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the girl from baku by russell bittner


t h e   g i r l   f r o m   b a k u   :  5

:  r u s s e l l   b i t t n e r


En route to the corner laundromat, I think back effortlessly to her thong. A sliver of a thing out of which she used to slink. Easily, quickly and with practiced hand. No muss, no fuss. But now? Now, dude, that particular show 'n' tell is done.

The mental jog skips me back thirty-seven years. My mind's like an old LP now, scratched and nicked, needle upon it jumping every which way. I'm sitting in history class. Patti – my first muse – wears pink. Pink Patti stands to make a point. My eyes first bob, then fall like lead sinkers. When she sits back down, my mouth makes one of its first and most terrible swift blunders.

"I like your panty-line," I whisper. Pink Patti's face turns from russet to crimson.

At lunch, I notice, Patti's nowhere to be seen. Later that same afternoon, I catch sight of her standing in front of her locker. Same pink, but now over the camouflage of a slip. Panty-line no more. And so it's my turn to blush. Not only then, but now. Funny how a blush can sometimes last a lifetime.

As can a scream – however silent, when alone, in the desert.

My best friend in junior high. We were on the swim team together. Our daily ritual after practice included a walk to Burger King. A whopper, coke and fries to replace the calories we'd just burned. Always the same food, but never the same jokes. He was a natural. His mother – a Southern Belle from the old school – smoked a pipe. Brewed us fresh tea whenever I'd come to visit. I came often. Tea, to me, was plusher than punch. I came for the tea, for Eddie's jokes, for the smell of his mom's tobacco.

Fresh outta college but without two nickels to my name, I'm waiting tables at Tale o' the Fox in Nashville – a million miles from home. Dressed, I was, like a peacock in tux and ruffles – too absurd for words. I walk up to wait on a new party of two. It's Eddie's father – a traveling salesman. But not Eddie's mother – who, I imagine, is presently at home with pipe and tea. I blush; he blushes. His dinner companion? Already wearing rouge enough to render a blush redundant.

Years later, I get the news. Eddie found his desert in Arizona, drove out, put a shotgun into his mouth, told his last joke.

Life's like that sometimes – trigger-happy. Yeah, a guy's gotta just take the bullet by the horns.


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