–– Dead by the Time I Get to Now ––
Two dead dogs in as many weeks and now Lily can’t stop singing. The first one got run over by a car, but it’s the second one, the one that ran away, that she’s down about. I think it’s a fool me once, shame on you sort of thing, no real faith in domestic life.
“I’m throwing out my silverware,” Lily tells me. She wants me to go to karaoke with her again because it’s what I’ve been doing since she started going, after the first dog died, every night. The only other things to do in town are get pregnant or coach something, so I keep saying yes.
When we get to the bar, Lily sucks her tongue between her teeth and orders a Dr. Pepper. The bartender tries talking to her about how each can’s different, twenty-three flavors and no guarantees. After she walks away I ask him, “What’s another way to say barking up the wrong tree?”
It’s one of those bad songs from the 80’s every time. On the weekends it’s hard for her to get up there more than two or three times, but this is Tuesday, so she’s almost halfway through The Breakfast Club soundtrack about four hours before last call.
The only other person to sign up sneaks in for a quick pillaging of Sinatra. Lily sits back down and says, “This is bullshit. I hate waiting.”
“Patience is a virtue,” I tell her.
She presses both of her fists to the table and cracks all her knuckles at once. “And Payless is a shoe store. What’s your point?”
The short version of apocalypse according to Lily—Lily who had already given up on certain things before her dog troubles—dictates that people just keep finding ways to sing about how the world will beat you down if you let it.
“Why is everything so terrible?” she says. I want to ask her the same thing in a higher pitch, as if to say Is it really?
She flips through the book, goes up on stage, sings “Voices Carry.”
The long version makes it easier to see that the world is a place worth living in, but it’s the harder one to tell. If I start soon I’ll be dead by the time I get to now.
I go to the pet store and get found out. “What were you trying to do?” Lily asks me. “Buy me a heartache?”
There’s this: When we were eight, she asked me if I’d be her friend, because she said nobody else would. “Who else have you asked?” I said.
“Nobody,” she said. “I just know.”
A week later I show up to work looking embalmed enough days in a row that my boss asks me why. I move boxes and he supervises, which means I’m the one who doesn’t have time for it.
“Your performance has been suffering lately,” he tells me.
I go. “Is that all?”
Can we flash forward? Move, perhaps, much further past the karaoke mechanism that lasted for another two weeks, further than years of Lily and I acquiring one another romantically and then not, several times until becoming, finally, married and then not? If we’re allowing ourselves to do that, there’s much less to see. Certainly less to feel, too—the short version, back as always for the kill.
It’s important to remember that some songs are timeless, a luxury afforded to no creature yet created.
RYAN WERNER works at a pre-school in the Midwest. He is the author of the short short story collection Shake Away These Constant Days and the story cycle chapbook Murmuration and the short short story collection If There's Any Truth in a Northbound Train. He runs the micro-press Passenger Side Books, is on Twitter @YeahWerner.
Passenger Side Books: www.passengersidebooks.blogspot.com
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