Shorthorns / Oxblood Gator Skin Seats

You know, Lady, I ain’t trying to start nothing, but a bunch of people’s saying you’re the best thing breathing.

A black and white photograph of the author.

TYLER PARKER holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University, where in 2016 he was the recipient of the Felipe P. De Alba Fellowship for Writers...

A neon sign shaped like a pink flamingo.

Courtesy of Strange Light Books. 

Lady could not afford skates so she walked to the vehicle carrying the red tray with the Sonic bacon cheeseburger. Table smiled.

What’s your name? he asked.

Lady, she said. Careful. Hot.

The fluorescent light over the car had a seizure, her face framed by the glowing square of the menu. Along the exterior of the building a sign featured heart-shaped stacks of chicken tenders pierced by arrows made of french fries. And in the same font used in the original poster for Cimarron were the words LOVE ME, TENDERS. Table rubbed his right arm, felt beautiful, said her name to his lap.

Lady, he said. That’s regal. You’re royalty?

Used to be, she said.

Yeah? What were you?

A princess.

What happened?

I don’t know. Woke up.

He held a twenty out the window. The Oklahoma wind made the bill bend. There was a tattoo of a tiger barb on his left arm. Black quasars surrounded the fish. Lady gave him his change, touched her bangs. They stared at one another. Heavy blush caked her cheek, black hair at her shoulders, and her eyelids were violet. She was powerfully built, compact, well-knit. Round face almost a perfect circle, made him see stars. Her clothes she wore loose, always black jeans with a red Sonic polo or a white T-shirt. Around her neck was a thin gold necklace with a silver elephant attached. Lady would often touch the charm, run the animal on the chain. She pursed her lips when she did this, trumpeted for the beast, sometimes adding quietly, to herself, You know, Lady, I ain’t trying to start nothing, but a bunch of people’s saying you’re the best thing breathing.

His hair was pearl silver now but still full, stainless-steel mustache connected to fluffed sideburns coming down in heavy Ulysses S. Grant chops, a U on his face. He’d gotten lankier and ropy with a flat head wider than it was tall. His jeans were the color of Neptune and starched rigid. A middle crease tented each pant leg. His teeth were perfect, little white piano keys showing when he smiled. On warm nights he’d sit in his yard, get drunk on Red Pigeon, and scream at crickets, give them advice on how to live: Tell you what, my bugs, thing I wished I’d done? Real estate. Land. They ain’t making no more of that shit.

Lady studied his car: a 1968 seafoam-green Ranchero, upside-down longhorn rack on the grille, the horns crimson, and in white paint along DEATH CAME FOR BEVO. Table stared at her and stretched his neck.

You like the horns? he asked. Guess I messed with the bull a little bit.

Bevo’s a steer, though.

I’m aware, but Guess I messed with the steer a little bit doesn’t sing as nice.

It’s a pretty red, she said. Reminds me of apples. Also oranges.

Those from the real-life Bevo. Or used to be real life, now my man’s just real dead. Snuck into the Texas State Fair and knocked his handlers unconscious with my physical abilities. Crushed their Stetsons with my boots. It was awesome. You’d have loved it. Cut his head off with a sword. I own a sword. It’s badass. Used to belong to a great champion. Still does.

Lady saw how hard he was trying and felt flattered by the lie, decided to let it go.

Goes nice with the green, she said.

Crimson’s often regarded as a symbol of vigor, passion, and courage, he said.

She looked inside the cab. Oxblood gator skin seats, plastic mold of a mini 1886 Winchester on the outside of the glove box, shellacked rose rock knob on the shifter, sycamore steering wheel. There was a hand-stitched quilt spread over the seat featuring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones as Loretta and Mooney Lynn. They lay on a beach between a palm tree and an Italian ice vendor. The state flag of Oklahoma was thumb- tacked to the ceiling and the driver’s section of the bench seat had been ripped out and replaced with a western saddle, its horn silver and bearing an image of a horse on its hind legs playing a Telecaster. He watched her look at it all, fiddled with his mustaches.

