Mary Miller

A Town It Might Not Be So Bad To Grow Old In

He takes me to a bar where we play chick­en shit bin­go, stand around wait­ing for a chick­en to take a shit on a board cov­er­ing a pool table. There are num­bers on this board and the num­ber I was giv­en is 6. His num­ber is 3. They are nowhere near each oth­er because the num­bers aren’t in order. A band plays cov­er songs and some of their own songs that sound like the cov­er songs. Some of their songs even have the names of famous songs.

Song titles can’t be copy­right­ed, I tell him.

He tells me about the time he went to Mexico and Central America. He stayed in hos­tels, took bus­es. He didn’t get diar­rhea. I watch a young woman danc­ing with an old man on the tiny dance floor. Her body is per­fect. She’s so young. I’m not young any­more.

Hold on, I think this chick­en is about to do some­thing,” I say. I stand on my tip­toes, watch­ing the chick­en. The chick­en most­ly stays in the cor­ners, on the edges of the board, fenced in. “False alarm,” I say, hold­ing onto his arm. I ask him if all chick­ens are girls and we have the chicken/rooster dis­cus­sion, com­pare it to cow/bull. “But they’re all cat­tle,” he says, “they’re all cows, and these are all chick­ens.” I won­der if these chick­ens lay eggs, and then I won­der why I don’t know sim­ple things about chick­ens. What would hap­pen right now if this chick­en laid an egg?

The chick­en shits on 44 and some­one yells and the win­ner has the option of tak­ing 100 dol­lars or for­go­ing the 100 dol­lars in exchange for what­ev­er is in Earl’s pock­et. Earl is the lead singer. I don’t see what hap­pens. Door num­ber one or door num­ber 2. My moth­er should have been on game shows. She would have won things.

I’d take the hun­dred,” I say.

I’d go with Earl,” he says.

He prob­a­bly has a nick­el and a gui­tar pick in his pock­et.”

Earl might sur­prise you.”

You just like say­ing Earl.”

Earl could have a whole stack of crisp bills from his gig last night at The Broken Spoke.”

Doubtful.”

We sit on a cou­ple of fold­ing chairs lin­ing the wall and drink our Miller Lite. They don’t have import­ed beer here and they don’t serve liquor. There’s a table full of food: hot dog buns, Lay’s pota­to chips, one crock­pot full of hot dogs and one full of chili. It’s free but hard­ly anybody’s eat­ing. We have run out of things to say to each oth­er. This is our third date. From some angles I find him attrac­tive and from oth­er angles I don’t. Straight on he’s okay. Another game will start soon, anoth­er two dol­lars to try and win the hun­dred or a look in Earl’s pock­et.

What if every­one wants what’s in Earl’s pock­et?” I ask. “He only has so many pock­ets.”

I don’t know,” he says. “That’s a good ques­tion.”

I think I might eat a hot dog.” I stand and walk the few feet over to the table. There’s a whole spread: all free. I put a bun on a plate. It’s soft, squishy. I line it with mus­tard and ketchup and rel­ish and then grab the tongs and fish a hot dog out of the water. “Want one?” I ask. “I’ll make it for you.” I hold the tongs in the air, open and close them.

Hook it up,” he says.

When we fin­ish eat­ing, we go out­side so he can smoke. People are set up in the park­ing lot like they’re tail­gat­ing. There are motor­cy­cles and trucks but there are also nice cars, a Lexus, a Mercedes. That’s what I like best about this town, how peo­ple mix. This is a town it might not be so bad to grow old in.

On our sec­ond date, he took me to shoot guns at an indoor range in Pflugerville. I’m a pret­ty good shot. I once hit a half dol­lar at fifty yards. I tell him I want to shoot guns again and he says okay. I don’t know why I’m always mak­ing future dates with peo­ple I don’t want to be with at the moment. It’s like it will make it okay for me to end the date soon­er, but then I end up hurt­ing their feel­ings more when I back out, when I stop tak­ing their calls. The men left for me to choose from are the divorced, the ones who refuse to mar­ry, and the ones no one wants. The divorced are usu­al­ly best, so long as you get them at least a year after.

It must be start­ing back up,” he says, watch­ing the peo­ple stream inside. We go back in and line up to pay our two dol­lars, hand­ing our bills to the old lady own­er. I get 12. He gets 32. We find our num­bers on the board and then the old lady puts the chick­en in and the chick­en makes an ini­tial lap around the cage to ori­ent itself. I take his arm, stand on my tip­toes. This time the chick­en doesn’t make us wait.

~

Mary Miller is the author of a sto­ry col­lec­tion, Big World. Her work can be found in McSweeney’s Quarterly, Ninth Letter, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, and oth­ers. She lives in Austin, where she is a Michener Fellow at the University of Texas, and serves as Fiction Editor of Bat City Review.