Chasing Steam

She spun in a tight circle, her frilled purple skirt lifted outwards, showing her knees and a sliver of thigh.  Her movements were joyous and graceful, completely cut loose from concern; a feat that came as naturally to her as walking or breathing.  Stiffly, Mark tried and failed to match her rhythm though he almost danced with the same abandon —perhaps contagious— flowing from Bethany as she revelled.

A DJ wearing huge chrome headphones played music you’ve never heard of, a trendy beat.  A roomful of rapturous twenty-somethings pulsed along.  Lights flashed.

He handed her a beer.  They clinked necks and danced on.

I think I want to go home, she told him between songs.  Her lips were so close to his ear he could hear them part wetly.

Mark slid the ticket across the counter.  He thought that the coat-check girl was almost pretty.

Outside the bar, the night was heavy and thick, a rain needed to fall.  Walking under the sky offered no refreshment to the sweaty masses that poured from inside.  The air was still.  Mark looked at his watch.  It had stopped at 2:10 am.  It had to be two hours past that now.

Steam, white and powdery looking, poured from the manholes.  He watched it disappear, its edges, tumultuous and churning white to grey, grey to nothing in an instant.

Bethany stumbled as she strolled toward him.  Do you have a smoke?

I think so.  He checked his jacket.  A battered pack of cigarettes with three inside.  Here.  He lit one for himself and then her’s.  The orange tip bobbed violently, her hands moved flippantly as she spoke.

Are you fixing to drive, Mark?  Her eyes were half closed.  Her straw blonde hair was a tangled fright, a symptom of running her hands through it when she danced.  We can take a walk or get a cab.  People around them were having the same discussions.

His mouth tasted like beer.  Yeah, I’m fine.  It’s too far to walk.  I’m tough.

I know it.  Moisture glistened on her skin.  Smoke rolled out of her mouth as she spoke.

He opened the door for her and helped her inside.  He shut the door softly once she was seated, it clicked ajar and he used his hip to push it securely in.  Their seat bets clicked.  He pushed the key into the ignition as the cab light faded.  The truck turned over easily.  Mark rubbed his face with both hands and he shifted into gear.

I might get a place in Cuba when all of this is over, Beth.

Cuba?  She was incredulous.  Amused, she sorted derisively.

Yeah, Cuba, why?

What is it with you and your friends?  You guys get all your quirks from Hemingway.

Mark squinted, staring ahead.  A moment passed.  Hemingway said the same thing about Mencken, you know.  He smiled mischievously in the blue light of the dash.

Who the fuck is Mencken?

They drove in silence, down city streets.  They passed the last cigarette between them.  Blue smoke coiled out the driver’s side window and sparks streaked backwards when he ashed.

I had a lot of fun tonight, he said, hoping to rouse her.

His truck had a bench seat.  He told her once that it was one of the last models to have one.  The gear stick came right out of the floor.  His hand on the knob, felt the vibrations of the transmission and easily shifted into third.

Me too.  I wish we got to do this stuff more often.

She leaned against the window.  He could see her faint reflection in the glass, an image, incorporeal.  Beth kicked off her boots.  She puller her legs into herself, light from the dash displays cast them blue.  Her purple skirt looked black.

Hey, I’m back now.  Don’t worry.  The lines on the pavement moved slowly from left to right then back again.  The truck rolled on.  It’s rhythm lulled Mark, like a child nuzzled into its mother’s breast.  He looked out at the night, the darkness.  I like it when you dance.

She turned to face him.  I know it.  After a few attempts, she unfastened her seat belt.  I like it when you dance with me.  Bethany stretched herself out, resting her head in his lap.  The road bumped.  You don’t have to go out again soon do you?

He sucked his teeth.  His mouth was dry.  No, I don’t reckon so.  He reached over her to gear the truck down for the turn ahead.  He pulled the truck onto her street.  Trees lined the way and the houses were made of brick.  He bumped the sidewalk with the tire as he coasted down the pavement.  The breaks squeaked, he parked in front of her house.

Good.  I don’t want you to go no more.  I get sad, Mark.  Real sad.  She sounded lost and far away.

Time for you to go to bed.  He laughed a little.

Not yet.  She fumbled with his belt buckle.  Not yet.

Mark looked at his own reflection in the window.  Just as thin and ethereal.

A white police car rolled by and shone a light into the cab of Mark’s truck.  It slowed down to a crawl.  The two officers looked at him.  One nodded and touched the peak of his hat.  The light went out and they went on their way.

He stepped out of the truck and wiped his brow with his sleeve.  The night hadn’t cooled; no rain had fallen.  The air had a texture like gauze, uneven.  Mark opened her door, reached into the glovebox, and shoved something into his pocket.  He helped her out and they went towards the apartment.  She clung to his arm, holding her boots in her free hand.  His belt clinked as he walked.

Are you going to take in your bag?

I’ll get it in the morning.

She unlocked the front door.  She set her boots on the floor while Mark stepped on the heel of his to get them off.  The leather of the boot was worn bald there.

Mark pulled down the covers while Beth brushed her teeth.  Outside, dawn threatened.  She slipped into bed next to him.  He could taste the salt on her lips.  The night hadn’t cooled and no rain had fallen.

Beth woke.  Her head ached, pressure from inside or outside, she couldn’t tell.  She was uneasy and sat up.  The bed was cool and empty.  None of Mark’s clothes were on the floor.  Throwing back the pale yellow sheets, she cursed.  She felt like she was going to cry.  She stood up and breathed in through her nose, she tried to let her breath push out on her body: she felt it was crumpling into a an intolerable heap.  Her stomach rolled.

Even with a heavy overcast, the sunlight was too bright in the kitchen.  The late morning had a wasted feeling to it, the kind of feeling one only got on a Sunday.  She poured water into the kettle, set it on the stove, and sat at the kitchen table.  She pulled her housecoat around her.

You fucking bastard, Marcus Fitzpatrick.

She glanced out into the porch: his boots were gone.  Looking around the kitchen, she could see that at least he has something to eat before he left.  Grapes, maybe.  Certainly some toast and cheese.

The kettle grumbled to a slow boil.

Beth noticed an envelope on the table with her name written on it.  It wasn’t sealed.  She read her own name aloud.  Bethany Billiard.  Inside she found a hand written note and a bauble.  A ring with a simple, small diamond fell into her shaking hand.  She picked it up between her thumb and finger.  It was surprisingly light.  It’s golden curve was pitted slightly, the modest diamond was set in a seat of four prongs.  There was a small amount of detailing near the seating.

The note read:

Bethany,

You deserve better.  You need to know that before you answer.

Marcus

She snapped onto the ring on the table, her head fell into her hands.  She was spinning.  The kettle sputtered and steam rolled from it.  The day was hot and it wouldn’t rain.

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One thought on “Chasing Steam

  1. This has become one of my favourite stories of yours. Did think it could top the golum (spelling)…but it’s probably neck and neck right now.

    “Aren’t you glad you’re not a golum?”

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