’72 Skylark, 11

Then something happens that I’m not expecting: Miriam laughs. A belly laugh, rumbling slowly from her throat, with the weight of years on it. The frat boys stare at her as they pass, leaving for the night, probably planning to drink away the rest of their night inside a frat house full of busted memories and deep pockets of hidden mold.

The biker’s gone, too. Good. The fewer people here, the easier the next part will be.

I check my watch. It’s 11:58. He’ll be here any second.

“I don’t want to talk any more about my brother,” Miriam says, still shaking with laughter. “What about you? Why are you still in town, ‘Rick’?”

I sit for a moment, contemplating my empty beer bottles and the knife pressed against my hip, ready to be drawn when the time comes. The bartender washes the day’s mugs and glasses with quick sprays of water. I think I can hear the old man snoring from behind Miriam. On the TV, they’re showing basketball replays. Today I couldn’t even jump to reach the height of the shortest player on that court; a long time ago, I could have outrun them all.

“You’re wrong, about your dad,” I say, letting the drinks in me do the talking, now that it’s too late.

“Excuse me?”

“You don’t collect cars without knowing anything about them and stare at them all day because you appreciate the aesthetics,” I say. “You do that because you were afraid to admit, the first time you bought a pretty car, that you didn’t know anything. Then you bought the second one, and then the charade was habit. A cycle. Folks don’t break their cycles.”

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