Blood-red shots in glasses lined the wooden bar top. Outside dust swirled faintly, like ocean waves when they meet the sand, dying down and rising up again. Inside was mostly dust-free, except for cracks in the floorboards and little rims along the window sills. The glasses were always dust-free though. Al made sure of that.
Mary leaned to the left of the bar against the back doorframe, also wooden but of no consequence other than the fact that the last man to lean there, about seven days ago, well his arm slipped and splintered in more than one place. The woman remained still a few moments, surveyed the empty stools, and grabbed a shot, flipping it up to her crooked smile.
“Mighty good tonight, Al.”
The seventy-year-old man behind the bar nodded.
“Shame none’s around but me.”
“I ain’t worried.”
He smiled at Mary.
“Well ya should be. Hear Aunt Sadie’s down the road’s openin next week.”
“What’s that gotta do with tonight?”
“She’s havin a special now, pre-openin one.” As Mary sidled toward him to sit, her flower-printed and worn-in dress flared slightly.
“True as I’m ‘ere right now.” She sat, cowboy boots kicking the underside of the bar.
“Ah, in that case, next one’s on me.”
Mary snagged another shot from the counter before Al could change his mind. “You hear she’s gonna sell mor’n just liquor?”
“I heard,” Al wiped his forehead.
“Full meals an’ all.”
“Ya, I heard.”
“Fried chicken, pies, the whole deal.”
“Ya, I heard.” The man’s response held more teeth in it this time as he clenched his smile around the words.
“With that kind a business, Al…”
“I know, I know. I just ain’t got the money right now.”
“I could spot you a lick.”
“Now Mary, I couldn’t take yer money.”
“Why, ‘cause my husband’s dead? Ol’ Tommy-boy’s place o’ residence now the graveyard at 291 Chickawe St.?”
“Don’t think a woman cen take care herself?”
“No, I —”
“I’ll have ya know I cen take care this whole goddamn town.”
“Whatta ‘bout ya kid? Billy?”
“He part this goddamn town?”
“Then I cen take care ‘im too.” Mary took her third and final shot. She slammed three dimes on the wood, almost digging her palm in with the force.
“That’s only enough for one’n a half.”
“Thought you says on you.”
“I did, second one, not second and half a’ third.”
“Mary, shove it over.”
“Ya said ya had enough to care this whole goddamn town.”
“I said that, sure.”
“Well, show me some that money.”
“Oh fuck, you really gon’ make hopeless widowed Mary Jane Cobbler pay an extra ten cents?”
She swung her satchel around, dropping it with a small heave on the table in front of her.
“Ya just said ya got the money.”
“I do, I do. Damnit. To find it is all.” Mary pushed both hands in and began to feel around.
“Sorry, Mary. But moments ago you been braggin ‘bout halfway to Texas.”
“I know, I know. Got the money, swears.” She grunted but continued to paw at the bag, now moving her scarred knuckles to the outer pockets. “You wanna help me look?”
She shoved the thing toward him. “I think ya do.”
Al sighed. “Alright, giver ‘ere.” He took a turn shifting the contents, unopened lipstick to the right, house keys forward, a handkerchief to the left, no money. “I ain’t seen nothin in there, Mary.”
“Shucks Al, who’my kiddin’? You didn’t believe me seconds ago. I’m sorry. Look,. you’re right, I ain’t got the money. This coins ‘ere’s what I got last week for the broken-down tracker Tom usedta ride.” She grabbed her bag back and kept her head down even after she had tucked the satchel safely under her stool.
“Aw Mary, I know why you’d lie, and I was only jokin’ anyways. Ya know, you cen take the first one free too. All on me.” He slid the thirty cents back across the bar top.
“You sure I ain’t owe you or anythin’?”
“Y’ain’t owe me nothin. Just take care ya boy Billy and yerself. Ya don’t owe the town nothin either, how many times we gotta tell ya.”
Mary nodded and took the dimes and flipped them down the lip of her bag like she flipped the first shot of the night toward her smile.
On her way out the back door, she paused at the wooden frame to turn and watch Al knock one back. Six glasses left on the boards of the bar, and Mary knew who’d be taking each and every last one of them.
She opened her satchel for the final time in Al’s joint, pulled out what was nestled next to her handkerchief and unopened lipstick, what that nice man hadn’t seen when he searched her bag for money, and shot Al in the back.
The sun hit Mary’s knees as she walked out of the bar, glanced off the polished boot spurs and the cool metal pistol she slipped out of sight, her hand clutching her satchel.
“He ain’t no use ta me no more.” She grinned and didn’t look over her shoulder.
Less than four minutes later she sidled up to another barstool, Aunt Sadie’s pre-opening special, and downed four shots.
That perky, new-to-town bartender asked a full dollar. She stuck her hand out for Mary’s money.
The girl stuck out her crooked smile in response, reached into her back pocket and pulled out one very wrinkled bill. “Here ya’are.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” She didn’t even have the area’s accent yet. Mary scoffed to herself.
The still-crooked-smiling woman stood now, not in the least bit unsteady, and sauntered to the dusty road through the front door. She waved, walking away, and the stranger behind the polished metal bar waved back.
Mary muttered under her breath, “That cock-sucker best watch out now. I ne’er pay full price for a drink in this town. Not fo’ fifteen years’o more, and I don’t plan on doing it now.”
“Well this town’s small. Bet she learns quick enough not ta charge me. Soon’s her accent come ‘round.”
Dust circled through the air before each of Mary’s steps. It was rhythmic watching the motions of the dust, like hands on a watch spinning round and round, settling down a moment and then lifting up again to arc a slow path under her knees, and occasionally if she put the same kind of force she used to dig the three dimes toward Al into her feet when she moved forward, the dust would travel up to wrap around her waist, would become a belt made of wispy souls.
Mary grounded herself. She moved the coins into her back pocket as she neared the old rotting door frame of the old rotting bar. She smiled her rotting smile. “Oh Al, poor soul. Don’t ya know a woman cen look after herself?”
And Mary Jane Cobbler smacked all six shots, one at a time, into her open mouth.
Jaden Rose currently lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She is a poetry, short fiction, and novel writer who also pursues photography, painting, and the dynamic relationship between visual art and literature.