I first met Hank in The Glenview. The Glenview was where I spent most nights fending off the advances of deadbeats and drunks. Hank was different. He sat at the end of the bar, solemn and thoughtful, nursing a drink and watching me with feigned disinterest.
After some time, Hank coolly stepped from his stool and approached. I watched him walk over. He had strong powerful legs. His head was large and bulbous, sitting uncomfortably on his shoulders, and the cave-like overhang of his brows lifted up and down as he spoke. He said he liked my dress and the black beads around my neck. He bought me a drink. There was jazz on the radio, a sense of culture in this otherwise backwater bar. The barman, with his one queer eye twitching like an eight ball, poured us drinks until we ran out of money.
Hank and I laughed at the world, laughed at its hopelessness. When he spoke, voice unbothered by doubt, it was hushed and comical, a contradiction to his large bulk and pock-scarred cheeks. I was riveted. He said unusual things.
‘We’re all just waiting,’ he told me. ‘Doing little things, and waiting to die.’
We fantasised about getting away. We could get on the boxcar, get the hell outta here. It could clock and clack us someplace new, a place where the booze was free and the people weren’t slime.
When the bar kicked us out, we ended up at Hank’s. He lived in a rooming house in the black quarter. After sex we lay in bed, smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap wine. Hank rolled that giant head of his and looked at me with a frown.
‘Say, I don’t know your name. What’s your name?’
I tapped away a plug of ash. ‘What the hell difference does that make?’
Hank and I moved in together on South Union Drive, not far from MacArthur Park. We lied to the landlady, posing as a respectable married couple. What a cop! The word “respectable” vanished with the drinking and the arguments. The landlady thought I was pregnant. Sure, pregnant with beer. It wasn’t long before she asked us to leave.
We went from place to place, leaving a trail of broken glass. We had some great times, some furious rows. He loved me in that dress and we fucked every day. The first few times he was really nervous, an amateur, a real kid. But I taught him a few things and he got better. We laughed and we drank and we fucked.
Hank couldn’t stand me flirting with other men. He would get jealous and fly into a rage, get arrested, wake up in the drink tank. I would disappear for days, hitting the bars, sleeping with other men. I know he loved me more than I could ever love him. He was my best friend and my drinking buddy, but I had no mind to commit.
When I was gone he would invite the drunks and bums to our place to keep him company. He was a heavy drinker and it took its toll. He got ill, vomited blood. At the hospital they told him one more drink could kill him. He came to me and I helped him as best I could. To take his mind from the booze we went to the racetrack and won or lost money. It became a regular thing, but it wasn’t long before Hank started drinking again, slowly at first, mixing milk with his shots.
After a while my promiscuity pulled us apart. Hank met some broad with no neck and disappeared to Texas for several years, while I continued cruising the bars and the beds of those stupid enough to buy me drinks.
I often wonder what Craig would think of me now. Craig was my first husband. Like me, he was a heavy drinker. That’s what killed him. It was a car crash, but the booze was driving. I should have helped him, could have listened. I could have saved him. I’m not the only widow to blame herself. We had two children together, Jo and Mary. I don’t know where they are. I think of them often.
Some years later, I bumped into Hank in the street.
‘I saw you with that bitch a while back,’ I said. ‘She’s not your kind of woman.’
He smiled. ‘None of them are.’
Hank and his Texas girl had broken up and he was back in town. It had been years since we’d seen each other. During that time I’d managed to find work here and there, drifting aimlessly through life. It was now 1962 and I was working at The Phillips hotel. They gave me a room and money for drink. I invited Hank back and we sat on the bed, reminiscing about old times, sitting there amongst the empty bottles and cans. Soon we were making love.
I put on my best dress and my high heels. I didn’t look as I once had. I caught sight of my reflection. My figure was melting with the years. Sex had lost any meaning. I knew Hank was disgusted by me, and he tried to hide it. As I walked from the bed to the bathroom, my ass hanging low, I caught the look on his face and felt hurt clutch at my chest.
One morning after the Christmas holidays, he arrived to find me drinking heavily, sitting in the chair and staring out the window. I was wondering where my life had gone, where my two children were. I wondered how they were doing. I wanted to know so much, but the answers had vanished in fifty-one years of life.
I’d been given booze, gifts from the tenants, and the bottles and crates filled every corner of the room. Hank tried to stop me from drinking it all, tried to take some of it away. With my gaze out the window, I told him to leave, and he did so, reluctantly and without conflict.
I woke in hospital. I was so very tired. My eyes barely opened, but the great hulk of a figure, a dark silhouette, blurred into view.
‘I knew it would be you,’ I said, and Hank smiled. He dabbed my brow, and I fell back to sleep.
for Jane: with all the love I had, which was not enough: –
I pick up the skirt,
I pick up the sparkling beads
this thing that moved once
and I call God a liar,
I say anything that moved
could never die
in the common verity of dying,
and I pick
up her lovely
all her loveliness gone,
and I speak
to all the gods,
Jewish gods, Christ-gods,
chips of blinking things,
idols, pills, bread,
rats in the gravy of 2 gone quite mad
without a chance
hummingbird knowledge, hummingbird chance,
I lean upon this,
I lean on all of this
and I know:
her dress upon my arm:
they will not
give her back to me.
– Charles Bukowski
(note: this is a fictional account of Jane Cooney Baker, derived from Howard Sounes’ biography of Charles Bukowski, Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life)