The weather is cold, but sunny, and Carl and Linda have been drinking all day. Their morning started with Karkov and orange juice mixed in low ball glasses still filmy from the night before. Linda put on a Jim Croce record and began dancing around the house to “Roller Derby Queen,” spilling drops of her drink on the olive shag. The Jim Croce record was one of the few albums that Carl still owned. He had sold most of his records when compact discs appeared on the scene, and then he had sold most of his compact discs when he lost his job at the Ford factory in St. Paul. What remained of his collection was a mixture of a few albums he refused to part with and some compact discs that no one would buy from him.
“C’mon baby,” Linda said, reaching out her hand. “Dance with me! Let’s pretend it’s our wedding reception.”
“I fell in love with a roller derby queen…” Carl sang, taking her outstretched hand into his. They moved in and out from one another, Carl spinning Linda and Linda rolling out from Carl to do the one-leg twist and hip-shake.
Only two weeks ago, they wedded at the courthouse with Linda’s half-sister Melanie and Carl’s old friend Ted, a man he had met during a short stint in the Hennepin County jail for drunk driving, as witnesses to their matrimony. The ceremony was brief and as intimate as possible for having taken place in a courtroom. When it was over, the four drove to the Round Up Beer Hall and drank until they stumbled. They managed to get a cab to Melanie’s house where Carl and Linda spent the first night of their marriage in a spare bedroom. The bed was only a twin and so they held onto each other with ferocity. The next morning was lit with a haze of alcohol and love; it would not be long before their hands began unlocking each other’s bodies with movements both spare and deep. When their lovemaking was over, Linda buried her face in Carl’s graying chest hair, and he kissed the top of her head, her fine hair sticking to his damp lips.
They have been celebrating ever since.
Now it is late afternoon, and they are still thirsty. They hop the 21 and head from their apartment at Lake and Chicago to the VFW on Lake and Lyndale. On the bus, Carl puts his arm around Linda and tells her he loves her. Linda leans into him adjusting her drugstore sunglasses, and sighs contentedly.
“Carl, bear, I love you, too,” she says, yawning.
Before they have been riding for a full five minutes, her breaths lengthen and fall into rhythm. Carl can feel her body become heavier against his.
“Wake up honey,” he says. “Wake up. We’re still on the bus.”
She stirs and then sits up.
“Not yet. But you gotta stay awake until we get there, honey.”
“10 minutes nap, bear. 10 minutes nap.” She leans into him again, draping an arm across his lap.
“No, c’mon Linda, get up.” He pushes her shoulder gently and she pushes back. “C’mon, get up.”
“But, I’m so tired.”
“You’ll feel better if you sit up.”
She stays still.
“Please, honey, sit up for me.”
Finally, she sits up and looks out the window.
“That’s my girl. That’s my honey,” he says, “You have to be up so we can play bingo. We need to win that jackpot.”
It’s bingo night and they both love getting an ice-filled pail of High Life and holding the brightly colored markers in their hands. Up by the caller, free popcorn is hot and fresh. The salt makes the beer go down smoothly and staves off their hunger so they can drink more before eating. Steve and Jan are normally tending bar and many of the faces are familiar. The whole place is warm and comfortable, a home away from their apartment.
Their stop comes up quickly, and after they get off the bus, Carl nearly trips walking into the bar. Steve looks at him, blank for a second, and then puts two fingers up in a wave. Carl gestures back, his grin wide and wet. Linda spots Sandy, a woman with long black hair and silver bracelets who she knows only from this bar, but who she has always felt a kinship with. She takes Carl’s hand and leads him over to Sandy’s table. Sandy’s hand is wrapped around a glass of water with a crushed lemon slice floating in it.
“Hey guys,” she says as they settle in at the table, “you two already been at it today, huh?”
“It’s sunny outside,” Carl says.
“And we were dancing. Don’t forget that we didn’t have a real wedding reception. We had to dance this morning.”
“And we love each other,” he pokes Linda in the ribs, “don’t we, honey?”
“Yes, and we’re going to make babies.”
