May 14

Josiah thought it was damn near impossible. He’d never thought this before; usually standing up from the booth and walking to the bathroom didn’t take much. But now, drunk as he was, drunker than he had ever been, he wasn’t sure his body would do what he wanted. Just standing up was tricky, so he tried to stare at the TV above the bar hoping it would look like he was watching the rodeo.

His tongue sought out the long whiskers on the side of his mouth. A gesture Dot used to say made him look “madder than an Old King Crow”. He never did find out what an Old King Crow was and now Dot was dead so what did it matter anyway?

Felt like his bladder and his stomach were fighting for room from each other. One of them was gonna win out; he’d better be at the head before the war was over. He mumbled something, splayed his hands on the table and lurched up faster than he intended. The old booth rocked backwards.

“You alright, brother?” This from some cowboy at the bar who wasn’t his brother. Josiah said he was fine.

“What was that?” Snoopy little bastard this one. Needs a good pop in the mouth. But Josiah didn’t have time for that. His stomach was retreating right up his throat. He slid-stumbled out of the booth, catching himself on a barstool across the way.

“Whoa, big guy.” This from the faggot beefy bartender who moved faster than Josiah thought he could and caught Josiah under his arms before he went face down.

“Fairy.” And he spit.

“I ain’t no fairy but your fairy godmother right now, you bastard. You coulda hit your head. Let’s get you to the john and see if the devil doesn’t darn come out of your raggedy mouth. Bebe, cover for me, willya?”

And then he was retching, somehow on his knees in front of the dirty toilet. He might have even been crying too; he couldn’t rightly tell. The toilet felt cool under his hands, but his knees hurt from the tile floor. Twenty years and that damn horse injury still bothered him when pressed about.

He retched again, spit, flushed and fell sideways against the stall wall. Wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his green hunting jacket and sighed. Damn. Good thing no one saw that.

“You alright in there, Josiah?” Well, fuck all. The fairy was waiting for him. Probably wants a thank you kiss.

“I don’t need your help.”

“Oh, yeah? How you think you got in there in the first place? I wasn’t gonna let you throw all manner of hell up all over my bar. You’re damn lucky, you are, that I’m a real good citizen. Coulda thrown you out on your acerbic ass and let you puke in the alley instead.”

Lucky. Hell. A dead wife because of a slow-killing disease that makes you watch while you can’t do jack shit. She used to be beautiful. She used to listen to his bullshit and then call him on it. And she used to laugh. Man, did they laugh. Forty two years of cackling and loving and sex and troubles they figured out together and someone who really, really knew him all shot to hell because of a couple of crafty fox-like cells that just didn’t give up until she was gone.

He used to think that was impossible too; that anyone or anything could be stronger than Dot.

He sighed again. “Fuck you,” to the fairy fucking bartender. He could see the man’s work boots under the stall door walk to the sinks. He heard paper towels and water, which was backwards. Then, “Here,” as a handful of wet towels appeared under the door. “Clean yourself up.”

He grabbed the towels and dragged them down his whole face, taking special care around his nose, mouth and long mustache. Then he blew his nose, twice, and reached out to give them back.

“You kidding me, Josiah? Throw out your own trash, now.”

But he just dropped his hand to the floor, suddenly weak and wanting to sleep. He was afraid he might cry again and put his face in the crook of his other elbow, trying to stifle any noise. The fairy left, came back. A beer mug of water appeared on the tile floor.

“C’mon. Drink. You’ll feel better, you old fart.”

Josiah doubted that. Didn’t think he’d ever feel better. Three weeks since Dot faded into a swarm of tubes and he had barely slept, instead inhaling her scent from the clothes that still hung in their closet. He couldn’t make coffee like she could and hated sitting on the porch without her anyway. So he spent his days letting the ranch hands take care of the cows and chickens while he ate beans out of the can and drank. He’d ride for hours, caring only for the horse enough to come back so the beast could rest. But for himself? Naw.

Sometimes he blamed himself. Like he could cause cancer just like cigarettes. Like he was tainted and poisonous, as if something dark and sinister lurked deep within him and took ahold of Dot when he wasn’t looking.

He knew this was crazy and at the same time, what if he did make her sick? When she had had enough of him, she called him bigoted and stubborn and old-fashioned and downright mean. And he’d call her cold and catty and tell her to get down from her high horse because she wasn’t exactly perfect either. Once he even told her that some of the other wives called her uppity and vain, the words galloping out of his mouth like a bunch of scared fillies.

They both knew the other was right, but damn if either one would admit it. The house would be eerily silent then, often for days in a row. Just the sounds of mooing and squawking and neighing as if the animals were gossiping about them.

Eventually, he’d slide his hat off his head or she’d rub his whiskers and then they’d both try to change. Try to fix it. He got her to stop looking down her nose and she got him to call the fairy by his real name, Marcus, for awhile. She knew there was a good man in there; she told him all the time. Sometimes their trying really worked. Sometimes it really did.

But he rightly fucked up too. And maybe that’s what killed her. Maybe he couldn’t change enough; he couldn’t keep that good man on his horse for long enough. The poison would come back and he’d get drunk or hurt someone (never Dot) or gamble or forget to milk the cows or not come home because he passed out somewhere. And the house would go silent once again.

The water sat there in the mug and he wished it were beer. He could see the tile fuzzy-like through the water and the glass. Bartender’s shoes were still there.

The water was cool in his mouth and going down his throat. It was almost as if he could feel it pouring down through all his organs. It wasn’t enough, but it would do for now.

“You ready to git up?”


Marcus opened the stall door and held out his hand. Josiah was known as a big man, but Marcus matched him in size. He didn’t want to touch him, but the room was still spinning and he didn’t want to fall on his head or his ass either. So he grabbed his forearm, Marcus grabbed his and hoisted.

“You ready to go home? Bebe can take you.” Josiah hesitated. The dim buzz of the florescent lighting in the cramped bathroom made him blink. He thought of the ranch house, emptier than it had ever been. The lonely bed, the unused coffee pot, the falling down porch. Marcus was waiting by the door, his hand on the handle. Josiah wasn’t sure what the answer was.

“Tell you what,” the gay man put his hands on his hips. “You sit up at the bar and I’ll make you a pot of coffee. Just like Dot used to make. Don’t look at me like that, old man. She taught me how. Said you’d make a face just like that one, probably call me a name, but that I should do it anyway because you’d need it. Said her coffee always brought out the good in you. So haul your ass out there and prove her right. Got it?”

Josiah nodded, took off his hat and moved to the door.

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