First published in Dew on the Kudzu (2010) - read editor interview
Jessie and I sit on my front porch every Wednesday night and drink beer. Have since we were fifteen. That’s one advantage to living in a nothing town no one cares much about. Tonight, like every Wednesday for the past three months, after his third Flying Monkey, Jessie starts in. I considered cutting him off at two. I lost my job at the mill; and I’m not sure I’m up to listening to his problems, but I can’t do that to my best friend. Besides, it’s not the beer that loosens his lips. Maddie left him on a Wednesday.
“Fifteen years of marriage, and she just up and ran off.” he says, shaking his head. “And on my thirty-third birthday to boot.”
Jessie stares at the floor and rolls the brown bottle between his hands. The Mets cap rides high on his forehead. A shock of graying brown hair rests on his brow, and a torn shirt pocket hangs in a neat triangle over his heart.
I take a swig of beer and wait for him to continue.
“I always thought it was like driving a car.”
“What was?” I ask.
“Being married.” His eyes follow a spider as it scampers across the wooden floor and through the aisle created by his steel-toed boots. “You know. You strap yourself in, start the engine, and you go where you need to, regardless of the detours along the way.”
“Can’t say I ever thought about it like that.” I’ve known Jessie all my life, and I’ve never seen him without a smile. At least not until Maddie took off with Brad, the insurance guy. She and Brad dated a few times in high school, but then he left for college. Maddie hadn’t seemed interested in him after that.
“Sometimes you get a little lost,” Jessie continues, “but you get back on course eventually. No need to ask directions. You just work it out.” He tilts the bottle to his lips and swallows a couple of times. “Course you need to keep the tank full and the chassis lubed.”
Beer explodes from my mouth and sails over the paint-starved railing. “Geez, Jessie.” I wipe my mouth on my flannel sleeve. “Take it easy. That’s my sister you’re talking about. I don’t need to know about lube jobs.”
“Well, it’s true, ain’t it?”
I rock out of my chair and stand up. “I need to take a leak. Want another one?”
“Not yet.” He rolls the bottle in his hands some more.
“You know, that beer ain’t like a woman.”
He stares at me, a puzzled look on his face.
“It’s better cold,” I say.
He gazes at the bottle for a bit, tilts his head back, gulps down the rest of the amber liquid, and tosses me the empty. “Now that’s something I understand.”
“Yep,” I say and head inside for a couple of fresh ones.