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The ink on the divorce papers was still wet as Jackie sped down the street that used to lead her home. Tears carried her mascara down her face as the cherry tree lined block blurred past her window as though it had all been a dream to begin with. Neighbors working on their lawn, cocked their heads confused. Why, that’s Mrs. Williams, where she going to so fast? She and her now ex husband had lived in that neighborhood for only 6 months and yet had made friends with nearly everyone that lived there. Their holiday party was a hit, as well as their intricately carved pumpkins at Halloween that Jackie enjoyed so much. They wreaked of happy suburban supremacy.
The pale blue colonial house with the red shutters at the end of the block sat stoically, watching the car cautiously as it crept by. That’s where her husband would go. That’s why everything had turned into perfumed shit. A sharp pain began pricking her heart and chest as she glared at it, as though some sick old lady was doing needlework on her insides, embroidering the words “STUPID CUNT”. Her breath became shallower and her rage thrusted her foot down on the accelerator. She drove onto the sidewalk then onto her lawn, knocking over a stone rabbit holding a “Welcome” sign. She screamed and swerved back on the road. Her Volvo fearfully skidded away shocked by the violence.
It was a starless night and the moon hid from Jackie like a speechless friend, unsure of how to comfort. Her mind raced with only frivolous things; the woman’s long red hair, and her blouse at their holiday party, and how inappropriate that she had asked for a whiskey on ice when they had made special “Holiday-tinis” for the occasion. She thought about how perfect her life had felt like her grandmother’s joyfully decorated kitchen with wooden plaques covering almost every inch of the walls with prayers carved into them, a vinyl table cloth with big blue roses, the tin sugar jar that was always full, and something always cooking that smelled wonderful, zero chaos, only hope.
It was hour number 8 in the car, and she was just past Chicago, headed East, with a half baked plan to stay with her sister. There had been no traffic, barely anyone on the roads, the universe knew this was an emergency. Her stomach moaned from emptiness, the first sound made the entire trip and she realized how hungry she was. She past some fast food places, but opted for a seedy looking bar called the “Monkey Tank”, further from the highway exit then she would have liked, but she didn’t care. She needed a drink more than a burger and if some filthy man put his hand on her thigh she wouldn’t remove it.
She parked, opened the dashboard compartment and pulled out her secret pack of Camels. She drew that fabulously evil cigarette to her mouth and noticed the spray painted fence in front of her, “JB + SM FOREVER”. Ugh, not in the mood for sentimentality, then she glanced in her rearview mirror and saw a tall, dark haired woman in a mini skirt playfully batting away a younger shorter man in a stupid fake leather jacket trying to hold her, dance with her, kiss her, anything he could get. She liked this scene. Looking at the fence again, John Bullshit and Sarah Mophead can fuck off forever, her parking spot was probably where they first had their lame, clumsy sex, surely it was unprotected, and they have a little fart to take care of now. Thank god, I don’t have kids. No one to worry about keeping afloat as I abandon ship.
The bar was a sad scene. Women with tiny “Monkey Tank” tank tops that went down to their ribs, stood like statues behind the bar with eyes glazed over, frozen in the moment of “How the fuck did I get here?”. The title referred simply to their monkey “tank” tops. Lovely. I guess that’s more appealing then picturing a tank of frightened, shitting monkeys screaming for their lives, but that’s also like naming “Hooters” “Tight Wife Beater”.
There was a lost cowboy with a guitar, playing the only chords he knew, some young prostitutes with flat ironed hair and short shorts taking shots with their loot, and two fat old men sturdy and unmoving like rusty barnacled anchors on either end of the bar. Framed pictures of monkeys sporadically hung around the painted black walls, and fast metal music played. Maybe it wasn’t metal, it seemed a little techno, but also angry like someone would dance to it while snorting heroin and maniacally kicking the shit out of someone over getting a fast food order wrong.
