The Voice You Throw, The Blow You Catch
ART BY JON SNOEK
Every new guy in the bar took a chance with LoAnn. From behind, she was a fox. The heart of her ass rested firm on the barstool. Her body was thick where it mattered. The ventriloquist's dummy never turned them off.
Some of the old boys might have warned off the newcomers. Carlo, the bartender, could have refused to let them buy drinks for her.
But no one said anything. Almost everyone in there, even the married ones, had taken their lumps making passes at LoAnn, and it had become a right of passage. Any man who took his chances and still came back the next night -- well, he was one of them. He was always welcome to return the next night and watch the next poor idiot who caught sight of her.
The sad part of it was: the dummy actually lured some guys in. He was a conversation piece, or a gag. Even when he spoke out, defending LoAnn, it was a joke and a challenge. Some guys like to fight for a girl, and what a great story they'd have if they won her away from a dummy.
Sometimes, LoAnn seemed to invite it. She'd argue with the dummy and pretend to want to make him jealous. She'd hold the dummy away from her like she was leaning out of earshot and whisper. His little jaw would fall open then slam shut in an angry clap of wood.
"She already has a drink, jack, and her free hand is in my pants" was a bar favorite. No one believed the few guys who said they saw her lips move.
Maybe two or three a month would make headway in the game against the dummy, and when they did, she'd slide from the barstool and saunter outside. She held the dummy behind her back, like he was following her, and this is when his voice became the loudest.
"LoAnn, why're you doing this?"
Sometimes you could see her wrist flick and his head would turn to face the poor guy following them. His caterpillar eyebrows would dip in the middle, a perfect mockery of a scowl: "Who the fuck do you think you are, buddy?" And, "You're gonna regret this, jack."
Everyone in the bar stopped talking, stopped drinking even. Everyone scooted forward on their stools, in their booths. Carlo leaned over the bar.
* * *
The bruises were always small, and they never lasted more than a day or two. No one ever talked about what happened between the three of them–LoAnn, the guy, and the dummy.
For two years this happened.
At least a couple hundred guys tried their luck. Several dozen got unlucky in the parking lot. But everyone came back for the show.
* * *
When LoAnn missed a few nights in a row, the bar grew restless with rumors. When she'd missed a whole week, the bar went silent. A handful of guys stopped coming around.
But when LoAnn returned without the dummy, the whole damned town turned out to watch.
The only thing she would say was "usual" as she slid onto her stool. One of the former abused suitors, rubbing his jaw where he remembered old bruises, crept over to her and leaned on the bar, a few feet away, and watched her. When she didn't look at him, he dipped his cheek down to the wood and peered up at her.
He was far enough away from her that everyone heard him: "You're looking a little lonely tonight, baby. Maybe we could try again?"
From the back, a snicker. Then a few more. Soon, the whole bar was laughing. LoAnn leaned over the straw in her vodka until the glass was empty, then she slipped outside.
But she was back again the next night, pulling down five, six rounds in a night, getting drunker and drunker, and the jokes kept coming.
That happened five, maybe six times, before LoAnn stopped coming around.
No one had seen her in months. Then, one night, her dummy turned up on the front stoop of the bar, propped against the door.
That first night, the bartender brought him in and everyone gathered around him, a wide circle like they'd found a wounded dog and no one was sure what he'd do. Everyone spoke in whispers. They stood like that for who knows how long. The dummy lay in a pile on the floor, limbs twisted, his face a mess. A couple of the older jilted men finally stepped into the circle, bent like pallbearers, and lifted him to the bar. Carlo set him on the highest shelf, put a bottle in his hand.
A man leaned over and shut the dummy's mouth. Then, opened it.
SAMUEL SNOEK-BROWN has published in Ampersand Review, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Red Fez, SOL: English Writing in Mexico, Unshod Quills, and others. His fiction has shortlisted in the 2010 and 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom competitions, and an excerpt from his Civil War novel Hagridden appears in a special "pitch" issue of Sententia. He is a teacher, a writer, and the production editor for Jersey Devil Press. He lives in Portland, Oregon; online, he lives at snoekbrown.com.