"City Lights" has always been one of my favorite songs by RayPrice:
A bright array of city lights as far as I can see.
The Great White Way shines through the night for lonely guys like me.
The cabarets and honkytonks, their flashing signs invite
A broken heart to lose itself in the glow of city lights.
This story reprises some of the characters and the locale (Bandera, Texas) from my earlier story, "Hey, Joe!"
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
I pushed the plate with the remnants of my filet out of my way, and sipped on the half glass of Riesling, sighing as I realized I hadn't really enjoyed the meal. Hell, for a fraction of the cost I might as well had had hominy grits for dinner. Smiling at my folly, I remembered I hadn't had grits since leaving the ranch in Bandera so many years before. I'd been back to visit my folks from time to time, but at six-four and two-twenty I needed more than grits to fill me up mornings.
The waiter came by and cleared the table and brought me the glass of asked-for brandy. Taking a sip of the slightly warmed up Remy Martin, I looked out the window of the Tower Of Texas at the vast array of lights spreading out over the hot summer night. Tracing the lines of the river, I thought I should have eaten at one of the many fine restaurants lining the banks of the San Antonio River. I knew the coolness of the river would have mitigated the summer heat enough to make the dining out bearable.
The waiter came back by with the credit card receipt and somewhat hesitantly asked me, "Aren't you Big Jim, unh," he paused and looked at my credit card again, "Big Jim Morris?"
"Yeah, but that was back in my rodeo days. When I realized I wasn't good enough to make a living bulldoggin' steers I dropped the 'Big' part. Now I'm just Jim Morris." I wasn't called Big Jim for my size; I was about 5'10" and barely 150. I got the name 'cause I never lost in high school ... but then, now I was doing a fair share of losing.
"I was asking because I overheard my mom talking to her sister about you one time. The time they were talking about was before she married my dad ... from what she said you guys were close at one time." He added helpfully, "She was a champion barrel racer at the time."
I nodded and told him, "Well, say hi to her, okay."
He left and I added a couple dollars to the tip. I didn't want his mom, Candy, to think I was a cheapskate. I'd been pretty wild during my rodeo days, and there were always girls hanging around. I always did my best to see that they left with a smile on their face. Candy was different. We'd been talking marriage for a few months but that talk ended real fast when she caught me with her nemesis, the only girl that ever beat her. She had left me with some bitter words and had gone home to her folks in Cheyenne. She never did go back to the rodeo business.
At the end of that season I quit too and did just the opposite kind of work that my dad did: he bred bulls and horses for the rodeo and I bought them. I hardly ever did business with him the way it worked out. Buyers seemed to think I wouldn't do right for them if I bought from family.
None of the tables near me had been occupied, and I realized I had made a fine art out of being lonely. Down there, scattered around the city, the bars and honkytonks were flashing their bright neon lights as an invitation to loneliness – a loneliness I well knew. Suddenly tired of my thoughts I put the glass down and pushed back my chair, and left ... carrying my sadness with me, like a cloak on a cold winter night.
On the elevator down, I made my decision. My dad wanted to retire, but hadn't been able to find anyone to take over his breeding business. Mom and dad kept getting after me to take the business over, but I knew Holly wasn't interested. Well, hell. Holly damn well wasn't around anymore.
Dad also worked as a vet tech in my mom's large animal veterinary business located where the ranch road came off the highway. My mom, Angie, had already retired. She and my dad, Danny, had sold the business to a recently licensed young vet and leased the building to him.
When I got back to my deathly quiet apartment, I gave dad a call and gave him the news. The vet that had leased the building hadn't wanted the apartment so it was sitting vacant. It was small – two bedroom, two bath – but was done up quite nicely with paneling and hardwood floors. My mom had stayed there when she started her large animal vet business before she had married dad.
A month later, I was in my truck pulling a rental trailer that held surprisingly little stuff to show for ten years of marriage. Pain and suffering might weigh me down but it did nothing to fill the big trailer.
