Let me tell you a story.
It’s not the one about when you said my hair was ridiculously long and I said fine, cut it, and you called my bluff. I ended up on my knees leaning over the tub, giggling so hard I lost my breath, balancing a half-full aviation in my right hand while you jammed the clippers against my neck. You kept yelling THAR SHE BLOWS in like a Popeye voice, and hair kept getting in my cocktail, but of course I drank it anyway. We woke up with hair all over the pillows and I looked like I’d gotten in a fight with a bobcat.
It’s not the one where we met your childhood sweetheart on the side of the road outside Alligator. He’d texted and said he was back home, which meant he was sober, or at least off coke for a little while, and that he had a present for you, did we want to meet him, he was on his way down to deer camp. I wasn’t jealous because I always loved all your old boyfriends, I’d even been a little fond of your husband. I remember he bought me a shot when I saw him at W.C. Don’s one night after he finished that long slide from the bedroom to the couch to his buddy’s couch and back up Highway 61.
So when we made the drive down I didn’t mind and he was like all the rest, puffy in the face and carrying too much belly for somebody barely thirty but with a kind smile and lines around his eyes, just like me. We sat and talked about Ole Miss and how they were really going to suck this year, maybe even worse than last year, and after a little while he pulled the tarp back in the back of his Dodge and there was a case of Maker’s Mark, gleaming in the sun. There were two bottles gone—he said he took one, just in case he ever needed a little help, and he said the other one had gotten busted up when he got it from his buddy.
The case was made out of strips of thin white pine and the bourbon from the busted bottle had gotten all soaked up into the raw wood. We slid it into the back of the Tahoe and swear to God I thought we were gonna pass out from the fumes, until you said the only way to fight fire was with fire, and a few shots of Maker’s later we finally made it back to the house. You said you were going out with the girls and I said fine but there was no way I could hack it, and you kicked at me laying there on the bed, telling me to take off my shoes, and I threw them at you, trying to quote something Willie Morris said once about Mississippi women, but you were already gone, and I couldn’t remember it right anyway.
It wasn’t about the time we were at your momma’s house that Thanksgiving and I had the flu so bad I was shaking and you kept a cold compress on my head and read all the obituaries in the Commercial-Appeal to me in a funny voice, and made me a hot toddy, the smell of lemon sharp in my nose. Maybe it should be, maybe it should be. That might have been the sweetest you ever were to me, rubbing my hands down to the fingertips because you knew it made me sleepy, murmuring in my ear. It might have been the sweetest anyone has ever been to me.
It could have been the one about the wedding we went to that was somewhere outside of someplace, maybe Leland. I never got all the dang names and places straight. I mean I can get up and down the highways but I was always getting startled by beautiful names like Falcon and Darling and telling you we were going to move up there, buy a plantation in Minter City, we’d live off the credit cards until they were all cut off. Because we were going to a wedding we were in a fight, I had already gotten too drunk and you were fake mad that I was, and then I guess you talked yourself into getting real mad, and lit into me about how slow I was going. I told you we could pull the car over right then and live out of it, just shut it down right now, stake out a homestead, use the wheels as sinks and pull the backseat out for a couch. You finally smiled and rubbed your nose and sniffed and stared out the window. You reached over and poked me in the leg, patted my thigh until I placed my hand on yours. You said you’d rather die than live in Leflore County, mashed the button that slid back the sunroof, turned up the stereo, and croaked out “I kept fallin’ like a Rolling Stones song,” and squeezed my hand so tight it tingled.
It definitely wasn’t the time when we were headed to the condo in Florida and stopped in Mobile to get dinner, and I told you not to get the crab because it looked weird and gray, and you flipped me off and got the crab, and you threw up all night long so bad you couldn’t even sip down Gatorade, and we ended up staying the night in a Holiday Inn. In the morning you were still so mad at me for lording it over about you about the crab that you slapped the keys out of my hand and kicked at me like you some kind of feral child raised up by wolves, and got in the driver’s seat. When I told you we were going the wrong way you told me to shut up for once in my life, for Christ’s sake, and we headed right back up 98.
Let me tell you a story, I said.