Nothing Really Ordinary
I had just begun the interview with Billie Lee Dankowski but had already lost control. A familiar feeling. Control left me long ago: the divorce, the collapse of my business, too many bars and restaurants, especially bars. I looked at Billie Lee. She had it together. Still felt things. Everything mattered. Now it was midnight and tomorrow’s deadline must’ve been written all over my face.
“That’s the difference between newspapers and magazines,” she grinned.
Outside, lightning bolts inside mushroom clouds lit the night sky. Thunder pounded. Lights flickered. A red-bearded man burst through the door into the strobing light then tripped and slid across the floor.
“I’m looking for Billie Lee Dankowski,” he said, getting to his feet and brushing himself off. His hair was matted against his head.
Billie Lee’s professional: confident, drove out from Austin, was teaching a four-day writers’ course.
The man in blue Dickies work pants and matching shirt nodded, took his hands out of his pockets.
“Billie Lee Dankowski, how do you do? I’m Jackson Auberge.” He shook her hand then lifted his finger in the air. “I’ve something for you.”
Billie Lee watched Auberge walk back out the door then looked down and adjusted the yellow flower in her lapel. She cleared her throat. “Anyway, the first assignment I gave my students was to write a thousand words on anything they wanted,” she said with her perpetual smile, the lights for the moment, stable. She took a drag from an e-cig and exhaled preposterously, loosening a flume of blue smoke. “One story stood out.”
“Oh,” I said.
“You know there’s nothing really ordinary in life.”
“Take a guy like you, stuck in the mundane as if the mundane actually existed.” She cocked her head, the smile again creeping across her face. “Am I right?”
I could feel my face redden, the worm of inspection slithering through my thoughts. Her probing silhouette perched now straining at my mundaneness, her long legs and penetrating eyes stirring in me a low-boil.
“See the rain. Feel it. Taste it. Smell it. Witness wetness. Actualize. Is that your reference?” I asked with a hint of sarcasm.
“Nice,” she said. She looked out the window, then circled her lips deftly with her pinky. “So this guy’s six-year-old daughter stopped talking.”
“Stopped?” I asked thinking about my own daughter.
“Wrote she was different from his other children, always had been. Full of life then stopped saying anything at all.”
“Mute. Like she’d seen too much.”
“Most times I feel there’s not enough.”
“Oh it’s all out there, darling.” She said it with gusto like life at the edge of muteness was the place to be.
Jackson Auberge pushed through the door again cradling a wood coffin under his arm, like Quiqueg’s casket in “Moby Dick” – but miniature. He kneeled down and opened the box. A violin. He tucked it under his beard and plucked.
“Needs tuning,” Auberge declared. He feathered the strings with the bow then handed it to Billie Lee. “I want you to give it to Willie.”
Billie Lee just finished a book on the life of Willie Nelson. She can tell you about his DJ days in Seattle, his first night playing at the Panther Hall Ballroom in Ft. Worth, and his disappearance in 2008.
Billie Lee studied the instrument; crusty, Italian. A Stradivari.
“It’s extraordinary,” she said. “But I think you should keep it. He won’t accept this. Maybe give it to his church in Abbott. Go on a Sunday, he might be there.”
Something rattled inside the violin.
“Yucca seed. Helps with the vibes,” he said. “Had snake rattles but heard Willie was an activist.” Auberge leaned back in his chair and pulled his beard. He looked at Billie Lee. “Precious ain’t it? The moment and all. Hellfire.” He looked out the window into the rain. “Marfa in a night storm trying to give away a Stradivari.” He looked pleased with the situation then looked at the clock. “Better get back to Van Horn. Told the ole lady I’d be home before the sun come up.” He put the violin back in the case.
Outside, lightning lit up Auberge’s copper-colored 1968 Dodge Charger. “Runs on nitro. She’ll do two hundert,” he shouted through the window and the Charger rumbled to the stop sign.
Billie Lee and I stood in the rain leaning toward each other. Our shoulders touched. We watched Jackson Auberge roar into the stream of lights, down the highway, steel steered by man-electric pulled along in the flat plateau of darkness.
Billie Lee looked at the neon of the newspaper office, then at the sky, then at me.
“Are we done?” she asked.
I reached through the raindrops and pulled her to me. Her warm wet body fueled the wound-up traffic in my brain. I planted my lips on hers. She raised her arms and pushed off.
“There’s a moment to every beginning,” she said, still back-pedalling, “and this ain’t one of them.” Billie Lee Dankowski took one more look at me, disgust or amusement I could not tell, then turned and walked away, her heels clicking, popping, against the wet pavement.
I drove home that night down the two-lane highway at 3AM thinking about her words. “Stuck in the mundane.” I spoke it out loud. A lightning bolt flashed behind me and I watched it backlight a giant parallelogram of rain through the rear-view mirror. I’ll lasso the lightening, I thought. I’ll give voice to the mute. I’ll grow yellow flowers. The ground underneath the truck hummed, humming me closer to the stars ahead, my apartment, my bed, a Xanax. I turned the radio on. I listened for a few seconds then turned it off. I made a U-turn. I pushed on the gas. Back down the mountain. The lightning crackled. Thunder pounded. I rolled the window down and the rain swooshed in.
Richard Mark Glover has published short stories with Oyster Boy Review, Bookend Review (Best of 2014), Crack the Spine, Buffalo Almanac, and won the 2004 Eugene Walters Short Story Award. His journalism has appeared in the San Antonio Express News, West Hawaii Today, Ke Ola and the Big Bend Sentinel where he won the 2010 Texas Press Association Best Feature Award, medium size weekly.
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