Mud and Champagne
by Brent Powers
So there I was standing barefoot in the mud, daintily sipping champagne from a tall flute, you’d think I was at some special event, premier, fund-raiser, something, but here we are in the same old western town where we’ve always been and everyone’s laughing. Understandable, given the situation. It’s pouring down rain, the silver’s moved on, and there’s just no reason to be here any more.
Things don’t work here. Never have. But we celebrate anyway. Especially when it rains, I don’t know why. No one’s sown any crops. We’ve got no use for the rain except to stand out here sinking into the mud while we hoist our fancy-assed flutes and make toasts. Here’s to... whatever. Here’s to some other thing.
Mostly we toast what is gone. The silver lode, those who’ve gone and died, the last time the mail came through. We get good and drunk. We try to write our names in the mud before they disappear but we can’t because of the rain. People make bets on it. If you can finish writing your whole name in the mud before the rain washes any of it out, even if it persists for just the second it takes to read it, you win. What do you win, though? Well, nothing, you just win. Everybody claps their hands and says, you win, yay, and we toast that. It seems like a pretty good thing to do.
“Where you now, Beaver?” Molly said, leaning over the piano bar.
I shook it all off and reached for my champagne. No, mineral water, twist of lime.
“My old job,” I told her.
“What was that?”
“Well, it’s funny, you know. It was nothing. We didn’t do anything at all except drink champagne.”
“What?” she said with a breathy laugh.
“Well, yeah, we just sort of stood around in this western town out in the middle of nowhere. We stood out in the middle of the street with no shoes on. It was always raining and we stood out there in the mud and made toasts.”
“What did you toast?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Just whatever came up. I remember we toasted the red door on the church. We toasted that because it managed to stay red. That was an accomplishment in a town where things mostly got bleached out. Everything got all gray from the rain except for that door. I think some Chinese used lacquer on it, then he left. We toasted him, and we toasted the door. I remember him painting it, taking the coins someone gave him, then tipping his derby hat as he walked away backwards and slowly faded into the blur. Strange character. Just came out of nowhere and painted the door.”
She sighed and looked flattened. I signaled the waiter.
“No,” she said. “This isn’t working, is it?”
“No,” I admitted.
She looked at me sadly for a long time. “So, what did you think? We were going to sit here in this swank bar and talk meaninglessly, have dinner maybe? Then we’d go home to your place or my place and jump into bed? Let me turn on some music. Should I use something? You make up a life you say you had and I’m supposed to be impressed?”
“Yeah. That sort of thing.”
She got up. Someone brought her a coat and draped it over her shoulders. She held her purse in both hands and slumped and sighed again. The doorman came over and said something to her and she nodded.
“There’s my cab,” she said.
“Well, OK,” I said, smiling. “But have you ever been anywhere like that? A funny old western town with only mud and champagne, no point to it? You just stand there in the mud without shoes and you toast any old thing. Dead people, people who’ve gone on, a red door? No? Well.”
“I don’t think I’ll be seeing you,” she said.
“Probably not. Why should you? Just try to remember it, though. Try to remember what I used to do. It might... I don’t know, it could help or something. It could give meaning to the right situation when you tell it to someone. About this guy once told you a story in a bar...”
But I was watching her back as she moved quickly out of the room.
Copyright © 2006 by Brent Powers