Insert don’t generally do social interactions—I’m just a masochist. At the top of this five story garage, I smoke the first cig of a new pack, the wrapper loitering somewhere in my car. I stand at the ledge, hunched over, watching the sun take its rest. It must be tiring to give so much; fall must be relief for the fiery beast above.
There’s a guitarist somewhere among the cars. As the sky wears the orang-ish hue, the guitar plays solemn notes—notes that sooth the souls of the mad. The souls of folks who are hurtin’ and can’t get away from it. Folks in love but broke down without cash. Folks who hitch rides to leave town when no one picks up. It’s the kind of song you can light up to after a day of being beaten around. I don’t look for it. I just listen. The fingers behind the song are not important to me; just the song. Just the smooth, somber notes.
I take a long drag and rest my hand on the ledge. The warm Texas heat simmers as the darkness approaches. My fingers flick some ashes, but are not strong enough to hold the remainder of my cig. There’s no one down there in the street. The city seemed empty tonight. The stick fell onto chipped sidewalk, ashes splattered. If I were to fall, I wonder if my blood would follow the same pattern as the ashes. It’s easier to let go when the ledge is in front of you.
When the guitar stops, I head down. I pass by some people in the stairway, but we avoid noticing each other. People are friendly in Texas, so they say. The door screeches open as I step out into the city, the stars hiding beneath the lights. My glasses create halos under streetlights while I meander to the bar. There’s a stench of grilled cheese in the air. Dairy and beer are not something I car to mix, but someone is creating a dangerous concoction for a vomit inducing night. From the window, I can see folks reading poetry. The speakers along the sidewalk pour out over-educated lines lacking anything solid. It’s flowery, the kind of shit that fits in The New Yorker, or the various editions of Poetry. But there’s nothing real here. The speaker will go somewhere, teach at a college and have an okay life for themselves. Maybe travel to Europe and go back packing alone. Across the street a man is getting his car towed away. Stubby legs fall to the warm asphalt; I could hear him beg the truck driver to give him one more week. On empty streets, some cries are so loud we can’t hear them.
“He probably became the wrong kind of writer.” She appeared like a ghost—her body escaping the ether. Some writers go to college, accrue debt, but are able to rub elbows with the right people. The colleges teach, how to teach. Life is set, but it lacks honesty.
“At least he’s genuine,” I respond taking another cig from the pack. “It’s more than what these bastards inside have.”
“Sincerity only goes so far. These kids are at least learning dignity and…”
“Creating a new marketing ploy for universities and government loan lenders. The dignity of the degree is about as important as the paper around this cigarette.” They say the unhappy live longer. For the sake of honesty, I hope it’s not true. “How do you know he’s a writer at all?”
“We’re all writers,” she says with a smile the size of a crescent moon, her yellow teeth glowing beneath the neon bar signs. She raises her glass to another man, signaling a new drink. I left her answer hang between us while I scoped out the parking lot to see how empty the city would be. To my surprise, the street was quiet. The tow truck drove down to the edge, turned and slowly inched out of sight. The owner of the car walked across and into the bar, his face disheveled, his hands fidgeting—there was no other sanctuary for him. He opened the door and the crowd of poets turned their heads, welcomed him, grabbed him a drink and opened the stage. He was one of their own.
“How do you know what the wrong kind of writer is?” I asked her, watching the guy escape for a little while.
“By becoming a writer.” She didn’t say anything else. Her fragile fingers grab a cigar from her purse and she lights up. After a large inhale, the smoke leaves her lungs and twirls around back to her face. When she gets her drink, she leaves and joins the rest of them. Underneath the dull, flowery words, the solemn guitar returns, and smoke another while it plays.