“Did you get your tips?”

John shook his head and looked toward the bar. Two empty stools near the wait station beckoned.

David calculated the credit card receipts, opened the drawer and handed John two twenty dollar bills. “Are you going out tonight?”

John smiled. “I’m going to hang out here for a little while. How about you?”

“Madison wants to go over to La Fonda. There’s some exposition going on there. Do you want to come?”

John glanced toward the bar, writhing inside as one of Daphne’s regulars took a seat. “Maybe later. What time are you going?”

David chuckled. “You’re distracted, dude. What’s up? Been too long since your last trip?”

“Yep.” The rhythm of his life had changed and he didn’t know what to think. He glanced again toward the bar. He’d always worked two jobs for six months to have at least six more of travel, but he’d quit his second job shortly after Daphne had begun her reign at the bar.

The late lunch crowd at the Blue Corn Café had subsided and the first of many waiters from other restaurants trickled in to work on their Tequila Cards. The Blue Corn Café’s small bar boasted the best selection of tequila in Santa Fe, and David had come up with the idea of the Card to lure people in. The prize, after taking eighty-two shots of tequila and spending close to a thousand bucks, was a T-shirt. The promotion had been going on for over a month and so far two guys had stumbled out proudly bearing their shirts. John wondered though, since most came to garner a stool at the bar and enjoy the pleasure of watching Daphne pour drinks.


“What time did you say?” John edged toward the bar.

“I didn’t.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I’ll make it then.” John clenched his teeth as a couple entered the bar and strode toward the lone stool.

“Even you?” David’s laugh stopped John in mid-step.


“Dude. No one who sits at the bar ever comes close to getting Daphne in bed.”

John blushed and then breathed in relief as the couple took their margaritas to a table. “I’m just working on my card, man.”

“See you tomorrow, then, and good luck.”

John hurried to grab the last stool, sliding onto it as a guy from the restaurant across the street angled in. He looked at his watch. 4:45. Another fifteen minutes until she starts her shift. Pulling his wallet out of his back pocket, he removed the card. Forty-one punched holes indicated his progress so far. Three marked the high-end tequilas and the times he’d stayed late trying to get Daphne’s attention. They’d talked about where he’d been and all the places she wanted to see. He imagined, for a moment, a picture of them together in front of the pyramids, seated on camels. The way she’d placed her elbows on the bar, her chin resting on her hands, languorously wishing she had the wherewithal to pursue her dreams, had given him hope. The forty bucks which he’d ordinarily put aside toward his next trip represented a way of talking to her more.

“You work here?”

John looked at the guy sitting next to him. His white shirt, rolled up at the wrists, stained red at the left elbow, told John he worked at one of the fancier restaurants just off the Plaza. “Yeah.”

“This tequila thing you got going here is cool, dude. We been talkin’ about it at work, but that chick who works here at night puts the icing on the cake. She seein’ anyone?”

John motioned to the bartender, a new guy who’d only been there a week. “Rick. A Newcastle, please.”

“She’s the shit, ain’t she?”

“Yep.” John fiddled with the card.

“Damn. If I worked here I’d be all over her, man. The way she smiles when she brings your drink. Shit. Makes my fuckin’ balls get hard!”

Rick set the pint of Newcastle down and John gratefully raised it to his lips, stifling his urge to punch the guy. They all said the same thing. Daphne was beautiful, more beautiful than any girl John had ever seen, but he hated the way they talked about her smile. It was more than just ‘making your balls hard.’ Her smile made him feel like he was home.

“Do you want a shot?” Rick asked, looking at John’s card.

“I’ll wait.”

The guy laughed. “You’re just like me, dude.” He pulled his soiled and bent card from his pocket. “Tonight, I’m asking high-end, just so I can see her ass stretch when she reaches up.”

John took a sip of beer, imagining it, and then shook his head. “She’s cool, man. You shouldn’t talk about her like that.”

“Hey!” the guy shouted down the bar. “We gotta lover here!”

A roll of laughter filtered through John’s ears. The guy slid off his bench and rolled his hips and then smacked John on the back. “Give it up, man. She just needs to be told what a man wants and she’ll lap it up.”

