Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Magnolia Inn and Saloon (Inspired by Concrete Blonde’s “Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man”)

(Another short story originally published on In Sixteen Bars, this story was one of the most fun to write. See what you think. Would you dare to spend the night?)


The Magnolia Inn and Saloon (A short story by Kim Norris)

There’s always someone here at the Magnolia Inn and Saloon. One never gets lonely for company. This has been my place for years now. You might say I’m a fixture. We all have our reasons for coming and staying. I came here for a woman, but that was years ago. Sherry was her name, and she was sweet like the wine. When she left Waco to come to Coulterville, I followed. How could I not?

Joey is a failed novelist. He came here to finish his epic. It finished him. He sits at the far end of the long wooden bar, nursing a Bloody Mary and holding his head like it aches, which I am sure it does. How could it not? Nora and Eddie rendezvoused at the Magnolia for a lover’s tryst, thinking no one would look for them here. It’s the only inn for miles, though. Where else would they go? They slow dance most nights, although the jukebox hasn’t worked in years.

The Dawson gang are the rowdiest, both upstairs, where the boarders stay, and down here in the saloon. Some nights, they take to fighting and carrying on, and then the glass starts breaking. Jasper, the youngest one, hangs from the center chandelier, a wagon wheel with hurricane lamps on each spoke. It sways and trembles like he’ll pull it down, but it holds. All these years, and it still holds every time. As he swings he yodels, and the spectacle makes the others, Jesse, Johnny, and Jake, quit fighting for a spell.

We mostly hang out in the saloon, but upstairs, Jake Dawson’s the worst hellion. He throws furniture when he’s in a mood. Sometimes, the hooker he fancies screams at him. I guess he beats her. No couth. I’ve never raised an angry hand to a lady. I’ve got too much respect for them. Even with my reputation as a ladies’ man, women trust me. They lie down for me whenever I ask. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up.


It’s sunset, and we’re all hanging out, like we always do here at the Magnolia Saloon, when she arrives. A hot draft of dry air follows her through the front door like an urchin begging for a penny, clinging to her legs beneath the flowery skirt. I catch a whiff of jasmine as she walks by. She smells like Sherry, the woman, not the wine. How could I not move closer? Then a man walks in behind her, carrying a suitcase.

Now I’m not the type of gentleman who will steal another’s lady. It’s disrespectful. But to tell the truth, I haven’t smelled jasmine in a long time. Her hair is beautiful and red, and twisted into a bun so I can see her neck elegantly protruding from the scooped peasant blouse. I’ve always liked necks.

She shivers as I approach her. I have that effect on women.

“It’s cooler in here than I expected,” she says to the man. I like the sound of her voice, lilting and southern.

“This place is creepy.” He looks around the saloon. Jasper clenches one fist. “Are you sure you want to do this?” The man’s voice is not as pleasant; it’s harsh, and deep, more like a carpetbagger than a gentleman.

“Oh yes,” she replies. “It’s supposed to be creepy. Let’s go upstairs and see the room.”

“Room 20 is the nicest,” I tell her, but she ignores me. Nora and Eddie stop dancing for a moment and scowl, but Joey looks intrigued. It’s the first interest he has ever shown in any of the visitors. I wave him over and we follow the two up the stairs. Jasper watches us go, but Jesse, and Johnny act like they didn’t see anyone come in. They can be sullen like that.

Jake Dawson is standing at the top of the stairs, arms crossed, and he looks angry, like he could throw this latest couple down to the ground if he wanted to, but he lets them walk right by. I see his hooker peering down the hallway, but she doesn’t scream at them. I stand next to the lady and Joey stands next to the man as we all walk down the hall.

“Feel how cold it is?” she asks. I see gooseflesh on the nape of her neck, and I want to kiss it. Joey grins at me with this insane-looking grin like he would like to see me kiss her neck. Maybe I should have left him in the saloon. He keeps bumping into the man; the gesture is callow and pointless, like the stories Joey writes.

“Room 20, right?” the man says.

“Right. It supposed to be ready for us.” She stands patiently while the man fumbles with the brass key. I lean in to sniff her hair – clean-smelling, like a stand of pines in the morning dew just before coffee and a biscuit. The man smells like horse sweat. Joey leers at him behind his back and puts his thumbs in his ears, waggling his fingers and drawing a face like a rodeo clown.

I’ve always been partial to Room 20. It has a nice view of the mountains, and Sherry laid down with me, once, in Room 20. The room has changed since then, but not the view. The woman and I stand at the window and enjoy it for a moment, but the man goes straight to the water closet, turning taps and inspecting the cleanliness.