Would it be dumb to say I was a tramp and we should hang out? he asked. Some dummy stuff, wouldn’t it? And you seem like you wouldn’t fall for no dummy. But then I also feel good about this flirt and I’m trying to figure out if you do too.

You’re trying, she said.

Got me sweating, girl. About to start cramping. Should’ve stretched before I drove over. Y’all got bananas in there?

She smiled, started walking away.

Drink a Gatorade when you get back to the house, she said.

You don’t understand, he said. I’m interesting.

Sonic closed at midnight. She went to the bathroom before she left. There were writings on the walls: TZA; hoss; Jordan in Spain. She rubbed water on her face and heard clicks above her. Live crickets bounced in the lights. She stared at her reflection, lit a Newport, watched smoke leave her mouth.

Outside, the town was all hushed. She put her visor in her purse, walked down the empty row. Light stretched out on the pavement ahead of her and Table pulled up cheesing. She was surprised she was happy to see him. He rolled his window down.

You want to drive around and look at shit? he asked.

He took her to Yellowtree, in the woods by the Big Pin, near Lake Florra. She sat beside him in the dirt with a handle of Osto between her legs. He smoked a Camel and talked about his car.

Certainly, the saddle’s impractical. If it weren’t so badass I’d get rid of it, but it’s just so badass.

It is certainly ass.

He smiled and held the cigarette to her lips. She hated it, kept her face straight, took a pull.

How old are you? he asked.

Twenty-seven, she said. You?

Forty-two. Where you stay?

Sparrows over there across from Church of Christ. Little apartment. Where you at?

6 Mile. Twelve acres out there. Nice little, what’s the fun word?—can’t remember. You from here?

She nodded yes. He held the cigarette to her lips again. She shook her head. Her earrings chimed.

Only once I do that, she said. I think it’s stupid.

They smiled.

Ten four, he said.

Lady took the Camel and placed it between her lips. Table’s sunglasses were in the front pocket of his shirt and she grabbed them and put them on. Smoke corkscrewed off the cigarette and she could see he wanted her.

Table was relaxed. Her voice calmed him. There was no effort to it. He felt like she could roast him at any moment. This terrified him, thrilled him. He wanted to talk to her all night.

So, he said. Florra girl. Ever leave?

No, she said. Well, seen cousins in Arkansas once.

How was that?

Fine. Everything red. You gone places?

Bunch. Forty-one of the states. Mexico twice. They got the sea down there. Left Oklahoma for a minute a few years ago. Well, a decade ago. Stayed gone awhile. Needed to let some shit breathe.

The past snuck up. Solomon on the ground. His daughter beside him. Shattered glass glazed his back acid green. Table did all he could to keep that night out of his head, but his memory was creative and his brain easily fooled. The killing always found new ways to crop up again, reveal itself, claw at his eyes.

And now you’re back, Lady said.

From outer space, Table said. The cowdude has returned. Lady lay back and stared at the sky, cantaloupe moon hanging.

She held the cigarette up, touched stars, found Pavo.

There’s the peacock, she said.

Mom used to say I was peacocking all the time, he said.

Were you?

I have ostentatious tendencies.

I’ve seen your vehicle. I’m aware.

You should go more places. See things.

She grabbed at grass, watched his boots.

I’m good, she said. I like it here. I want to stay here.

Why? he asked. You taking care of your parents or something?

They been dead for a minute now.

Oh, I’m sor—

You’re good. Ain’t no deep reason. It’s like, people spread their minds out. Get fucked up.

Got big plans? he asked.

I got plans to go to work tomorrow.

Ain’t nothing you want to do?

I’m supposed to have some big answer? Open a salon? Build computers? Be a lawyer? What do you want to do?

He wiggled his eyebrows and took a drink.

Want to get my own line of tables. Brand that shit. Table’s Tables. You don’t be seeing people with their own line of tables. Just doesn’t happen. God gave me the ability to have a recognizable sort of what’s it . . . unique brand in that field. It’s like Oh I could buy a table from a guy named John or a guy named Table. Which will I choose? The guy named Table of course. I’ll dominate the market.

What do you do now?

