BILL THOUGHT ABOUT HIS HANDS AND WHERE THEY HAD BEEN AND DECIDED THEY WERE WHAT HE LIKED MOST ABOUT HIMSELF AND THE WORLD. He had realized this before but it was nice to use them and remember.
______When he finished shooting, he let one of his hands off the cue ball and onto a drink. It had changed the color of sunlight in the late afternoon as the ice melted. The glass felt good in his hand and he drank what was left of it while Malita drew back and shot the worn cue across the table. She was young and pretty but only so much as her youth would allow. When she was not wrapped around a man or busy with a tray of drinks, she held her arms to her side like they were not hers. Bill liked her arms. They were long and slender but she did not know how to hold them. As he watched her move in broken rhythm around the table, sinking shots like they could have been anyone’s, he was sure she did not know her beauty.
______She missed and sat in the chair in the corner where Bennie always sat and leaned the chair against the wall as he always did and looked at the stairs that led to the second story where Bennie was.
______She hung her head low and her eyes rolled back. Her shoulders stuck up sharp and she was unmoving like a dying monkey. She did not leave the chair as if sitting in Bennie’s place might bring him down.
______Bill’s hand did not leave his drink. There were balls on the table and they needed to be hit but he could not take his eyes off Malita.
______Juanita came through the doorway and stood next to Bill as she so often did. They had known each other long enough for him to be as familiar to her as an old scar.
______“Malita,” Juanita said.
______The girl did not answer.
______“We have no ice.”
______Malita looked at the stairs again. Her eyes were at once full of water and then dry.
______“I want you to go down to Jose’s and get some more ice,” Juanita said.
______“There is no one here,” the girl answered.
______“Go down and get some ice, Malita,” Juanita said.
______The girl did not move.
______“Malita, my drink has melted,” Bill said, “Tonight’s hot. I can’t remember when it was like this before. Will you go get some ice so Juanita can make me a fresh drink?”
______The girl smiled at him and for a moment he believed there was hope. She rose from her chair and left without shutting the door behind her.
______Juanita bent herself over Bill and laid her lips on his brow. It was covered with sweat and must have tasted like liquid salt but she held herself there until she disappeared into the kitchen and Bill sat alone.
______The fan turned and the rhythm was good. It made Bill want to climb the way to his room and lie down. Maybe Juanita would join him. The fan made him forget about the balls that needed to be hit, and the melted drink that needed to be drank, and Malita who needed something he did not know how to give her. He forgot these things until he heard footsteps on the stairs and knew it was Bennie.
______A woman followed him with bare feet. Everything of her was round and asking to be touched. Even her eyes and the inside of her wrists wanted to be touched. Her long black hair hung like a tail below her ass and swung back and forth as she walked with Bennie.
______He leaned against the pool table, his arms strong and alive from good use.
______“Play me,” he said.
______“No,” Bill answered.
______“You been sitting here on your ass all night,” the boy said.
______“I get tired breathing sometimes.”
______The woman sat in Bennie’s spot like Malita had. She crossed her legs and ran her own hands over them since Bennie was too busy to touch them.
______“Play me,” the boy said.
______“No,” Bill repeated.
______“You got something better to do?”
______“I haven’t had something better to do in twenty years, kid.”
______Bennie took the cue from where it leaned on the wall. He held it like a gun as he went over to the woman. He pushed the tip under the hem of her skirt. She smiled. Her tongue touched her teeth.
______“You know how to shoot pool,” he asked.
______She nodded and her hand traveled up the length of the cue until it reached his. He let go. She stood and moved to the table.
______Bill could not watch her anymore so he watched Bennie. He had a simple face. There was nothing distinctive about it. Bill liked it and it reminded him of a boy he knew when he was catcher.
______He had not stood on a field for a long time but the distance between he and the game did not make him feel any less like a catcher. He once played for a team in Nebraska. The pay came well enough to keep a room and feed him and occasionally fill him with beer. The game was good but there came a time when he and some of the other players went off to fight the Germans. When he returned, the team had changed owners. He was their catcher but they were not his and so he crouched behind the plate and was paid for playing the game when it did not feel like the one he wanted to.