“Well, you better get moving on that, sister. What are you, 33 or 34 now?” Sandy says. “Those eggs will rot if you don’t use them.”
“Hey now…,” Linda starts to protest.
“Awww…I’m just kidding, sister.”
“Tell him about it. Tell him he’s got to love me up more often.”
“You heard the woman, Carl. And no woman should ever have to ask twice. God only put you on this earth for one thing and it sure as hell ain’t fishing.”
“Well, right now God just told me to go get some High Life for my girl. Ladies.” He bows deeply toward them and walks to the bar.
“Can I have a bucket of beers for me and my bride over there?”
He opens his wallet; he is two dollars short. Everyone around him is paying careful attention to their bingo cards and so he quickly grabs two one dollar bills that were left on the bar as a tip. Guilt finds him for a split second, but when he sees the bucket of beer, it slips away. The color, the ice, the glass—it’s all too beautiful to feel guilty about how he got it. Grinning, he hands the money to Steve, who says nothing when passing over the beer.
Linda waves at him as he approaches the table, her sunglasses sliding down her nose.
“You’re still wearing your shades, honey.”
“I gotta keep something between them and me,” she says.
“Silly little honey.” He kisses the top of her head.
They keep talking with Sandy, who sips her water as they drain their beers.
“Here,” Sandy says, “take this. Congratulations on gettin’ hitched. Play bingo.”
“Really?” Linda says, taking off her sunglasses.
“Really. It’s only a couple bucks and it’s not like I got to get you a wedding gift or anything.”
“You’re all right, Sandy. You’re really all right,” Carl says.
“You guys are funny. It’s only a couple bucks.”
Linda reaches across the table to hug her, but knocks over Sandy’s glass.
“Whoa, easy cowgirl,” Sandy says, “We can just shake on it.”
Linda laughs and then takes Sandy’s hand in both of hers. The women are quiet for a moment. Then Linda puts her sunglasses back on and goes up to get cards and markers for bingo.
During the third game, Sandy’s gift grows exponentially when Linda wins the jackpot. She puts her fist in the air when she calls it. The bartender looks at her and she claps her hands together. Carl kisses her on the cheek and Sandy gives her a high-five. Then, Jan comes over to give them a free bucket of beer and a crisp, clean fifty dollar bill. They break the bill on a thin crust pepperoni pizza that Steve cooks in a small oven behind the bar. He cuts it into squares and Sandy picks at her piece while Carl and Linda devour the rest, burning the roofs of their mouths on the cheese, though they won’t know it until they wake in the morning.
They play another couple rounds, but win nothing. Soon their beer is drunk; Sandy leaves and so finally, Carl and Linda leave, too.
“Here, little honey, put this in your pocket and keep it safe for us, okay?” Carl says, handing her what’s left of the fifty.
Outside, daylight is traceless. At the bus stop, Carl rests his chin on top of Linda’s chestnut hair. They hold each other tightly and Linda sways her hips back and forth against Carl’s pelvis. Between them, the Minneapolis dark and cold has disappeared. Carl puts his hands in Linda’s back pockets; he can feel the bills neatly folded inside. He rubs his fingertips up and down the length of them, feeling safe.
And he feels safe because every last coin counts. Carl and Linda are riding the end of Carl’s unemployment checks. Though Linda has hinted around about it, he has been avoiding finding out just when the checks will stop coming, but he knows it is soon. Linda has a bad back and gets some disability benefits, but not enough to support them. Every month, she gives some of the money to her mother, who despite having congestive heart failure, still smokes Virginia Slims. She does not tell Carl she does this, but since they are married, she figures she’ll have to because now she and Carl are a family, a tribe onto themselves. Soon one of them will have to take whatever work is to be found: dropping potatoes in grease, guarding merchandise, cleaning hotel rooms. But for now, they are still safe from that life; the money they won, like a shooting star, a gift.
