Deep Cuts At The Heartbreak Motel

by Honest Babe on September 18, 2015

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It was dark in the bar but a slight grimace could be made out behind a tipped rock glass. A Pall Mall lie burning down to its end in a glass amber cigarette holder and the smell of stale beer clung mustily to a blue work jumpsuit. The man had had enough of himself and of the drink, too, and so he got up and wandered over to the jukebox.

As he approached, determined to get outside of his own head, dark sunken eyes and greying whiskers were illuminated by a warm orange glow. The old Crosley beamed the strongest light in the bar but when the man stood in front of it, he loved that it somehow still felt soft. Easy and inviting…it was a comfort iridescent. At first it made him feel youthful, all that talent and good company at his fingertips, all those old dandies and their hearts laid out on the line of a hook, but then the tender words got the best of him. They forced the man to think about her again. She was everywhere. He had now reached a point where shaking her off was now a practiced exercise in futility – she was a loss he had to live with and a love he had to live without. Flipping through the artists whose locations he had all but memorized, a few quarters dropped in and good company answered his beckon call. He made his way back to the bar; his long lost lover trailing ghostly by his side.

Merle Haggard – Going Where the Lonely Go

When he got back he realized a woman had walked in and parked herself only two stools down from his smoldering cigarette. He thought this curiously close, as they were the only two warm-blooded bodies in the joint. There was the hefty Kennedy behind the bar, but he’d gone cold a long while ago. Some say it was when he got back from the war, but all who know him remember it was when the plant shut down. Still, he poured drinks tall and strong and any traveler who decided to stop in at Hank’s Hotel and Bar Too knew exactly what they were getting…perhaps that is why there weren’t too many who stopped.

Kennedy came over, grabbed the man’s glass and filled up four-fingers worth.

“This one’s on me, Hank.” He said.

Hank cracked a half smile. They were all on Hank, of course – it was his establishment. Kennedy knew that if Merle Haggard was playing, Hank was in a mood. Hank had been in this mood for several years now. But, buried just beneath the surface of Kennedy’s cold heart, existed a hot core that would bellow from time to time for the poor lonesome proprietor. The love came in the form of cheap jokes and beaten paths already taken, but Hank loved him all the more for it.

Jim Ford’s “She’s Got Her Own Way” came on and the pang of Hank’s last few years settled in. It was of stark memories, lonely nights, and two jobs unfulfilling. He felt as though life was just passing right on by; his daylight always fading, his moonlight always waning.

Tony Joe White’s “I Thought I Knew You Well” soon followed and all Kennedy’s prescient opinions were proven true: A mood was being set, and Hank, forlorn and fatigued, was treading water in the deep end of the dark, dark blue.

“You wounded or somethin?” The lady asked, quite jovial.

Hank looked down nervously at the drink in his hands, half-hoping the woman wasn’t addressing him. He wasn’t ready for that, another woman. He needled at his dirty fingernails and wished his bear paws hadn’t looked like they had been bathed in motor oil all day. For that is exactly what had happened to them – he’d only got off his shift at the garage down the street an hour ago. Empty bar tops and vacant hotel rooms don’t pay the mortgage, after all.

“Excuse me.” The lady was more forceful this go around. “Are you wounded or somethin?”

“Oh you’re talkin’ to me.”

The older woman looked around and smiled at the room, empty as it was.

“That I am, honey. That I am.”

Hank was sullen.

“So?” She asked, encouragingly.

“So what.” Hank said, stupidly.

His stupidity quickly shifted to stupefaction as his gaze rose to hers, and his loss for words reassured Hank of what he had been missing the entire time: Beauty. It was the kind of beauty foreign to the rural roots and lady-less highways of Appalachia. She was tan and had smokers eyes and crimson lipstick and the kind of short-cut blonde hair that blended grey and blonde strands naturally. She was older, had to be in her fifties or so, but beautiful nonetheless. Hell, he was getting up there these days. Hank had always hated sayings like ‘forty is the new thirty’ but seeing how he was about to go tumbling over the hill himself, her age seemed to only add to her appeal. She was refined, confident, almost cunning in her own skin, and at that moment, Hank felt very much the opposite. It irked him, the ease with which the opposite sex could mangle his emotions.

