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Listening to George Jones photo

He wanted two girls, but only found the one. She wanted a hundred dollars.

She wanted to get out of this room, go back down to the casino. He wanted to play some music, but he couldn’t think of what to play.

She wanted to scream.

He wanted her to stop being so quiet.

He wanted to say, “Why don’t you take your clothes off or something?” She wanted to scream. 

“I’m just trying to find some music to play,” he said, looking at his phone. She nodded.

On the table by the window there was a bottle of Jimmy Walker Black, a plastic cup half full of scotch, a pack of Marlboro Reds with a lighter on top, a black plastic ashtray, a couple white plates from the room service he had ordered earlier in the night, a gun.

He set the phone down on the table, music streaming from its tiny speaker. He wanted to complete the image in his head, so he played George Jones. She wanted to know what it was like to be a man, to have all that power, to take instead of give.

He wanted to shoot something.

She wanted to be wearing something like a very small dress, nothing on underneath. She wanted to be able to pull the dress up over her head and be totally naked and lie back on the bed and get it over with and get the hundred dollars and go back down to the casino. Instead, she was wearing a T-shirt, blue jeans, a belt, socks, a pair of tennis shoes, green underwear, a white bra. She hadn’t planned on doing this tonight. She never did.

By the time she saw the gun, it was too late. She was already in the room, sitting on the foot of the bed, the door closed, locks thrown. A small black revolver, barely noticeable in the low light of the lamps. Once, when she was a child, walking down by the creek, she almost stepped on a snake. It was late in the evening and the snake’s black body blended with the gloom by the water. The way she felt then was how she felt now, as if her body had just become real. He stood close to the gun. He could pick it up anytime he wanted.

She wanted to describe him as sickly, malnourished. He wanted to describe her as mousey.
He wanted to say, “You look really normal. Like you don’t do this kind of thing.”

He said, “Is this music alright?”

She wanted to scream.

“I like George Jones,” she said.

He smiled, picked up the plastic glass of scotch, and took a sip. He grabbed the Marlboros and the lighter and lit one. He offered her the pack, but she shook her head. After that he offered her a glass of scotch, but she declined that too. He was twenty-six years old. She, thirty-one. Both from Texas. Neither wanted to share this information with the other.

It was a pleasure to smoke in a hotel room.

He wanted to feel strong again. He was tired of being sick. The mornings at the dialysis clinic, the needles as thick as coffee straws, the bloody tubes, the faces of the dying under the florescent lights, he was tired of all that. She wanted to know how she had ever let it get to so bad. He wanted it to be raining.

“Thing about listening to George Jones is that no matter how bad you’re feeling, he’s always feeling worse.”

He told her this, standing by the table, smoking a cigarette, looking at her body. She smiled, but didn’t say anything. Afterwards a really hard silence fell over the two of them. He stubbed out the cigarette and told her to take off her shirt, although what he really wanted to do was to pick up the gun and shoot her, or himself, or the window by the table, or all three. If he could have shot her, himself, then the window, in that exact order, he would have picked up the gun and done it. But he couldn’t shoot out the window after shooting himself, and it couldn’t be any other way, so he told her to take off her shirt.

She wanted to be able to take everything off in one pull, to be wearing a small black dress, or even a sack, nothing underneath. It felt so much sadder to do it piece by piece. 

Get it over with, get back down there, get a drink, get some cigarettes. That’s what she wanted. Lap the casino, see the lights, hear the music, find the right slot, slide a twenty in, press the button, take a long drink, light a cigarette, empty out. Sometimes, she would look up for the first time in hours and see that everyone was wet. They were covered in rain. It was raining outside and she had no idea. It was storming. The world had changed and she didn’t know: that’s what she wanted.

The mornings in the clinic, big needles in his arm, the blood, the pain. Whole days lost in sickness, too weak to leave the bed, too tired to watch TV, just lying there, staring at the ceiling, wishing it would rain at least. The pain was deep inside, in his guts, spreading like a mold. It was in his dreams: the dying faces under the fluorescent lights, women he used to know, dark clouds gathering over an open field, tired horses lying down. Once, when he was a child, his father grounded him for three whole months. Each day after school he was ordered straight to his room where he was allowed no television, no radio, no phone, no contact with his siblings. He had been caught masturbating in the school bathroom. He was in third grade. That’s what dying felt like, a silent bedroom after school, every day, until there were no more days. He took another sip of scotch. He looked at her, then down at the gun, then out the window. He wanted to feel strong again. He wanted rain.

As she pulled her shirt up over her head, in that brief darkness, she felt a wave of déjà vu. As though she had lived this moment a thousand times. As though she’d have to keep living it forever. Earlier in the night she had nearly two thousand dollars. Now the casino had it. George Jones sang. Someone passed in the hallway. Someone laughed. She folded the shirt and set it carefully on the bed beside her. She didn’t want it to get wrinkled.

It was early August. The dog days. It hadn’t rained in weeks.

She looked more like somebody’s quiet older sister, getting ready for bed, than a prostitute. She wanted to tell him about the black snake in the evening gloom. She wanted to scream.

“Want me to take my bra off?” she said.

He wanted to shoot something.

Her breasts were small, good.

If he could shoot himself in the head, and then the window, if he could feel his brains go out the back of his skull, if he could be dead, and still stand up and point a gun and pull the trigger and shatter a window, three stories high, in the middle of the night, to hear the shards of glass falling like cold white stars through the hot dark night—he would be gone from this world right now. He didn’t even want to shoot her anymore. After he had seen her small tan breasts, and the small good nipples, he didn’t want to do that anymore. He wanted to reach out and feel her breasts but he also wanted to feel nothing. He chewed the inside of his cheek, looking at her body. Fish or cut bait, his father used to tell him when he was a boy, unable to move or think, afraid of something he couldn’t name. 