Betwixt gigs currently, but what’d Lincoln say? I can do any- thing. Last year it was construction. Roofing houses. Year before that I came into some copper. Let me tell you, if you ever find yourself with an opportunity to acquire a large amount copper, highly recommend. Windfall. The harvest was bountiful. I bought a boat. It’s no longer in my possession at this time, but that was a fun two months. Where else? Worked maintenance at Kenzerver Downs in Cactus Hollow for a few years. You would not believe the amount of shit these thoroughbreds are pumping out. It’s, you’re almost in awe at a certain point, you know? Horses rule. I drove trucks for a little while. Bartended. I’ll do whatever. Don’t really like working, though. Don’t like being tired.

The breeze picked up and batted her ponytail. She put her arms inside her shirt. Coyotes howled in the hills. Owls in the trees overhead. He got the quilt from the car and wrapped it around her. She looked up, extended her arm, held the blanket open. He shook his head.

I run hot, he said.

She fought off a laugh, felt thrown. He lit another cigarette.

I like tables, she said.

Tables are great, he said. You can put stuff on them. Plates. Goblets.

Table’s your first name?

Last. What’s yours?

Sixkiller. What’s your first name?

Sylvia. Sylvia Carl Table.

She tilted her head down and looked at him over the tops of his sunglasses. He smelled like Pine-Sol.

She Boy Name Sue’d you? she asked. Toughen you up?

No, he said. She just really wanted a girl.

Must’ve been rough.

Nah. Fighting’s fun. You can call me Sylvia if you want.

You’d hit me if I did?

Doubt it. I’m not too big on hitting pretty things.

On, uh, what’s it? All cylinders. Boom boom.

I got no idea what you’re talking about, but I just remembered the word I wanted to say earlier was nest.

Some hours later they were drunk with the sun coming in thin, golden Wonka tickets between the possumhaw. He peed against the huge pin oak as the sky took on color. She sat on the hood of the Ranchero, traced sevens in gathered dirt.


On their second date he took her to the Arby’s in Ox for an early dinner. They sat in a booth by the window and discussed the ethics of stealing from department stores. The pads of Lady’s feet rested on the heels of her sandals and Table’s knee bounced. She saw for the first time, on his right arm, Jeremiah Johnson is my favorite movie. He dipped his hand into his water and rubbed the liquid on his face.

But yeah, they ain’t expecting you to pay for small stuff, he said. Like a tv, yeah, you got to pay. But you go in a Kmart and get a watch? Like, not a nice one. One with the what’s it. How it’s not. You know. It don’t got any—

Numbers, she said.

No. It’s a watch. Watches got numbers.

Some don’t. Some just have lines.

He sat and stared at his roast beef, thought about if she was right. She took a drink of her tea, knew she was. Laundry list of watches in his head. He realized she was correct.

I’ve given it some thought and you’re right, he said. Some are just lines. But I’m talking about like it’s only electronics. It don’t have the hands.

Digital, she said.

Digital. Shit. Digital. But yeah, a toothbrush? Nails? Pens? Ain’t got to pay for that shit. Catch me paying for rain before I pay for some motherfucking pens.

That just sounds wrong, though.

It’s not. They account for it with their prices. They know people steal ’cause they know some people need to so they charge too much for big stuff. Like, you go in there to get a bicycle, ain’t no reason a bike would cost more than, shit, $50? But you see some bikes in there, they’re like a hundred bucks. Ridiculous. They’re charging that to account for folks taking tape or Q-tips or whatever.

I ain’t, like, I don’t believe you, she said. But that’s all right.

Neither were fazed by the disagreement. Neither understood why. Lady took a bite of her sandwich and looked around. On the opposite wall were white Christmas lights strung in the shape of palm trees. Papier-mâché Jamocha Shakes hung from them like ornaments. Table’s right elbow was on the table and his right hand was under his chin. He reminded her of school pictures.

Meant to say I’m real into you, though, he said. You got a dynamic personality and a interesting mind. Clearly intelligent. I like how you talk. Your body’s radical. I’m into it all.

You, too, she said.

