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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Four

It took him twenty minutes to make it up to the Public Market near the Belltown area. It was just a few blocks more to the Rendezvous, where the action in the bar appeared to be going full steam ahead. He asked the bouncer about the “Word”, and was told that events were always held in the theater at the back. But he still had to pay the cover charge. He grudgingly paid five dollars and made his way to the bar, where he ordered a glass of water. His head was feeling pretty clear, but he wanted to keep it safe.

At the back there was a short hallway jogging off to the right, and at the end of the hallway he was met by a young woman with long, brown hair. Very pretty. She was holding a big red felt pen and stood next to a giant pad of paper propped up on an easel. On the pad was a list of what Jeb guessed was the order of speakers, numbered in order of appearance. There were several blanks at the bottom of the page.

“Here to listen to the readings?”

“Yep.” He had a feeling about her. “I’m Jeb. Are you Amy?”

“Yes! Jeb! So glad you could make it! What took you so long?”

“Got caught in a bachelor party down in Pioneer Square,” said Jeb, honestly. He resisted the urge to lean in and hug his publisher. She did seem quite huggable.

“So you’re just gonna waltz right in here and read your stuff, are you?” Her soft voice gave away an inexpertly concealed tease.

“Er . . . yeah, I was going to. Unless . . .” Jeb went along with it anyway.

“Well, the regulars have finished up. Now we’re into the open mike stuff, but we have a few slots to fill before are time is up.” She had the gentlest voice he’d ever heard.

“The time is up?”

“Yeah; the crowd is getting anxious for the band to come on.”

“The band?”

“Yeah, there’s a band playing at midnight, so we gotta wrap this up soon.”

“Oh . . .”

“So how do you want to be introduced?”

Jeb told her to just give his name, and that was having a poem published in the next edition of Letter X. This seemed simple enough, but Amy wrote this down with a regular pen on a smaller pad of paper.

“Are you doing the introductions?” asked Jeb.

“Nope. I’m writing it down for Nicole,” she nodded towards a blond girl who had just taken the stage. “She’s one of the editors, and she’s a lot better at getting up in front of people than I am.”

Nicole finished introducing the next reader and up walked a man who looked to be in his mid thirties; older than Jeb, at any rate. He was wearing dark pants and a white tee-shirt, had glasses with thick plastic frames and was reading from a thick wad of papers held in his right hand. After he’d been introduced by the emcee everybody started affectionately yelling, “Dude!” “Doood!” Evidently he was well known.

“My first piece here is inspired by a lot of Bukowski’s work . . .”

He went on to read a poem that really did sound a little like the venerable poet laureate of bars not quite so nice as the one in which they were all now gathered. It was about cigarettes, whiskey and sex with a fat broad in an old car. The next poem was about cigarettes, vodka, and sex with fat broad on an old rug. Jeb found all this a little too much until he heard the lines, “your love is an open envelope full of old receipts / on which I would scrawl only verbs,” which made Jeb think of the Divorcee and wished he had written himself. The dude read one more poem, and when he finished the audience clapped their hands enthusiastically.

While Nicole walked back onto the stage with her note pad Jeb took another look at the crowd. Could it be? It was hard to tell in the dark at the back of the room, but he was almost sure the guy in the blue jacket was leaning up against the back wall not ten feet away. This was too much for a coincidence. It had to be the same guy, although he did a pretty good job of pretending he wasn’t by avoiding anything that came close to eye contact. Jeb’s attention was then diverted by the young woman on stage, who was introducing him as one of the featured poets in the next issue of Letter X. Jeb certainly liked the sound of that, and forgetting about his shadow, he bounded out of his chair and up the center aisle to the stage. By this time he felt completely and utterly sober. Terrifyingly so.

He was surprised at how bright it was up there at the podium, and momentarily considered grabbing a drink from one of the tables in the front row. Ridiculous thoughts such as this can sometimes help calm down a person suffering from stage fright, but in the moment Jeb didn’t consider it so ridiculous. He stepped down from the stage and grabbed a shot glass from one of the tables in front.

“I’m parched,” he said. “I’ll get you another when I’m done here.” He tossed it back with a couple of quick swallows and said, “Scotch, huh? I’m Irish myself, but I do appreciate it.”

The man looked amazed at first, then clenched his face into an annoyed sneer when Jeb set the glass back down. Jeb took another step back up to the podium and into the spotlight, and got ready to speak.

Then he realized that he hadn’t bothered to bring anything to read.

He made a show of reaching into his back pocket. Then his coat pockets. “Got it here somewhere . . .” he mumbled into the microphone. He felt his face turning red.

“Read the one about your mom!” yelled someone from the back. Of course Jeb knew it wasn’t just anybody. It was the man in the blue jacket who’d been following him all that night. Jeb held his hands above his eyes so as to see through the glare of the spotlight. He heard some people in the crowd giggling a little and decided he couldn’t let it go without comment.

“How ‘bout I read one about your mom, dumb ass?!”

“Ho ho ho! What about the one where you cut off yer balls?!”

Now some people in the crowd were beginning to gasp, but a few were still laughing. Most were waiting for whatever was going to happen next. Jeb announced that he would recite a short poem.

“Here we go, smart guy: There was a mom of some guy in Belltown . . .”

At this point Brian started walking up the center aisle.

“Who on bikers and convicts liked to . . .”

