The Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming – 6
“You’re much too emotional. You take things way too personal. You have to loosen up and just be comfortable in your own skin. If I don’t see that in you… You’ll never be in me.”
Steel and Veronica drove in separate cars over to a place called Mango’s Tangle. The owner of the bar was named Mango and he had gotten into a lot of tangles in his life. He was from Miami, and no one could ever understand how or why he ended up in horrid Berlin, Wyoming.
He worked behind the bar a couple times a week because he liked the people and he liked to talk to them. He was loud, but mostly kind enough, depending on who you were. Mango shaved his head and had a creepy black goatee. He liked to wear Hawaiian shirts with the top buttons undone and his thick chest hairs were always crawling out and trying to escape. He wore overtight jeans with those Hawaiian shirts, and his skin, once perpetually bronzed by the Florida sun, had now faded to the cold pale flesh tone all the rest of them in town wore.
Mango smiled when he saw Veronica Eyes walk in but then frowned when Steel came in after her. He eyed Steel suspiciously as he reached for Veronica’s favorite bottled beer and set it down in front of her. “Who’s this guy?” he asked her. “Is he your new boyfriend?”
Mango had a crush on Veronica just like most of the men in Berlin, Wyoming did. He looked at Steel like he didn’t trust him, didn’t like him. “You going to have something to drink?” he snapped.
“I’ll take a tequila shot and your best IPA,” Steel answered as he reached into his pants to retrieve his wallet. He spread it open and pulled out some crisp bills and threw them on the bar. “I’ll take care of everything tonight.”
Mango snatched up the money, counted it, and put it near his till. He turned back around and tapped at his glistening head with a stiff finger. “I’ll be calculating in my mind… All that you drink.” He poured him the shot and put the beer down. “Are you new in town? I’ve never seen you in here before.”
“I’ve been here about five months,” Steel said.
“He works at the newspaper with me,” Veronica chimed in.
Mango raised his chin to study him from another angle. “Oh. A newspaper guy, huh. Do you do the writing, or take the pictures, or what?”
Steel winced after he downed the tequila shot. “Something like that.” He chased the strong drink with the beer.
“Well,” Mango began. “No one will be as good as this one.” He gestured with his head toward Veronica and smiled. “She’s on top of everything… And on the bottom, too.” He winked at her and smiled again. “Isn’t that right, Veronica?” He laughed out loud.
Veronica shook her head. She was embarrassed and excited and almost proud all at the same time. She enjoyed being popular with men. “Really? Exposing my weaknesses in front of the new guy.”
Mango laughed again as he poured someone else a drink. “Oh, you’ve been exposed all right.”
When he momentarily stepped away, Steel leaned closer to Veronica and whispered, “Why do you let him talk about you like that?”
She smiled and her eyes sparkled as she wrapped her mouth around the beer bottle she had. “Because it’s true.”
Steel looked at her face. He saw soiled perfection in everything. His heart thumped and he was getting warm from the liquor. “Can it be true for me?” he asked her in all seriousness.
Veronica giggled as Mango returned and replaced her beer with a fresh one. He poured Steel another shot. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m still trying to figure you out. You’re an enigma or something closely resembling one. And you’re still kind of weird. You need to be genuine and penetrable for me to give myself up to you willingly.”
Steel was dejected about being called weird again and she took notice. “See… Like that.”
“Like what?” Steel grunted.
“You’re much too emotional. You take things way too personal. You have to loosen up and just be comfortable in your own skin. If I don’t see that in you… You’ll never be in me.” She got up off her barstool. “I’m going to go use the pisser. Think about it.”
When Veronica came out of the ladies’ room, she saw some people she knew gathered around a round table talking and laughing. She went right up to them and joined in the conversation. Steel envied the ease at which she could be so comfortably sociable. He watched her as she smiled and laughed. She reached out and touched a guy’s arm. She was invited to pull up a chair and be among their tribe. She glanced in Steel’s direction for just a moment, and then turned away to join her more straightforward and transparent friends.
Steel slipped out of the bar and into the night. He leaned against his car and smoked a cigarette, but he what he was really doing was waiting to see if Veronica would come out after him and invite him back into the bar. He waited and waited. His heart jumped every time the door would open, and the noise inside would rush out, then quickly fade when the door shut again. It was never her that emerged. He figured it never would be. Steel threw his cigarette to the ground and harshly snuffed it out with his shoe. He got into his car and drove home.
When he walked into his cold and dark overpriced apartment, Steel Brandenburg III wondered just what the hell he was doing with his life. He felt like with the rising of every new sun, he was dying inside more and more. He glanced out a window at the ugly city bathed in its ruins of economic depression and the dead spirits of its inhabitants.
He believed deep down within his own unfurled guts that moving to Berlin, Wyoming would turn out to be the greatest regret of his life. He was already beaten to hell when he had first arrived, and the beatings continued. He was so ready to chuck it all, take the losses, and just get the hell out of there. But the means to survive…
His phone suddenly lit up. Veronica was calling.
“Where the hell did you go?” she wanted to know.
“You drifted off to be with your friends. I just thought… I felt like you didn’t want me around anymore.”
He heard her sigh. “You fucked up again, I hope you know.”
“What did I do?” Steel wondered. His hot nerves started to kick in.
“You should have taken the opportunity to come over to me and meet my friends. Instead, you just took off. That was kind of a letdown. I was really hoping you’d stand up and be a man. I wanted you to be brave and step into the circle. But you just ran.”
“Jesus. That’s all a bit harsh.”
“You need to know I speak my mind… Completely,” Veronica said. “I’m just being honest. Don’t you value honesty?”
“You want me to be honest?”
“I thought it was rude of you to just leave me hanging there at the bar. You ditched me. It was selfish and snobbish.”
“I’m selfish and snobbish!?” Veronica protested. “It’s a small town. People know each other. People are friendly to each other. We greet each other and gather, not fade into the wallpaper. You should have pulled yourself together and come over.”
“I think I’m done with this conversation… And this town,” Steel told her, and he nearly ended the call.
But then she breathed, almost in a longing desperation. “Wait… Can I come over?”
TO BE CONTINUED
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