As I was looking over my program, I heard a woman’s voice say my name. I took a second before I said, “Catherine.” Then, I looked up. “This is my friend Darren,” she said. The man standing next to her nodded. Beyond the panes of the glassed-in grandstand, winter sunlight brightened the dingy white rails of the racing oval. This was the second day of the meet. The day before, I’d seen Catherine–whose nickname was Chick when I’d been dating her–sitting with this guy.
I had Denice Bejarano with me and I kept away from them. Today I was by myself and I wanted to sit closer. A year and a half ago, when Chick and I were sharing a motel room in Lafayette, Louisiana, she stole three grand from me. She took the money and split, left me a note that said she’d gone to Memphis to get an abortion. But it was all smoke. I didn’t want to raise a family. I would have driven her to Memphis myself.
I said, “You doing any good?”
Darren looked mid-forties, older than her by a decade. Tall man with gray at his temples. Chick was tall, too, and she wore a snug dress with a green and blue pattern. Maybe she wasn’t working on the backstretch any more. She took his arm and they smiled at one another. “I’m the horseplayer,” she said. Their hands were clean of rings. “How about you?” she said.
“Start of a meet, I’m just trying to see what the trends are.”
“Of course,” she said.
I held over my program. “Here, mark it for me.” I was smiling, I didn’t know if Darren understood. Chick hesitated, then she took the program and began to look through the pages. The third race was coming up.
She turned to check the electronic odds board, which was out in the infield. The grass there was khaki and dry and the dogwood trees along the backstretch were not yet in bloom. “I do have a couple of horses I like,” she said. “Pen, sweetheart.” I knew that she was not talking to me, so I didn’t move. Darren tapped at his waist. She reached for his shirt pocket.
Chick wrote on a page of the program. “I work at the barns back there,” I said to Darren. “Assistant foreman. We just shipped in to Arkansas from New Mexico.” I understood that Chick was listening. I wasn’t assistant anything. I was a groom for a trainer named Forster who’d just run out on a bunch of bills in Albuquerque. I shipped to Hot Springs with Denice, a woman I knew just well enough. She had been married to the same guy for twenty years, but it had broken up. Back in the Q, she worked at a community college, though she had recently lost her job there. At night, she went to some of the same bars I did. We got along well, especially at night, and one of the things she said she liked about me was that I was not a “baggage guy” and that I seemed like a bit of a badass. On a lark, she decided to try Hot Springs. But, she hedged her bets. She was keeping up the rent on the apartment she had back in Albuquerque.
“Maybe you ought to be giving tips to us,” Darren said, though there had been a long moment where no one had said a word. Darren didn’t look completely stupid, perhaps he figured I wanted something. I probably looked like a bottom feeder to him.
“The horses we have … ” I said. Then, I stopped and I shook my head once, which I thought Chick could see from the corner of her eye. “Probably going to be a long winter.” It didn’t hurt to acknowledge it, not right then.
Chick closed the program, held it over to me. She recapped the pen and stuck it in Darren’s shirt pocket. He looked happy about something. Chick wore more make-up than I remembered and she seemed calm. I opened the program, nodded my head, turned a page, then another. “I’ll keep an eye on these,” I said.
“No promises,” she said. “Right, Darren?”
“Not at this place,” he said. I glanced in his direction then. He didn’t appear to be a racetracker, I guessed he might be a horse owner. They were clueless, only in a different way. He and I watched one another and I couldn’t tell what she had told him or what she had needed to. I understood this was as close as they wanted me to be. Maybe they were in love.
“No,” I said. “Not here.” In the program, where the horses for the sixth race were listed, Chick had written a phone number. I closed the program, waved it, said, “Advice is always welcome.”
“We wanted to say hi,” she said. “Didn’t want you to think I didn’t know you.”
“Good luck,” he said.
“Good luck,” I said.
Chick twiddled her fingers in my direction, took his arm, and they turned and moved along. They must’ve gone to a beer stand or the oyster bar near the track gift shop because they did not return to their box seats for a time. I focused on the races, though I hadn’t brought enough cash to play in a meaningful way. I hadn’t shipped over here with much. In the past, I had worked for bigger stables, though I was just a number there. I had ideas about certain horses, but I couldn’t get my superiors to listen. Those outfits always paid on time. The guy I worked for now, he gave us our wages in cash–when he had it. He was always open to suggestions, had said as much to me. I guessed there was a variety of ways that could’ve been interpreted, but I knew if I could spot an angle, we all would benefit. Chick and Darren returned to their box right after the fifth and I stayed for one more race. I didn’t catch either of them looking my way again.
