I go to Lee’s bar downtown where loose dogs dart in the street. I love on my horn, and those dogs go wild. They claw up the hood and piss hot butter on the windshield. A girl yells directions so I can park.
The girl opens my door and asks if she can watch my car for five dollars. I say sure, and the girl leans against the trunk and opens a book. I ask her if she likes bourbon, and she says she doesn’t drink on account of keeping her voice in shape. I try to get her to sing, and she says, “It’s not Sunday morning.” I give her five clean dollars.
The dogs see I’m going to Lee’s, and they clog the door and bark. Their fur is thin because it’s covered too many generations. The girl watching my car throws a whistle, and the dogs go chasing.
Lee’s behind the bar with a rag over his hands. He tells me to pull the rag off and I do and under the rag he’s got six different bourbons. He lines up the glasses on the bar and takes little tongs to a bucket of ice. He pinches the tongs around like a crab trying to take change from a jar.
“I been waiting like that only a minute,” Lee says. “I knew you were coming almost like a psychic thing.”
“I’m here every Saturday,” I say. “No ice.”
But Lee keeps fumbling around until I tell him to just use his hands. It’s only us in here, and I’m not afraid of germs. I was living in Florida awhile, and the germs down there get so big they can’t hide. I once saw a giant crab drag around a garbage can for a shell. There’s no unseeing that. There’s only the next drink to give it some distance.
“You’re right,” Lee says. “We’re too old for germs anyway.”
Lee drops a bullet of ice in each glass to kill some of the sharpness. As if you can shoot the wood out of a tree. I joke about how Lee’s hands might change the bourbon’s flavor. Lee says he’s sorry and unprofessional. I say I don’t care. Lee could feed me bourbon from his cupped, bare hands, and I’d drink like I was dying.
“Try each glass like it’s the only glass,” Lee says. “Then tell me your favorite.”
I’ve seen so much of Lee. On off hours, we go down to the river and share liquor from the same bottle like we’re passing kisses and that’s fine. But now in the bar, Lee’s hand lingers on mine as he gives me the change from a twenty. I close my eyes and put my nose in a glass. I breathe in like the bourbon is the golden blood of Christ, and then I sip until it’s gone. I wipe a finger in the bottom and smell what’s left on my skin. Lee takes my hand and licks my wet finger. Lee’s never had a woman, but he’s never had a man either. I hurt in my jeans.
“That’s a fine bourbon,” I say.
“It’s a fine man to know that,” Lee says.
Some college girls come through the door and Lee drops my hand. He gets on his job. I slap the bar and leave.
The dogs are standing in the street and barking at the moon.
They have just enough fur between them to maybe make a broom. The girl I paid to watch my car is up the street talking to a boy.
I can’t get my key in the right place. I stab at the door until there are sparks.
The girl says, “I will call the cops if you get in that car and drive.”
I wave and say I’ll walk home if I can remember where home is. Lee might be a good home one day, but Lee’s still in the bar where Lee should be, and those college girls are still in there, too, saying how hot Lee is for a redhead. They’re pulling at his shirt and asking if he has freckles everywhere, and Lee’s being so polite. He’s pulling up a sleeve and showing them his white skin and saying how he can never go in the sun.
There’s a breeze, but it’s summer in Kentucky and I’ve never been so hot.
Lee comes over after the bar closes. I have my own cheap bourbon in my lap. Lee picks up the bottle and asks if I’m drinking sweet tea again. He takes a drink, and I close my eyes. When I open them again, Lee’s naked. His penis is red as a sore thumb. I put it in my mouth and take my time. People say they’re too busy to relax. I say there’s always time for this.
When Lee comes, he whistles through the gap in his teeth, and just about every loose dog on the block climbs the porch and paws at the front door. I put my head on Lee’s stomach and blow on his orange belly hair. He thanks me very much, but he doesn’t kiss me. He’s almost a gentleman.
Lee gets dressed, and we go out and get a good bottle of bourbon from his glove box. We take it down to the river and get sad about how our foster parents came up jelly and hair on a sandbar after a flood. How we waded out to touch their bodies. How we cried when the skin gave like water balloons. How hard it was to fall in love after that. How long it took.
Lee dares me to stick my hand in the river and see if it comes out haunted from all the ghosts.
“I shouldn’t do this,” I say, “because of all the weird fish.”
Lee says, “I don’t care what you should do.”
I put my whole arm in, and a gar bites a mole right off my wrist.
I pull it up bleeding, and Lee pours the good bourbon on top. I sting with the holy waste of it. I grab the bottle and breathe in so the glass becomes a wet lung. Lee says something about the closet we never got to come out of, and I say how drunk I am and how drunk the river must be ushering all these ghosts to the ocean. I say I can see them like yellow fat on top of cold soup.
I undo my jeans, and Lee says he loves me. I close my eyes to hear it better, but he doesn’t say it again.
CASEY HANNAN lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he has seen ghosts. Don’t believe him unless you’ve seen ghosts, too. His stories have appeared in PANK, Wigleaf, Annalemma, and others. He accounts for his time at www.casey-hannan.com.