“Memphis”

I was between jobs, getting by on what I’d skimmed from the till my last bartending gig. I liked to sip Stoli straight up to keep an even keel in the wee hours and they fired me for drinking on the job. So I was biding my time at a roadhouse by the river, nursing a longneck, tapping my foot to a rock-a-billy trio with a stand-up bass when there, I swear, across the smoky room, appears the girl of my dreams.

She was sporting denim shorts a half size too small, halter-top of a style that took me way back. Eyes dark and shadowed, lips curling into the semblance of a smile. She looks like trouble I thought. I made a beeline through the crowd. Up close she looked even better, a pug nose once broken that had healed off kilter. A gap between her front teeth begging me to worry it with my tongue.

We danced hard, bumping hips with bad intent. When finally the band unplugged, and the lights came up tattooed bouncers herded me and Sheila out into the night. Of course I didn’t know then that Sheila was not her real name.

We necked in the gravel parking lot straddling my bike, a chromed Virago, beneath a fat harvest moon. Indian summer. Sheila’s back arched back over the fuel tank as if for a fashion photo shoot. Blue lights flashed over the scene. A two-way radio crackled nearby, but we were bulletproof. We rode away when we were good and ready, a projectile flying through the barrel of the night.

We spent days together, a week of them, maybe, Sheila apparently also between jobs. We never got around to discussing careers. Aquamarine 320- thread-count sheets draped the king-sized waterbed in her basement efficiency. She kept a hot wax machine.We went at each other with abandon, improvising with what was at hand—thriftstore neckties, ice cubes, a roach clip, the wax, and the like.

We lived on smoothies, loading all manner of fruit into the blender, powders from the health food store and pricey vodka. Mostly we were fucking or sleeping, night and day, practicing epilation, reciting aloud favorite passages from my dogeared Captain Maximus. Motorcycles turned her on, she confessed. I taught her how to lean into the corners, to exit rolling on the throttle. When the rent came past due, I cashed my last unemployment check.

The next morning I awoke to a rumble. Sheila it seemed had lifted my keys and wallet. I pulled on my jeans, stumbling outside barefoot just in time to see her riding south with the wind in her hair in the general direction of Memphis. An awfully beautiful thing to behold. I dropped to my knees in the street. Sheila! I cried. Goddamn. I still long to wrap my hands once more around that lovely throat. Even now I think, if I’d known then what I know now, I’m afraid I’d do it all pretty much the same.

 

Christopher Chambers

About Christopher Chambers

Christopher Chambers has written for television and film, and has published fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book reviews in The Gettysburg Review, Ninth Letter, Quarterly West, Carolina Quarterly, Indiana Review, Exquisite Corpse, CopperNickel, Louisiana Literature, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Georgetown Review, Notre Dame Review, Washington Square, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Lit,BOMB Magazine, Fourteen Hills, and elsewhere. His work has received four Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been anthologized in French Quarter Fiction, Knoxville Bound, Maple Street Rag, and Best American Mystery Stories 2003. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for creative writing in 2008. He is editor of New Orleans Review.