I didn’t feel like hanging around for the feature. My concentration wasn’t what it needed to be and besides there were plenty of race days ahead. I stood up, walked down to the ground floor level and out through the turnstiles for my trusty Chevy Celebrity. I turned on the radio, already had it tuned to a classic rock station–not that there were a lot of options–and drove up the road a mile to my motel, the Cottonland Arms. I pulled into the slip right outside the room, stuck my key into the knob, turned it, opened the door, saw Denice standing at the mirror over the sink at the far end of the room. She was just out of the shower, wore a towel around her head and another around her torso. She must’ve heard me pull up because she didn’t turn, simply watched me in the mirror. The Celeb’s engine did have a ping–it made me think of the guitar intro for “Where the Streets Have No Name.” I walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed. In the trashbasket by the TV stand, there was an empty can of Raid, which I hoped had done its job. Yesterday, we’d seen a spider in the room. It crawled out from under the bed right after I returned from my morning shift. It was smaller than the palm of my hand and it was a pretty nasty looking thing. I dropped a phone book on it. Denice wanted to complain to the manager. I told her this would be a waste of time and instead we drove around until we found a can of Raid strong enough to kill scorpions. I dropped her off at a bar close to our motel, then went to spray our room. A room like this always took some breaking in. I blasted everything, the base of the walls, the corners, the threshold of the door.
Just across from the foot of the bed was a bureau with a rectangular mirror hanging above it. Motel rooms generally have lights that are too bright and there are too many mirrors overall but there’s nothing you can do about it. I watched my reflection in this one as I said, “Saw an old friend who owes me a few thousand. I think they’re good for it.”
I shrugged. “Yeah,” I said. “I caught ‘em at a good time it looks like.”
“Her. The one I was kind of watching yesterday.”
Denice did not say anything.
I said, “I think that’s the key to everything, just catching people at the right time.” I took out my cell phone, consulted the number Chick had written in my racing program. I texted her: can we talk. Denice sat down next to me and I held up the program, pointed to the number. She had taken the towel from her head. She had curly, brown-gray hair and it was wet and metallic-looking now. The skin under her collarbones was freckled and faintly wrinkled. Chick probably had given me the number of a local diaper service. I didn’t say this–a bad joke, even if it would be lost on Denice. “Maybe a bail bondsman,” I said.
“How does a woman come to owe you a few thousand, slick?”
I said, “The short answer is that we weren’t right for each other.”
“You guys are charging a fee for that now?”
“She waited until I had a decent hit at the track, then picked me clean. Closest thing she’d ever get to alimony, that’s for sure. What would you do, let her off the hook? If it will impress you, I will.”
Denice said, “You need the money?”
“I could use it.”
In a moment, she said, ”Make her pay.” Her voice was pretty quiet, though.
I said, “You get the clock radio to work?” I checked the mirror, the radio was behind me. The digital clock was dark.
“Somebody must’ve spilled something on it. I called the front desk, the guy said he didn’t have any extras.”
“We pay by the month,” I said. “Outside of new sheets and towels, we’re on an island. Anyway, got a great place picked out for dinner,” I said, and leaned into her. I ran the back of my hand along her hip and the towel felt coarse.
Denice looked at my hand and I took it away. She said, “Please, fetch me a clock radio. I’m not like you. I need an alarm. Go. Try please.”
I stood, “Okay, okay. I’ll be in the lobby.”
When I was outside, I closed the door behind me, walked up the sidewalk. At the track, it was close to the time for the feature. The better, more reliable horses ran in the feature and if you weren’t trying to make up for big losses earlier on the card, it was usually a manageable race. The nightcap, the race after that, was when the riders occasionally played their games. They held horses, let the crazy longshots win. The horses in the last race were usually running for the cheapest purse of the day and they were wildly unreliable ones to start with. That tri I hit in Lafayette–the money Chick swiped–that was from a Saturday nightcap. Basically I just handicapped the race upside down, searched for any reason in the world to play the outsiders. Sometimes you got lucky when you looked at things that way. Chick had stayed away from the races that day, or more specifically away from me, and when I came back to our room, she was sitting up, watching TV. I tossed the pile of money onto the bed, wanted her to feel better about everything. Later, after she was gone, I understood I’d practically dared her to steal it.
