Title Page and Licensing
Gazing at the Fifty Stars
By Thomas M. McDade
Copyright 2016 Thomas M. McDade
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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This story as previously published by Flytrap Uprising, Blue Spider Press under the title “Faith at the Heart and Hoof Tavern.”
Cover Photo snapped by author in forgotten locale by author
Pipe and other dreams stay that way for dreary girls was a line Faith heard once on a soap opera and she spoke it anytime an occasion called, followed by “Faith ain’t one. She’ll shove a sewer pipe up your dull-ass dreams.” All the drinking, smoking, ranting and raving she’d done during the pregnancy now full term was not only a dream, it was a miracle. There she was, about to deliver the son of the movie idol looking outlaw she’d sainted and idolized before and after the state police shot him dead at a hijacking scene. She was sprawled on her favorite chair by her beloved oversized oak card table in the Heart and Hoof Tavern, long auburn hair cut short for the occasion but she didn’t swear off the hot pink lipstick that made her mouth sex symbol true. There was no clamping her tongue. Occasionally she’d assess her face in a large hand mirror.
Moon-faced Keenan in his forties who’d been dizzy ever since diving out of his infant crib and four-foot-nine Todd who acted like he was six-ten and as tough as his Marine haircut, spread the Tavern’s holiday flag to prevent splinters. Keenan continued bragging on his one try lock pick entry. Todd shut him up by threatening to yank out his tonsils. Howitzer, the bloodhound bequeathed to the Heart and Hoof by a WWII artilleryman Arnie Perk, plopped down on some newspaper comic pages in a corner after whimpering twice.
Faith ordered Todd to cover the clock over the bar with a towel. She was going to keep her own time. She put her watch and Francy’s in her purse, said she could figure her contractions in her head as a jockey does fractions in a race. Francy Small was Todd’s sixteen-year-old sister, pretty, petite and shapely, rosy cheeks and perfect teeth. She’d plucked my brass ring of a U.S. Navy owned heart against the wishes of her father and brother Otis. They never said a word but I could sense building objections to my interest. Otis was a shipmate on the USS Mullinnix who’d invited me to his hometown of Harper’s Ferry for an afternoon of horseracing at the Charles Town Races plus room and board. He deserted me when an old girlfriend showed up at the Heart and Hoof. I had to take a cab to the track.
Saluting the flag turned tablecloth, Todd said, “Young Ellis will know America from the start and marched around singing “Yankee Doodle.” I imagined the American Legion, VFW and DAR stringing us up for using the colors as a welcome mat. Gazing at the fifty stars I almost wished to be underway checking out live ones. That longing slipped away after a glance at Francy. Our lives at the Heart and Hoof went on as if nothing extraordinary was about to happen. We played gin, shot bumper pool and fed the jukebox quarter after quarter. Keenan said Todd “moidalized” Buck Owens’s “Together Again.” Then he joined the massacre with Roger Miller’s, “More and More I Think About You Less and Less.” “Never, Ellis,” vowed Faith. Francy sang Patsy Cline’s, “I Go out Walking after Midnight.” She winked at me. Faith sang George Jones’s “White Lightning” and called Kentucky Derbies featuring two winning colts her dad had picked on his tip card: Needles and Venetian Way.
We were one hell of a revue. I tortured the hell out of “Sounds of Silence.” Todd walked the bar on his hands after saying he might someday be a circus acrobat and Keenan did a hundred pushups without Todd doing his drill sergeant impression.
Just after I had a boilermaker which I promised would be my last, those fifty stars caught my eye again and it struck me I’d gone from thirteen button colonies on my bells that I’d told Faith were thirteen chances for a gal to say no, to fifty states in less than twenty-four hours.
Keenan swept the floor for the umpteenth time and I scrubbed my hands with Boraxo, my count not far behind his.
We gabbed like a family at a reunion but sometimes I felt we were stuck in an air raid shelter in London, WWII. Tales of Ellis abounded, his fights, larcenies and big heart and the record twin double he once hit. Everyone was so damned sad he was gone. I felt like disputing them; he seemed more everywhere than God but I kept my trap shut. Faith made labor look easy. I’d always imagined bullet-biting pain. She kept talking despite breathing maneuvers and winces. Francy tried to get her on the table but she refused. “I’d feel like a stiff on a morgue slab unless it was time.” She finally broke the smoking ban and on the strength of her breathing, the cigarettes burned like speedy fuses. The drinking never stopped. It hit me that the baby might be born dead and I prayed against it.
“Should we get your mom?” I asked Francy.
“Leave well enough alone,” she advised.
I figured she meant don’t take any chances on her blabbing to old man Small.
When Faith told of the thirteen colonies business we’d gone through when we’d met, I offered my “Thirteen Colonies to fifty states line.” Francy ran her hand over my thigh and moved her finger from one button to another, smiling seductively. Then she pulled her hand away and blushed.
