Take A Woman Like You

“Is the jukebox broken?”

Charlie bit the corner of a bag of sunflower seeds, tore it open. “It won’t light up,” he said, spitting out plastic, “but it plays.”

“Is it playing now?”

“Should be. Forney put some quarters in.”

“You don’t know the name of this song, do you? I checked the labels, but the lights –“

“It won’t light up,” Charlie said. He was sitting at the bar today, unlike most days. Most days, he was working behind it. “Sounds like Dylan.”

“It is Dylan,” I said. “I was wondering what song.”

Charlie cracked a sunflower seed with his teeth, flicked the shell into an ashtray. He called across the bar to Forney, who was sitting with a friend. Forney hollered what?

“What song is this?”

Forney flashed two fingers, then three, then two, then turned back to his friend.

Charlie turned to me. “Two three two.”

I straddled the stool next to Charlie. Normally I get my drink at the bar, then go to a table. No one bothers you when you go to a table. Tonight I felt like sitting at the bar.

“Can I get you something?” Charlie asked.

“Maybe in a minute.”

Charlie nodded.

The surface of the bar was a dark-grained wood. That’s all I can say. I don’t know much about wood. The lacquer was nicked up pretty bad, but in a place like Charlie’s, you don’t care.

Charlie cracked another sunflower seed, dropped the shell into the ashtray. “Like it?”

I turned to him, found his eyes on me. I said, “Like what?”

“The song.”

I tend to scratch under my ear when I feel stupid. When he said the song, I scratched under my ear. I said yes, I liked it.

“It’s a good one.”

“Yeah.”

Charlie nodded. “You a fan?”

“I think maybe I might be.”

Charlie popped another seed in his teeth. “Me too.”

I wrapped my hands around the metal rail that ran along the bar. It was – I don’t know – tarnished, or something, and if you wrapped your hands around it, your hands came off smelling brassy.

“Usually take a table, don’t you?”

I nodded.

“Not tonight?”

Not tonight.

“Any reason?”

“Not really,” I said. There was, but I couldn’t explain it.

Charlie pushed his ashtray across the bar. He rose from his stool, passed through the swinging, waist-high door to the bar. He grabbed the ashtray and dumped the shells in the trash.

“Let me know when you want that drink.”

He grabbed a mug, poured himself a beer. He slurped foam, wiped his mouth on his cuff. His eyes met mine, and he smiled. “What?”

“I thought you didn’t drink,” I said.

“I don’t drink. But I do have one from time to time.”

The condensation on the mug made it twirl when he set it down.

“Want one?”

“You want me to have one?”

“You might could use one,” he said. “Most times, I have to tell people no. You, I think, might could use one.”

I smiled and tapped the bar.

Charlie pulled another mug from the freezer, set it under the spout to fill. He slid it to me and I took a sip. Frozen slivers floated on top.

“You know what I like about this song?” said Charlie, brushing a sunflower shell off his shirt.

I waited. Sometimes you have to wait on Charlie. He likes to take his time, sometimes.

“I like his voice. It’s not the best voice, but I like it. You listen to that voice, you get it, what he’s trying to say.” Charlie raised his mug, took a sip. “I don’t need the words to understand him, you know? It comes through in other ways. His tone, the passion. Makes me feel connected.”

Charlie has this way of looking at you with a kind of half-smile that makes you feel like he’s waiting for something. It can make you nervous. Sometimes he realizes this, I think, and he looks away. That’s what he did, anyway. Then he grabbed a rag and wiped his hands and turned to go.

“It makes me think of a woman,” I said.

Charlie stopped, turned back. Dropped his rag and leaned up against the bar. “Yeah?”

I nodded. “That line at the beginning,” I said. “Take a woman like you. I know that’s just a fragment, but that’s the whole song, if you ask me.” My beer was resting in its own little pool. I spun it back and forth. “That organ,” I said, “that whatever-you-call-it, Hammond organ? I don’t know, but the way it just hangs there, with the bass going slow and sad with the guitar. And that line, Take a woman like you. That one line.” I ran my fingers over the rail. “The longing in it.”

