I like to listen to music and imagine the stories that would go with a song. The following is a sketch, really, what I imagine this song would read like.
Not Another Morning
He rubbed the velvet of her earlobe between his thumb and forefinger. Her ears had been pierced once, and he could feel the fine tube of scar tissue inside. She moaned and turned her head away without waking.
He got out of bed and walked to the kitchen. He lit a cigarette and spooned coffee into a filter.
The sun hadn’t come up yet; it was the only part of the day that wouldn’t be hot. He wore a pair of boxer shorts that had once been blue, but were now closer to white. The hairs on his arms and legs stood straight up from the skin.
The smell of the percolating coffee seeped through the air. He wondered if it would waft back to the bedroom and wake her. She hadn’t gone to sleep more than two hours before.
As he stood there he thought for the thousandth time, “I should leave.” At first, it would be for breakfast at the diner down the road. After breakfast, he’d go into town, stay into the afternoon. By nightfall, when he was in his red truck driving black highways, he would be gone for good.
The coffee machine spit out a few concluding spurts. He finished his cigarette and poured himself a cup.
He stood near the counter taking sips. In the quiet pause between sips, he heard a steady thud in his ears—his heart, his blood, his life through his body. He stopped drinking for a moment and listened. With the rhythmic beat came a thought.
–Oh, God, not another morning, not another cold, gray morning.
The words didn’t feel like his. He checked the labyrinths of thought and sensation inside his chest and stomach. Nothing that could rise up with any strength.
He tried to think of how it would be when she woke. Nights like the one they’d just had hadn’t been commonplace in her life before she met him. Or “found him,” as she liked to say.
She wouldn’t say much. She’d stare through him. She’d let her silence speak for her. And when the words came, they would come softly.
He finished his cup of coffee and poured another. It was still early. If he called Jesse, he could get on his crew for the day. A day’s work wouldn’t put him even, but not going to work for the day would only put him further behind. He carried his coffee back to the bedroom and searched for his telephone.
Jesse was the closest thing he had to a friend, but he wasn’t that close. Two years prior, when he’d been spending most nights under a tarp in the bed of his pickup truck, he hadn’t even thought to ask Jesse for his couch. The two men had not passed more than a thousand words between them since they’d met. Mostly it was the same few words over and over again.
Jesse said there was room on his crew for an extra man. The work was grueling, spreading concrete in the hot day, but he had done such labor for as long as he could remember.
His truck had been out of gas that morning, so he’d taken money out of her wallet to fill it up. There had been a time when he’d left notes, small IOUs or thank yous. Those days were gone. Not that he thought she lost count, but the small amounts didn’t seem to matter next to the big things, like the rent he was never able to pay.
“How are you?” Jesse asked, when he pulled up.
“Coming from that woman’s?” Jesse never remembered her name.
He pulled on the heavy rubber boots he kept in the back of his truck. Jesse handed him a steel rake.
“Good as I ever do.”
“Two, three hours?”
Jesse snorted. “Young bastard. If I had your energy.”
The concrete truck backed into the site and he began pulling the concrete across the area it was destined for, smoothing and stretching in quick motions. The sun was beating down now. Beside him, other men dragged and raked. He felt the rasp of dehydration and realized the he had forgotten his thermos full of water. He could see it sitting on the counter in her kitchen, beads of liquid collecting down its sides. It was going to be a long day.
After work, he and Jesse headed to a bar. The bartender was in her early twenties with blond hair that fell down her shoulders, past the delicate collarbone exposed by a scoop-necked shirt. It was the most elegant part of her soon-to-be-used-up body.
She knew him well enough to know that he drank a rum and coke first, then pints of Budweiser. He looked at her and remembered a long kiss once, in the back room, with the chalk of cocaine running down her sinuses, onto his own tongue. She smiled at him.
“That woman still paying your way?” Jesse asked.
“Yep. Can’t seem to make a go of anything.”
“Get your ass home,” Jesse said. He wondered briefly what home he meant—back to her place, or some larger home where he could get back on his feet, where there was a bed waiting, or at least a couch, with no questions asked. “Or make a push. Start your own concrete business. You have the know-how.”
“Nothing ever seems to work,” he said.
They drank in silence.
“How’re the kids?”
“Well, you know. The little one is running around and the older one’s talking. Took the little one for some shots the other day. Screamed like hell.”
The bartender was smiling at them from down the bar. He tried to imagine his girlfriend walking in, seeing the bartender’s looks and starting a fight, but one of these women didn’t know him well enough to want to fight over him, and the other knew him too well to want to. His drink was nearly finished.
The bartender brought him a beer. Jesse had lapsed into his characteristic silence. He loved drinking with Jesse because of it.
“You gonna play your guitar for us tonight?” the bartender asked him. So that was it. He’d hauled his guitar case out from behind the front seats of his pick-up the last time he’d been at this bar and sang a song or two. It was something he hardly ever did anymore. He’d once had aspirations of writing the sort of songs he’d grown up on, the ones they didn’t even play on the late night stations anymore. He still sang a song or two when he was under the influence and in the mood.
He looked across the bar at her tilted head, her smile. She was waiting on him, waiting for a yes. It would be simple to please her. Get the guitar, play something his dad had taught him when he was a kid. Instead he looked her straight in the eye, past her smile, past the flirtatiousness, past the limp hair, and shook his head.
“No, sweetheart. I don’t think I’m gonna do that tonight.”
After that bar he went to another. And a third. He lost Jesse. Then he went to the house of a 19-year-old drug dealer with a gun holstered to his belt. By the time he pulled back into her driveway, the money he had made was gone.
From the outside, the house looked like something in a storybook. Golden and dim like a cabin at the end of a long trail. He paused outside. A twelve pack of beer hung from his hand.
She was sitting at the table in white cotton panties and a bra. She took him in all at once. The old clothes, the messy hair, the boozy smell, the beer, the old work boots, the concrete dust. She looked through him to the door.
“Do you want to have a drink with me?”
“It’s Saturday night. Have a drink with me.”
He pulled out a can and popped the top for her.
“Drink it, baby.”
She took the beer. Her eyes were somber, brown as a doe’s. She always looked sad, had since the day he’d met her. They’d been at a bar. She’d made a mistake. Pick someone you don’t know, fall in love with him. Someone who doesn’t give a shit about anything, himself included. But it was no worse a mistake than most people made. And most people went on living with their mistakes, just like she was.
She sipped the beer. Soon she would loosen up, laugh. He would stroke her hair and they would fuck. They would wake up and it would be Sunday. The loneliness would feel better than it did today.
“It’s late,” she said.
“Yes. It is.”
They sat and drank. He thought of how the house looked like a storybook from the outside.