______There was another team in Nebraska and he played against them often. There was a boy on the team—strong from farming, full of spirit and not knowing what to do with it. Bill liked him the way he sometimes did without knowing why. When the boy came up to bat, he helped him. He told him where to meet the ball. He spoke to him in the tone of a good preacher and ignored all he had learned from the game and war about winning and losing.
______The boy never listened. His right eye drifted to the side like a child who’d been hit too hard to trust a man. Bill told him anyway until one of the umpires squealed to the owners and Bill packed his bags for some other place in the world.
______“She doesn’t play half bad, does she, Bill? She’s got moves,” Bennie said.
______“Malita went to get some ice,” Bill said.
______“Good. I think I could use a cold drink,” the boy said and it echoed across the table along with the sounds of the balls he hit as they crashed into each other.
______“What is it, Bill? I’m playing this game here. Can’t you see that?”
______“You ought to take this woman up to the ruins.”
______“Why in hell would I want to do that?
______The woman stared at Bill. She understood. She did nothing.
______“She might want to see them,” Bill said.
______“Bill, what’s come over you? She’s from here, not like you and me. She’s no fucking tourist.”
______“It might be nice to take her somewhere.”
______“I like it here just fine.”
______“It might do you some good to take her away from this damn place, kid. Show her something worth a damn that doesn’t belong in a bar.”
______“I belong in a bar.”
______“You should see the ruins, kid.”
______“Why the hell would I want to?”
______“Thousands of men died there, you know. It’s all that’s left of that,” Bill said.
______“Thousands of men died yesterday and the day before. Dying’s nothing.”
______“It sure is.”
______ He sunk the eight and she rubbed herself all over him.
______“I’m tired of talking. It’s no good,” the boy said and took her waist in his hands and kissed her. He held her hand and pulled her towards the stairs.
______Bill stood and it was harder than he thought it would be. He steadied his knees with his hands. Bennie watched his legs do the best they could and it made him laugh.
______“Goodnight, Bill. When Malita comes back with the ice, have Juanita send her up with a couple glasses and a bottle.”
______“What is it, Bill?” The woman’s head hung over his shoulder. She was biting his neck.
______“You ought to get out of here, kid.”
______ Bennie smiled and walked up the stairs. Bill took the cue from where the woman had left it. He could smell her all over the room. He leaned against the table and hit at one of the leftover balls. Juanita came in.
______“Do you have something I can smoke,” Bill asked.
______“A pipe or cigar?”
______She left and returned. She put the cigar in his mouth and lit it and let the match burn away until she dropped it as the two of them looked at each other.
______Malita came through the door with a brown sack. She opened the sack in the sink and pulled a block of ice from it.
______“How much was it, Malita?”
______“The same as it always is,” the girl answered. She began to cut it up with a knife.
______“Thank you,” Juanita said.
______She held onto Bill for a second and left.
______When Malita was done with the ice, she filled a glass with some of the cut pieces and whiskey. She handed it to Bill. He took the cigar from his mouth and laid it on the table.
______“Is it much nicer outside?”
______“A little,” she said.
______“I want to walk a little. I need to get these legs moving or I’ll be nothing but a boozing piece of furniture.”
______She said nothing.
______“Come with me.”
______“I’ll go to bed.”
______“Come with me. I need company,” Bill said.
______“I’m tired. I want to sleep.”
______She turned and went to her room. Bill went to the kitchen to find Juanita. He left his cigar to burn away and the cold rink to melt. The ice hurt his teeth. He stayed with Juanita in the kitchen and watched her mix flower and water and do the work she knew so well. It was like the rhythm of the fan and the rhythm of the game.
______The scream came from upstairs. Juanita stood over the sink and she did not stop the water. It came again and again. Bill left the kitchen and climbed the length of the stairs. Of the four rooms, there was only one with the door open and the screams came from there. He entered the room.
______The woman lay on the bed, naked and beautiful. The screams belonged to her but she did not make another sound when she saw Bill. She turned and curled up onto the bed.
______Bennie lay on the floor, his throat cut, and Malita by the window, hers the same. The knife she had used for cutting the ice she held in her hand.
______“Juanita. Go and get the police,” Bill called. She did not answer and he did not feel like saying it again.
______He sat on the floor next to the boy. He held him in his hands and waited for something to happen.