The stereo clinked and cracked and then he could smile again. Junior  Kimbrough’s “Meet Me in the City” somehow always provided him with hope. ‘Maybe she’d still come back?’ He thought. It was nothin’ more than venom in his veins – hope – and the thought fell through his hands before he could even grab hold of it. Greasy hands aren’t much good for things like that. It was here, with a thumb out, stranded on memory lane, where Hank noticed the woman still eying him. She was lightly bopping to the Kimbrough’s touching serenade.

“Lovely tune.” She said.

Hank had nothing to offer except a shoulder shrug. He forgot that he once had a cock.

“You the one playing the music ain’tchya?” She asked.

“Oh yes ma’am.….sorry.”

“Oh don’t apologize, hun. And it’s Mary. Ma’am is for mothers.”

“Hm. No kids?”

“Wasn’t blessed with that gift in life.”

“Ah.”

Hank felt sad for her. He wasn’t expecting such a serious and candid response. He wanted to make a joke and tell her she wasn’t missing out on much but he knew that wasn’t true. He had two boys he hadn’t seen in a while and the thought made him sad. Everything was sad…it pissed him off. The brown booze had a way of manifesting primary colors, and through the heated chemistry of alcohol in blood, blue inevitably turned red. He mustered out a haphazard apology for her misfortune and fell, as he always did, back into the black hole of his ex. Mary reached her hand out and told him what she meant by her original gesture. He reeled at the softness of her hand, the assuredness of her gaze, and eventually fumbled out an apology for the grease. She didn’t seem to mind as she held on for just a moment too long, catching Hank’s breath in the process. She was strong and confident and seemingly unaffected by her inability to have kids. Hank felt something funny flutter in his chest. Marvelous was a word that flashed into his mind.

“It’s just this bar.” She went on, “The music. You all alone over there listening to these sad songs. It just don’t seem right. It all just feels so…wounded.”

“Mm.”

“I don’t mean to intrude.”

“Then don’t.”

“You’re a lively one.” She said, unable to frown. “What I meant was that it’s all better with a little company, no?”

Hank made a noise relative to a grunt. This time around he wasn’t being a dickless tweed, this time around he was being nervous. He liked Mary. He liked her legs in particular. They looked never ending in those long white pants. The pants themselves were exotic – he couldn’t remember the last time he saw white pants. Perhaps on the cover of a Foriegner album but he couldn’t be sure. He caught himself daydreaming and stiffened his upper lip. And then, almost immediately, he began to worry that she might not like him, that his life might be, as his ex put it when she walked out the door, “impotent.”  His plaguing insecurity since the divorce could not be conquered.

There was a clinking noise from the Crosley in the corner and, after the mechanism that screamed loud for replacement realigned, Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” echoed about the empty walls. Hank felt somewhat embarrassed at his song choice. There was a neediness in this song unlike the other ones who came before it; a vulnerability about wanting someone to love. It was an obviousness, that he desperately wanted love again in his life. Was he begging for it by playing such a song? He didn’t know. He couldn’t be sure of anything anymore. Weakness crept in and he felt supremely vulnerable, like walking on a tightrope with shaky feet…and then Mary steadied the line:

“Oh Percy! You didn’t!”

She started to dance from the waste up in her seat. It was a slow back and forth swoon and the weak legs of the bar stool creaked as her whole body found rhythm. Her eyes were closed and Hank felt the permanent knot in his gut start to loosen.

“Oh Quarters! Please!” She started to dig around her purse. None to be found. She flagged down Kennedy who had been enjoying her intrusion of his bosses sour mood and asked him for change. She was up and had the money in the machine before Hank could even say a word.

“Ah. These are all so great! So many greats!”

Hank was delighted. He had personally curated the albums; they were his favorites, his loves, his pain-killers. His friends from afar. There was something to that madness of tastes he couldn’t quite put his finger on; he wasn’t sure but it had something to do with the fact that finding someone who shared your same worldview meant more than just finding the right mirror, it meant finding answers to the questions we all ask.

Mary’s eyes lit up at what was surely her favorite artist of all time. Sam Cooke’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” came barreling through with its nifty brass and trickling jazz piano. The woman might as well have been a teenager in Hank’s eyes. Her ass swaying back and forth, her toes tapping, her hips gyrating round and round and…round. He’d lost himself a moment.

“Some woman.” Kennedy said.

“Yeah.” Hank echoed.

She was free. She had one hand on her stomach and one hand up in the air leading herself around the room. Hank grew boyish, and aside from the plastered on smile, Kennedy could tell flattering impressions were being drawn. As the bridge drew near, her dancing elevated to an art form and it wouldn’t have taken a cultured man to discern the woman had a history on the bar. Limber and fluid and downright sexy, she twirled and twirled and wrapped new ribbon around Hank’s heart. He enjoyed the fresh gift-wrapping, enjoyed it good.

