There was a time when it was easy. Back when all she had to do was shower, throw on a little make up, and head out with a Screwdriver and that man-melting grin of hers. She’d get in her beat-up car and fish for the cover charge on the floorboard. A few crumpled bills in the clean ashtray. Scattered tip money from the night before. Music would pulsate through the brick walls of Joe B’s. It was a warehouse converted nightclub full of soldiers and rich kids from the local private college. Looking this way–casual, perfect hair and perfumed pressure points sending out waves of ‘you want me’–she belonged. Soldiers would stare at her as she entered the dark club. Cute, broad-shouldered boys with high-n-tights, clean hard faces, and stamina. She loved their shoulders and respected their service. But more than anything, it was the stamina. Lots of stamina.

She met Dave there. He was sitting at the end of the bar, bobbing his head and looking around. She smiled at him. He came over and cracked the dumbest jokes she’d ever heard.
“You aren’t good at this are you?” she said.
“Lots of folks say I make an ass of myself real good actually.” His smile was crooked and something about his face told her he’d never grow a beard. But still she laughed at him.
“Let’s go dance, come on.” she said.
Dave shrugged it off. “I got more left feet than a centipede!”
She leaned in to hear him talk. To let him smell the perfume and make his move.
“We could dance slow. Nobody’d notice if you held onto me tight.”
“Let me request a song.”
He took off into the crowd. She ordered them two more drinks.
When he came back, she asked,
“What song did you request?”
The DJ let the hip-hop song die down.
“We’ve got a request from Dave to Allison.”
She smiled. He took her hand.
Steel guitars began to play as the dance floor cleared. A twangy singer she didn’t know sang about meeting a girl and falling in love.
She and Dave were the only two on the floor. He held her tight.
“Everyone will notice us now.” She said with a grin.
“When a man like me dances with a woman like you, we want everyone to know it.”

Dave got out of the Army and started working at Coleman Trucking. A dedicated job running loads to Nashville and back four times a day. Allison stayed on waitressing until their first child arrived. She stayed with the baby in a two-room efficiency. Dave came home each night, held the baby, drank beer, and watched the news. Allison walked down to the phone booth to call her mother.
“Something’s wrong Mama.” She’d say.
“What honey?”
“I don’t know. I just thought it was gonna be different.”
“We all did.”

Dave was laid off four weeks before their third Christmas. Coleman went out of business. He played with they baby in the complex’s courtyard. Dave crushed beer cans on his head. The baby would laugh. Allison sold cars downtown for a while. She’d drive by Joe B’s sometimes. It had been converted into self-storage. She thought maybe there was symbolism in that. She smoked in secret. Never knew what would make Dave angry.

Dave talked about reenlisting while she made dinner.
“I’d still be an E-3 I bet. That’s about a thousand a month.”
“Who’d watch the baby when you went to basic. I’d still have to work.”
“So, you wouldn’t miss me?”
“But you’re not telling me not to go. You’d know we’d be separated a lot. Maybe a year or two at a time.”
“We have to do something.”
“I couldn’t pass the PT test to get back in anyway. My back is fucked up.”
She stirred the Hamburger Helper.
“I didn’t know your back was hurt.”
“What?” he turned down the TV.
“I said dinner is done.”
“Great.” He opened another beer.

She stood in the gym beneath a banner that said, “Welcome Back Alumni!” Everyone from ten years ago hugged and shook hands like old people.
“Allison, you look so good! What’s your secret?”
“Sixty hours a week of mind numbing labor.”
“You always were the funny one. Somebody told me you married a soldier. That’s gotta be exciting!”
“He got kicked out the month we got married. He hit an officer. Broke his jaw in two places.”
“Oh, I’m sure. You’re so funny.”
“Anybody spike the punch yet?” Allison asked.

He was drunk when she got home.
“Anybody ask about me?” he said.
“None of them knew you Dave.”
“Damn baby needs a change. Little fucker, shit all over the place.”
“Just now?” she said going over to the crib.
“A couple of hours ago I guess. Is the store still open?”
She began to change the baby’s diaper. Feces stuck to the girl’s folds, dried up on her thighs.
Dave put on his shoes.
“You got any money? I’m walking up the street.”
“Honey, I’ll go up for you. You want a 12-pack? Maybe some chips?”
“You’re the greatest.” Dave said letting his shoes fall back to the floor.
Allison picked up the baby.
“I’ll take her to give you some peace. You deserve it.”
“Hurry back.” he said.
“I will honey. I love you.” she said.
“Nothing. Be back in a bit.”

The store was closed so she drove passed it. The baby fussed some. Allison found a 24 hour store and bought some formula, one bottle, and small pack of nipples.
“You guys sell Grain?” she said.
“Yeah.” the clerk said looking at the clock. “For about five more minutes.”

The baby was asleep. Allison drove around town listening to music on the one working speaker. She drove by Joe B’s. It was being converted back into a nightclub.
A sign advertised. “Coming Soon: GRINDERS!”
“Grinders.” she said to herself.
She took a sip of the grain alcohol. She grimaced.

The baby didn’t wake up when the driver’s door closed. Allison walked up to the door of Joe B’s/Grinders. It was quiet and dark. She broke out the glass on the door and worked the lock open. The building smelled of drying varnish and fresh-cut pine. Moonlight came in through a high window, brushing the dance floor a gray-white hue. She remembered the music. The shoulders. She saw herself out there again. Laughing.

Allison began to weep. She took another sip then threw the bottle into the air. The glass shattered four feet in front of her. She pulled out her lighter and bent down.

When she exited the building the flames were spreading faster than expected. Fire licked the blackness leading to the second floor. It spread like wings to the walls. Allison turned back to look at the building. The baby still asleep.
She got in the car and drove away slowly.
She stopped to fill up at a station near the interstate. Allison read the big green signs. Knoxville. Charlotte. Richmond. She bought two packs of diapers. When they pulled on I-24 East, Allison glanced at the rearview mirror several times but knew they’d never be followed.