The motel lobby was adjacent to the registration area and the lobby had a knock-off brand flat screen and counter with a coffee pot they kept full. I went right to the rack that had all the pamphlets about local attractions and restaurants. Some advertised mineral baths and massages and then I found one from McLenden’s Barbecue on Central Avenue, which declared itself “Good Enough for the President of the United States.” I memorized the address, went over to make myself a cup of coffee, sat on the couch and looked at the soccer game playing on the TV, which was turned down low. No one was behind the registration counter but in a minute I heard muffled laughter coming from the closed door back there. The guy who ran the Cottonland probably lived here, had a wife and so on. Beyond that door, there might have been all kinds of hallways and hidden rooms, maybe it was like a whole house. I fantasized about owning a motel myself someday. But there would be so many rooms to keep track of. One thing I did know for sure about a motel room was that if you were living in one with someone else you needed to give them space. I’d seen Denice in and out of her clothes plenty already, but that had little to do with privacy. Sometimes a room did not feel big enough to me. It produced a garden-variety panic. The feeling always faded. A motel room had everything and when it was time to go, there was never a lot to keep you there. I heard a tapping at the window that looked out to the street. It was Denice in a sky-blue blouse and jeans. Her hair had big curls and fell to her shoulders. “Where’s my radio?” she said, her breath fogging a place on the glass.
I gave her a thumbs up.
At the barbecue place, we were seated at a table for two and on the wall above us was a color 8x10 of Bill and Hillary Clinton, each of them tilting a full platter towards the camera. Denice and I were looking at the photo when the waitress arrived and Denice gestured in its direction, said, “Do a lot of people just point to the picture and say, ‘I’ll have what they’re having?’”
The waitress, an older woman, had a pencil sticking out from above one ear. She said, “Actually, yes.”
“And beer,” I said, indicating to Denice and myself.
“I can do that for you,” the waitress said.
The platters of food were just like the photo: barbecue, beans, mac-cheese and cole slaw; everything touching everything. We ate without saying much. My cell went off and then I was glad to sit back. It was the number I’d texted and Chick’s voice said, “Look, you can’t follow me around like that.”
I didn’t feel like defending myself, not with Denice there.
Chick said, “Where are you?”
“McClenden’s,” I said. “This place is full of winners.” My eyes went to Denice. I pointed to the phone, then made an imaginary dollar sign in the air. “So, look,” I said.
“Play nice,” Chick said.
I thought for a second, then I said, “Exactly.” Denice was not as far along with her platter, had just cleaned out her cole slaw.
Chick said, “I want to make things straight. I’ve got five hundred in my purse, I’ll bring it to you tomorrow. Not at the track, though.”
“It’s more than that, Chick,” I said. “You know it.” Denice held her fork over her barbecue. She mouthed the word Chick?
The restaurant was noisy. I thought Chick said, “You wanted me to have all of it. You practically threw it on me …”
“I’m with a shaky outfit, man. I already told you.” I didn’t hear anything from her. I looked at my food. “Hey,” I said.
“I’ll bring what I can,” Chick said. “After that, when you see me coming, you gotta duck, you have to run for cover. I like this guy I’m with.”
“I’m already halfway tempted to tell him what’s going on. You can just deal with him.”
Darren looked like his scrapping-over-a-woman days were behind him. But I didn’t say this. “I’m staying at the Cottonland,” I said. “Room sixteen. How about noon tomorrow?” I glanced at Denice.
I kept the phone by my ear after Chick hung up. I thought of something to say into it, something that might make it appear like I was in control of all this. Finally, I just said, “Okay, see ya.” I closed my phone, set it by my platter. “Still in negotiation.”
“Chick?” Denice said. “Her name is Chick?”
“What’s yours? Fella?”
“I was called Ace in high school.”
“I bet you were.”
“What about you?” I was anxious to change the subject. “Nickname-wise, I mean.”
Denice had her elbows on the table. The question seemed to catch her off guard and her thoughts seemed to be moving around. She’d been a teacher but with me she usually had more questions than anything. The whole Chick episode felt a little unwelcome just then. Denice’s arms were in front of her and her chin rested on her folded hands. “On-Your-Knees-Denees,” she said. “I gave my first hummer when I was like fourteen years old.” Her expression was thoughtful. “I went away to college, so I got to start all over again. Nickname-wise.”
“You turned out good, though,” I said.
“You wound up working at a college.”
