Jul/Aug 2003  •   Fiction

The greatest writer in the world who is just out of prison, off heroin, and broke in a halfway house

by Ken Fowles

I own this genre. Here's some shit.


What I've figured out:

—If she's pretty, she won't like you
—If she likes you, she'll have a boyfriend
—If you really need it, you'll never get it.
—It's impossible to look cool, and interested.


If I was Fred Astaire:

"Care to dance?" I asked. Drunk.

"What makes you think she wants to dance with you?" the fat one said, and her second chin jiggled.

"Stop cock-blocking," I said to her.

"I think that's a good question. Why would I want to dance with you?" the classy one asked. She was short, thin, neck like a swan.

"I am the greatest dancer in the world."

The fat one laughed. I shot her a look full of shut the fuck up.

She shut the fuck up.

"The greatest dancer in the world, huh?" the classy one said and sipped on her drink. It had an umbrella coming out of it. Way too uptown for this shithole, but so was she.

"Yup, I'm Travolta," I said.

"Ok then, let's dance."

She slid out of the booth and her friend watched me, trying to make some kind of impression. I winked at her and smiled that grin of mine.

She went to the jukebox with my dollar. Slid it in and selected songs.

I took the opportunity to drink another beer.

Some R&B shit came out of the speakers.

Her hips started moving as she approached me. I was fucked.

"You can't dance at all can you?"

"Not a step."

"Why'd you say you were the greatest dancer in the world?"

"With practice, and maybe a different body, I could be."

"I could be thoroughly disappointed and sit down and say bad things about you to my friends," she said.

"You'd have plenty of company. Lots of people have been disappointed."

"I'm sure they have."

"The truth is, I usually don't talk to strange women at all."


"Ferocious cowardice."

"Why'd you talk to me?"

"I'm drunk."

"I see."

She showed me how to dance a little. Showed me how to move. Mostly she just moved, and I touched her wherever she told me to.

We closed the place, still talking when the bartender was sweeping around us, like in a movie.

Then she had to go.

"My husband will freak."

I said nothing.

"You didn't know I was married?"

"Usually, I don't know stuff people don't tell me," I said.

"I'm married. Sorry."

"Here I thought we had something," I said.

"We did, we had a dance."

"Don't mind me. I always think things are other things."

"Sometimes they are."

"Not with me."

"It was fun. I'm going to go."


She got up and left as if we never talked, as if we were total strangers. I guess we were. It's just that I had fallen in love. I do that a lot.


Singin' in the Rain:

I stood in my soaking wet Airwalks. They were cool three years before. Now, they had holes in the toes and the soles were like racing slicks. My ancient Dickies had a hole in the ass. I had tried to sew part of a bandana over it. I did a terrible job.

The thrift store windbreaker I had picked up kept some of the rain off, but didn't do much for the cold. My bag was slung over my shoulder and weighed down the left side of me, so I stood with a dipped shoulder.

I'd slept under a train bridge for the previous three nights. With a newspaper rolled up under my head and my bag held against me in a deathgrip. I'd danced on the edge of the sickness razor, but thanks to my friend Cale, had not gotten all the way there. But it was coming. The sickness. Like the apocalypse.

Roger was a drunk. The good, old-fashioned, wino kind. He was equipped with the bottle in the brown paper bag, the nasty beard, the yellowing eyes and skin, and the bulbous nose. "Do you really think you are the only one who lost everything to get here? Do you think the rest of us just materialized here, like fungus?" he'd ask me. Somewhere, in the past he never talked about, people had bothered to educate him. We worshipped totally separate gods, and our daily dogma was different, but cold nights are non-sectarian. I spent a lot of them sharing rhetoric with Roger.

I was waiting for him on that corner in my Airwalks. It looked like he wasn't going to show.

I watched up and down the street for him and wished I had the courage for a suicide.

A car swerved up the street, crossing the yellow line and back a few times. The brakes squealed like a bitchy banshee, and the thing came to a halt a hundred or so feet from me. It was a 1970's oldsmopontiac, primered gray and orange and beat to piss. I was too far away to make out faces, but I could see round silhouettes of heads, at least three of them.

The door flew open and rapid fire Spanish poured out. "Salte del pinche carro vieja puta!"

A woman half-fell and half-climbed out of the car. She tumbled out all legs and bare skin. My first thought was she must be freezing. She picked herself up and tried to recover a little of her dignity. She tried to throw a little feminine oomph into her hips, but it fell flat.

The car squealed off on down the street. I watched the laughing faces as they passed. Anonymous dickheads. I walked over to the girl.

"What the fuck do you want?" she asked as she wiped mud and gravel from her dress.

"Patience, understanding, free lunch, too many things to name. What do you want?"

"Fuckin' smart ass," she said.

"No, not really."

"Well, what do you want?"

"I was going to offer you a sweatshirt. I have one in my bag. It smells a little, but it'll be warm."

"No," she said. But her arms were crossed over her chest, and she was shivering. I got it out and gave it to her. It said "Colorado State University." I'd had it for ten years. She looked at it, looked at me, and then put it on. Maybe her face softened just a little.

"Got any money?" she asked.

"I have a bunch of change, maybe three dollars."

"Buy me some coffee," she said.

"Why would I do that?"

"I thought you were a nice guy."

"Don't ever think that."

"Yeah, stupid me," she said and pouted.

"You have any dope?" I asked.

"A little chiva, but those fuckin 'spics took my rig."

"Well we make a complete person then, because I have two rigs and no dope."

"New ones?"

"No, but I have bleach and they aren't totally dull."

"Buy me that coffee?"

"Didn't I say I would?"


"You just misunderstood."

She laughed triumphantly. The triumph was the dope's, not hers. I let it go.

"My name's Francesca, people call me Franny."

"I like Francesca."

"Fine. Can we get that coffee?"

She walked off. The dignity was back. Her hips and ass swayed with all the fire that's been destroying men since the dawn of time. What could I do but fill my role? I caught up to her, and we walked off into the drizzle.