“I think I’ll shower,” the man says. “Knock off the trail dust.” He opens the suitcase and pulls out a fresh change of clothes.

The woman nods and then walks over to the bed. She sits down, bouncing slightly to check the spring and softness. Finally, she lies down and sighs with contentment. Joey follows the man into the bathroom, and when the shower starts, he begins to bang on the pipes. The sound of it annoys me, but it makes her smile.

“Old pipes in an old hotel,” she mumbles.

“It’s Joey,” I tell her, but she ignores me.

She closes her eyes, still smiling, so I lie down beside her. How could I not? I let her rainbow aura wash over me. She shivers, and I’m sure she feels me. She is my lady. I place my hand gently on her throat, stroking her Adam’s apple.

It’s a compulsion. I can’t help myself. I’ve always liked necks. My fingers tighten around her throat. She gasps a little, but then the hooker down the hall screams and my lady bolts upright in the bed, shaking off my hand. Her own hands clutch her throat, massaging it.

The shower turns off, and I hear the man holler, “What the hell? Where’s that fucking towel? I put it right here…” Joey comes out of the bathroom kicking the towel and grinning like an ape.

The hooker screams again. It sounds like she’s in the next room. I hear Jake push some large piece of furniture against the wall. It shakes the floors in the old inn, and the rocking chair here in Room 20 begins to rock from the vibration. My lady stands, mouth agape, screaming without a sound. Damn Jake! Now she looks upset.

The man emerges dripping wet, spots the towel, and picks it up. “Did you scream?”
My lady shakes her head, pointing at the chair. The man pales visibly and begins to dress, although he is not completely dry. Joey swipes at the man’s testicles. He has no respect. What an oaf!

The hooker screams a third time. Darkness falls, and the man dresses faster. He shuts the suitcase.

“I’ve had enough,” he tells her. She nods, still clutching her throat. He says, “Fucking ghost adventures! Thank god we didn’t bother to bring more luggage.” She opens the door to Room 20, and they exit without closing the it behind them, so I shut the door. They jump at the sound of it. She lets out a small yelp.

Joey and I follow them down the stairs. Jake and the hooker stand at the top, laughing as they look down. I shake my fist at the hussy who ruined the moment for me and my lady.

Back in the saloon, Nora and Eddie stop dancing long enough to watch the newcomers leave. Jasper sits beneath the chandelier, staring at the wall. Jesse and Johnny spin an empty bottle on the bar top. Joey goes back to his Bloody Mary. It’s just another night at the Magnolia Inn and Saloon.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Shooting Star (Inspired by Elton John’s “Island Girl”)

(Here's another short story I wrote for the ezine, In Sixteen bars. It takes place on a hot summer night and features fireflies, shooting stars, and a young man's heart's desire. I'd love to hear what you think.)

Shooting Star (Inspired by Elton John’s “Island Girl”)

I’m waiting for Dicky and Bobby to pick me up, and there’s Geena D. hanging out in front of the E-Z Mart watching four little girls jump double Dutch under the light of a streetlamp and chant:

Gypsy, gypsy
Please tell me.
What's my sweetheart going to be:
Doctor, Lawyer, banker, thief,
Sailor, soldier, Indian Chief?

She taps her red stilettos in time to the song, and I can tell she wants to jump in. I’m burning one and hoping she goes for it. It’ll make her knockers bounce. She has a nice rack. She’s tall, too, like a tree I wouldn’t mind climbing. Red leather pants cover legs that go all the way up, and her purple tank top shows cleavage. She sees me checking her out and smiles at me. I smile back, but we both know I can’t afford her.

Dicky and Bobby are late as usual. The sun has set, but it’s still hot as hell. I can feel the heat coming up off the pavement through my sneakers. One girl jumps out, another jumps in, but she snags the rope and gets tangled. They all laugh, and the girl takes the rope ends in her hands, punishment for breaking the rhythm. Arms move like beating wings as the slap slap slap of nylon on the sidewalk resumes.

A pimpmobile pulls up, the jumpers falter again, and Diggs rolls down the driver’s window.

“Get in the car!”

Geena and I turn our heads to look at him at the same time. She has a pissed off face looking at him, but she walks over to the car and gets in the front seat. For sure, Diggs has got some John waiting for her somewhere, or he would have never picked her up. I’ve seen him slap Geena before, and it makes me want to kill him. Dicky and Bobby just laugh when I say so.

