Henry waited in the wings.
It was too dark. The lights out on the stage looked like liquid metal. He thought that must be what light reflecting from God’s eyes would look like… a steely flame that draws you to it but won’t ever let you in. Maybe that was the meaning of life, maybe that’s all they were in the end, just moths beating themselves to death against God’s baby blues.
Dean walked up to him and held out his hand. Henry looked at him a moment, then just handed the microphone over without a fight. He didn’t know why he did it, he just did it. Maybe because it was the older Dean this time, the one at the end of his career. Maybe it was because he didn’t deserve to keep it anyway. Maybe he just didn’t care anymore.
“Thanks, pally,” Dean said, toasting him with his drink. His hair glistened with an unnatural blue patina. “See you on the other side of hope, right son?”
Dean threw him a wink.
“Wait!” Henry said as Dean walked away from him, “What does that mean?”
Dean eased out onto the stage. He shook the microphone over his shoulder in salute. Then the spotlight seized him. The band started up with the intro. The audience went wild.
Zoe materialized beside Henry. Her hair was longer than he’d ever seen it. It flowed unfettered over her shoulders and down her breasts. It was nearly at her knees. It was the same steely blue as Dean’s.
Somewhere in the distance, Dean crooned into the microphone. It was Henry’s song. Again. The audience roared. Henry felt like crying.
“I’m supposed to sing it for you,” he said to Zoe.
“You?” she said, laughing, “You’re not even wearing any pants.”
He wasn’t, though he couldn’t say why. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. It was his song to sing to her, not Dean’s, and surely not any of the others’.
“Oh, don’t go pulling the others into this, Henry,” Zoe said sharply, “Be a good boy. Don’t ruin the song for me again.”
“It’s my song, Zoe.”
“I know,” Zoe said, smiling at him, “But Dean sings it so much better, don’t you think? They all did, really. Every one of them.”
How did she know that? She’d never even heard him sing it. “Not properly anyway,” he said to her, “Not with the music.”
“Well, you know what they say, Henry. Some men are singers, and others can’t even find their pants.”
He didn’t understand that. He looked at her. Her hair was bobbed nearly to her ears. She had a black ribbon in it. She was only wearing one shoe. Her exposed toenails were painted red.
It’s not right. The others should never have sung to her. “No one should’ve sung it to you, but me.” It was his song.
“Oh, what do you know?” she said, laughing.
“You should’ve said no, Zoe,” he said. She should’ve just said no. She was married, for Christ’s sake! It was rude to let them sing to her.
“Is it rude to eat when you’re hungry?” she asked him, “Is it rude to diet when you’re fat?”
Was that a riddle?
“I don’t have time for riddles, Henry. It’s the meaning of life. You’d know that if you ever could’ve sung to me.”
Her hair stabbed out from her head in sharp clusters like railroad spikes. “How nineteen-ninety-nine of me,” she said to him, smiling, “Don’t ya think?”
“What?” he said.
“I’m trying to enjoy Dean’s singing, Henry. You’re just getting in the way. You were always getting in the way.”
“You’re my wife.”
“I was the vagina you parked in. I should sue you!”
“I should call my lawyer and take everything you have.”
“You ruined me, Henry!”
Her image abruptly distorted. Her face swelled, growing purple and bloated. Her eyes were larger than they should’ve been, bulging sickeningly from her face. A black and swollen tongue curled out of her mouth like an obscene snake.
Henry backed away. “Zoe,” he said, “I’m… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Want to kiss and make up, Henry?” The words were slurred by that bulging tongue.
She moved slowly toward him. He heard the heel of her one shoe counting off her steps. Clack. Silence. Clack. Silence. A trail of urine glistened behind her.
“You ruined me, Henry.”
Henry backed away. Wake up, he told himself. This is just a damned dream, so wake up. Wake up and walk away.
“It’s all your fault, Henry,” she slurred at him.
He was suddenly in the Cheatin’ Heart again. They were on the dance floor. The jukebox was wailing something about murdering your wife.
Zoe still moved toward him, still reached for him. Eyes the size of oranges and filled with blood locked on his. “Dance with me, Henry,” she whispered around that hideous tongue, “You owe me that much. Just one dance.”
“No,” Henry said, shaking his head, “Please, Zoe. I’m sorry. Please.”
Larry materialized behind her. Her crewcut was black now. “Oh, just kiss her already, you pussy!” she said as she slapped that bat against her hand.
“No,” Henry said, still backing away, “I won’t do it. You leave me alone now. Just go away.”
Zoe limped toward him with Larry right behind her beating that bat manically against her calloused palm. “Just kiss her, you little prick!”
Henry’s back found the wall. There was no more room to retreat. They had him cornered!
And then Alice! She stood directly before him looking up at him with those terrible, wonderful green eyes. She put her hand against his cheek and whispered, “No, Superman. Not Zoe. She’s not allowed here.”
What was Alice doing here? Why was Alice in his dream?
“I’m here to help you bury your dead, Henry.”
Zoe screeched behind her. “It’s all your fault, Henry! You can’t even sing one fucking song! Isn’t that right? You’re not man enough to sing one simple little song!”
“She has to be sung to, Hank,” Larry said, “A pretty woman needs a song.”
Alice gripped Henry’s face with both hands and urged him down toward her. He felt the warmth of her breath on his mouth. “Make her go away, Henry,” she whispered to him.
He didn’t know how.
“You do know how. She’s just a ghost, and she’s not permitted here. This is my world, and I won’t allow her in.” Alice rose up on her toes and kissed him gently on the lips.
“You ruined me, Henry,” Zoe screamed behind her, “You killed me! You made me a monster!”
“You’re a pussy, Hank!” Larry hollered, “You’re a tone-deaf prick!”
Alice still held his face, still smiled that fantastic smile at him. “Forget her, Henry,” she whispered, “She’s dead, and she stinks. It’s time to bury her.”
“I can’t,” whispered, “I don’t know how.” He absolutely didn’t know how.
“Look at me, Henry,” Alice said, “I’m right here right now. Focus on me. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. I’m here with you.”
“Alice?” He wasn’t sure what was happening.
“I’m here with you, Henry. I won’t leave you.”
The room grew darker.
“I’m here, Henry.”
The jukebox stopped.
He couldn’t see her anymore.
“I’m right here, Henry.”
The floor shifted beneath him.
The floor disappeared. He was falling!