Charlie nodded. “Yeah.”

“It makes me sad, a song like this. More than sad. It hurts. This song hurts.”

“I can unplug that thing.”

“No, no. I like it.” It was a good kind of hurt. I couldn’t explain it.

Without really moving, Charlie seemed to get comfortable. “Tell me about this woman,” he said.

I slid my beer back and forth between my hands on the wet bar. “She’s everything,” I said.

Charlie nodded. “I know what you mean.”

I felt not quite so nervous anymore. I felt alive.

“What’s her name?”

I drummed my fingers on the bar. A couple of times. Two or three times. “Kasha.”

Charlie nodded. “Wow. That’s a name.”

“It’s a beautiful name. She’s a… it’s a beautiful name.”

Charlie smiled, picked up his rag and wiped down the bar.

The song faded, ending like it began, Dylan going la la la.

A silence fell. Charlie sipped his beer. I twirled mine.

A cue ball clacked and billiard balls exploded against each other.

Charlie straightened and said, “I like it when a song ends, and you feel like it hasn’t.”

I got out my wallet and pulled out some bills.

“‘All done?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I just want to hear those la la las again.”

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featured image:

thehelplessdancer

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More like this one:

The Simple Life   The Ref’s Whistle

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35 thoughts on “Take A Woman Like You

  1. I remember working with a girl from Georgia. She’s the only person I ever knew who used the expression “might could.” If we were working on a problem and I made a suggestion, she would have said something like, “You know, that just might could work.” I haven’t heard that expression in years — no, decades — until I read this story. Are you from Georgia?

    Oh, I also liked the story…and the song.

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  2. Fantastic, Walt. Feels like either could be me, sitting on either side of that bar, and it could be any song, and it could almost be any girl. I felt like I was right there, and like the song, felt like it hadn’t ended even when it had.

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  3. I , when on the odd time of sitting in a bar enjoyed those lugubrious afternoons of the barkeep swatting flies and half heard conversations, listening rather than engage. One of the first not children’s songs I recall was at eight, Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”, on a transistor while camping. Brought back memories, thanks Walt.

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  4. I reread this this morning and got so much more from it, just by slowing down. It’s funny, you can make the mistake of reading it too fast, I think. There are really small details worth not missing, like the way the mug spins around on the bar from the condensation, for one. They’re details that really ‘sing.’ I’ll read it again, and go on to the others. You have the curse.

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    • Interesting that you had to slow down. I wonder if it reads too fast. I’m serious…you know? Maybe I should have tapped the brakes in there. There are ways, right? Not that I know what they are. Or is it up to the reader. Now I’m starting to overthink it. Good thing it’s done.

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      • I’ll be honest, I would try to find ways to slow it down…and take this with a handful of salt, because I shouldn’t be giving advice. I think you can find ways to insert narrative that keeps it moving but also protects little pockets you want to make sure the reader gets. There are nuggets in here that are more important than others probably: see if you can isolate those and then insert speedbumps maybe. I’m not qualified at this but do think you’re not overthinking it. Others may disagree. This is a goddamned democracy, after all. One other bit: take a look at the sentence length; I wonder if you can expand some sentences to help with the pacing, to help it slow down. Without it going ‘slow.’ I just don’t want to blow by the good stuff. But it’s all good, truly. We’re just polishing the bar.

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  5. That is great feedback, Bill, and I sincerely appreciate it. There is way too much ass lathering (to use a phrase I picked up from Mr. Lewin) in WordPressland. Not speaking necessarily about my site but all blogs in general. Every one of them is “awesome”and every piece of fiction posted is a work of genius, at least according to what people are willing say out loud, even when it blows. It’s hard to find someone willing to offer constructive criticism, so I really do appreciate it. I’m confident I don’t suck. But a few days ago I read the first chapter of As I Lay Dying and about all I could do was stand there in the bookstore with that thing in hands and go Ho. Lee. Shit. THIS is writing. I don’t know how I got on to that just now. But thanks for feedback. Really.