“Sounds like a promising country song title”, she said.
We composed a tune about our crazy time together. Todd insisted on a verse about me barfing at the finish line when I’d carried Francy across it earlier in the night. We’d hopped the fence to get into the track like Saint Ellis used to do. The night watchman was a friend of the Small family. Dream Count was my horse name after my big winner that afternoon inspired by Faith’s jukebox pick. Francy’s lines included gems such as “If you can’t tackle love, let it tackle you.” She’d hid and then ambushed me after we’d exited the Small residence by window and porch roof.
Faith supplied a verse that began, “Is it bad luck for a gal to say ‘yes’ thirteen times?” She got sillier and sillier until Todd surprised me by asking if I’d say a rosary because it was Sunday and he’d never heard one before. He’d asked to see my dog tags earlier, saw the “Catholic.” I figured he was setting me up for joking but went along, saying one on my fingers. They were as reverent as clergy would be and were praying along at the end. We had a big hug session after I finished. Man, if the Jesus hating boatswain mate I worked for could have seen me.
They were practicing crossing themselves when I went to the men’s room. Sitting down, I dozed and dreamed that stuntboy Todd was Peter Pan. “Never Land” would be a good name for a bar, I thought, snapping awake. I noticed something scratched on the wall over the condom machine. On the way out, I read it. “All Horseplayers Die Broke.” I took out my fingernail clipper vandalized with the file, scratched out what I could of the “Die” part. I didn’t want anything tempting fate. Over it I carved in “Live.”
A step out the door I saw Faith on the table naked, a sight that nearly paralyzed me. Francy led me to the bar to scrub my hands in a special solution. Walking to my battle station, I slipped where Faith’s water had broken and nearly fell. Keenan gave me a whisky bottle which I started to put to my lips but stopped. Francy had me scrub my hands again.
“Hey Tom,” said Keenan, “’The pleasure’s all yours’ is going to be part of the song!” That was his favorite comment after he shook someone’s hand.
“Congrats, Keenan,” I said. I whipped off my jumper and Todd went nuts when he saw the crossed anchors.
“Holy shit,” he shouted, “Sailor Boy Tom’s got a tattoo, anchor clanker, anchor clanker.” He continued until Francy took a swing at him. She touched my anchors like something precious.
“Come on,” I said, trying to sound brave, “we’ve got work to do.” My eyes roamed Faith’s body and I wasn’t as embarrassed as I’d expected to be. She was a masterpiece. I imagined Francy on the same table someday, full of our child. I figured delivering Ellis Jr. would easily outrank my Dream Count experiences. I damned myself for even comparing. I couldn’t wait to tell my shipmate Rabbit, who was hooked on the sky. We’d find a commemorative constellation!
“Now!” cried Faith. Keenan braced her. Todd held her hand and positioned the mirror so she could observe. Francy chanted breathing instructions. Howitzer was sitting at my feet. Faith moaned “Amazing Grace.” We hummed along. I got my fingers on the baby’s head. I was scared it would disconnect, but all went as smoothly as a fixed horse race and I felt like a magician. When the shoulders were out, Faith shooed me away and finished. Francy cleaned off the mucus. Of course, it was a boy. He didn’t’ cry, just yawned. I guessed it would take Ellis Jr. a long time to sleep off all the booze and nicotine. They skipped slapping his butt, called it too violent. They jump started him with rubs. I figured I’d be following the kid’s life as I would Dream Count’s races and beyond. I wished Faith had taken better care of herself.
She held Ellis Jr. to her breast and I thought of a little girl with a rope tied to her doll so she wouldn’t lose it.
“What about the cord?” I asked Francy.
“Nothing to rush about,” she assured me.
Todd wrapped mother and son in the flag and with a Magic Marker he’d gotten from Keenan’s pocket, traced around Faith as if he were designing a new state. “I’ll make it permanent later,” he said.
“He’s not sucking,” said Faith, “sucking is what forces the placenta out. I hoped that wasn’t an indication he would be a “boring” boy; nah, impossible. “Get over here, Barnacle Tom,” she ordered. I froze, looking at Francy for permission. She nodded and smiled. I took over for Ellis Jr. I thought I as perverted because I was enjoying her tit so much and my mind kept flashing back to Faith’s legendary sex experience on that table that I continued to believe was a fanciful pot pipe dream one of Ellis’s enemies loosed on the Heart and Hoof. Everyone taking a nipple turn made me feel less weird.
“Custom says the placenta should be buried in a garden,” said Francy, “But what’s customary about this crew?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “We’ll bury it at the track where we tossed Ellis’s ashes!”
“Under a full moon,” I said.
“Let’s baptize baby Ellis,” suggested Todd.
“By God, I think I’m dreaming,” murmured Faith.
Keenan placed his bottle of Early Times over his heart as the newborn figured out nourishment.