Saturday, April 26, 2014

Painting Tacoma, Chapter Eighteen: The Girls of Idaho


The horseshoe that never saw a horse stood on its toes, leaning against the stake like a drunk on a bar. Another horseshoe cartwheeled in, hooked him by the collar and yanked him off his feet. He landed a foot away, flat on his back, staring at the cloud-spotted sky.
            “You bitch!”
            “That was so rude!”
            “There are no manners in horseshoes.”
            The day before the blues tour, they were walking through Wright Park when they stumbled on ten pair of horseshoe pits. Each end was fitted with a wooden rain shelter; one of them read, “Tacoma Horseshoe Club.” Tacoma insisted that they go out and buy some shoes.
            Two weeks after the tour, it was clear that one of them had been practicing. She had developed a low-trajectory toss that cleared out his point-makers like a linebacker taking out quarterbacks. His only chance was to fall behind on points, forcing her to throw first. Sadly, this was not hard to do.
            Tacoma hurled the next one so low it barely cleared the grass. It landed on the dirt and slid straight ahead, embracing the stake with its outspread arms. Tacoma, 15 to 13.
            “Aiee,” cried Shawn, face in hands.
            “Poor honey,” Tacoma cooed. “Just remember what a nice winner I can be.” She slapped him on the butt.
            “I’ll keep that in mind,” said Shawn, collecting their shoes. “Would you like to whoop me again, or would you prefer a mocha?”
            She was so fond of the beverage, he had taken to calling her “Tamocha.” It came in handy for getting out of unpleasant situations.
            “How come you never get that look when you look at me?” he asked.
            “If you covered yourself in chocolate and espresso, maybe I would.”
            “Okay. But not hot espresso.”
            They carried their horsehoes downhill to the Kickstand.
            “What the hell happened to the rest of the horse?”
            Shawn leaned over the counter to give Wendy a kiss on the cheek.
            “How ‘bout a couple mochas, quick as you can make ‘em?”
            “Sure! Hi Tacoma, how ya doin’?”
            “Just kicked my boyfriend’s ass.”
            “Good. He deserves it, leaving you alone to go on tour. This woman is gorgeous, Shawn! Were you gonna find anyone like her in Idaho?”
            “No,” said Shawn.
            “Good answer,” said Wendy.
            Tacoma and Shawn sat and talked about Tacoma’s job. She’d been promoted to sales, and was excited at the chance to make more money. A half-hour later, they ran into Angie at the elevator.
            “Angie!” said Shawn. He wrapped her in a hug and lifted her off the ground.
            “Hi Shawn. How are ya?”
            “Angie, this is Tacoma. Tacoma, my pal Angie. She lives in the basement with the mole people.”
            “But the rent is cheap. So,” she said. “You’re the legendary Tacoma! I’m so glad to see you guys back together. It was so obvious Shawn was still stuck on you. But hey – I gotta split. Movie date with a girlfriend. Let’s get together sometime for a card game.”
            “Aw, go fuck yourself,” said Shawn. Angie laughed and pushed her way out the door.

After their lovemaking, Shawn lay flat on his back, staring through the blinds at the cloud-spotted sky. Tacoma played with his hair, separating a lock, studying it, setting it aside. Shawn could feel questions coming to the surface like koi in a pond.
            “It was a nice day today,” she said, a trial balloon.
            “It’s a shame I have to go home.”
            “Then stay.”
            “No. Don’t want to stress out the bipolar bear.”
            Shawn rose to his knees and stared at her.
            “What?” she asked.
            “Before you burst a blood vessel,” he said, “you’d better ask me that question.”
            Tacoma ran both hands through her hair. “Well...”
            She took a breath that hunched her shoulders.
            “You’re very popular.”
            “With girls. You have a lot of girl... friends.”
            Shawn was working hard to keep that fatal first response from his lips. Tacoma went on.
            “The girl who used to dry-hump you during the Tonight Show is making our mochas. And Angie, whose eyes go off like flash bulbs when she sees you...”
            Shawn sat back on his haunches and put a hand on her knee.
            “First thought: comparing Wendy or Angie to you is like comparing Puyallup to Paris. Second: nothing happened with either one.”
            “Because they never gave you the chance?”
            “Wendy propositioned me after three hours. And Lord, does she owe me a few. But she’s the past. She’s Ellensburg.”
            “So you turning her down had nothing to do with me.”
            “At the time, you and I were not together. I was free to do what I wanted. But you have succeeded in setting the bar so high that I didn’t want to come down.”
            Tacoma seemed to enjoy that response, but she fought to maintain her prosecutor’s demeanor.
            “But you are attracted to Angie.”
            “Yes. Angie is attractive. But again, two unattached people, and nothing happened.”
            “Because she didn’t give you the chance.”
            “She didn’t jump all over me, no. But think about it: four, five dates and I didn’t even try to hold her hand. I’m not a dog, Tacoma. I don’t operate on automatic. Romance is like a third person in the room. It has to enter of its own accord.”
            Tacoma’s eyes flicked back and forth. “A third person.”
            He brought his face to hers and said, “A third person, made up of the gestures, feelings and intimacies that pass between two people.”
            He kissed her on the forehead and stood.
            “Would you like some water?”
            “Yes,” she said.
            He filled a glass at the sink, relieved that he had passed the gauntlet. Her question drifted over his shoulder like a yellowjacket.
            “So what about the tour?”
            He handed her the glass.
            “It went very well.”
            “What about the girls of Idaho?”
            He didn’t have a good response, so he didn’t say anything. Tacoma took a swallow and opened her eyes.
            “So you and I... were not exclusive.”
            He opened the blinds, Rainier glowing pink in the sunset. Perhaps it would blow up and save him the trouble.
            “I didn’t have faith in us,” he said. “not yet. And I was living out a dream. I wanted it... unfettered. I’m sorry. I was trying not to make any promises.”
            “Did anything... happen?”
            “Because the girls of Idaho... didn’t give you the chance?”
            He had to hold that one for a while.
            A tear leaked from the corner of her eye. Another contribution to the third person. He would’ve done anything to take it back.

He woke at six o’clock, to the sound of his phone.
            “Hi. I’m sorry for waking you, but I can’t go to work without...”
            She stopped.
            “Tacoma? What is it?”
            “Are we exclusive... now?”
            “Thanks. Now go back to sleep.”
            “Consider it done.”
            He slumped to the pillow, cordless in hand.

Photo by MJV
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