The Gulf Coast

But I didn’t go straight to Poscataw. I’d intended to just spend a few days at a casino in Biloxi but somehow I was now face-to-face with a lion.

Lions weren’t indigenous to Mississippi, or so I’d been told.  This particular lion seemed right at home. With calm dark eyes he surveyed the dinging casino to one side and the vacant reception and concierge desk to the other.  Then he sat down on the white marble floor and began to lick between the pads of his wide paw. He had a proud gold mane and a flickering tail.

I sat at the bar alone, waiting for my date.  I shouldn’t have been surprised that she’d stood me up since she’d pepper-sprayed me the night before.  And I couldn’t deny that the mysterious older woman’s absence simplified my life.  Helen knew I was up to no good down in Biloxi.

Brad the too-cool bartender remained oblivious to the eight-hundred-pound cat now seated in the lobby.   Brad continued to flirt with Bellyburst the off-duty waitress.  The two of them had been actively ignoring me for the last ten minutes, even though I was the only other person seated at the bar.  A half-dozen scattered casino-goers sat at round tables, bent over cocktails.  None of them seemed to notice the lion either.  A more considerate citizen would have warned the unsuspecting casino denizens about the lion but I figured it would be a lot more interesting to wait and see what happened next.  I sipped on my forth manhattan and waited for the action to pick up.

With some contempt I watched the flirting couple and waited for them to notice the lion.  Brad cooed sweet nothings and flexed his right bicep, which stretched the sleeve of his semi-transparent black t-shirt.  Bellyburst’s crop-top rode up on her midsection and revealed the namesake bursting-sun tattoo just below her bellybutton.  Her faint soprano laugh drew the eye of the lion, who had finished cleaning the bottom of his paw.

I’d resigned myself to Brad and Bellyburst’s company because they were the only two people I’d met in Biloxi (other than the pepper-spray matron who’d just stood me up (whose name I had yet to ascertain)).  I was a stranger in Mississippi. 

I’d spent the last week bingeing on mindless, casino-fed debauchery. Ever since I’d up and left California without telling anyone (Helen was a little peaved about that).  I had a mission (in name, at least): to go to Poscataw County and unearth the buried truth about my father and the rest of the Calverts. I was about ready to get on with that mission (about being the operative term). My reasoning for going to Biloxi before Poscataw had been: if you’re not ready to begin your mission, you should go to the coast for a period of convalescence. And here I was on the coast, convalescing.

The dark bar adjoined the casino’s well-lit lobby.  Looking out from the dim recesses of my inebriation I saw the lion was on the move and headed in our direction.  I wondered if the dim light in the bar reminded the lion of a veldt shade tree—a perfect place for a nap. 

We all ought to try a bit harder to be like lions, I thought to myself.  Eat, shit, sleep, hunt—I could use that kind of simplicity in my life. 

‘What did you say?’  This was the first time Brad had acknowledged me all night.  He leaned over the bar in my direction, close enough that I smelled his cologne. 

‘I didn’t know I spoke aloud,’ I said.  I pointed toward the lobby and the lion.  ‘Take a look at that.  He’s coming this way.’

Brad turned, saw, and oh-fucked.  Bellyburst harmonized with a dog-whistle-pitched scream.  The rest of the bar erupted.  A wailing patron doused her tabletop candle with a splash of Tangueray and tonic.  A man in a three-piece suit shoved his date to the floor as he struggled for the exit.  Some kid about my age who’d been counting his chips at a round cocktail table knocked his net-worth to the floor in a rush to escape.  I smiled.  This was just the kind of empirical certainty I’d been waiting for.

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