Dan started dating Hannah around the same time he brought home that gorilla billboard topper. It was a huge plywood cutout painted like the top half of the ape's head, the eyes peering down and to the side so you’d check out the season’s deals at the county zoo. We leaned it against the house—this dumpy place overlooking a one-way street with lots of traffic—and people driving by would tap their brakes and stare. Hannah hated that gorilla, said it made her feel sad somehow, but Dan insisted we should be proud of what we’d done, that years later we’d be remembered fondly. What do you think you’ve done? Hannah asked, and Dan just shook his head, marched her outside and cleared away the leaves and trash that'd gathered around its nose so Hannah could see for herself exactly what.
When Dan broke up with Hannah that winter, it was during one of the worst snowstorms Kansas ever saw. He unburdened himself about his slip of composure (getting a handjob in the back office of the bar his girlfriend manages isn’t a slip, Hannah noted, and power to her) while outside our cars were buried in snow. When Hannah pulled open the door to march out on Dan, she had to lean into the wind and only made it a few steps into the yard before realizing what she’d gotten herself into. We grabbed her by the armpits and hoisted her out with a one, two, three, maneuver. It made me think: this is exactly what Channel 12 has a hard-on for, like maybe we should call them up and stage it again. But Hannah was livid and stormed off to the bathroom to sit on the toilet until she got bored, then down to the basement until she finally came up shivering and saying nothing except Don’t you look at me.
We’re talking two days of this. Snowed in. Cabin fever. I mean, it was Tuesday and no one even thought about going in to work. Dan insisted we pull the gorilla head inside at the start of the storm, and it took up the better half of the kitchen. Dan and I sat there drinking beers (the kitchen slanted horribly toward one wall, enough where you could see your drink’s relation to the earth) and staring at the gorilla’s eyes until we were hammered. And this is how I got involved, really. When I get drunk I want everyone to be happy, like I need it for myself somehow. I talked Dan into offering a truce and we went upstairs to forge a deal.
We knocked on her door and got the GO AWAY, but Dan kept it cool. Said, Look, just come and drink with us. Here we all are, so we might as well have a drink. That sort of thing. Hannah came back with, You know I don’t drink that shit Busch, and Dan said, I know. I know, baby. Said he didn’t know why he drank it either, that it was a big fault of his and he was willing to acknowledge it. Dan asked if we got her a bottle of wine would she please drink with us? Hannah was up for this, so we were out the door and into the snow.
Where the hell are we supposed to go now? I asked. Dan just said, Shut up and help me and we trudged through snow drifts. In a whiteout, the weatherman had said, it’s not even safe to go into the yard because you can lose track of the front door. I followed Dan, stepping into his footprints, looking up only for a second until my eyes stung. Come on, Dan said, help me clear off this trunk and we wiped away thick blocks of snow until we could open it up. Inside, like a magic trick, was a bottle of red.
Hannah couldn’t believe it either and she refused to open the bedroom door. Dan said listen and shook the bottle by the keyhole, but it hardly made a noise. So we had to take a picture and text it to her. Holy shit, Hannah said and came out happy and even hugged Dan. Soon we were all slanted in the kitchen, Hannah’s head leaned on Dan’s shoulder.
It doesn’t make me feel bad anymore, Hannah said looking at the gorilla. He’s just a lonely little shit. This made Dan happy, like she’d finally seen what he was getting at that whole time. We smiled at the angle of the wine in Hannah’s mason jar, the compressor of the fridge sending little waves across its surface, and when it got low Dan would top it off and say, Drink up. Drink up. I don’t want anything left by the time the sun comes up.
ANDREW BALES' stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Gargoyle, Juked, New Delta Review, Midwestern Gothic, and other publications. He lives in Wichita and serves as an Associate Editor of NANO Fiction and Assistant Editor for American Short Fiction.