By Sean Lovelace © 2005
Summer break and I was alone and floating. It was Tennessee highway 40 and a one-beer buzz, the type of buzz that liked everything: semi trucks, trees, soybean fields, crows tugging at exploded McDonald’s bags, the song on the radio. The song was by Fleetwood Mac and did it ever sound true, so true that although I can’t remember the title now, I thought then about buying the CD when I reached Nashville.
That was the one beer talking.
I was going to Nashville to see a girl. We’d met last fall in the drunken, orange crowd flowing out of the University of Tennessee football stadium like the world’s largest screwdriver (the cocktail invented by Gulf of Mexico oilmen, not the tool). We talked, exchanged numbers, she ran her fingers through her hair, I nodded my head, and so on.
“My friends call me Coffee,” she told me as one of them guided her away, “because I like to grind.”
I called her before leaving school and she invited me to her lake house. She said she had a sailboat and ski boat and sailboard and I figured we’d sleep together. We did. In the two days I stayed in Nashville we made love in the kitchen and in the living room and in her Toyota Celica and in the warm water beneath the sailboard. Once we even had sex in her bed, but that’s not what I want to write about.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Her mother answered the door. My buzz tumbled away like a hubcap. I didn’t know her mother was at the lake house. Or her father. I should describe them here, but I’m exhausted and parental descriptions are # 2 on my don’t-want-to-write-about list.
Let’s move to dinner.
What her mother called a California salad: corkscrew pasta, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, dill weed, red onions, vinegar, black pepper, tangerines scattered like candy caterpillars across the top. Mastication was a struggle, the taste of soft and crunch and sweet syrupy dislike. I had to pretend, and I don’t like to pretend, but this was life, not some Camus novel, so I ate half my bowl and forked around the rest and said something about texture in a positive way.
“We’re not really married,” Coffee’s mother said to me, gesturing with her fork to the living room, where Coffee’s father stood bent over a telescope pointed out across the sunset.
What was I to say? I wasn’t even sure what she was saying. I smiled weakly and sipped my iced tea.
“Mom,” Coffee said.
There was no dessert.
Let’s move to post-dinner.
A den, her, her parents, me, a television—the room’s furniture semi-circled like worshippers to its blue moon. The TV was on the news, or maybe a game show. Coffee’s father sat leaning over, turning a Rubik’s Cube in his hand, while she and her mom seemed glued to the TV, so I slid a book from the table’s thick glass: Aircraft of the Gulf War. It had glossy pages and was the size of a calendar.
Fifteen minutes into a fascinating account of the AC 130 gunship, an airplane the U.S. military calls “Puff the Magic Dragon” because it breathes fire and makes things suddenly disappear, I looked up with an odd feeling.
Coffee and her mother stared at me, my odd feeling elbowing around my skull. I can’t really describe the feeling. It was similar to a feeling I once had while visiting Austin, Texas.
The Poet Laureate of the United States had been reading, and a friend and I decided to attend. It was in a big Episcopal church with a small crowd, since most people think about poetry about as often as they think about dying.
After the reading there had been a reception at a professor’s house. I stopped by a gas station to pick up a six-pack of beer. Dry receptions are the worse, and I didn’t want to take any chances.
I returned to the car and my friend looked at me.
“What?” I said.
“You really want to go? I heard this city has some good bars.”
I thought a minute. “I just bought a six pack.”
“Bring it in the bar,” he said. “We can get a table in the back. I’ve done it before.”
“I don’t know. That doesn’t sound like a great idea.”
It was right in that moment, in that concrete-floored dive, our silver cans glinting and glaring, the whale-bellied bartender out from behind the bar and looming over us, his meaty hands on each of our shoulders, his mouth about to form the words, “Boys, we don’t even serve Coors here,” his hands about to fling our beers into a garbage can and then point the way to our exits—right then the same odd feeling thunder-rolled inside me.
I think that’s what I wanted to write about: People watching TV dislike other people reading in the same room.
Yes, that’s it, that’s what I wanted to write about. Only I took the scenic route.
“Books are the wrong beer,” I told Coffee the next morning. She shrugged and blew a wayward curl of hair from her face. We were standing at the kitchen window, watching her parents drive away, and then Coffee took off her shirt.
“You didn’t like that salad,” she said, wadding up the shirt and tossing it onto the stove. “You didn’t like that salad and after this weekend we’ll never see each other again.”
She shrugged off her bra. “Come on, be honest. At least be honest.”
A jet roared overhead, shaking the house. It gave me a minute to say nothing, and then to think about what I would say. Coffee tugged at my jeans.
“Yes,” I said.
“Yes,” she echoed.
I think the CD was called Rumors.
Sean Lovelace is a writer from Alabama.