Lights that say "Forget her love, in a different atmosphere"
Lights that lure are nothing but a masquerade for tears
They paint a pretty picture but my arms can't hold them tight
And I just can't say, "I love you" to a street of city lights.
It was nice not having to travel all the time, though for the bigger rodeos like the Calgary Stampede I'd still ride along with the driver since that was the place to make good contacts. I got tired of sitting alone in my apartment so I took to going to the Silver Dollar Saloon on Friday and Saturday nights. My folks knew the owner well and it was a popular place. There were always good dance bands, sawdust on the floor and great beer. What more could a broken-down rodeo cowboy need?
One night several months after I'd moved back, I was sitting at a small table in the corner hiding behind my beer. Someone played "The Road of No Return" on the jukebox and the old Ray Price tune made me think of Holly ... something I tried not to do as much as I could. Except when it got to the part, "There were tears in her eyes as she told me goodbye." Holly damn well didn't have any tears in her eyes.
There were tears in her eyes as she told me goodbye,
Then she walked down that road of no return.
If it hurts to see her go a broken heart must never show,
For she walked down that road of no return.
I'd been on the road to Idaho and Montana for two weeks, and when I got back, she was sitting on the sofa with her coat over her arm and two suitcases packed by the door.
"Jim, I'm going on a cruise with a friend I met, Bill Hunter. He'll be here any minute to pick me up. Don't go getting all upset because it might not work out between us and if that's the case I'll come back home."
Now I'd always thought of myself as a quick thinker but I'm sure I stood there with my mouth hanging open looking dumb. I was having trouble processing what she had said.
I tried, "You mean you are leaving here with another man?"
"Jim, don't be stupid. I already told you that."
"Let me get this straight. You are going on a cruise with some asshole – what was his name? Oh, yeah, Bill Hunter. I assume you mean you'll be sleeping in the same bed?"
"Jim, you don't have to be crude. Of course I'll be sleeping with him. But, it might not work out. Who knows, two weeks in a small room cruising the Med might make us hate each other and then I'll come back home ... so don't get your balls in an uproar!"
Goddamn! Where did this woman come from and what did she do with Holly? Well, it didn't make any difference; Angie didn't raise a fool. I took her two bags and put them in the hallway. I went back and, grabbing her hand, I hauled her up and dragged her over to the door.
"Have fun, Holly, but don't worry about coming back home – I won't be here."
I pushed her out the door and locked it with the chain. Grabbing a beer, I sat where she had been sitting and tried to figure out what had just happened. A bit later, I heard her steps receding down the hallway with the hum of the wheels on the suitcase followed shortly by the ding on the elevator.
Sipping the beer there in our apartment, I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. I gradually got over it the next few weeks ... mostly. About a month after she left I received divorce papers in which she asked for damn little. Turned out the guy owned more oil wells than I had fingers.
So, I sat at the small table at the Silver Dollar thinking that maybe love wasn't all it was cracked up to be. When I first started coming here I'd picked up a few girls for one-nighters – I wasn't in any hurry for an ongoing relationship. After a few weeks of that I gave it up ... the emotional turmoil didn't seem worth the sometimes dubious reward.
After that, I just came for a few dances if someone caught my fancy – or I hers. I stayed away from the slow songs and made sure to escort each girl back to her table after one dance. I did like listening to the bands; they generally were quite good. I paced myself on the beer, maybe one every forty-five minutes or so. I got in the habit of peeling the labels off the bottles until one of the bar girls hinted that if I was going to keep making a mess on the table that maybe I should tip a little more.
For a few weeks – especially when I saw a girl that through her posture, her voice, her hair or something made me think of Holly - I'd try to analyze what had gone wrong. I finally conceded that maybe it was partly my fault with all the travel I'd been doing or maybe even it was no one's fault – it just damn well happened and so damn what?
I snapped out of it when a girl walked over and stood next to me. She looked down and finally asked, "Big Jim, you really don't remember me, do you?"
.... There is more of this story ...