Good Brown Gravy

(Warning -- this short story contains coarse language.)

How y’all doin’? This here’s Yogi, and I’m the head bartender here at Cowdudes. And boy, oh boy, is this place hoppin’ tonight. Every Wednesday night, Cowdudes is packed with cowgirl cuties and pretty, little ladies. Yes, sir! Wednesdays are almost like Ladies’ Night because we always have free line dancing lessons from 7:00 till 9:00, and those young lassies can’t wait to "Tush Push" or do the "Achy Breaky". The guys come down here in droves, too. Not for the dancing so much. Naw, most of them are here to drink beer and watch. It’s mighty fine watchin’, too, if I do say so myself.

They call me Yogi around here ‘cause I’m just a big ol’ friendly bear, though I prefer to think it’s because of my great batting average on our slow pitch team. Why, I’m the best damn hitter in Pickens County, well, except for my friend Leroy. He’s on my team, too, and he can sure whack a ball out of the stands! We got him a jersey last year with "The Babe" in big block letters on the back. To me, though, the true "Babe" in his family is his wife. Now, she’s one spicy number, especially since she lost all that weight. She’s done trimmed right down to the skinny. Just take a look. Over there in the back row.

Yep, that’s Leroy’s wife, Caroline, and she loves her line dancing. She’s here every week, dragging that sweet gal, Annie, in with her. Pretty as a peach, she is. But to tell the truth, I don’t know which one of those ladies I feel sorry for the most. They’re both good girls, and they probably don’t deserve their lot. It’s as if Mr. Life has dealt them a four card straight with a stray deuce on the side. You know what it’s like -- you feel sure you’ll end up with that big pot on the table, but the deuce keeps stealing your chips. Even so, they keep coming in here smiling. Why don’t you just take a lil’ peek at them yourself? Back row. Go on now.

"I can’t git rich, I can’t make a livin’/But I sure do somethin’ for the neighborhood women/ I wake up every morning with ‘em knockin’ at my door/You can’t keep ‘em waitin’ when they’re wantin’ some more. . ./ I used to think they were after me/But they’re just after my recipe/For good brown gravy. . .GOOD BROWN GRAVY!"

"Okay y’all, that was really great! Let’s try it one more time and really work on those hip bumps. Git ‘em swinging! Let’s go!"

". . .You can sop it with a biscuit, you can eat it from the pan/ You can lick it off your finger when it’s runnin’ down your hand/. . .Granny told my momma ‘bout the power that it had/ Good brown gravy is the way she got my dad. . ."

There they are, Annie and Caroline in the last row of line dancers. As that Joe Diffie tune beats into them, Caroline is merrily wagging her slim hips around while Annie cain’t figure her right foot from her left. Caroline chuckles at Annie’s twisting steps. She knows all these dances, probably even better than our instructor. After all, she told me she watches Club Dance on TNN every night, and she knows each beat and cliché of all the Brooks and Dunn songs ever recorded. She’s out here to scoot her bootie for all those beer-bellied cowboys with their tight black jeans and snake skin boots. They sure do like her fine bootie from all the hoots and toots. From the way she keeps grinning at those shit-kickers you’d never guess she’s such a hurtin’ woman.

Well, what about her friend, Annie? She’s a bit different from the other ladies here at Cowdudes. She may look somewhat western tonight, but I’ve seen her around town. She’ll be dressed all in black -- old, old clothes, stuff my grandma might have worn. One day, I saw her going in and out of those used record shops downtown. She had several bags in her hands, so I asked her what she had bought, hoping she might have an Alan Jackson or Travis Tritt record. No, not this girl. She had strange kinds of music in those bags -- Tibetan chants, Haitian Creole, Brazilian sambas. She said, "Vinyl of a Country & Western persuasion never touches my turntable."

I know she’s really bred from a ragtag, down-home bloodline, but she says she’s a tryin’ to sport a more "bohemian air", whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. All I see is a precious, but insecure, little girl trying to be something she’s not. She needs a good-hearted man to hug her real tight and show her all the goodness she’s long hidden deep in those uptown, high-falutin frocks. Though I always see her cringing at each wail of a slide guitar, Annie still comes into Cowdudes each week for Caroline’s sake. You see, they’ve been friends for a long time now. I mean, you kind of get forced into a friendship when you’ve worked in adjacent cubicles at the phone company for more than seven years. And I’m sure she’ll come around to Waylon and Willie someday. She could be such a sweetheart. She may even come around to ol’ Yogi as well. Ah, I think they’re talking. Let’s listen in.

"Caroline, are you doing okay?"

"Of course I am, Annie? Why shouldn’t I be? The Cowboy Boogie’s an easy dance. Hey, how about you? Just remember it’s grapevine right then grapevine left, not the other way around!"

"No, no. I meant about the song."

"Joe Diffie’s my favorite, Annie! Of course the song’s all right. Just keep dancing. Concentrate, or you’ll knock over big ol’ Betty if you keep screwing up your turns!"

"I mean, I know how you can get about biscuits and gravy. I’m just watching out for my friend."

"What’re you talking about? Why in tar nation’re you bringing up biscuits and gravy for, girl?"

"You aren’t listenin’ to the lyrics? Oh. Good. Forget I brought it up." Annie’s round cheeks are brightening to a glowing to a Carolina clay red. Thank God Almighty for that last turn. At least Caroline can’t see her face now. I could just hear Annie thinking, "How could you be so stupid! You’re gonna get her going again."

I guess I need to fill y’all in on some of what’s been going on with Caroline lately. You see, like the rest of us around here, Annie feels sorry for her unzipped coworker. In spite of all their differences, Annie has seen her through some mighty big dips in the road. Lord knows, her life has played out like the bluest of country tunes. However, during the past few months Caroline’s life had reached a new level of "T-R-O-U-B-L-E". Caroline’s husband, Leroy, you know, "The Babe", is a tire tester for Goodyear and is out on the road most of the time. He’d say to me, "Yogi, the road is real stimulating, even titillating, if you know what I mean." Well, poor Caroline struck out when Leroy finally gave in to the highway’s tempting wonders. Two months earlier, he happened upon a pregnant girl in Moncks Corner, down in the Carolina low country. He said he stopped in a Stuckey’s diner there and saw a dimpled, buxom waitress behind the counter with her belly looking bigger than that prize winning pumpkin at last year’s Pickens County Fair. I mean to tell you, that’s big! We all know some men are breast men, some like a girl’s legs (that’s me), but Leroy is different. Leroy loves a round belly. He later told me she was "oh so fine and oh so dandy and tasted better’n Good & Plenty candy." Yeah, Leroy was hooked and reeled in by instant infatuation right there over a steaming plate of... biscuits and gravy. "Damn fine biscuits and gravy! She made ‘em herself." So there he stayed. If you ask me, if Caroline hadn’t joined Weight Watchers, he might still be here in town.

"‘Back! Back!’ I holler to my hound/’You’re supposed to keep ‘em from a comin’ around!’/ For good brown gravy. . .GOOD BROWN GRAVY!! GOOD BROWN GRAVY!!"

"Oh my God! You’re right about the gravy, Miss Annie-Fannie. But I’m all right. The song don’t bother me none. It don’t. It’ll be over in a second anyway."

Look. Caroline is trying her best to steady the beer in her hand. Her small hand is trembling even as her sassy face keeps smiling.

"There. You see! It’s over. . .and I’m not even thinking about that bastard. I’m not, Annie. I’m fine. I really am."

"Good. I’m sorry I brought it up. He’s not worth thinking about. You know that."

"That’s so true, Ann, even if I’m still his legal wife. See, the song’s over. It’s over. He’s over. I’m over it."

"That was great gang! I think all y’all got the Cowboy Boogie down! Good job! Even that lady in pink and violet fringes there in the back started getting the turns right at the end! Nice improvement!"

Oh, no. Annie’s scowling at Janine, our instructor. I bet she’s wishing Caroline had never given her that pink and violet, shiny polyester Western shirt for her birthday. She gave it to her on a Wednesday night like this one. I like to tease Annie, saying she’s trying to be Tammy Wynette in that shirt. She’s definitely too old to be Reba and not full-figured enough to be Dolly. She gets me back, though, saying something like, "How sexist! Being a ‘90’s woman, I resent you expecting me to ‘stand by my man.’ I’m only here for Caroline." Shoot, I know she’s jokin’, so I just keep smilin’ at her pretty face.

"We’ll do Slappin’ Leather next, folks! Since most of ya already know this one we’ll start right away with the music." Janine, in her perky way, puts down her microphone and spins around in her red Tony Lama’s to go change CD’s. "I can tell y’all like Joe Diffie, so we’ll keep him spinning while we’re scootin’!"

"Annie, enough of this dancing. I wanna get fucked! Screw that goddam bastard of a husband of mine! I wanna get fucked and one of these cowguts here’s gonna do it!"

I mean to tell you, she’s really done it now. I can see her hands are shaking even more now and her face looks slightly crazed, even desperate.

"Caroline! Are you crazy? I’ve never heard you talk like that! Just calm down, sweetie. Calm down. It’ll be fine if you just calm down."

Yep, Annie can also tell poor Caroline is losing control. That damn Joe Diffie. That damn "Good Brown Gravy"!

"I don’t want to calm down!" Caroline screams. "He’s banging that prego slut isn’t he? Isn’t he? If he can get laid, why can’t I?"

"Caroline, Caroline! Just calm down. There are lots of reasons not to. Babies, AIDS, VD, beer bellies. You don’t know any these guys, do you? How do you know they won’t try to hurt you! God, this country’s so full of murderers and rapists these days. Anyway, all that hairy fat and sweat. . . I don’t want to even think about it!"

"All men are assholes! No one knows that better than me. But they’ve still got the ol’ gravy and I’ve got a damn fine pair of biscuits," Caroline says in a wavering voice. "Get outta my way, Ann, it’s time to push my sweet tush."

"Why do you always do this to me, Caroline?! Just do the next dance. It’ll help take your mind off it. You like Slappin’ Leather. We learned it last week. Just dance. For me, Caroline. C’mon, sweetie, let’s just do Slappin’ Leather."

"Leroy’s slappin’ her leather, ain’t he? I’m outta here, Annie. I’m gonna pick out some stud to slap mine! But first I’m getting another beer! OKAY COWBOYS! ONE OF YOU BUY ME A BEER!"

There she goes. Caroline’s starting to walk away from the rest of the dancers. She is unsteadily strutting towards me at the bar, her hips in a lurid swivel, her arms and legs shaking and jittery. Though not my style, she really is quite attractive and no doubt one of these good ol’ boys will buy her a beer. Maybe more.

"Wait, Caroline! Come back here! You’ve had enough to drink already!"

Annie’s panicking now, as well she should. She sure puts up with a lot from her friend, and sometimes noe of us are quite sure why. She must have her reasons, and I sure bless her for ‘em, too. Caroline always has been a little uncontrollable, but I know I’ve never seen her quite like this. She isn’t the type to sleep around. Annie knows that, I’m sure. Flirt a bit, yes, but not actually act on it. Annie’s got to try and sober her up and get her home. I bet Annie won’t be showing up here again for line dancing after this episode. That’s a damn shame.

"Okay gang! I’ve got Joe Diffie’s ‘Prop Me Up" all queued up, so let’s slap some leather! Ready? Let’s go!"

The class quickly reassembles their lines as Annie weaves and bobs around them. Goddam it! Caroline’s just dropped her Bud longneck, spilling the swill in front of her on the wooden floor.

"Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die---"

Caroline is stumbling after the rolling bottle. "God! My beer! My beer!"

"---Lord, I wanna go to Heaven but I don’t wanna go tonight---"

Her left boot just stepped into the pooling brew, swirling and shifting, sliding and slipping.

"---Fill my boots up with sand---"

Her body is twisting forward as her boots race back.

"---Put a stiff drink in my hand---"

Damn! Her delicate little head smashed against the Terminator pinball machine. That hardened shield of hairspray of hers ain’t providin’ her much protection.

"---Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die!"

Jesus! Blood is now streaking her face, mixing all up with her mascara like some plate of Jambalaya as she slips smack down on the floor. Finally, Annie pushes her way out of the tangle of dancers.

"Oh, God! No! Not this!"

I reach Caroline’s body first, quickly pressing icy wet napkins against the wound, slowing the bleeding as best I can. Annie stoops down and wipes her face clean. Her friend simply smiles, eyes closed.

"Somebody call 911, please! Can you hear me, Caroline? Can you? You’ll be okay! I promise!"

"She looks mighty bad, Ma’am. Looks like she hit right about at her temple. Mighty bad."

I hold Caroline as gently as I would a baby, keeping pressure against her head all the while. I look into Annie’s eyes and smile in a caring, concerned way.

"Thank you, Yogi. Thank you a whole helluva lot."

I offer my free hand to Annie. She takes it in her left hand and clings on.

A group forms around us, though at my orders, they keep far enough back to allow Caroline to breathe as well as possible. Annie is looking down at Caroline and reaches for her hand, completing our circle of three. Even though Annie has often complained to us, wishing she wasn’t saddled with Caroline’s friendship (she could be a live-wire at times), I knew from her eyes she only felt love and desperation for her friend now.

"Annie, I sure got fucked, just like I said I would. Didn’t I?"

Caroline was talking? There’s still so much blood and her eyes remain closed. Maybe she’ll be fine. Maybe.

"Don’t talk, Caroline. Just rest. The ambulance is coming. You’ll be okay, dear."

"It’s not the kind I wanted, but I got it just the same, didn’t I?" Caroline softly slurs. "I mean, they don’t even have a jukebox in here, just a goddam pinball machine."

Annie cain’t help smilin’. "Caroline. What a dear you are."

She releases her hand and carefully strokes her matted hair. She looks up at me, her pleading eyes saying, "Caroline’s got to make it. She has to."

Caroline sho’ do have to make it. What would CowDude’s be like if her and my sparkling lil’ Annie didn’t come dancing anymore? Who would entertain the gruff but lonely boys and show the other ladies that line dancin’ can pull in those hips and pull up those chins at the same time? She sho’ do have to make it, but the blood still flows like the beer at an all-night kegger in July. Even Leroy wouldn’t want this. Even Leroy, the bastard.

"If I die, Annie, it’s okay. It would sure be easier on all of us. At least I’ll go with someone at my side who actually cares, who might actually miss me." Caroline coughs up a small bit of blood as her legs again began to tremble. "Thanks for putting up with me all these years. And thank you, too, Yogi. You ain’t no asshole, for sure. No matter what Miss Annie-Fanny says."

"I never said---"

"Of you didn’t, Miss Annie, now somebody find her a blanket, or a table cloth. She’s getting chilled!" I bark at the crowd, not letting Annie break the love behind Caroline’s attempted compliment. I begin rocking her, humming to her in a low, low voice, "And you ain’t no bitch, Caroline. Now just rest, just rest."

"Caroline, you’re my best friend, of course I’d miss you!" Annie’s crying now. Whether those drops are tears of fear for her maligned friend, or tears of joy from the kindred warmth deep inside her violet and pink polyester, now spreading like fresh manure across a butterbean patch in an August thunder-smacker, is anyone’s guess. Annie is finding she has friends. I’m getting the feeling she knows Caroline ain’t so bad. Nope, and I ain’t so bad, neither, especially to her, Miss Annie. "But you’re not going anywhere. We gotta dance on Wednesdays."

"Yeah, Annie. We will." Caroline awkwardly reaches and squeezes Annie’s hand as tightly as she can. "You’ve still got a long way to go on your turns."

I chuckled, not realizing Caroline’s eyes had closed for a long siesta, a nap I want to avoid for as long as I can still pull the tap on some cold Bud. At least she was smiling.

"Okay, y’all! Get back in those lines and let’s do the Watermelon Crawl!" Janine shouted as all of those fine-and-dandy ladies got ready to line dance again. The cowboys guzzled their beers as their eyes followed each step, each lady, each behind. I went back to pouring beer. Somebody had to do it. Lots of thirsty dudes and dudettes, ya know. As for Annie, well, she took out a quarter and played a game of pinball. Not much else to do now, and she sure didn’t want to dance.

© Chikara, 1995


Good Brown Gravy lyrics ©1994 EMI Blackwood Music Inc. (BMI)/EMI April Music Inc./Ides of March Music (ASCAP). Gee Wally Music (adm. by CMI) (BMI)

Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox (If I Die) lyrics by Rick Blayblock/Kerry Kurt Phillips/Howard Perdew

B_Home.jpg (1410 bytes) B_Poetry.jpg (1439 bytes) B_Chikara.jpg (1318 bytes)