She wore her only dress—yellow with bellflowers on the collar. Her earrings were golden horses hidden by her hair and still she wore the elephant around her neck. He wore black jeans, a white button-up, and a black duster vest. She took a napkin from her tray and wiped her mouth.

Smells good in here, he said. Arby’s smells good. These curly fries are talented. It’s a big-time fry. What were you like as a kid? He would change subjects quickly, without warning. Her days were monotonous, filled sameness. Apartment, work. Apartment, work. Apartment, work. It was exciting to not know what was coming.

I don’t know, she said. I was a kid. You’re still a kid, huh? he asked. No. You’re just a geezer.

What’d you do for fun?

You want kids?

Not really. Do you?


Maybe they wouldn’t be so bad. What’d you do for fun?

Um. Didn’t have no TV. Went outside a bunch. Used to swim in this pond by our place. Climb trees. Would just climb up there, talk to myself. They worked all the time so I was alone a lot. Didn’t love it. Grammo had one of them little Ford Couriers. Do errands with her sometimes, ride in the bed. I liked that. We had a one-eyed Yorkie named Edna. She was very difficult. And yet I would’ve died for her. Um, what else? Sneak in movies. I love movies. I don’t know. Normal stuff. What’d you do?

Had some friends. Used to drive around, too. Throw rocks at nice cars. Get in fights with gas station attendants. We’d hang out in the old, you know Vernon’s? May have been before your time, but they had a bigger parking lot. Was off Rivaldi over there before the old elementary school. Right up against where Cheeseburger Lomney’s Laundromat was, before she got famous. We’d sit out there. Mess around. Kiss on girls.

You’re wanting to impress me more than anything in the world. Kind of music you like?

Country, but I like pop stuff too. Rap.

What country?

Reba, who I’d commit any number of crimes for. Slimy Willow and the Hogs. Wanda Jackson. Gudd Davis.

“Junior Takes a Pill.

So good. What about you?

Table reached into his vest and pulled out his flask. Airbrushed on the back was a white woman in a purple bikini with a tiger beside her. He drank the rest of his water, poured the whiskey into the cup, and took a drink. Lady ate a fry and raised her eyebrows, added some to her tea.

I skew, uh, older? he said. Merle. Charles Church. Duppy. George. The Band’s my favorite band. I don’t know. The boring answers, I guess. Ralph Stanley. Actually worked for him in Virginia one winter. Got a picture with him. He signed it and everything. To my good friend Table. Thanks for being so interesting and thoughtful about my work. And for helping me with my lyrics as well. You got the gift. It was a Polaroid. I lost it, though.

He braced for impact, felt nothing. She let that lie go too. He was still working hard. She felt complimented. She was worth lying to, worth him pretending he was cooler than he was to secure her affections. He was worried he wasn’t enough. She loved that, fell harder.

But yeah, he said. I know a lot about music. I like it. I think it’s compelling. You know Hutch Suggs.

“If You’re Drunk Then Planes Look Like Shooting Stars.”

Beautiful song.

I love Hutch. I’m bored a lot lately. Don’t nobody have fun like that no more.

You’d have some fun with me?

I would.

You look just as nice with your hair down as you do with it up. Have you completed your Beef ’N Cheddar?


He took her to his place: a two-bedroom, two-bath red brick out in the sticks five miles west of town. They parked in the driveway.

Here she be, he said. The Palazzo at Pink Creek.

In the front yard were two blue folding chairs with a cinder block in each seat so they didn’t fly away. Eight plastic flamingos on the lawn, four on either side of the front door, Oklahoma Sooners caps stapled onto each of their heads. A basketball hoop had been cemented into the ground in the side yard south of the house, a half court of naked concrete jutting out toward the pasture.

Pink Creek ran along the back of the house. The car windows were down and they heard the water. Table got out. Lady stared at the drive they’d come down, felt warm. In the west the sky was huge and alien, polished lava spread over pink attic insulation, purple-and-blue bulbs leaking through silver clouds. She got out and sat on the hood. He leaned against the driver’s side door. His jaw was tight. There was no wind. She looked perfect and he was proud of himself. Lady heard his feet in the gravel. Her jaw was tight. He touched her knee, put his mouth by her ear. She kissed his shoulder.