She watched me for a second. In a moment, her expression seemed sympathetic. “You still like Girl or whatever her name is, don’t you? Don’t be a dick. Just tell the truth.” I didn’t say anything and she seemed to be satisfied. “I’m still in love with my ex husband,” she said. She tried to sound matter of fact. “Kind of.” Her eyes went to the condiments at the middle of our table. Bottles of Tabasco, ketchup, Worchestershire, mini-jalapenos. She looked directly at me then. “But he knows that.” I nodded. “You’re going to let her off easy,” she said.
“I’m not going to just follow her around the whole meeting,” I said. I opened my palms. My arms were on either side of my plate. “Look, tomorrow’s the last of it,” I said.
She brought her arms down in a moment. She picked up her fork. “You shouldn’t make those kind of promises,” she said.
Denice didn’t eat half of what was on her plate and I wondered if she might be in the mood for something else. When we got back to the room, she went to the bathroom and I turned off the lights in the room, had the TV set going with the sound down. She had a black teddy she liked to wear, but she hadn’t unpacked that yet. When she came out of the bathroom, the light from the TV gave a mauve color to her nude body. I felt woozy and she seemed like a hologram in a way. She faced the mirror with her hands on her hips and I guessed what she could see best was what was behind her. Her voice said, “I don’t feel like doing it in the bed, tonight, okay?”
“Turn off that goddamn TV. You don’t know me and you don’t know my name. I want you to lie on the floor and I don’t want you to say a thing.”
“Come over here.”
I laid on the floor and it was easy to concentrate on her at first. My hands were flat on the carpet but then I could not help but think about that spider from the day before. I placed my hands on her shoulders and I said in a whisper, “Come on, finish this.” When we climbed into bed, she didn’t ask if anything was up with me and I was glad she didn’t because I was starting to feel a little unlucky.
At four a.m., I awakened without an alarm and turned on the light on the nightstand. I went to the little bureau beyond the foot of the bed, took out my work clothes and changed in the bathroom. I turned off the nightstand light before I left. Denice did not stir. I closed the door as quietly as possible, turned the knob in my hand to make sure the lock was firm. I drove for the track under the inky night sky, passed the silhouettes of franchise business signs. Hot Springs was a racetrack town, but horse racing was a dying sport and I always had to be careful about my expectations. The track was at the center of things and beyond it, in the direction we’d come from, were the resort hotels, the old bath houses. The big hotels were the emptiest ones, we could tell that when we drove in.
By the time I finished my morning shift at the barn, the sky was pale blue but the air was still pretty cold. I pulled into the parking slip right outside our room, turned off the Celeb, walked to the door, took off my boots and held them by the ankles as I put my key into the knob. The bed was made and there was a piece of paper sitting right there on the middle of it. It was from a motel pad because at the top was the Cottonland’s logo, a sun either rising or setting beyond a line of mountains, which I guessed were the Caddos or the Blue Ouachitas. I thought it might be a kiss-off from Denice and it took a second for my eyes to focus. Took a walk. Probably be back after a while. I tried to think of how mad she was, if I could tell something about that from the handwriting. Just simple, printed letters, like I wouldn’t be able to understand anything else. I took a bath, sat upright for a time, even though the water wasn’t hot enough and the tub was too small for me to keep my legs straight. I didn’t feel particularly clean after all of this.
I put on nice clothes, a brown western-cut shirt and blue jeans, and I was sitting in the chair at the little table for two near the door where there came a knock. It was before noon, I knew that. It was Chick, in a dark-blue wool jacket and jeans. She held her hands in the pockets of her jacket and beyond my car was a blue Saab, a driver behind the wheel. The driver was Darren and he faced straight ahead. Chick and I looked at one another for a second. “Here,” she said and she held over a folded stack of bills that was not three grand. “Take it.” She kept her eyes on my face. Chick said, “I told him everything. He kind of laughed about it.” My eyes went out to Darren again. He continued to look straight ahead. “You got to stay away from us,” she said. She stood on her toes, looked past my shoulder. The bed was made, no one else was here. She cut her eyes to me. “I got out at the right time. You can’t deny that.”
I wasn’t going to. “What kind of place do you have?” I said. She didn’t say anything. “What’s he do?” I said.
“A syndicate manager. A bunch of doctors in Maryland have a string of horses down here.” She shrugged. “He helps find the best races for them. I met him last fall. We’re down here for the winter.” I thought about taking her by the arm, pulling her into the room and closing the door. I wanted to talk to her. Maybe if that was just another groom waiting in the car for her, I would have done just that. I felt the money in my hand.
