Smoke is the theme of the night.

Smoke on the Water, a quaint southern taproom, is full of smoked meat and beer and smoky stares. Outside, on the red brick terrace, a man and a woman in heavy cast iron chairs face each other, positioned at 12 and 6 o’clock, respectively.  The slightly uneven circular table is keeping time with a relationship ticking down, clicking like their busy server’s ink pen.

The man is leaning close.  At the slightest shift of his elbow, the table clicks again as he tells the woman everything she wants to hear and everything she doesn’t.  He loves her—more than any other—but this, but that…

He’s blowing smoke.  She knows and stops listening.

From the corner of her eye, she focuses instead on a statue of Shoeless Joe Jackson just beyond the man in front of her, locked in an immortal pose, having swung, having hit—or missed—who knows?  There’s no evidence of a ball and the lifeless hunk of metal can’t speak.  Some great stories in life are true, some are not.  The mute image of the supposedly Shoeless Joes is wearing shoes and will be wearing them forever.  Maybe his toes were too ugly for downtown Greenville.  Some parts of every man should remain covered.

She’s seen the man sitting in front of her with more than his shoes off.  There have been nights when she turned his body inside out—and yet—and yet—for all her carnal knowledge, she knows nothing of him at all.  Just like the silent player standing behind him, he’s still wearing his shoes.

Dusk has settled.  The lights of the pretty city just beyond Falls Park on the Reedy begin to twinkle and wink just like his eyes.  She wants to cut him off with a sudden kiss.  But she’s smoking an American Spirit cigarette.

Disapproving of his eloquent but empty speech, she purses her lips and blows a straight line of smoke into the air.  Secondhand smoke—just like that—a relationship better than any other she’s ever known, up in smoke.  His handsome face appears ghostly behind the momentary white cloud.

She won’t continue to love smoke and mirrors.  He knows and stops talking.

Joe holds onto his bat and searches the skies for an invisible ball.  A homerun for this three-dimensional statue.

She holds onto hope and searches the eyes of the man facing her for something—anything.  A swing.  Another miss.  A strikeout for this two-dimensional relationship.  That’s when it occurs to her.  The difference between the three staring statues.  Shoeless Joe has depth.  He’s more alive.  But they’re truly dead.

The cigarette shortens too close to her face.  The smoke, no longer pleasant, begins to burn her eyes.  Blinking through tears, she crushes what barely remains, and the fire goes out.

____________

Andrew Dabar