If You Hear from Him, Let Us Know
“If a bunch of men did what you gals do, you’d lose your shit,” Ray slammed his beer on the bar to punctuate his point. She closed her eyes and touched the small sledgehammer charm on her necklace. Ray was, at this moment, wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt and a lanyard with an id card that would let him back into his nearby office building, if he was truly going back there after a few drinks with the boys to finish up some work. Sometimes, when they had this discussion, he was in camouflage, with bright orange accents, just come in from unsuccessful turkey hunting. One time, he was in a tux, just snuck away from his brother’s wedding reception to have a drink with some people who did not have thirty years of tales to tell on him.
Polly, this Polly, didn’t think Ray was a bad guy. She even liked him, in spite of how tedious it was that the conversation always, always came back to this.
“Men do do it,” Polly said. “I told you that before. “Not a lot, but sometimes a man feels compelled to do something for his grandmother or for the woman who lives at the corner or, you know, they just heard the song and felt compelled to make sure that woman was okay.”
“No, I mean, if we went out and punished women for every song they sing about fucking over men.”
“First,” she said, taking a long gulp of her water to remind herself that she didn’t want to be mean to him. “It’s not about punishing men. It’s about the women, making sure that they’re not forgotten or unseen or assumed to be only made up. No one would care if people were also doing this for men.”
Ray snorted and turned away from the bar. Polly threw his bottle in the recycle bin.
“So, you’re going to tell me that you think it’s fair that a bunch of man-haters are ruining music?” Ray asked. This time, he was drinking mid-priced whiskey on his boss’s dime. They were celebrating a big deal of some sort. Ray’s whole office. Polly saw twenty-four men and three women.
“How is it ruining music?” Polly asked. Ray had some bullshit reason, and as soon as Polly realized it was bullshit, she stopped paying attention. She wiped down the bar. She set a glass of wine in front of a woman waiting on her husband. Ray wandered off.
Later, right before he left, he stumbled back over to the bar to tell her he was going to leave his car in the parking lot and get a ride home.
“I think that’s wise,” she said.
“You think I’m a dick, because I listen to Eminem.” He blurted out.
“Ray, I don’t know anything about you outside of what happens in this bar. I had no idea you were a fan of Eminem.”
“They’re just good songs. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Kim.”
“But something bad already happened to Kim.”
“But I’m not a dick for liking a song about it.”
“I never said you were.”
“I’m not. It’s just a song. You can like a song without liking how it came about.”
“I know, Ray.”
“You ruined those songs for me.”
Oh, there’s the heart of the matter.
“Bullshit you’d be fine with men doing this,” Ray said. He was shit-faced. He’d started drinking during the early game and there was now only a quarter left in the late game. He was wearing an old Steve McNair Titans jersey. Polly knew the jersey was part of his larger point.
He was pointing his finger right in her face.
“You find the song,” she got right back in his face and hissed at him. “You find one song about a real-life murder of a man by a woman and I will leave this bar with you and not return until we’ve made it right. But you better not show your face in here again until you have that fucking song. You’re banned.”
“You can’t ban me.”
“Watch me.” She motioned to the bouncers. They removed Ray.
The next Saturday afternoon, the bar was empty. Polly was mopping. Ray opened the door.
“You have the song?”
“No,” he said. She pointed behind him.
One beautiful, cold Sunday, he opened the door.
She yelled, “What song?”
And he turned around and left.
Way late in the spring, when the roses were all in bloom, he tried one last time to return to Polly’s bar. He opened the door. He stepped in.
She looked at him, exasperated. “There’s got to be one, one song about a real life murder of a man by a woman.”
“You find it.” He said.
“Oh, hold on. You criticize my work because you think I wouldn’t like it if you were doing the same thing—like I’m some kind of sexist jerk—and then, when you can’t even find one example of a need for some kind of opposite-Polly group, you want me to spin my wheels looking for it instead of doing work I know needs to be done? That’s bullshit, Ray.” She slammed her towel on the bar.
He just stood there, though, in a way that made Polly deeply suspicious, like she was giving him way, way too much credit.
“You never looked for a song,” she said, her eyes widening in understanding. “You just criticize something that’s important to me because I made you a little uncomfortable. You don’t really give a shit if there’s some real dead guy who’s been so mythologized that no one remembers he’s a real person people loved.” She squeezed the bar towel like she wished she could squeeze Ray’s neck. “And you think I have to eventually get over it and let you back in my bar.”
He kind of grinned, like now that everyone saw where everyone stood, why couldn’t they just get back to normal?
“I’m cursing you, Ray,” Polly said, grabbing her tiny gold sledgehammer in one hand and shaking her bar towel toward him with the other. “You find those songs and you help those men or you die trying.”
“Curses aren’t real,” he said, looking suddenly confused and worried.
“You’d better hope not,” she growled. But just then, the chair at the table nearest to where Ray stood, just inside the doorway, crumbled, as if all the nails and glue holding it together had picked this very moment, coincidentally, to give way.
“Holler when you’ve found one,” Polly said as Ray ran out of the bar.
She shrugged to herself and laughed as she thought of the things Ray could rhyme with Polly, if it ever occurred to him to write a song about how she set him up to die. She’d be happy enough to pay, she decided, if he was smart enough to realize that a song about his own plight and then helping himself would, indeed, break the curse.
But she wasn’t too worried about hearing from him again.