You held the top of the rail by the bar for support, still moving your hips as you tried to get the bartender’s attention to order a drink, shaking just slightly in all that noise near the side before you knew I was there. I was wearing the brand-new green ball cap I had found in the parking lot at work. The one you told me not to take. “They’ll come back for it. Whoever’s it is. It’s too nice.” And I told you that if the owner saw it on me, and asked for it back, I would hand it over no questions asked. Your sister was here and so were your two cousins who didn’t speak to each other. But I hadn’t seen them yet. I just knew they were around. Because you were here and it was a Saturday night, your sister and your cousins, even though they weren’t speaking, never let you do anything by yourself. I could picture them waiting in the hall for you to finish going to the bathroom, banging on the door for you to hurry up but never once thinking of leaving you alone. The baby. Who spilled her drink on herself as she shook it on back to the dance floor. To me, it was funny the way you said at the back loading dock in front of Betty-Marie and Thomas and Jessie and little Jessie, as though no one was listening. “You should come! Everyone has fun at Hep’s. Everyone’ll be there.” And little Jessie, hanging on his daddy, said “I’m going,” and everyone laughed. It did not faze you at all. “You should come!” you said again, and I looked around and mumbled something. It was three beers and many songs until you saw me and came over. You yelled my name louder than the music and grabbed my arm. “Come on!” you shouted. It was obvious, though, to me, and I knew it would be to you soon enough, that it was something else you needed. That it was something in me you saw that wasn’t there that you thought was or could be. There was no earthly idea in my head as to what possessed you to talk to someone like me the way you did. “Come on!” you kept shouting, trying to get me out to where everyone was jumping around. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I have to go,” I said, finishing my beer with my free hand. I thought I would get the face that told me I was stupid. The idiot who didn’t understand. The one that also said I’d be missing out on some kind of extraordinary laughter. But it was something different you had. Like you were looking at an old map and could not find where you were in all those lines or where you had to be. Then I could feel the warmth there was in the trueness of all the things you had said to me. That most of the things you said to me were true, and that they did have me in it, but in a way, I guess I didn’t get. “I have to go,” I said again. This time, though, I said it because I didn’t know what else to say and because I had already started leaving. And you squeezed my arm, and when I was outside on the sidewalk, even though it was only nine thirty, Saturday night was over. I got in my truck and started the engine. Driving out, I thought it might be a funny thing, or even a good thing, if going back past work I left the hat on the ground where I found it. Maybe the owner would come across it, see it from the road or something, and get it. Praise all the stars above for his good luck. Or maybe someone else would find it. Some other drunk lunatic on their way home from Hep’s. “Stop the damn car, we just passed a hat!” they’d yell. Maybe you. That you’d see the hat and pull over thinking, what a strange thing, two lost hats in the same place—and grab it up. That you stand there a moment in the half dark with the hat, then all at once jump back in the car and drive off. That you maybe knock on my door, and when I open it and see you, you say something true about me and the hat, about the hat being mine now, as you stand there holding it, something said in a way, far from the noise of the bar I would never have thought of. Something kind as you give me the hat. Something generous I would understand, said in a way I would know how to respond to. Something said very plainly, with the both of us standing there with each other in the light of the porch, that would make you stay.
Christopher Heffernan’s poetry and fiction have been placed in magazines and journals around the country such as The Believer, The Writer’s Journal, Pacific Coast Journal, Talking River, Toasted Cheese, the South Dakota Review, Louisiana Literature, the Sierra Nevada Review, Whiskey Island, Big Muddy, the Cape Cod Poetry Review, 34th Parallel, and the Madison Review as well as others. He has a book of poetry titled Rag Water and spends much of his time working and walking in the sun.