I lean over the green in my medieval corset, plastic sword tapping against the rail, my feathered hat drooping just low enough on my forehead that I can still take my aim. Johnny is cheering me on over the mouth of a Bud set before his lips. I take a deep breath, clack-clack, whir, plunk. The que gracefully rolls across the green while the two disappears in the corner pocket. I straighten up, then strut around the table with one hand tracing the rail, my new sued pirate heels I got at Goodwill today clicking slowly on the bar room floor, a smirk on my face. I line up my next shot, then sink the five. On my third shot I miss.
“Atta-girl.” Says somebody in the crowd. I politely smile at the people watching the game, then take a swig of my Yuengling before stepping outside for a cigarette. As I pass the table on my way out Boomer, the bartender, is chalking his stick. I know I’ve pretty much already lost, but I don’t mind. I just love to play.
“So why’re you so good?” Asks Barry, joining me for a smoke. At least I think his name is Barry, it could be Hogan or John or Mike for all I know. It’s only my second day around and I’m still getting names right.
“Boomer’s kicking my ass.” I reply quickly. He raises an eyebrow at me.
“The boys say you can shoot.” He says. I shrug and take another drag off my cigarette.
“My momma’s an alcoholic. She thought it would be okay to drink around me and my sister when we were kids, long as it was in a pool hall. That way we’d be learning something at least.” I pause and stare down my cigarette. I’ve made a point to not talk about my past since I came to town. It’s been a few weeks since anybody’s been able to pin me down with a question. “I don’t know, it got something productive done at least, I love to shoot.”
“So you were one of those, grew up in the bar.” He says smiling, looking off across the parking lot. And the way he says it, I smile too. It’s not so much a statement of fact or worse, pity, but more like he just said welcome home. I start to relax and lean against the glass.
“I like it here.” I say, slurring a little bit, getting lost in my thoughts, the alcohol and memories he just brought up making me suddenly sentimental.
“We like you.” He says.
“I don’t stick around anywhere for long.” I say, “But I’m glad I finally found you guys.”
“Well, stick around here for a bit, will ya?” He asks genuinely. I look at him and smile, the drunken pirate queen.
“Sure.” Is all I say, then I look back at the game through the window behind us. Boomer is cleaning up the table. He only has one ball left before he can sink the 8. He glances at me then nods. I crush my cigarette out, I’m up.
After two more turns I’ve lost. Everyone is sympathetic. “Aw what happened hunny?” Says Joan. “Boomer beat you again? Don’t let him do that.”
I laugh good naturedly, “Hell it’s ok, I’ll get better.” Somebody raises their glass to toast to that and I return the gesture, emptying a quarter of my beer in one gulp. It’s an older crowd in Kennedy’s Tavern, most of the folk are 40+, a handful of early 30 year olds. I’m definitely the kid in the bunch. But I like it that way. I don’t connect with people my age to good anyway. They all have inside jokes and make media references that I don’t understand. I get awkward and weird and shy around other 20 some odd year olds. They make me insecure. But I like older folk. They don’t care about saying the right thing and who said what last week. Older folk got good wisdom, and I think they respect me, even though the Tavern crew thought I was 12 when I walked in the night before in my raccoon beanie with ears.
“Can we help you?” the bartended who I now know as Boomer had said to me rather gruffly over crossed arms.
“Yeah. “ I said trying to act tough. “A beer.” He studied my ID for awhile then started to joke with the patrons about it. I gathered that they were all regulars.
“Holy shit she is 22!” Somebody exclaimed from the other side of the bar.
“I’ll be damned.”
“Hell Boomer, give the girl a beer!”
I immediately like them.
Now here I am, it’s Halloween night and the party’s pretty much broken up. It’s just me and the regulars from the night before now, sitting almost in the same seats too. I’m starting to wonder if they do this every night. They’re laughing and talking about everyone who was here: the DJ that kept calling me and Joan Pirate Queen and Goddess, the rowdy couple on the dance floor. I’ve got a big plate of food in front of me and am nursing my last beer of the night.
“You told me you live on slim jims and noodles last night, you remember that?” Asks Barry.
“Yeah.” I say with a mouthful of bread. “Cause I do.”
“You can’t be doing that.” He says. I sigh. Everyone who gets to know me is always on my case about my living habits: My old clothes, my shitty diet, my aversion to sleep and all things calm and normal. Basically, the symptoms of growing up as a runaway.
“Yeah, I know.” I say exasperated. “But don’t worry I’m making good use of your munchies right now.”
He smiles, “Yeah, I can see that.”
The night then winds to an end. Everyone claps me on the shoulder on my way out. “Welcome to the bunch.” says Hogan, or was his name Mike?, “You’re a good new addition.” Then I feel my cheeks warm with emotion again. It’s the first place I’ve found since I moved here where I really feel like I belong. I slowly, carefully, made my way home, two left turns and up the hill. I let the dogs in my room and didn’t even care about the fleas. They both laid their heads on my chest, happily grunting and sighing before falling asleep. Then, for the first time in weeks, I fell asleep before dawn, too.
There are two things (and only two things) that have remained true no matter where I end up, no matter how dark or wonderful that place has been, no matter what side of the country or hidden in what ghetto: there has always been first, swing sets, the story for which I will save for another chapter, and second, there is always a pool table.
And I thank my lucky stars for that, at least.