“Diggs would bury you,” Bobby says.

“He’s a fuckin’ bad ass. He’d kill you slow,” Dicky agrees.

“He don’t got to treat her like shit,” I say.

“She’s just a dumb whore.”

“Fuck you!”

I get mad when they call her names. They don’t know her like I do. Geena lives across the hall from me and Granny’s apartment. Sometimes, the smell of jerk chicken wafts out from her doorway into the hall. Sometimes it’s the sound of smooth reggae. Once I heard her crying after a John left. The next day she had bruises all over her face. She tried to cover it with makeup, but I could tell. I’d take her away from it if I won the lottery. I’d punch Diggs in his ugly fat face, take his car, and we’d drive the hell out of town, me and Geena D.

I’m picturing our get away, watching Diggs’ pimpmobile drive off. But then Dicky and Bobby pull up in Bobby’s old, beat up sedan and shout, “Hey butthead, get in!” I flick my coffin nail in the gutter and climb in the back seat. Bobby swings the car back into traffic and we roll.

“Where to?” asks Bobby.

“Dino’s,” says Dicky.

Bobby says, “Naw, I lost my fake. They’d never let me in.”

“Arnie’s then,” Dicky suggests.

“Fuck Arnie’s,” I say. “I ain’t drinking coffee all night.”

“Where then?” Dicky asks, sounding pouty. He hates to be told no.

“I wanna see stars,” I say.

So Bobby drives to the edge of town and hops on the highway, heading west. It takes thirty minutes of fast driving to shake the city lights. They glow behind us, bleaching out the sky. Ten more minutes and we are in the black. No streetlights, no moon, no nothing. The highway now cuts through fields of corn, soybean, and peanuts, only occasionally passing a farmhouse set far off the road. Some of the curtained windows flash; TVs, I guess. Bobby turns down a dirt road. Car-window-high rows of corn flank both sides. We see a house in the distance, but we ain’t going that far. Bobby cuts the headlights and engine, and we get out of the car.

It sounds nothing like the city. The din of crickets, louder than sirens, fills my ears. Lightning bugs flicker in a tree at the edge of the field, and it looks like Christmas, all blinking. I light a cig and lay on the warm hood of the car, stretched out with my back against the windshield. A sky like a velvet Elvis spreads before me. A zillion stars glimmer; the cup of the Dipper’s so full I can barely find its outline.

“What’s that white shit smeared across the sky?” Bobby asks.

“It’s the Milky Way, you dumbass.” I say. “It’s your fucking home galaxy.”

Dicky fires up a joint, and we pass it around. The darkness thickens and even more stars fill the sky. One of them shoots across in a fiery blur, and I make a wish.

Then we hear it, the sound of a motor starting up. It’s coming from the house at the end of the road.

“Shit!” Bobby says. “Get in the car!”

Dicky’s still toking, and he looks pretty stoned. He giggles a little, but he doesn’t move. I grind my cancer stick under my heel; Smoky the Bear would be proud, even if this ain’t the forest. I grab Dicky by the arm and pull him off the hood.

“Get in, dumbass,” I say, pushing him into the passenger seat. Then I climb in the back. Bobby cranks the engine and puts the car in reverse. We see headlights coming our way. Bobby keeps his beams off and backs down the dirt road in the dark, finally pulling out onto the empty highway. The car points toward the city and all the damn lights.

We end up at Arnie’s anyway because now we all got the munchies. Between us we’ve got ten bucks. It’s enough to split a short stack and a side of bacon. I chain smoke and think about my wish, the one I made on the shooting star. Dicky finishes the last bite of bacon, and it pisses Bobby off. They start shoving each other in the booth, and it’s all fun and games until the napkin dispenser hits the floor and bursts open in a flurry of white paper. Then the nightshift waitress tells us, “Get the fuck out!”

After Bobby drops me off in front of Granny’s and my building, I go upstairs and through the living room window out onto the fire escape above the street. There’s four cigs left in my pack, and I want to smoke them all. The pimpmobile pulls up in front of the building; loud hip-hop is booming out of the windows. After a minute, Geena steps out onto the curb. Diggs burns rubber as he peels away. She’s walking slow, like something hurts. The top of her head vanishes from beneath my feet as she disappears into the building. A few minutes later, from across the hall, I hear her apartment door close.

Above me, the Dipper’s outline shines. Its cup is empty -- all these fuckin’ lights. There’s no sign of the Milky Way either. Geenas’s home. She’s safe ... for now. Shooting stars are the shit -- grant your wishes every time.