The world was ending. On the news they didn't think it was ever gonna stop.
Thing is, I didn't want it to stop. I prayed it'd keep coming down until the whole planet slid itself straight into hell and buried us all. And I never wanted to go out ever again.
But that night, I had to go. They were in town. Best band in the world. The one I missed the night Juno left me. I hadn't heard them in years. I could afford it because I didn't need cash--they'd let me in free at the door. I knew that for sure. They hadn't been through in forever. For all I knew, they might trip the light fandango and never make it back.
Earth was dying. Drowning in grief. Her insides spilled out from the hills across the freeway. I had to drive the old four wheeler around the mountains of mud. Over some of them, too. My home soil, those lovely hills--left to collapse everywhere. I could see the land sliding, big chunks slipping in fits. There wasn't anybody on the road, just the ground falling apart, crumble by crumble, until there was nothing left at all.
Their music sounded like that. It sounded like me, ever since Juno.
The rhythm of the rain on the roof and the windshield pounded out in syncopation to the music in my head, the craggy wipers flopping back and forth like the kick drum. My radio didn't work for beans, but I could hear them from all the times before. Nick and the old Chicago boys, playing like they used to when there was a Chicago to play in. Playing like they did when Muddy Waters was on the stage with them.
Muddy Waters. I swear it was his ghost had the climate by the balls, making sure that anytime they played the streets would be ankle deep in it. Muddy waters, streaming out from under the hills, come back from hell to make sure they all remembered what they'd learned at the crossroads.
I could hear them doing sound checks from the parking lot. The water turned my silk skirt and blouse into a second skin, the little fibers grated across my nipples when I moved.
They had me on the list, like they'd promised. "Irene Adler," right up top by the A's. The bouncer made me wait a good couple minutes while he "looked over the list"--I guess they'd started writing guest names in sharpie on my chest.
The room inside was filled with blues and smoke and the men on stage strumming and humming with voices bleeding deep blue like the sky. Nick could break your heart as soon as look at you, and he fingered the guitar like it was the last he had of the girl he'd never finished losing.
I didn't get to find a seat. Three steps onto the dance floor and I was lost. With the backbeat snapping and the guitar screaming and Nick's voice weaving low through 'em, it sounded like the throbbing Juno's fingers gave me, and the way he pulsed in mine.
I danced off the months of rain until my dress got as dry as my throat. I'd been so long always being soaked and never being wet. My hips danced round with all the ghosts that filled the hall. Ella and Leadbelly and Etta and Billie. Time went liquid, their words washed over me, wave after wave, until the band broke at the end of the first set. It was perfect--as perfect as life could be with Juno gone.
At the bar between sets I found some nut-dark beer, poured it over my tongue, and looked around for the first time. Lots of old familiars. The dead weren't the only ghosts here tonight.
"Give me a Jack and Coke, light on the Coke." A gruff, raspy-sounding bear-man rapped on the bar. I couldn't see his face without looking, and I didn't want to look, but his hands looked like they'd been built up working on engines. Thick calluses, grease under his nails. Might've been a biker once. He set down next to me and stared straight ahead. "It's a special night here, you know." There wasn't no mirror behind the bar, so he just studied the bottles on the rack. I didn't say a thing, but I didn't want to get up, neither. I was gonna dance myself to death when they come on the stage next, and no way I'd leave just to let him have the bar. It was my night. Maybe the last one I'd ever get. I wasn't gonna waste it getting picked up by white trash.
I drunk the last of my beer and he didn't say nothing. I slammed down the empty and winked at the bartender. "Creme de Menthe and Bailey's?" I was out, and goddammit I was gonna enjoy myself.
My neighbor didn't see it that way. "Slammin' em a bit hard, aren't you?" Worst thing a man can do: come over flirty and fatherly at the same time, when he ain't got business being neither.
The bartender slid the drink down to me, and I tossed her ten bucks. If she was puttin' up with rubes like this guy, she could use the extra. I lifted the drink and swirled it around once in front of me. "Fuck off, dude." I took a good-sized swig to make my point.
"Would be a fine thing before the night is through." He had a shit-eating grin in his voice when he set his drink down and turned to look at me. I could see him out of the corner of my eye, but I didn't look at him.
It takes a lot of work not to pay any attention to a man boring eye holes in the side of your head. Lucky, though, I didn't have to keep it up too long. People behind me started cheering, and, swiveling round on my stool, I saw the boys taking the stage again.
The lights came up, but none of them were taking the front mics. They mulled around resetting some of their instruments further back. I didn't get to watch very closely because the man kept right on with trying to get my attention.
I managed to ignore him for another moment while I nursed my drink, until he... well, somehow he figured out how to get to me. I hadn't touched a man since the night Juno died, and the music already had my pussy humming as the drumbeat started, hard and low and throbbing from the stage. I felt his breath as he leaned in to my ear.
"Take a look," his voice throbbed like the rumbling of the bass guitar getting started on stage. "No one will ever see this again."
I didn't want him that close, but the feel of him in my ear made my clit electric, and much as I wanted to slap him I stayed quiet. If I moved, I was afraid I'd kiss him instead.
His fingers touched my hand and pushed my drink down to my lap. "I watched you dancing out there." He opened his palm to cover my hand, then ran it up my arm to my elbow, barely touching my arm hairs. I shivered. "And I knew I had to meet you. I see the way you're making love to the music. I've been waiting here a long time. This is your special night."
I swear I felt his lips brushing me as he talked. I still hadn't seen his face and my neck was almost in his mouth.
"Stop." I managed a whisper.
"Okay. I'll stop." He squeezed my elbow as if he could take control of me with it, then he let go. "Don't look at me. Watch the stage."
I was about to turn to him and give him a piece of my mind when... well, that's when the world fell out the bottom.
The crowd on the dance floor roared like I never heard before. Up on stage this girl stepped in like all the heartbreak in Texas. Grey coat and purple feathers in her cap and a voice like cracked leather. A voice nobody'd heard live since the old bluesmen had been hippie kids.
I slipped to my feet and started swaying as she tromped up and down the stage, pouring her soul into the microphone like southern comfort, giving the room a piece of her heart. It couldn't be true, not this girl who'd been dead before I ever found the blues. But there she was. In the beating blue dark of the last day, her ghost was there on the stage. The world was ending, maybe, but I wouldn't want to spend it anywhere else.
The music, and her voice, carried me off again. I danced there in front of the bar, drinking between songs, swiveling and turning with anyone who came near me until I was flying so high, I'd never hit the ground. I'd almost forgotten the man at the bar until I felt the ghost-light touch of those callused fingers on my neck again. His breath at the top of my spine, his hard-on mashed up into the small of my back, his hands pressing on my hips. Between the music and the drink and the dancing, I was already wetter than a drowning cat. When he touched me I felt my panties leaking.
We danced backwards together until he sat on the bar stool, then he pulled me in his lap. My body couldn't stop moving, and I could feel every ridge of him through his thin slacks and my silk skirt.