And so at the bus stop, waiting for the 21, they do not think. Carl squeezes Linda’s behind, kneading her flesh and kissing her neck. The 21 takes them by surprise and when the lighted windows suddenly appear, Carl quickly pulls his hands from Linda’s back pockets, and then they both board carefully. Carl uses the last ride on his pass and gets a transfer. Linda digs through her jacket pockets while the bus driver waits. "I know I have it,” she says. The driver nods and starts them moving, while she still stands, searching.
“I told you to keep it right here, honey,” Carl says, tapping the front breast pocket of her jacket. “I told you always to keep it right there.” His tone is gentle. “You have to keep your pass safe.”
“I know. I know. I thought I had it.”
Finally, she searches her purse and finds her pass in the bottom of it. The driver pushes a button and her transfer pops up. The only two seats left are in the front of the bus on opposite sides, and so they sit facing one another.
“Now take that money from bingo and either put it in your purse or give it to me to put in my wallet, okay honey? We can’t lose that because we’re still supposed to meet up with Ted and Mel later.”
“Okay, okay. Don’t talk to me like I’m a kid.”
“I know. I’m not, little honey. We just have to make sure we have enough for tonight.”
Linda leans forward and puts her hands into her back pockets. She takes them out and looks at them and then puts them back again.
“Well what in the hell?” she says.
“I can’t find it.”
“You can’t find it?”
“I thought it was back here.” She puts her hand in the back pocket of her jeans, her fingers spreading and groping against the denim. “I thought I put that money right there.”
“You did. I know you did. I felt it in your back pocket.”
“Well what could of happened? I didn’t buy anything else after we left the bar.”
“Fuck! Damn it, Linda. I told you to keep that money safe.”
“Don’t yell at me. Don’t you yell at me. It’s gotta be here somewhere.”
The other passengers on the bus stare, though it is obvious they are trying not to. They turn their heads politely, watching Lake Street float by, as Linda continues to search through every pocket in her purse and on her clothing. She pauses for a second and pulls her sunglasses out of her purse. Slowly, she slides them on her face.
“What are we going to do now?”
“I don’t know. But don’t blame it all on me. Maybe you took it outta my pockets. Maybe you got it.”
“You didn’t even look. Why don’t you look? Check all your pockets. Even that little one that’s just for quarters.”
“I’m telling you, Linda, I don’t have the money.”
“All right, all right.”
He searches his pockets quickly, but thoroughly, all thumbs and digging. He pulls receipts, lint, and pennies from his pockets, but no bills.
“You ain’t got it either.” Linda says, simultaneously asking a question and making a statement.
“Goddamn it all! I don’t like going around with nothing in my wallet. Just makes you feel like nothing and I hate feeling like nothing.”
“Oh stop that—maybe Melanie can lend us a twenty. Or Ted.”
“I just hate going around with no money. Makes me feel like nothing. Just makes me feel like nothing.”
“Stop it, bear. Don’t talk that way. Mel is always good for a $20. And doesn’t Ted still owe you for helping him do drywall? I think he still owes you, bear. And he’ll be good for at least a $20.”
“Yeah, honey. You’re right. Ted should be good for a $20. He’s got to.”
They are quiet for a few moments as the bus bounces along, and they stare at one another across the aisle. Carl smiles at Linda, then looks at the woman sitting next to her. “Hey—hey, will you switch spots with me? That’s my girl you’re sitting next to. She’s my bride and I want to sit next to my bride.”
“Sure, I can switch with you,” the woman says.
“Thanks—thank you, ma’am. She’s my bride and I just have to sit next to my bride.”
Carl and the woman stand. Carl stumbles as the bus comes to an abrupt stop. He grabs the bar above his head for support. When he and the woman are both settled in their new seats, he says, “We were just married, just two weeks ago.” He puts his arm out and Linda leans into him, their bodies coming together thoughtlessly.
“You’re my bride, aren’t you? Just my little bride.”
“Yes, bear,” she says and the bus bumbles along, causing her breath to slow and lengthen once again. Carl leans his head against the window and closes his eyes, moving his hand gently between her breasts to where he can feel her heart beating.
All rights reserved to Darci Schummer.