I could kiss your face? Table asked.

You can explore some, Lady said.

He started on her right cheek. She felt his mustache first and smiled. He kissed her lips, held there. She kissed him back. After a minute they stopped.

Every day you can do that to me, she said.

Your tour begins now, he said.

Table opened the front door and Lady stood on the welcome mat, looked down at the turquoise carpet.
You could take your shoes off? he asked. Like my turquoise turquoise.

Ain’t no mud on me, she said.

Shoes are rude to carpet. Take them off.

Thought only white folks with money had people do that?

You don’t know what’s buried in the yard.

Okay, Arby’s.

Shots fired.

Folgers can with a bunch of lies.

She stepped out of her sandals.

We must be stewards of our shit, you know? he said. Make you more comfortable anyway. Let the toesies breathe. If you’ll turn around, ’tween the door and transom you’ll see the aforementioned sword aka Bevo’s Worst Nightmare aka the Beef Slayer aka Switzer’s Delight. Cool as hell. Sharpen it once every couple weeks. Gets all shiny and deadly and shit. Slices bricks easily. Swear to Jesus. There go the tv. Fella I bought it off said it was the largest he ever sold. Very cool guy. Name was Gabriel. He wore white jeans. Only get the three out here, but then I do a bunch of movie marathons where I just sit on the couch and watch pictures and films and cinema and cinema verité as well. Cinema verité’s probably my favorite just in terms of emotional filmmaking, but yeah. VCR. You ever want me to record anything, just ask. Don’t even need to provide a tape. I’ll take care of that for you. I’ll always take care of you. What else? Coffee table. That’s real wood. Couch was Mom’s.

The sofa was along the wall opposite the front door, six feet long and cloth, printed up with purple hydrangea vines, a pillow at each end. The one up against the left armrest said LIFE. The one up against the right armrest said COUNTRY. Table said Damn it and switched them.

Meth trying to piss me off, he said.

Meth? she asked.

Methuselah. My uncle. He was visiting from St. Louis. He left today. Must’ve changed them when I took off to meet you. He knows it bothers me.

So embarrassing.

I’m particular.

Think you mean dramatic.

On the coffee table was a wooden mallard sitting on last month’s Cattlemen of the Great American Plains. There was a Crimson Outdoors baseball cap on the floor, to-go box of brisket on an end table, and the Ox News Sentinel on a footstool near the door. A twenty-gallon aquarium hummed behind the couch, bed covered in teal pebbles, rowboat at the bottom. A Larry Bird action figure stood inside. He had small holes drilled in his back, wore an eye patch and Converse Weapons. Violet archways like purple mountains in the tank. A tiger barb swam its infinities.

I see you seeing the tank, he said. Sexy, huh? Basketball Jesus right there. I praise his holy name. That’s my fish. Her name’s Fish. Named her that ’cause she’s boring as hell. But yeah, there’s the kitchen. I’ll fry you up some catfish sometime. You like catfish?

She nodded.

Cowabunga, he said. Um. Dining table. An Italian piece, actually. Beautiful construction with regard to detail and structure as well.

The table was a brown rectangle. On it, the September Arcadian Man, a pitcher of lemonade, and a to-do list:

1. tp
2. Sea dragons (can they breathe fire? How’s that work?)
3. No nightmares
4. Call Dillard’s about that shirt

Table drank from the pitcher and waved her toward the hallway.

What’s there? she asked.

Lions and tigers, he said.

No bears?

I wish, but no. That’d be unsafe.

She followed him into the hall, three framed pictures there.

So, this first one is Little Table, he said. Think I’m about five there. That’s the old place. Was over there behind Harp’s.

He sat in his underwear, face blocked by a watermelon. His hair rose above the rind in sprayed curls like blond Slinkys.

Then here’s Mom, he said. She’s about thirty-five, thirty-six there.

Profile shot at the kitchen table: camellias on her blouse,  Gaucho Light, ashtray.

Then us later on, he said.

She had white hair and square glasses. The front of her shirt said I HAVE MIXED DRINKS ABOUT FEELINGS. His arm was around her. Neither smiled.