“We okay?” she said. I didn’t say anything and she said, “I knew you’d be grateful.” She had a look in her eye then, like she was superior and sorrowful all at once. “See ya,” she said. Hands in pockets, she turned and walked past my Celeb for the Saab. She got in on the passenger side and they drove off. I closed the door, stepped back and counted the bills. Five hundred bucks. I counted it again, wanted to feel indignant. A few days ago, I couldn’t have predicted that I would even see Chick here, let alone get anything out of her.
Grateful. That stuck in my throat. I guessed she wanted me to hate her just a little. I had this money in my hand and I wanted to feel all right about it. I was not unhappy with my life, you wouldn’t hear me complaining about it. Grateful simply wasn’t a word I thought of frequently. At some point, I sat down on the edge of the bed and I might have stayed there for a little while. I guessed that one obvious truth was that I’d felt more for Chick than I’d ever cared to admit. I thought of the time I’d thrown the money on the bed the way I had when we had been sharing a room together. That should have been a good moment in my life. It only had told the truth about something. I did not want to be sitting on the bed feeling defeated so I clicked on the TV, flipped channels for a minute, then turned it off again. I went to the bathroom counter, brushed my teeth, combed my hair with my hand, then pulled on my boots and stepped outside. I started the Celeb, dialed Denice to see where she might be, and when she answered there was the sound of the wind blowing. Cars were going by, too, I could hear as much. There weren’t any sidewalks along our stretch of highway and I said, “Let me pick you up right now.”
“Hang a right leaving the motel lot,” her voice said. “You can’t miss me.” I drove for a minute and there were business signs, telephone poles, a sandy-looking sky. She was walking on the shoulder, away from our motel. I had to pull past her and then I waited. She wore her brown-and-black checked jacket and her hair was blowing all around. She got in on the passenger side and and I had dropped my hands from the wheel. “I got five hundred,” I said.
Her expression didn’t reveal much. “Let me see it,” she said. When I held over the money it felt, just for a second, like we had been in on a scheme together. “Hundreds,” she said. “You know what that means don’t you?” Cars swooshed past us and the Celeb rocked. “She had more.”
“Nothing is really on the books, you know?” I said. “That’s the problem.” I thought she would say something to this and was glad she didn’t. I glanced at the side mirror, decided to pull out.
“Oh, I really don’t feel like going to the track today,” Denice said.
We were headed in that direction, and I said, “I don’t really feel like it, either.”
“Bullshit,” she said. “Here.” She held the money back over to me. My first instinct was to say Take something for yourself but Denice was not a racetracker. I put it in my pocket. I wondered if I should ask about where she was walking to or what she had been thinking about. Traffic slowed as we neared the track and she kept her eyes in the direction of the brick grandstand.
When we were past that, I said, “We can hang a right on Route 12, drive to Little Rock. See the Clinton Museum.”
She shrugged. “I don’t vote.”
We were already heading in the direction of the older downtown area, for the places that once offered mineral baths and now had historical signs in front of them. I said, “I think a couple of the hotels up there still have open spas. Pretty sure the Hot Springs Resort does.” Denice seemed to be curious about the bath houses we passed. It had warmed up a little, was early afternoon now. We had passed these old spas on our way in but we had been searching for our motel then. We were at a red light. I said, “Let me treat you.”
“What would I have to do?” she said.
I shrugged. “Nothing. The Hot Springs Resort is right up here.” It was a huge resort hotel with a granite facing and a dozen floors. A bronze-like dome was on top. It had to be the biggest hotel in Arkansas. She didn’t say anything and we aimed in that direction. When we pulled into the hotel’s half-circle driveway, I wheeled us to the entrance and a valet appeared, a young black guy in a loose-looking maroon jacket. He held the door for Denice and she did not get out of the car. I said, “The baths are open, right?”
“Yes,” he said. “Second floor.”
“Go on,” I said to her. She seemed hesitant for some reason. She had her hands folded and she held them in her lap. “I’ll park the car and then I’ll go up there and wait for you.”
“You’re not going to get one?”
“Maybe I will,” I said. “They’ll take care of you.” The kid who’d opened the door for her seemed cautious about something. “Here,” I said, and wiggled the money back out of my pocket. I gave her a hundred. I nodded to the kid, said, “I’ll get you when I come back. Go on now,” I said.
As she walked for the glass doors of the hotel entrance, the kid stayed one step ahead of her. He held the door for her and I decided to get going. I could have let him park the car but then when we came out of the baths he’d have to bring it back for me. I’d have to tip him twice and I didn’t want to act like a big shot like that.
