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VALERIE TRUEBLOOD

 

 

 

Valerie Trueblood

Valerie Trueblood grew up in rural Virginia and now lives in Seattle. In 2006 her first novel, Seven Loves (Little, Brown) was a Barnes and Noble "Discover Great New Writers" pick. Her short stories have appeared in various journals including One Story, The Northwest Review, The Saturday Evening Post and Narrative. In 2011 her collection Marry or Burn was a finalist for the Frank O'Connor Short Story Award. "Trueblood has earned a place next to Alice Munro on my shelf of fiction" - Alicia Ostriker

 


Photo © John Minihan

 

 

 

His Rank

 

 

 

Knox had a favorite bar, because of the bartender, a woman he was preparing to get to know. It was on a block where the university ran up against a changing neighborhood, close enough to the campus to bring in the grounds crew and campus security. It was small and dark, with nothing except neon beer signs in the window to set it apart from the outbuildings of the university, and was itself changing, more white than black now on some evenings.  

The bartender had hair cut as close as Obama’s. Her eyes were so large they took time to complete a blink. When Knox first started coming in they had had a happy hour menu; now a guy in the back washing glasses would make you a plate of nachos but that was it. The bartender was on her own, no servers.

            Knox decided beautiful was a word thrown around he had employed it a good deal himself when it should be reserved for examples of indifferent power like that in the curve of the bartender’s eyelids as she worked the taps. When she gave you your beer she looked straight at you and that was like being wanded at the airport. Even if you were white, like Knox, the eyes could say you were a man. Then something nice with the lips though not a smile. Then the luxurious blink, as if you, and the whole arrangement time of day, frosted glass, work, play, men, women had made her sleepy. Yes, he was going to make his move.

 

 

His feet were stiff from being hooked over a rung of the high wooden stool by the window. He had been sitting for an hour breaking up with his girlfriend, who kept saying, “It’s because I gained the weight.”

“That has nothing to do with it.”

“I weigh more than you do. You think I’ll get that big.” In a booth two hefty women in the black uniforms of campus security were sharing a plate of nachos. “Right back.”  She stumbled getting down off the stool; she couldn’t hold beer.

            A man held the front door open and allowed a pit bull to precede him into the room. Big guy, already spotted by Knox in the crosswalk with his dog, homing in on something, so that Knox casually said to himself, Don't come in here, dude. The man had on a green tank though it was not really warm enough for that and he was handsome in a flaring way Knox had to admit made him uneasy even in some sports figures.

“Dog can’t come in here,” said the bartender.

“She can’t, huh?” The man advanced into the room with the dog, snubbed up tight on the leash so its front paws had to scrabble for the floor. 

“You tie him up.” The bartender stretched out her whole arm and pointed her long finger.

“Bus stop. Can’t tie this kind of a dog up in a bus stop.”

“What you want to come in here for?” said the bartender, not unkindly, filling a schooner and setting it on the empty bar. “This that new dog? He nice?”

“She.” The dog sat, facing the table of the two guards eating nachos. “You did it,” the man said to the bartender. The way he said it made the dog look up and emit a growl. “You goddamn married him.”

“I did. Last Friday. I said I was.”

“You did it. OK. All right. Where is he?”

“He can’t sit around in here. He’s at work.”

“He knew you were with me.”

“I wasn’t with you, baby.”

The man reached in his pants and pulled out a gun, small as a phone. People set down their drinks in the quiet. He scanned the room with the gun, like a flashlight. The bathroom door opened and Knox’s girlfriend came out. Knox held perfectly still, praying the man’s attention onto her. But one of those girl guards was sure to pull a weapon. Everybody in the place was going to get shot. He, Knox, was going to die.

Somehow, his girlfriend took in the situation. Moving slowly, she sank into the booth with the two women. One of them put a fat arm around her. The other one had a walkie-talkie.

“Don’t nobody go on your cell or nothing,” said the bartender. “This is Jerome. I know Jerome.”

“You think you know me.” He pointed the gun at her.

“Come on, Jerome. Don’t do that. You don’t want to do that.” And she came out from behind the bar and put her hand up in front of the little stump of gun. She took hold of the barrel with two long fingers and thumb as if it were a straw she was going to drop into a drink. “Come on, now.” She raised the flap and went behind the bar. Jerome got up on a stool, and instead of putting the gun out of sight the bartender laid it down on the bar. Jesus God are you kidding me? Knox screamed in his head. 

“Sit,” Jerome said to the dog. Then he put his forehead down on the bar and his shoulders began to shake. “Baby boy,” the bartender said, spreading her fingers, with the gold on one, around his head and holding it while he shook.  

At one table a man got to his feet. “Hey don’t you forget the check,” the bartender called. Then Knox’s girlfriend stood up, hugged the big security guard, and started across the room to Knox. Her face shone with tears. He stared at her outstretched arms. So people loved, even many of them, and his rank among them was not high.

 

 

©2012 Valerie Trueblood

 

 

Author Links

 

Valerie Trueblood homepage

Trueblood's essay for APR, 'What's the Story?

Nuala Ní Chonchúir on Valerie Trueblood's Marry Or Burn

 

 

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