Bells & Whistles
A bar dancer with an eye-patch. A loser cowboy. What does life have in store for them?
The smell of canned ravioli they had for supper permeated the half dark room. A half empty whiskey bottle was on the bureau next to the bed where they lay against the bed board.
“Damn fucking rain,” she said. “Our clothes are going to take forever to dry. Why did I let you talk me into this?” she asked.
“You didn’t have to say yes. You wanted to go for a drive.”
“Guess I was wrong,” she said with a shrug.
“Guess you were.”
“You and your fucking car that always breaks down.”
“I warned you about my car,” he said. “You just didn't want to listen.”
“That's because I'm a bitch,” she said. “I can't be any other way. You know that. Why do you want to stay with me?”
“Because I love you,” he said.
“And that’s all?” she said.
“What else is there?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Those bells and whistles.”
Outside, the streetlights' reflection shone on the pavement and the cars. It had begun to rain the way it had when they had been hitching to Stratton Falls. His arm had been around her shoulders, the way it always should have been. The rain drops ran down her face and under her eye patch. She had laughed as another car splashed by.
The bar they had found was warm and crowded. Men at the bar looked at them and returned to their talk. A couple shuffled to country music from the juke box.
“Still rainin'?” asked the bartender.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Bad weather to be travelin' in.”
“Yeah, it is. His fucking car broke down,” she said.
“Ain’t that the way it always is?”
“Where’s the closest gas station?” he asked.
“End of town.”
“Let’s find a room above the street where dreamers and lovers meet and get drunk,” she said.
“That’s only in songs,” he had said.
She sat on the edge of the bed, filled her glass with whiskey, took a drink and ran her hands down her tapered legs, stopping at the ankles to catch his eyes.
“Think I got good legs? I was a bar dancer once at a place in Butte.”
“You never told me.” he said.
“Now you know.”
She slid her hand through her tousled hair.
“Talk to me,” she said, her voice edged with irritation.
“You wait for a full moon, then take an empty purse out at midnight to a grove of aspens by a creek and ask for riches. Three days later, the purse will be full. That was my childhood dream.”
“Tell me something else,” she asked with a frown.
“I love you. You're beautiful.”
“Everyone says that. Everyone. You men--all the good screwing in the world and you blow it by not knowing what to say. I wish I could put my life into a mirror,” she said. “That way, it would never get lost.”
“Unless the mirror is broken,” he said.
“You're a bastard.”
“I was named for a river in Idaho. Did I tell you that? The North Anna near Croydon. I used to go there and watch the moon reflecting in my hands. It was a secret place where no one could tease me about having one eye.
“I wasn't named for anything.”
She laughed.” Everyone has to be named for something.”
“Then I guess I lost out,” he said.
“Yes.” You did. Just like so many other things you've lost out on. Let's finish off the bottle and forget about it. You’re no different from the other cowboys.”
“Don’t call me that.” He said.
“I'll call you whatever I want--you should know that by now. Cowboy. Cowboy. Cowboy. I hate it when it rains. I wish I could go someplace with you where they never heard of rain. Three Forks, Bozeman, Lewiston. I can't seem to win, always the hard luck, the hard weather and losers like you.”
“Sometimes I hate you,” he said.
“You’re no different from the others,” she said.” Most of them would have been gone by now.”
“I could if I wanted,” he said.
“Then why haven’t you?” she asked.
“I don’t know, he said. “There are no bells or whistles. It’s just us.”
“I know,” she said.
The moan of a freight train echoed in the silence.
Richard Lutman has a MFA in writing from Vermont College and is listed in the Directory of Poets and Writers. He has taught writing courses and had over thirty of his stories published. His novella “Iron Butterfly” was shortlisted in the 2011 Santa Fe Writers Competition. His first novel was published in 2016. A short story collection was a finalist in the 2020 American Book Fest: Best Books.