What was her name? Lady asked.

Kay, he said.

They’re all real nice pictures.

Thank you, my dearling.

They grabbed beers and went outside. He took the cinder blocks off the chairs and set them on the lawn.

Footrests, he said.

Multicolored Christmas lights lit up along the roof and railing of the porch, spiraled around wooden beams at either end. Table used his shirt pocket as a cup holder and put his hands behind his head.

This is cool, he said. Hang out. Kick back. Couple cool kids.

Your flamingos are nice.

Thanks. You remind me of a girl I went to high school with.

I stayed up the other night ’cause in my head I met you before.


I didn’t.

Her feet were on the cinder block. Her beer was in her lap. Clouds made mouths in the sky. He looked at her.

You good? he asked.

She nodded, closed her eyes, moved her hair so it fell over the chair.

This is all very fine, she said.

It’s wild, he said. People think there’s shit better than this.


A month later she was at his house again. It was the fourteenth time she’d been there. They lay on the couch and watched McCabe & Mrs. Miller, talked Warren Beatty’s coat, Julie Christie’s hair. After it was over, Table drove to get pizza for dinner. Before he left he told her Stay. Imagine living here.

Lady went to the kitchen table and pretended to eat a sand- wich. She took her time with it, savored the dream. Then she went to the bathroom, pretended to shave her legs, brush her teeth. She walked into the bedroom and got under the covers. The bedspread was white with rose rocks on it. The creek was loud. His sheets always smelled like Tide and sweat. She looked at the bedroom door and lit up.

My babies! she shouted.

She leapt out of bed and went to her knees, hugged her imaginary children. Table’s headlights ended the fantasy.

They sat on the couch with the pizza in their laps, drank Gauchos out of Dallas Cowboys souvenir cups, ashed cigarettes into an old Cool Whip container. Lady ate Table’s crust. He rambled on about pizza buffets.

I’m telling you, you go to the right buffet you can almost always get out without paying. They’re too busy to tend to everybody. Just walk in, get a plate. They’ll ask if you want anything to drink. Water, please. Nondescript, you know. Ho hum. They bring it and you just make that last. Waitress having to deal with so many people somebody she come across once may as well be a ghost. Just make sure you leave when it’s still busy. Pizza Inn’s perfect. I go there every Sunday anymore. Just arrive with the white church crowd and leave when the Black churches start showing up. Pizza Hut in Ox is nice on Tuesdays ’cause they’ll put pasta out and more people come and you want chaos around that buffet. Shitstorm of plates and tongs. Make love to the mayhem, stock up, and disappear. Mazzio’s any weekday. All them construction guys and people finishing the four-to-twelve at Bluelake come through. Wear clothes with lots of pockets, you can take croutons home. I recommend cargo pants if you can afford them. They can be quite clutch. Don’t go to a CiCi’s. They make you pay beforehand. Shame, ’cause it’s a high-quality slice and they have great dessert pizzas. Ideal scenario’s one where you pay after and get your own refills. That way, you want pop or something, no problem. Waitress just comes around at the beginning to see if you want something other than the buffet and I ask you, my Lady, what kind of clown wants something other than the buffet?

Later, they were in his bedroom, her cheek on his stomach. She wore his T-shirt from the 7th Annual Tunero Car Show. He wore purple briefs. She brought her fingers together at the center of his kneecap, took them slowly away from each other. Lamplight made the ceiling yellow. He scratched her back. They ate grapes and drank lemonade.

When Table stirred the next morning, Lady was already awake. She ran her finger on the comforter, traced the outlines of the rose rocks. He touched her back. She rolled over. His mustache was everywhere and she combed it with her thumbs. They stared at each other and smiled. Sometimes she looked at him and forgot her body, her brain, her life. Sometimes he looked at her and felt immortal, perfect, above time. He kissed her hands.

I’m surprised I like you, she said.

Why? he asked.

You’re not what was in my head.

What was there?

Carl Weathers.

What happened? Was it my pretty smile?

You’re ridiculous.

Look at it. You sure? Might be the smile. I got nice teeth. They’re all very up and down.

You’re a type. Like, you think you should have a good life.

