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.”
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.