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Johnson 43 Wayne D. Johnson Champion of the World Drunk again, Joe Big Otter aims himself up the street, headed for the Bull Pen. He stops to search his pockets for the money his brother gave him, and a brand new Chrysler pulls up to the curb, its fins like sharp wings. A slender woman in a smartly tailored, tan dress slides out, and Joe stands by the parking meter waiting for her. At the meter, the woman nervously digs through her purse, and Joe leans toward her, feeling jolly. "Hey," he says. "Hey, there." The woman raises her head from her purse, her eyes staring. Joe smiles, his hand over his heart. Such pretty blue eyes. "Will you marry me?" he says. Looking over Joe's head, the woman waves, her arm outstretched, her hand tossing like a flag. A shoe salesman at Penney's steps out of the store, dapper, dressed in corduroy. "Joyce," he yells. "That you?" The woman waves again, in wide desperate arcs. "This is your last chance," Joe says, smiling his biggest, toothiest smile, sure the woman is verging on hysteria. "Here he goes," Joe says, and turning away with a shrug, he is headed up the street again, leaning into the wind, dirt swirling up off the street into his face. Joe bumps through the door of the Bull Pen. The darkness inside is soothing. At the bar a large pot-bellied man polishes glasses, stacking them on a long wooden shelf. The man glances up from the glass he is polishing, sees Joe, and shakes his head. "No credit, Joe," he says. "What the hell would / need credit for?" The man lifts his head, reaches behind himself with the glass, and without looking at the shelf, places the glass in line with the others. "So how's business, Al?" Al turns his head slowly, his mouth set tight, and points to the shelf. "Missin' a few, huh?" Joe says. Al dips another glass into the tub of water behind the bar. He wipes the glass with a washcloth, then dries it, banging it on the shelf. "Had to sell most of the German glass." Joe shakes his head. He'd like to tell Al that it's hard all over, that the rice harvest was the worst in ten years—goddam smut—and now the bank is clammering after his boat, but telling it wouldn't do now, not when he's angling. "So how's it with you?" Al says, his voice sarcastic. "—Just for conversation 's sake." 44 the minnesota review Joe lifts a glass off the bar and turns it in his hand. "Couldn't be better ." "I said no credit, Joe." "Come on, Al. For Christ's sake, don't gimme this shit. I paid you back. Sure, it took a while, but hell, I mean, look at it this way—" "You call that crazy stunt of yours paying me back?" "You got your money." "Sure, I got my —" "What are you bitchin' about then?" "What am / bitching about?" Al reaches into the shelf and grasps a fancy, thin-waisted wine glass. "See this? Over a hundred years old." Joe nods. He's heard it before. All the regulars have. It makes Al a bit of a dandy, his collecting antique glass, but there's something they like about it too. They can always tell how things stand with Al just by looking up at that shelf. If the shelf is crowded, it means credit; if the shelf is lacking in some way, if there is a space where a glass had been before, it means take care of yourself. "Glass," Al says. "Yeah, I know." "Fragile." "Blah, blah, blah," Joe says. "And on the Eighth Day, God said, let there be Glass. And Al was happy." Al tugs on the wine glass, and to Joe's surprise, all the glasses shake, the French champagne glasses, as blue and clear as water, the longstemmed Belgian beer glasses, the Swedish crystal. Joe smiles. "Oh, you are so clever, Al." "If things get crazy again, I can just take the whole shelf down. Get it?" "You tell anyone else about...


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