I should. You should too.

Are you a good person?

Not traditionally.

I don’t have many friends, really.

I know. I’m not swimming in them either.

I’m alone a lot. I don’t like it.

Me neither.

Will you be good to me?

I’ll try.


They were married at the courthouse in Ox, sun-bleached paintings of dead judges staring at them. They’d known each other two months. Table’s hair was slicked back and moussed, a Travolta comb having made lines in it, and in the Ranchero on the way there he found himself in the rearview and screamed Pat Riley. He was in a pair of pleated khakis and a navy blazer he’d bought that morning. She wore a white dress with suns on it.

Okeydoke, the judge said. Say what I say.

Table raised his hand.

Actually, squire, we worked it out where we’d say our own, Table said.

With who? the judge asked.

What’s up? Table asked.

Ain’t work it out with me, the judge said.

I’m saying we worked it out with each other, Table said.

That’s wildly irregular and honestly makes me hate y’all, the judge said.

They’re both quick, Lady said.

Typically, we just get in and out and keep it standard, especially this close to lunch . . . please, just, hey, Kath? Call Rhodette and tell her I’ll be late ’cause I got two people here who want to be unique. Make sure she gets me the burger with cheese. She’s got a real laissez-faire attitude when it comes to ordering. All right, giddyup. Say your stuff.

Table pulled out a sticky note and put on his readers. He looked at Lady, then the words.

Lady, I’ll love you till the galaxy breaks and the universe ends. And if it all did wind up collapsing while we were alive, I’d be there like Hey I’m here. I don’t care how devastating the apocalypse is. I’ll love you when the Earth’s dead. I think about trying to take over the whole world so I can give it to you. I feel good around you and I love you. Thanks for loving me.

Lady smiled, wiped her eyes, took out an index card.

Sylvia, you’re not real. I feel so good when I’m with you. You make me feel that way. And you make me feel smart and strong. Everything’s real close now. I’ll never leave and I’ll always be nice, even when I don’t feel like it. Thanks for the sweet things you say. I love you so.

When the judge pronounced them man and wife, Table kissed her hard for thirty seconds then sprinted out of the courtroom and into the bathroom. Lady stood by herself, smiled with her teeth, cried. She started clapping. The bailiff and judge just stared. Her claps were quick and loud and she shouted Yeah, Lady. She raised her arms over her head, pumped her fists, and started to roar.

Congratulations, she shouted. We love you.

She ran to her purse, took out a bottle of Taureau Brut, and popped the cork. The thud echoed off the walls and she sprayed the room with champagne. The air was gold. She took a drink. The bailiff reached for his walkie-talkie and said Yeah somebody in maintenance come with a mop on account of a lunatic with no wedding attendees celebrating herself.

We’re stoked for you, she shouted. You rule.

Lady was on her knees, her knees in the Taureau. She put her hands over her heart and prayed out loud.

Oh, I feel very good, Lady said. This is the happiest I’ve ever been. I don’t know who I’m talking to, but I want to talk to you right now. Thanks for him. Please keep him safe. Please give us fun lives. Let us be kind to each other. Man, I’m lit up. I’m in the zone. I’m in the zone. I’m in the zone.

She waited on Table outside the restrooms. When he appeared, he was out of breath. She looked past him to the closing door and beyond it saw the trash can dented and turned over. Glass had webbed on the mirror and wadded paper towels were scattered on the wet floor around the sink. A stall door leaned against the hand dryer and the water still ran. His knuckles were open and bleeding, bursts of red smeared on his thighs.

You okay? she asked.

Yeah, he said. Ain’t know how to—I don’t know—just happy.

Excerpted from A Little Blood and Dancing by Tyler Parker (Strange Light Books). 

A black and white photograph of the author.

TYLER PARKER holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University, where in 2016 he was the recipient of the Felipe P. De Alba Fellowship for Writers. While there, he studied under Sam Lipsyte, Paul Beatty, Richard Ford, and Rivka Galchen. He is a staff writer for The Ringer and, in a previous life, studied improv comedy at both iO and Second City in Chicago. Born and raised in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, Parker now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters.