One night when she couldn't find a babysitter,
she took me along to Pirate's Alley,
set me up with a pitcher of root beer, quarters for Centipede,
and touched up her face, her hand unsteady.
She said, We deserve this, we both deserve this, and I cringed
as she rustled out to the dance floor in the rich parade
of her hair and perfume. In those days she lived by her will--
determined to stay upright. Amid the clouds of smoke
and beery air, she carried on with her new crowd,
women with durable faces who had taken it and could still take it,
butts twitching under a wheel of neon, spider veins aglow,
all step, turn, tilt, clap, middle-aged and hell-bent
on not letting hope lose its grip.
In the lull between songs she threw down
Scotch and water. Let her cigarette smoke out in spurts.
She said, If your father can live high on the hog, so can we,
and I bit my lip and nodded along, kept nodding as something came
into her face and went away again. She then said it once more,
and trained her eyes on the bandstand, as if forcing herself
to see what she was seeing, the two of us waiting for the music
to go back up, drowning out that other sound.