Harlan is back in town here waiting for his mother to die. She won’t let him stay in the house, so he keeps a tent on the backside of the hill that holds up the governor’s mansion. Mornings he’s on my street bumming commuter cigarettes at the bus stop pointing downtown. Tonight he’s at the bar with Bill.
Bill’s six foot eight with a military pension. Bartender Frank wants Harlan gone because he keeps digging up and smoking little bits of cigarettes from off the sidewalk while he props the front door open with his foot. Several hours are spent here. They put me in charge of keeping Frank at bay and shoving quarters in the jukebox.
The only story I remember is when Harlan tells about New Orleans. Graves or holes are involved. It’s supposed to make me scared, I think.
He keeps asking if I have any, and I do, but I tell him it’s at my apartment, which is true.
Bill gets tired of paying, gets hungry and takes us over to his house where he has a metal colander covering up his wifi router. He says he knows things about the government that would make my eyes cross. Bill lives alone here. Sometimes Harlan sleeps on the floor.
Bill finds something on those radio channels way up on the DIRECTV. We follow Bill into the kitchen and from the microwave Bill removes a porcelain plate that holds several strips of gummy pork belly that he cooked over the weekend for some reason.
Harlan and Bill eat several. I eat the one that I am handed from Bill’s pinched fingers.
We go back into where the couch is at and sit peapod while the music plays, some type of music I’ll never hear again. Harlan is back on me about having some, and I feel the night start to stall, then shift gears the way that the best cars at the demolition derby do.
I reach into my pants, grab my phone which is not ringing, say “Hey Lee” and open the front door into Iowa.
I never saw Harlan again, but every time I saw Bill after, he didn’t recognize me. I wish I would have properly thanked him for the pork belly and asked what became of Harlan, but I never did. I still picture New Orleans every time I see a cigarette butt tossed out a car window at high speeds. Later, when my love tries taking me there, I lie and say I’ve already been.”
Drink: Draft Budweiser, right close to a blown keg.
I’m Avery Gregurich, a writer living and working in Marengo, Iowa. I was raised next to the Mississippi River, and have never strayed too far from it.
image: MM Kaufman