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  6. I think I might could read this again. We say that in North Carolina, too. Anyway, will we be hearing more about Kasha soon? He name conjures up images from a small town in former eastern Europe. Oh, and the details about the brass bar smeliing brasy was spot on. Not that I am an expert on how brass bar rails smell. I half way expected you to write that they were sticky from being grabbed by nymerous sweaty beer sloshed hands.

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    • Good call. Yes, Kasia is a name common over there. I changed the spelling so people would be more likely to pronounce it right. I have a draft about her but it is in no shape for public consumption. Thanks for reading!

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  7. I felt a heartbreak here. I think the bartender felt it, too. But, it is a rare thing when a heartbroken will seek or endure company of others, let alone listen to an upbeat sounding song. ‘Tho with Dylan … well, you know. So there is more to this situation. The bartender and I will have to wait it out. Perhaps in time, it will dawn on us. As for pace, I wouldn’t slow it down. Sometimes your mind has to go over a thing a time or two and play it different ways and choose the ending or situation that suits you. If the author didn’t want this to happen, he’d spell it out in the first place. As for me, I looked at the story a couple or three times and then decided what my take was. Bottom line was I liked it. I liked the ambiance. I’ve been in situations and in places like that.

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    • Judith, thank you for your thoughtful comments! It’s interesting that different readers have such different takes. You’re right that there are many approaches to story, some that spell things out exactly, some that leave much to interpretation, some that fall somewhere between.

      Interesting that you think a broken hearted person would behave differently, too. When I’ve been broken hearted I’ve sought ought people who I thought would be comforting in some way. But I’m sure there are those who would rather be alone. As for the song, do you think it’s upbeat? I think if I didn’t speak English, and all I had to go on was the music and and tone, I’d find it borderline-melancholy. All the more reason for multiple interpretations, I guess. Thank you for reading! 🙂

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      • The facets of Dylan are almost unfathomable. (To me, that is.) My mother, a melancholy recluse who wrote very sad poetry and dark stories, loved Dylan. A student of music and writer of not-so-dark stories, I guess I heard an upbeat note in the rhythm of the song. Or simply refuse to hear the darker side.

        I enjoy your stories. Even the nonsensical ones. As I think about why, I recall in my teens as a junior counselor I led a large group of younger Girl Scouts on an evening hike through the dark woods. I got lost and had to get them back to camp without letting them know they were lost, too. I love a piece that gives me leeway to find a path to the intended conclusion. Many things can be thought about or discovered along the way. Anyhow, thanks for your stories.

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      • I’m kind of like Charlie in the story. I don’t focus on lyrics much. In fact it’s odd, because even when I try to listen to, my mind inevitably wanders. This particular song has a mood to it musically that just strikes me as plaintive, which of course is a subjective thing. But you’re right, Dylan is man of many facets. Good job leading those girls, you did the right thing! Thanks for reading. And for your kind word. 🙂

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  8. I agree with Judith on this one. I thought one of the story’s strengths was the dialogue and the minimal description. So much is said in the language that you don’t need descriptions of the characters’ actions or behaviours. On the few occasions you do comment (e.g the mug spinning as mentioned above) it merely adds to the pared down atmosphere. You have a great ear for natural dialogue, simply spoken. The two ‘voices’ are entirely realistic, as if someone had planted a recorder in the corner of a bar and just let it run. I’ll shut up, now, but lovely work.

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    • Thank you, Lynn. I’ve always leaned on dialouge. It seems to come more naturally than other thiings. This was written years ago, but recently I’ve been trying to include more description while still keeping the dialogue up. I started reading the Grapes of Wrath last night and was struck by how good the dialogue was. It really brings the characters to life. I haven’t read Steinbeck since grade school but I’m aching for some really great writing. I’m excited to be discovering that one for the first time.

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  9. Pingback: Speak the speech, I pray you | Word Shamble

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