, Bunny.
He said me too.
When Bunny wasn’t listening, I said I feel so alone.
He said don’t.
He passed out with his hands in his pants and I took the pup for a walk. It was a brittle kind of cold, and the night cleared space for its darkness. The pup looked up and bit at the stars, hungry as a slave, steam fogging up the space between us. She wanted to eat the sky away and I wanted to watch. When I kneeled down to stroke the space behind her ears, she opened her mouth to let me see what she had caught. And light came blinding out, beautiful.
Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in New York City. He is the author of the collaborative chapbook with Melissa Smyth, This Cup of Absence (Anchor & Plume) and the forthcoming collection, In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen (ELJ Publications). He has been nominated for both the Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes. He works as a college advisor in Queens, teaches poetry at Bronx Community College, and lives in Harlem.
Art: “Magazine Girlfriend” by Michelle Johnsen
Michelle Johnsen (art editor) is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine, EcoWatch.com, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by AP, weather.com, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at] gmail.com.