dancing with the ghost-lady.


the old man stayed up late, smoking dope in his house. usually, at that hour, there was nothing good on any of the three channels that came in clearly, so he smoked enough until even the most simple things, like a news report about a convenience store burning down, became interesting. he'd sit in the comfortable recliner, the one his ex-wife begged him to get rid of, and the littlest stories would get his imagination running. how could a little fire burn down a whole store? what will become of the owner and all of his possessions? i wonder if the firemen ever pocket things they find at a scene. maybe i will burn one day. i wonder how long i could sit here, watching television, enduring the flames.

suddenly, the doorbell rang, giving him quite a startle. he had almost forgotten that he had ordered pizza. the delivery boy was a dark-skinned kid who wore a blue hat with a red brim. "what do i owe you?" the old man said. "eighteen seventy-five," the kid said. "jesus," the old man said. he pulled out his wallet and handed over a twenty. as old as he was, he still had no idea how to tip. "thanks," the kid said, and he walked back to his car. the car was an old white corolla with a huge dent on the side.

the old man put his pizza on the table and turned off the tv. at some point, he had decided no tv while eating. but music was okay. he put neil young's harvest on the turntable, and poured himself a glass of wine while "unknown legend" played nearly full blast. he sang the first few lines: she used to work in a diner/never saw a woman look finer/i used to order just to watch her float across the floor. he couldn't remember the rest of it, so he just hummed along. when he tired of humming, he just sat there and took it all in. what a song, he thought to himself. what a hell of a good goddamn song.

he took turns between the pizza, the wine and the pipe. soon, he realized he was pretty full, drunk and high. he never thought that he would turn out to be this way, like some old character straight out of a bukowski poem. he thought back to his childhood, to old friends and lovers who had either died or moved away. he had never moved away. he thought about it briefly, before college, but the thought had eventually dissapeared like so many other dreams and goals he once held for himself. he regretted nothing. at least that's what he told himself.

"dreaming man" came on the stereo, and he felt the sudden urge to get up and move around. he began to pace back and forth in front of the coffee table. it suddenly occurred to him that passersby could see him through the windows, and that they might think he was crazy. well, if they're watching, i'd better give them a real show. he started to dance a little bit. first, he swayed his head from side to side, and then his hips got into it. he outstretched his arms like someone was really there, somebody dancing with him. it became much more formal, like he was in a ballroom doing some professional dancing. he was dancing and having the time of his life with the ghost-lady.

he danced half-way through "natural beauty" when he realized he was out of breath. he sat back down on the recliner, his chest heaving. "what the hell," he said aloud. "what in the hell was that?"

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