John drained his beer and asked for another. The swinging door leading into the bar from the kitchen opened and closed. “She’s better than that, man. Why don’t you go down to The Pole and find someone you deserve?”

“Those whores? Hey! Bartender. Get this guy a shot on me. He’s fuckin’ delusional.”

The door opened and Daphne walked in. John’s eyes locked onto her, the long brown hair he sought to run his fingers through, the lips he yearned to touch, and her eyes…He held his breath.

She winked at him and his heart soared. No one else existed except for her. Voices echoed in his mind, quickly ignored. Even wearing a Blue Corn Café t-shirt and jeans, she looked as if she could walk a model’s runway.

“I’d screw her from here to forever,” the guy said.

John’s left fist smacked into his jaw. His right fist hit the bar, missing the man’s head. The stool’s legs screeched on the floor. John leaned down and hit him again before he tumbled to the floor. Arms wrapped around him, and as they pulled him away from the guy, his eyes found hers. Shame and honor walked their way into his mind, two conflicting emotions raging against the other.

David dragged him outside. “Don’t ever do that again!”

“Did you hear what he said?”

“That doesn’t fucking matter. I should fire your ass. Go home. You have tomorrow off.”

John unlocked his bike and pedaled furiously toward his tiny house, paying no attention to the evening traffic, weaving in and out. Entering the tree-shrouded dirt road leading home, he slowed down. The crunch of gravel beneath the tires reminded him of the crunch of his fist against the guy’s jaw. He slowed and came to a stop. The creek to his left gurgled happily over the stones. The leaves above him rustled. He cradled his arms over the handlebars and rested his forehead against them. An old car passed by, bumping over the washboard road. Its shocks sounded like the way the guy’s stool had squeaked on the floor. Her eyes haunted him. He longed to take back what he’d done, sure that a woman like her would be horrified by his violence, but all he’d wanted was to protect her honor. John set his foot against the pedal and meandered home.

His small house, an old adobe structure that had once been a stable for the house in front, welcomed him as it always did. No matter how many times he’d left it behind, saving his money to spend six months at a time abroad, it was home. He turned the outdoor light on, checked his tomato plants and then entered. One woman had broken his heart here, but those wounds had healed. All that remained of her was the double king-sized bed occupying half the living space.

John chose a John Lee Hooker CD and stepped into the lowered bathroom. He set a fire in the fireplace and turned on the water in the old claw-foot bathtub. With the strains of blues playing in the background, he stripped and settled in the steaming tub. His head lolled back against the enamel edge of the tub and he wondered why he’d set himself up for such failure. Home didn’t lie in a woman’s arms, though he wished it did. The room steamed and he got up a couple of times to add another log to the fire.

The CD ended and a cricket chirped outside. A car passed by, reversed, and came to a stop. Footsteps approached, scuffing through the gravel to his door. A knock sounded.

Coals popped in the fireplace.

John waited and another knock sounded on the door.

“John?” A muffled voice came through the door. “Are you there, John?”

He didn’t answer. His heart’s rapid beating prevented him.

“Your bike is here. I know you’re here.”

John looked desperately for a towel, but he hadn’t brought one into the bathroom.

“I got off work early. I need to talk to you.”

John flung modesty aside, bewildered by Daphne’s presence. His wet footsteps slapped against the floor. He opened the door.

She threw herself at him, and he struggled to keep his footing. Her long brown hair fell on his chest. He pedaled backward, his hands wrapping around her hips. They tumbled onto his bed. She straddled him, her liquid brown eyes glowing with more love than he’d ever imagined.

“You’re all the man I ever wanted.” Her lips pursed, and they kissed. She rose and pulled off her shirt, tossing her hair. “I’ll go wherever you want, John. Wherever we are is home.”

# # #

Coals Popped in the Fireplace by Shea McCandless
originally published in the Winter 2010 print edition



Shea McCandless has been published previously in Jabberwocky 4 Anthology, Alienskin, AbsoluteWrite.com, Mindflights, The Muse Marquee, Pirene’s Fountain, Brazzil, and Shine. He also is the author of Path of the Rose, a middle-eastern themed fantasy novel, published in September 2009 by Black Rose Writing.

For more of Shea's work,
visit his Big Pulp author page


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