“I’m sick,” he wanted to say. “I’m dying.”

He wanted to cut off his hands. She wanted to scream like picking up that gun and shooting herself in the head. All her thoughts, all her worries, in one big sound. And she wanted everyone to hear it. Her father and two brothers down in Dangerfield, working the night shift at the Pilgrim’s factory, long skinny knives in their hands, nostrils full of chicken blood. All the men that had fucked her. All the men she had lived with. She looked down at his pale hands on her tan breasts. She could smell him, the scotch, the cigarettes, something else she couldn’t name, some kind of rot. She closed her eyes, and thought of a man she saw the other morning in a roadside diner, having breakfast with his family, running his hand along his wife’s shoulders, leaning over to look at his son’s drawing on the back of a menu—she wanted to scream so loud he would hear her in his dreams, this random man, and wake up suddenly, next to his sleeping wife, and be very afraid.

He wanted two girls. He wanted to watch her have sex with another woman on a hotel bed. He wanted to stand back and smoke cigarettes and tell them what to do and jerk off, maybe, if he could get it going. He wanted porn in real life in the room with him. But he only found the one tonight, so this couldn’t happen. He took another sip of scotch, and closed his eyes for a moment. Under the fluorescent lights, the dying faces. In his dreams, the gathering clouds. A tired black horse lies down in a field, and doesn’t get up again. He opened his eyes, sighed, unzipped himself, and tugged himself out through the zipper.

She remained seated on the edge of the bed. She never got all the way undressed, and felt more naked for it.

George Jones sang.

She wanted him to come, so she could go. But he couldn’t get hard. He felt like a piece of raw meat in her mouth.

The bottle, the cigarettes, the gun, the hotel room, George Jones, like pieces of fruit in a still life, arranged just so. He wanted to forget everything he had ever been. He wanted to become a different person. To bring a gun to a hotel room at an Indian casino. To drink good scotch out of a cheap plastic cup. To hire a prostitute. To hire two prostitutes. To shoot yourself in the head. To shoot out the window with a hole in your head. To turn your head to look out the window, while you’re getting head, but it’s dark, and you can only see yourself there, where you thought there might be sky. He wanted to shoot something.

“Okay,” he said. “I think that’s good.”

She looked up at him, wiped her mouth.

He zipped himself back up and walked over to the table and grabbed the scotch and took a sip and lit another cigarette. The gun was there, and he looked at it for a long time, then picked it up and hefted it in his hand. It was a good, heavy gun. An almost brand new revolver, all black. He had bought it from a man at a gun show. It felt good to hold the gun. He looked at her to see if her face had changed. “Pretty, ain’t it?” he asked. She wanted to scream.

He wanted it to rain. She wanted a hundred dollars, to be back down on the casino floor, feeding the money into a machine, with a tall strong drink in her hand, and a fresh pack of cigarettes on the shelf of the machine. She wanted to press the button, to watch the symbols spin, to sip her drink, and when the money was right, when she’d gotten herself back up, she wanted to light the first cigarette of the pack, a Camel, and feel perfect again.

“You want the money?” he asked.

He took his wallet out, took the money out, five crisp twenty dollars bills, and placed it on the table. He didn’t want to hand it to her. He wanted to watch her walk over here and pick it up.

She rose from the bed, topless. The whole time he stood there watching, smoking, holding the gun.

He wanted to shoot her, but for it to be like shooting himself. He wanted shooting himself to be like shooting out a window. He wanted it to rain, or for the black horse to get back up, the one kept lying down in his dreams. He wanted the clouds to break up, if it wasn’t going to rain. He wanted the dying faces to go ahead and die. He lowered the gun. He put it down on the table. He picked up the phone.

The bottle, the cigarettes, the gun, the hotel room, George Jones, like pieces of fruit in a still life, arranged just so.

He wanted her to take a picture of him.

“Just with me standing right over here by the table,” he said.

He put a fresh Marlboro in his mouth.

“I’m sick,” he wanted to say. “I’m dying.”

“Hold on,” he said. “Don’t take it yet. Wait for me to light the lighter.”

He wanted to look like Waylon Jennings on the cover of the Taker/Tulsa album. Unlit cigarette between his lips. Head lowered. Bending to the flame. She wanted it to be over.

She raised the camera, pointed it at him.

She wanted a good strong drink, a fresh pack of Camels.

He lowered his head and lit the flame.

The flash sparked up the black window like lighting.

Finally, a few days later, it rained. He was lying in bed trying to fall back asleep and opened his eyes when he thought he heard rain. The rain came harder. It pelted the metal roof of the trailer like dimes. He didn’t know what time it was. He couldn’t remember the day. She was cooking breakfast at her mom’s house. The coffee was done and the eggs were almost done and the radio was on and the windows were open. A cool wind blew into the house. She was some twenty miles south of him, and it wasn’t raining yet, but she could already smell it. The rain rolled over him and came down to her. Only for a few minutes did it rain on them both at the same time. He was in bed the whole time. She was in the kitchen, the hallway, the living room, outside on the front porch, watching it rain on the trees. She went back in before the eggs could burn. He felt a little better, hearing the rain, and wished he could get up and go out there and feel it, but he couldn’t. He was too tired. His feet were swollen to twice their size. He hadn’t pissed in days. There was a window by the bed but he couldn’t see much out of it. A shed was pressed right up against it. He watched the rain roll down the white wall of the shed. She carried a chair outside and a small table and had breakfast and coffee out there on the front porch while it rained.