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  • from One Night in Pohnpei
  • Robert Barclay (bio)

Chapter One

The Jungle Bar, Kolonia, Pohnpei, Stella

It's tourist feet, two pairs in the same fancy new sandals, one on each side of the puddle under the gate. Little red toes and Band-Aids under the straps, man and woman. They push inside in their yellow coats, trying not to be noticed in their yellow coats, then whisper and nod before they totter out again, worried they might catch giardia off a dirty glass, I think. I look around and see who's still here: just Mike and the new Peace Corps getting started, and Gene, poor Gene off all alone at the private table, poor Gene hoping and waiting in the dark, and then only old Castro like every payday drooling and passed out half on the pool table and I think, Dead tonight, going to be dead tonight. Maybe have a little fun with Mike and Gene and the new Peace Corps. Ruthie can handle things by herself. I give Ruthie a look.

"Sure, go ahead," Ruthie says. "I'll just fire you again." She's got a little TV under the bar to watch the soaps she tapes during the day, and she aims her remote at me and fires me, turning off her soaps.

Just the stereo now, nice without it having to fight the TV. I put three VBs and one for myself on the tray, plus the shots of Crown for Mike and the new Peace Corps, then I nod for Ruthie to pour one more. She slides it over, eyes me while I drink it. Here's to us and a good night, and to you, Ruthie my best friend, Ruthie. I give the glass a spin along the bar, the glass spinning in a nice curve back to Ruthie, and it drops inside the gutter, wobbling there like a drunk and almost tipping over, vibrating as it rights itself and comes to rest in front of the sink. "First one," I say.

"How you get to the last one is what I want to hear, 'cause it's gonna be some trouble with you tonight."

"It's no trouble," I say.

Ruthie laughs and gives me a wink.

I take the tray and smiling I cruise along with the music through the bar, teasing Mike and Peace Corps as I pass them by with their drinks, those [End Page 117] two making me laugh, sitting there in the same POHNPEI HEAVEN shirts and both of them with their hair chopped flat on the top. A black and white, older and younger version of the same person, mouths stuck open like a couple of fish. "Hey," Mike says. I head out under the trees and through the torchlight, humming with the music and taking my time over to Gene at the private table, Gene hidden in the dark but for the glow of his watch, watching me and his time pass from under the cone of a shaggy thatched roof. The wind is picking up, blowing the old smells out again, feeling like warm ribbons of the bar's sour old smells twisting away through the cooler air.

"So you called her?" he asks.

"Still sleeping maybe." I take his empty and put the full one down on the coaster, him still looking at his watch.

"You think she'll come?" he asks.

I give him a shrug. Poor horny old men, all the same, can't help wanting the young ones.

With two fingers he puts a five-dollar bill on the tray, leaving it folded like a tent. "Keep it, please," he says. He's so polite about it, but he's a science man, supposed to be above it all, now like a poor boy he's got to try for it on the sly with a night-crawling girl. He'd sit in the dark till morning and come back the next night if I told him to.

The wind catches the five dollars and it flies off the tray and over the gravel toward the bar, tumbling. Ruthie already sees it coming, big yellow skirt hiked up to...