WRITER & VISUAL ARTIST
By Jenn Powers
Previously Published in Blotterature
In a quiet town, there’s Hunter Bar. It’s hidden away within the shadowy countryside. Around the corner, at the Route 24 intersection, cops wait in a gas station parking lot. They wait for the bar to empty out. They sip stale coffee and take notes. The beer signs glow through the pines. They flicker like lightning bugs on a warm summer evening. But tonight it’s not summer and it’s not warm. Everything is frozen, including Anna’s facial expression as she walks into Hunter Bar. The hardwood floors are sprinkled with popcorn and beer bottle tops. They play CCR and Mellencamp on the juke box, and bearded men dance cheek-to-cheek with ladies in leather jackets. Anna watches the men tilt and dip and kiss the women. Something sinks inside of her.
Anna perches on a stool at the bar. She sports a poor-boy cap. Her eyes are dark—like she’s already dead—and red from crying all day, alone, now gulping Blue Moon out of a tall, water-stained glass. The burly guy from across the bar eyes her. He’s maybe forty, forty-five. Older. His stare is fixed, immoveable, almost discomforting. She usually never smiles back, but things are different now that Sam broke up with her, so she returns a grin. He slides off his bar stool. He waddles a bit from the extra weight around his middle. He’s harmless. Her throat tightens, ready to reject him, until a slow song comes on the jukebox, and something tells her to live a little. She allows his company.
“Buy you another?” he asks.
“Blue Moon,” she says. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure.” He has rough, calloused hands, the fingernails uneven and edged in grease. A couple of hours pass and she can’t believe how much they have in common. They clink beers. Laugh. Touch. “Would you like to go see the lights?”
“Lights?” she asks.
“Yeah, the lights. Rich neighborhood I know of has all these fancy lights up for Christmas.”
Anna hesitates, thinks for a moment. The burly man peels the label off his beer bottle, waiting for an answer. Stay busy, just go, she thinks. She stares at her empty glass, says, “Sure.”
Outside the wind snatches her poor-boy cap and tosses it into the darkness, reminding Anna of unknowns stronger than herself, perhaps hiding and waiting. The burly man parked his pickup truck away from the other vehicles. “Why’d you park so far away?” she asks.
“Don’t like parking next to drunks. They scratch up my truck.”
The beer eases her mind, jellies her legs. The hopelessness disappears, but she knows thoughts of Sam will crowd her mind once she arrives home alone. The burly man opens the truck door for her. He shoves items off the seat and onto the floor. “Jump in,” he says. The wind hisses through the trees, then, somehow, before she jumps in the truck, her body hits the ground. The gritty parking lot scrapes her face. She tastes dirt, earthy and rich. She feels the crunch of sand between her teeth, the burly man’s strength, steel-toed boots jabbing her ribs, calloused hands on her skin, wet breath.
Later, the burly man drives past the cops in the gasstation parking lot. He plows down Route 24, shaking, exhilarated. He passes Anna’s house off Route 24, with the above-ground pool in back, and a battered swing set rusty from the Atlantic rains. He passes the 7-Eleven where she hung out in high school, the local park where she sipped stolen cans of beer in middle school, the swimming hole in elementary school, Saint Mary’s Church for her baptism, escaping Hunter Bar where her parents met, where they clinked beers on their first date, where CCR and Mellencamp played on the juke box, where Anna wasn’t even a thought, five miles from home, at Hunter Bar, deep in the country.