Farther down the street there was metered parking and I had some change at the bottom of cup holder. When I walked into the lobby of the Hot Springs Resort, the kid was there, standing at the registration desk, talking to the guy working behind the counter. The lobby was massive. The floors were made of marble and over to the right was a cocktail lounge with sofas and a bar counter with a half-dozen stools in front of it. Behind the counter, a frosted mirror went all the way to the ceiling. The elevators were farther down. I took one up, stepped out on the second floor onto a red-carpeted hallway and followed a sign, made a right, went all the way to the end of another hallway. I opened a door at the end of it, and stepped into a waiting room area where the chairs had leatherette seats and backs, chrome arms and legs. Right away, I thought of the barber shop my old man had taken me to, back when I still had someone telling me what to do. A large woman with short red hair sat behind a counter and I said, “I’m just gonna wait for my friend. She came in here a few minutes ago, I think.” The walls were white. Near the woman, white towels were stacked on room-service carts. “What are they going to do to her back there?” I said. The woman blinked, then she pointed to a brochure on the counter. “Oh,” I said. “Okay.”
I took a chair in the waiting area, read about the 100-degree baths, how hot packs were applied to “particularly stressful areas” and so on. Following a shower was an optional full-body Swedish massage. I hoped that Denice got that. We had not been here long, and I guessed she didn’t have a positive view of Hot Springs as yet. If she could hang around until spring, she’d see how pretty the backstretch was when the dogwoods were in bloom. At the end of the meet was Arkansas Derby week and the stands would really be rocking.
I could’ve been back there getting a massage, too, that wasn’t lost on me, but whatever that would’ve cost would’ve meant that much less in my pocket when I went to the races. Playing the horses influenced the way I looked at money and how it could work for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t deserve something good like a hot springs bath and a massage, it’s just I didn’t see how it could change anything. That was the way I tended to look at life’s luxuries. It might seem like a sad outlook from a distance and one day, when my luck turned for good, I probbaly would take a different view. But there was no sense in fooling myself until then.
My eyes closed at one point because I was thinking of things so intently and I felt a bit tired, too. I felt something close to my face. It was Denice. Her face was free of make-up and she looked sympathetic. She had her hair tied back and had on the clothes she’d worn when she’d been walking along the highway. Over her right forearm was her brown-and-black checked jacket, but there was also a folded white cotton robe. “Ready?” she said.
“Time?” I said. I stood up too fast and she helped to balance me.
“Yep.” She waved in the direction of the lady behind the counter. “Bye, Marcy,” she said.
“Goodbye,” the lady said.
Denice and I walked down the hallway and I said, “You stealing that robe?”
“Complimentary,” she said.
I touched the call button for the elevator and felt like asking her about the bath and the massage. She could talk about it when she wanted. We rode the elevator down and once we were out in the lobby, she tucked the folded robe between her knees and started to pull on her coat. “I can hold that,” I said, but then she had her jacket on and the bunched-up white robe was tucked under her arm like a football. “We’re over here,” I said and we began to walk up the sidewalk. Once we were in the Celeb, she sat in the passenger seat, let out an exhale, leaned over and kissed my cheek. I thought she was going to say thanks but then I was glad she didn’t. It was the middle of the afternoon and there was the faintest of blue in the sky.
She seemed to be studying my profile. Then, she dipped her head, picked at the belt of the robe. “I heard a couple of the attendants talking about horses,” she said. “Like the two horse in the eighth race today or something. Just a couple of old gals. They said a trainer had been in there earlier. Just first drop me off at the motel …” she said. The robe was in her lap and her arms were folded over it.
“Sure,” I said. I started the car, made a U-turn right there on Central and we drove past the resort. The sky was silvery and the sun was at our backs as we rode down Central Avenue. I thought of myself in a huge porcelain bathtub, my arms hanging off the sides. I thought of attendants standing there, waiting with folded towels. I swallowed, I felt like saying something positive about my future, but for some reason I couldn’t. My eyes went to the robe she held onto, and, after a second, she dropped her arm more to her side.
“Go on, you can touch it,” she said.
“Just for luck,” I said. I wanted to show her I wasn’t afraid of anything. I moved my hand over the top section of the robe. It was soft, pleasant.
“Tough guy,” she said.
“Right,” I said, though my voice was pretty quiet. I just tried to think of something positive then. I would be at the track soon. Even if I didn’t feel like I was going to win anything, sometimes it was best to just go on and go.
Andy Plattner’s novel, Offerings from a Rust Belt Jockey, will be available in October from Dzanc Books. He has new short stories forthcoming in The Southern Review and Sewanee Review.