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And All the Country Wept With a Loud Voice

Second-place winner

By Greg Koehler, Fri., Feb. 28, 2014

What kind of music do you want for your funeral, I say.

What the fuck do you mean, says Tina, squinting at me with her big yellow eyes. She smacks her gum and spits it out, missing the wastebasket in front of the 7-Eleven, though it has one of those swinging doors and the little wad of neon green wouldn't have gone through it anyways.

I'm not dying, she says, I'm just skipping town.

No one in this town dies. They leave. Any folks who think they are or might be dying get up the next morning and, knowing or thinking they are or might be dying, get in their truck and drive away and don't come back, even if they don't die die wherever it is they go to be gone.

I say, We're having a funeral for you day after tomorrow. If you're leaving tomorrow. Tomorrow if you leave today. I'm not booking the church, though. We'll do this one at the pizza parlor.

We throw a funeral for anyone who leaves whether or not we suspect they think they are or might be dying. Weeping, soaring music, flowers, boozy remembrances if appropriate to the gone. The mourning lasts longer than what we expect others spend on the dead when they die die.

No one has left town since Tina arrived. She's not attended a funeral for the leaving, and already she is going.

Disco, she says looking into the far away. Book it for sometime next week though, she says without looking back at me as she stands and pops into her Subaru Brat. She turns the key and the engine turns over with its familiar clicks, and I hear honky-tonk music on the stereo loud through the cracked window. "Settin' the Woods on Fire" maybe.

I pull a tissue out of my pocket and gently pick up the green wad of gum and push open the swinging door to the wastebasket and drop it in.

***

The wall tent I live in isn't exactly hidden from sight of the church, but it is tucked away behind a small stand of trees. Perhaps only someone curious about the bright orange extension cord running from the back of the sanctuary out to the south would follow it across the yard where there would be a cemetery if anyone died in our town. Behind the little stand of scrub oaks they would see a green canvas tent on a large wooden pallet and, should they untangle the cloth ties holding the door shut, they'd find a simple cot with two wool blankets neatly folded and a chest containing a few sets of clothing and a small wooden desk and chair. The extension cord powers an electric coffeemaker and a single lamp and a box fan I run for comfort in the summer and for white noise in any weather.

I mow the lawn, polish chalices and wash vestments with the Altar Guild ladies, change light bulbs and such to pay my rent. The priest expects I might be called to the cloth. I expect I am just sad and a little worried by the Devil.

Tina arrived in town with no friends and, over the course of the weeks she has been here, has not made an effort to gather any. Darcy often knowingly slides her a free glass of bourbon neat across the bar at Sorry's as if they share some uncomplicated secret.

I've shared my cot with her a few times, but we rarely speak, and I am confident neither of us, if asked, would say we were friends.

***

The Devil makes you run around like that, I say one night, loosened by the pint or so of bourbon I had already taken.

While others were sitting slump-shouldered in booths, bobbing heads to the typical Thursday fare, Tina had run around the room with a strange fury, jumping onto and off of chairs, her yellow eyes widened and terrible, as if she was hearing a different song, one that provoked not a bobbing head but an otherworldly anger.

At song's end she returned to our booth and lit a cigarette, no one in the room seemed bothered by the display.

You don't know anything about the Devil, she says vaguely smiling but not looking directly at me. There's no devil in a dance or a drink or a screw. The Devil's the one in your head that tells you to stay in your head.

I say, The Devil is in a pencil knocking against a desk over and over and over. The Devil is in a beer can dropped out the window of a moving car.

Bullshit, she says. The Devil worries you about the knocking, about the trash in a drainage ditch, then pats you on the ass for being the one who's worried about it.

***

Tina, I say.

Don't say my name, she says. It makes me like you more than I do.

***

It is late at Sorry's one quiet weeknight and I am sorry to be there, embarrassed that I had to carry out a friend who fell asleep in the chair by the door a few nights ago, on a Friday. But there are few patrons and the lights are dim and Tina is here and I am watching her.

She comes to the table with a pint glass full of red wine for herself and a bourbon on ice with a splash of water for me. I know that either Darcy has given her the drinks or she has put them on my tab.

Do you want to dance, she says as a song by Poison or Warrant or Sheriff comes on over the stereo. Her teeth are already stained blue with wine, but her composure is strange, complete and undiminished.

Why, I say.

Because I won't be here long and I like this song.

Where are you going, I say, trying not to seem interested, though I have given myself away just by asking. We speak so rarely.

Probably to die, she says.

Why did you come here first, I say.

I needed to kill a few weeks, she says, and I have. I guess I still feel called on to fuck the devil out of you a few times while I'm at it, if you believe in destiny and all that.

My version of the devil or yours?

Mine, she says and walks out into the middle of the room, to what would pass for a dance floor if there were ever some occasion to dance.

I take my tumbler and drink the rest of the watery bourbon and follow her. I run my hand through my hair and remember I have not bathed for several days. Look away, baby, look away, the song goes and I realize I haven't heard it for a decade and it is not Warrant or Sheriff but Chicago, and I am embarrassed again by how much I like the song myself.

She puts her hand around my waist and rests it at the base of my back, gently placing her other hand on my upper arm, her arm crooked up against her own body between us, a pose I have only seen made by old folks who know how to dance together, have done for years. She buries her face in my neck and I know I have never felt anything so tender in my life and I expect I never will again.

***

I told you I wanted you to play disco.

Yeah, I heard you. I decided to spare us the additional grief. This is for us after all.

It's my funeral you fucker.

It's not a funeral anymore if you're still town, I say. I thought you'd be gone by now. But, since you're here, I'll tell the boys to quit crying and we can all us just continue hanging the fuck out, drinking beer, playing Pac-Man, and listening to Webb Pierce real loud. You wanna slice of pepperoni on me?

Oh it's still a funeral, she says and ashes her cigarette on the slice of pizza I have extended to her. She walks over to the stereo to stop the tape and to do so snaps the plug from the wall with her free hand while pulling a lungful of smoke from the cigarette and blowing it into the heavy air of the parlor.

I shrug and take a bite of the slice of pizza she has fouled, careful to avoid the ash.

At the jukebox she drops 12 quarters into the slot one by one and hits the number 3407, 3407 again, and again for 15 times using every one of her quarters and each of her three bonus tracks to play the A-Teens version of "Dancing Queen." I have no idea why the A-Teens are on the jukebox at the pizza parlor in goddamn Glorieta, Texas, but it is the closest thing they've got to disco and Tina seems proud to have known this strange secret.

The song drives us from the parlor immediately as we follow her out the door into the stark, glaring light of the day. The light is bright but silver, the sky overcast but burning.

The light and the beer and the pizza turn my eyes and my stomach.

Tina moves fast, sliding into the seat of the Brat and starting the engine and swinging the wheel around, pulling away in a pale cloud, as if all in one motion, as if she had not interrupted the affair at all.

She does not turn her head back at me to catch my eye for a last look and I know she is stone cold and pregnant and never coming back.

Behind us someone else staggers into the day and the open door sends out a few more bars of the tune we are left by her to remember her by.

I close my teary eyes tight and wretch and leave my meal in the dust of the parking lot.

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