She downed her whiskey and asked for the potato skins three times before the girl with braces on her approximately seven teeth knew what she was saying. She saw her reflection in the mirror behind the bar, her face was like a ghost in the tacky blue light, like she was under water. Jackie had to quit swimming when she was little because her teacher told her mom she wouldn’t breath while doing laps and it was dangerous. No matter how much her instructor shouted at her to take a breath, she’d wait until she reached the metal ladder. She remembered the horrible cramp in her small lungs that would hit at the half way mark. Why had she made it so hard on her self? Why hadn’t she just fucking breathed?
“The potato skins are great.” said a man in tight faded jeans, a small friendly gut, and red t shirt. His face was kind, his eyes wide open as though he knew how to look at people every day, take them in, and make them at home. He was cute in a townie, “I’ll teach you to fish and drink” sort of way. “I don’t want you to think I’m here all the time though. I own a hardware store few doors down. My name’s Rob.” Jackie smiled, and took a moment before she answered, staring at her empty drink, wishing she could have one last confidence boosting gulp. “Jackie.” “Nice to meet you, Jackie.” They shook hands. His were meaty, calloused, and a little too warm. “What brought you here?” “Vacation.” He laughed hard and as he did his shoulders shrugged up and down and he stumbled back a step, Jackie’s favorite reaction: genuine laughter, nothing false or eager about it, not motivated by a picture of them fucking in the bathroom later. Her basket of potato skins were slid down by one of the fat asses at the end of the bar. “I think you ordered these”, he said as he put one in his mouth and winked. “Thanks.” Jackie said giving Rob a smirk. “You’re welcome to have some of these, they’re not just for me and my friend over there.”
Five whiskeys later, Jackie began to hear herself as she yelled at Rob about her mom’s endless Ugg boot collection and felt stupid, but her brain was warm and buzzing with visions of happiness, her eyes were glued to Rob’s, the only person that mattered right now. “I don’t know what I was talking about.” Rob shook his head assuringly. “It was funny. You know you’re the most beautiful person I have ever met….at the Monkey Tank”. Jackie laughed and he snuck a kiss on her cheek. Jackie’s eyes went down to her lap, but she couldn’t hide her smile at the surprise affection. Then she kissed him slowly, pulling him close by the neck of his shirt. His hands gently cupped her face, not the typical design of two wasted strangers kissing at a bar. This felt real to her, no, it felt the opposite.
As Jackie signed her receipt with slow drunken trying to be serious precision, she looked up to see two of the scantly clad bar girls staring at her unblinking. “Have Robbie drop you at the Roadway.”, one said to her over annunciating each word. “He’s here a lot. Different girl, every night.”, the other one warned while dumping those limp potato skins into a garbage bag. Jackie felt a bit guilty for using him for her own peace of mind realizing his agenda. Not everyone can leave happy.
She saw Rob near the door waving at her and jumped off her stool, knocking it over. She apologized, but didn’t pick it up. Rob gave the bar girls a look as he left with his arm around Jackie. “My place is just up the road. I want to know everything about you.” Rob said as they walked towards a white pick up truck. The words of the Monkey Tank goddesses echoed in her head and stopped her drunken march. “You know I think I need to go home alone, or what’s the Roadway? I’ll get a room there.” “But we’re having such a good time! And I don’t know.. it just feels right. I don’t normally want this, but you and me are a match.” Rob said with a sincerity of a knife salesman. He started touching her sides, feeling her chest and hips, trying to warm her up. Jackie stepped back “I’m sorry, I’m gonna get a cab. I had a great time though, I think you’re a lot of fun and-“ before she could finish Rob was in his truck. “Tell those bitches in there, they just lost their most loyal customer! You’re a fucking bitch! Never spending a dime in there again” Rob shouted as he pulled out and onto the road. But I paid for everything, Jackie thought. His car screeched down the road while blasting the same horny rageful techno music. “Poor guy.” Jackie sighed, but she was glad to have stolen a little happiness that night. That’s why places like the Monkey Tank exist.