“Aaalllright, ya l’il ass-wipe . . .” said Brian, but at this point he left off the rest of the insult because he didn’t know what to say. Jeb didn’t finish the limerick, but he stood his ground on stage, clowning around. He began dancing back and forth from foot to foot, cycling his arms around in circles, backwards and then forward, like a 19th century boxer in a ring about to engage in ‘fisticuffs’. Brian grabbed a wine bottle from a table near the stage, and tried breaking off the bottom with a downward swing. He missed the table and hit himself in the knee, then crumpled into a crouch of pain.

“Oooh,” said Jeb. “. . . too bad. Didn’t work out the quite the way you wanted, did it?”

“Ah . . . go #u@& yourself . . .” said Brian, bent over and wincing but still holding onto the bottle.

“No . . .” said Jeb, suddenly standing straight as a flagpole and pointing down at Brian with a menacing middle finger. “You go #u@& yourself!”

Brian uncurled from his crouching position and wound up to throw the bottle at Jeb. He was standing only five feet away, but in a show of incompetence equal to missing the table he somehow managed to throw wide of his mark. Jeb had bowed to the other side anyway, and then stood up with both arms held high in a sign of victory as if to say, “Try again!” Of course this just made Brian even more angry. Most of the crowd was on its feet, and some were egging them on to fight. The more reasonable were yelling “Hey now,” “Hold on here,” and “Everybody just . . .”

Just what? Pressure had quickly built up with nowhere to go, and Brian took a flying leap into the spotlight. Jeb tried to defend himself by raising his left elbow against the punch he was expecting, keeping his right hand free in order to get in a few of his own. Brian had the momentum and wasn’t about to be pushed aside by the one guy stepping out of the audience to bring some sanity to the scene. The microphone fell on the ground with an amplified bang and a thump. Jeb managed to land a few punches on the side of Brian’s head, but Brian had both hands around Jeb’s neck and was throttling him, violently. Very violently. They fell on the ground and Jeb managed to push himself free from Brian’s grasp. He tried to crawl off the stage, but Brian managed to grab onto his sweater and pull him back. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to get away, Jeb sprang up on one knee and began flailing away at Brian’s head. With the first punch he hurt his knuckles, so he switched to using the heel of his hand. By grabbing Jeb’s sweater, Brian lost his center of gravity and tumbled over into one of the speakers. He pulled Jeb along with him, but Jeb managed to get the upper hand. Brian’s legs were kicking out on either side of Jeb, who was kneeling and for a moment seemed nothing less than a lover prepared to mount his beloved. Soon they were rolling over one another; rolling off the stage and onto the floor, then rolling under the front tables and into the legs of the patrons.

Jeb rolled over Brian; Brian rolled Jeb. He rolled over him, him rolled over he, and they were both rolling into chairs and tables and up against the legs of the people gathered around them, now shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight!” with all the rage and excitement of a crowd at a third world cock fight. Brian and Jeb continued alternating between bouts of slugging each other and rolling over themselves, up against the stage and then back into the center aisle, where bouncers had finally come to pull the two apart. “This ain’t no Fight Club boys! Y’all break it up now!” One beefy football player type actually had Jeb by the scruff of his shirt, and the other had Brian pinned on the ground with one knee on his chest. “No siree,” said the scruff holder, “we don’t want no Fight Club in here. Y’all jus gonna hafta take your l’il poem contest outside.”

Jeb was panting heavily. Clouds of purple were beginning to appear on his neck and his left cheekbone was turning bright scarlet. Brian had finally quit struggling on the ground. He was bleeding from a cup above his right eyebrow, and the side of his face appeared to bear the same color of rouge. Nicole danced her way back up onto the stage and grabbed the microphone to start giving directions: “Okay, everybody just take it easy here, everything is under control…” And in fact it was pretty much under control because of the bouncers, but even so a pair of policemen were walking down towards the front yelling “Everybody out!” To the two bouncers one of them said “We’ll take it from here, gentleman.” For just a second the three couples stood there like a triple date, and then out came the handcuffs for the two perpetrators. “We’ve got a nice, steel mattress down at the Headquarters Hotel for you,” said one of the policeman to them both. Or to each of them. Or just one of them. Or the other. But probably both. Whatever. Brian was still bleeding from three different places on his face and the clouds had clearly formed a pair of purple handprints on each side of Jeb’s neck. The crowd parted briefly for the recessional and then collapsed together again as the six walked outside. Back in the bar everybody begun explaining the incident to one another as Jeb and Brian were marched out under the flashing lights of patrol cars to a paddywagon parked on the curb.

Comments

  1. Fred Farnsworth says

    He rolled over him, him rolled over he, and they were both rolling into chairs and tables and up against the legs of the people gathered around them, now shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight!” with all the rage and excitement of a crowd at a third world cock fight. Brian and Jeb continued alternating between bouts of slugging each other and rolling over themselves, up against the stage and then back into the center aisle, where bouncers had finally come to pull the two apart. “This ain’t no Fight Club boys! Y’all break it up now!” One beefy football player type actually had Jeb by the scruff of his shirt, and the other had Brian pinned on the ground with one knee on his chest. “No siree,” said the scruff holder, “we don’t want no Fight Club in here. Y’all jus gonna hafta take your l’il poem contest outside.”

  2. Quin Finnegan says

    Fred, is it really you? And weren’t you there that night? Apologies if the version here doesn’t exactly match what actually happened that night. It’s fiction, you know. Kind of.

    How are things, anyway? It’s good to hear from you!

  3. Do we know anything about Brian? It's odd that there've been all these characters and then, when something happens, the protagonist is somebody we haven't met before. I suppose the intention may become clearer.

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