Redemption Song, Part One

James and I were sitting in the Crow’s Nest bar, a window booth, watching the winter light fade on Provincetown’s tiny clapboard library across the street and waiting for Ivan. We had smoked a pinch of Thai stick before venturing out to see if anyone was up and around now that it was sunset. I flashed on an image of myself, repeated daily, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a joint while I read the New York Times. I’d look up after finishing a science section article on the courtship habits of amoebae, my breakfast toast awaiting butter, and see the sky over the bay turning the plummy color of dusk. And I’d think, this is why we live at the tip of a continental mass in the midst of frozen waters. So we don’t have to judge. But, of course, we do, and afterward we’re never the same again.

“Laurie digs black dudes,” James said. “She’s got that Boston Irish Catholic thing going on.”

“Laurie’s seeing Ivan,” I said. “Laurie digs Ivan,”

“What about Mateen, before Ivan?”

“I don’t know him.”

“There you go. And what about Scoonie?” Scoonie played guitar in James’s reggae band and looked like Bob Marley.

“Scoonie’s cute, man. All the chicks fuck Scoonie. My ex-wife fucked Scoonie. Scoonie don’t count.”

“You and Lee divorced yet?”

“We don’t have the things you need to get divorced, like money.”

“So, you’re cool. Just separated.”

“No, we hate each other. There’s just no legal term for it in 1979.”

“Yay, they is. Called married.”

Some guys from the fish-packing plant on the wharf behind the bar stomped in from the cold. They had icicles hanging from their mustaches. One of them must have weighed four hundred pounds. James looked out the window as they eyed him.

“Think I’ll swing over to the library, see if they got any books,” he said.

I knew two of the guys from the days I’d unloaded boats and iced down crates of fish, trying not to get killed in the stray fights and hatchet-throwing contests that broke out whenever someone was bored or psychotic. I nodded at the pair, then said without looking at James, “It’s cool.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

I watched them turn to the bar and order shots. I’d become used to James and Ivan knowing where they were and weren’t welcome in P-town. But the Crow’s Nest admitted everyone. It was up to you to survive the experience. Very democratic, I thought.

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