“Help me up, Harold.” Kimmy’s been tottering around on purple sequined stilettos all evening, but the addition of just the right amount of alcohol has suddenly rendered her incapable of standing upright for anything beyond five minutes at a time. Harold slides his arms under her armpits and hoists her tiny frame with hardly a glance. He’s still talking. His absentmindedness makes the tenderness with which he handles her exquisite. He props her onto a barstool, hooks her hair out of her eyes and behind her left ear, and patiently begins a rambling toast for the third time – it’s loosely related to the positive influence Johnny Walker has had on his life - until he stops in mid-sentence and stares blankly at me. He’s lost his train of thought. Again.
Harold and Kim have been a couple since junior high school, and had given birth to their first child while everyone else in our grade level attended orientation for high school. Another of their children, a daughter this time, had entered the world junior year during a pep rally for the homecoming football game, which we lost devastatingly to the Coventry Cougars. Kimmy sometimes jokes that if she had been at that pep rally, we might’ve won. The truth is, she didn’t play sports and she wasn’t a cheerleader; she had a history of spending assemblies under the bleachers getting high and making out with Harold, so I don’t think her presence would have helped all that much, but I don’t have the heart to tell her that. Their oldest, now ten, was at this very moment babysitting his younger siblings. All six of them.
“Let’s dance.” Kimmy punctuates this request by closing her eyes for a full minute and letting her head droop slightly. Snapping her head up, she opens her eyes and slides off the stool and onto the floor in one fluid movement.
“Christ, woman. How can you dance when you can’t even stand up?” I help her off the dirty floor and try to brush the black smudges off of her ass, but it’s no use. She rallies, and then we dance, removing our shoes and hiding them behind the pounding floor speakers, which are almost as tall as we are. The music is loud, the lights are bright, and we are very drunk. The cigarette smoke is so thick it throbs and sifts itself into colored ribbons. The night takes on the taste of a carnival. Suddenly, there is motion everywhere. The music continues, but we’re shooed from the dance floor. I can see the boys across the room, smoking and patting each other on the back. They’re probably drunker than we are which is astounding. We stop dancing and lean across the bar to order shots, shoes in hand. It is exactly then that the bear appears. He’s in a rolling cage, which says Cesar the Wrestling Bear in silver letters and the cage is hauled by two grunting and heaving men. This is new. “A toast to big, strong bears.” Clink, gulp, hiccup.
Kimmy and I have been coming to this particular establishment for years, starting way back when it was The Chuckwagon. Then, barrels of peanuts lined the walls, free for paying customers, and the shells were tossed directly onto the floor. Sometimes there was a dinner crowd, but mostly it was just barflies ordering nachos and anything fried. The biggest attraction for us wasn’t the peanuts or the food, but the fact that the owner turned a blind eye toward underage drinkers, particularly those of the female persuasion. Kimmy and I had gulped down our first shots in the Wagon at fourteen and two weeks later, I performed my first blowjob out back near the peeling and reeking dumpster. Somewhere along the line, ten years had passed.
Now though, the important thing is that I’ve lost Kimmy. One of my ex-boyfriends currently occupies her seat, a faded Pink Floyd concert t-shirt stretching tightly across his extensive paunch. Glancing around, I look across the dance floor and Harold’s eyes lock onto mine. He shakes his head slowly, drunkenly, and points toward the back of the building. Then he is carried toward the cage by clapping and shouting and the DJ is saying something that I can’t quite make out.
After ten minutes of a blind stumbling search, I find her in that familiar spot behind the building, her palms pressed flat against the rust and blue dumpster; her dress is pushed up into a roll around her middle, and her panties hang in a crumple from her right ankle. She is poised on her toes and barefoot. To his credit, Lenny doesn’t miss a beat, he just keeps grinding. “What?” She asks, “Is it time to go?” Her chin hits the lip of the dumpster, sprouting blood, and she sways slightly.
“Harold is wrestling the bear.” I say. She closes her eyes and hangs her head back for a moment, so I begin to think she hasn’t heard me, or has passed out, but then she opens her eyes and jerks her head to the side, somehow dismissing Lenny in one deft movement. He grumbles, but he goes, zipping and buttoning as he walks.
‘Fuck. Damn. Damn. Damn. Why? Why would he wrestle the bear?” She is shouting and mascara runs in rivers down her face. By now, she has righted the straps, smoothed her dress, and fluffed her hair, but no cosmetic in the world will fix the emptiness in her eyes. Her shoes are missing. We are nowhere near sober when we hear the sirens approach, but even we can tell they’re in no hurry.