“Well.” Kennedy went on, “far as I see it. You either go dance with that woman or I’m quitting this dammed job and never coming back.”

“You sleep upstairs,” Hank said, chuckling. “Just tuck your tits back in fat man, I’ve got this…” He looked at her natural ability out on the dance floor and his throat tightened a bit. “Ahem, I think.”

Hank winked at Kennedy and walked over with an ace up his sleeve. Two quarters went in and a lady-killer came out in Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is.”

“Not Aaron!” She said, smiling and swooning gleefully. She couldn’t stop moving. Fingers snapping, her mouth open in a gaping smile, revealing her tongue firmly pressed to the top of her sharp teeth. Her shoulders shimmied in small concentric circles and her brow furrowed along intensely to the sentiments behind Mr. Neville’s soul-searching tell-all.

Hank walked over to her, mouthing the words of the song, his entire face embodying the subtle inflections of Neville’s tone. Suddenly, Mary found herself enamored. She liked Hank at first because he seemed, well, down. Hurt. Wounded. Sour at life. She had been down there herself, pissed at the world, living in an open rebellion against the utter unfairness of life. She could find empathy in someone like Hank because of it. But now, there was something else in him; a real possibility, there was good to be found here. Joy and tenderness and so on.

There was a problem though – Hank had two left feet. Okay, there were two problems – Hank had two left feet and was completely unaware of it.

At first, Mary thought he was joking around, his inability to keep rhythm. But soon the reality was revealed and he was just bad, like mathematics professor/tax lawyer bad. She started to laugh but held back. It was awfully endearing, the sight of an aging dirty mechanic writhing like that. She knew right then and there that she was going to spend the night with him. He evoked an innocence that made her feel safe; the bad dancing was one thing, but more so in Hank’s hopefulness for new love, she found herself newly awakened to the same wanted feeling. The vibrations between them shifted course and her heart lead her back to the jukebox and more quarters tumbled in. She made her decisions and made them wisely:

Otis Redding – Pain In My Heart
James Carr – You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up
Otis Spann – Cry To Me
Percy Mayfield – Loose Lips

“God, you’re just the worst dancer the mountains ever produced.” She said.

“Damn right.” Hank answered, doing something close to the mash-potato mixed with a cool jerk…without the cool.

He was pulling on her shirt and tugging at all the wrong moments with all the wrong intensities. Mary couldn’t stop the laughing now. It was more a girlish giggle, if she were being honest with herself, and with every painful misstep, every knee that was knocked and every toe that was crushed, she’d fall a little harder for the big buffoon. There was something so disarming about him, he was a strong man who at heart, could never hurt anyone, ever. He could protect her while at the same time never use that strength against her. He was the fulfillment of all those empty promises of men who had come before. And she let him know it by leaning in for a kiss.

Hank, naturally, hadn’t read the signs right and they bopped foreheads rather solidly. The laughs that followed lit off their love like a firework. Looks were exchanged: he was flawed and so was she, but they both sauntered on into the warm sunrise of new love with the tried and true wisdom in that the flaws to be found in the clumsy are the most lovable of flaws.

“Sorry.” Hank offered, “I’m a clutz.”

“I’ll say!”

She was laughing, so hard now she was practically bent over and holding her knees while rubbing out the pain. Her cheerful state encouraged him to keep dancing, keep her laughing. Hank didn’t know why, but his insecurity had now become a thing of the past. Maybe it was the music, maybe it was the promise of new love, and with it, a new life, or maybe, just maybe it was the simple series of looks Mary gave him throughout the night that made him feel as though even in his worst and most miserable of moments, everything would be okay.

“I’ve got one last one I’d like to share with you,” she said. “And I think even you could dance to it.”

There was a pleasant silence between them before the song came on…and then, when he realized her song choice was specifically chosen for him, the core of his being filled with a purpose he had all but written off long ago…and their lips finally met:

Keith Whitley – Don’t Close Your Eyes

When Hank opened his eyes, his Pall-Mall now sat completely out in the amber ashtray. He wondered then, if ole Crosley could bring him that kind of fortune, that richness of the night, that promise and magic of the future. He didn’t want to lead himself on, but then again, it was just a couple quarters in his pocket and he knew the old adage true:

It don’t hurt to dream.

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