“Miss Gloomy, Miss Glum” by Sage Marsters
--page 4


        Inside the bar, it’s dim and quiet and still. No one there except the bartender and a woman in a powder blue sweat suit flipping cards and a few men playing pool. There’s the soft clink-clank of bottles and balls knocking, the smell of bleach, the tables are brown and moist. Franklin gets me a cigarette and orders margaritas and tells me the chips and salsa are free here. The drinks come in green glasses with cactus handles, like we’re on vacation at a reasonable hotel in the southwest with a pool and shopping nearby. We’ll get postcards in the lobby, we’ll make plans, but mostly we’ll stay in, swim, fill the ice bucket and drink in bed, take turns running down the hallway for more ice. Franklin lifts his drink and says, “Now I bought you a drink and I still don’t know your name.”
         Funny, I thought he had named me. Maybe I should tell him Michelle Miner, see if he knows me. Maybe I could be Michelle Miner, twelve years old, no, sixteen now, used to live in Illinois with four square-faced brothers. I’ve grown up perched on a couch in a golden, carpeted den, watching my brothers wrestle on the living room floor. Or I could be called Misty, it sounds like someone sweet who dies in a car accident in June in 1978, right after high school, with her hair long and shining, with a nice sweater on. Misty Glum. I almost say it, I imagine myself saying it in a husky voice, like Debra Winger with cancer, tired and sick and wise, but then I don’t. There are names I would like—Rose, Andrea—but I say, “Laura.”
        He grins and nods slowly, closes his eyes for a minute. “La la la Laura. Laura-lie, Laura-loo,” he croons.
         I cut the inside of my cheek on the edge of a chip, run my tongue over the astringent thread of salt and blood.
         “You don’t talk much, do you?” He shrugs. “I guess I don’t mind.”
         “I talk,” I say. I look at the bar, sip from my icy drink. I could tell him about my impacted wisdom teeth, they took them out for free here, at a school. I liked having them removed. It was maybe two weeks ago, my face alive with pain, the dentist’s meaty hands inside his mint-green plastic gloves, his silver tools splattered with my bloody phlegm, my rotted breath in the air above me, released, the sulfur smell of something burned. The dentist worked hard, his students watching, and one by one he held my wisdom teeth proudly in the air, like creatures reeled in, clenched in his shining tool, the roots dangling long like spider legs. After, he wiped my tired mouth with the paper bib I wore, and he rested his hand on my shoulder and he told me that I took pain well. When he said it, I thought he meant that in another lifetime I had survived something, being burned alive or tortured in a cement room.
         “I can be the talker,” Franklin says. He shuffles his stool forward until we are sitting knee to knee. He takes a sip of his drink. He says, “Listen.” He looks at me hard. “You ever go to the Getty Museum? Getty, as in J. Paul Getty, the gas station guy?”
         “They have a museum? No,” I say. I gulp my drink.
         “I thought you knew about museums,” he says. I think he’s disappointed. I watch his lips pull across his teeth, feel the cold glass in my palm, his knee pressing to mine, that hard, edgy bone. “Well,” he says, “that is my favorite museum. That is a great museum. That is the place everyone should see. It’s the biggest museum there is. They have everything.”
         He’s speaking slowly, as though the words are being drawn up his throat and out of his mouth by a string, intent or stupidity, I’m not sure which. I smile at him. The bar makes me tired and calm, the wet wood at my elbow, the dim light, the silent TV flickering in the corner. The end of a day.
        “I like museums,” I say. I try to remember the last time I was in a museum. A while ago, a school trip to Boston on a bus, the teacher looking strange in sneakers, wobbling up and down the aisle with donuts, the Egyptian room, that cool clay smell to it, the smell of being underground. We drew hieroglyphics in our notebooks, we had a list of symbols to hunt for. I remember carefully copying leggy birds and eyes.

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