Jacky says the perfect country song has to be about a truck and someone who’s gotten hurt. It has to have at least one line about beer and talk about the current lives of old high-school friends. “A real country song has to be sad,” he says. He says that’s the tinge that makes it a country song. “The twang is secondary to the twinge,” he says.
He says all of this over another Budweiser, over another Marlboro, over the eclectic mix of Jenny’s playlist. Tonight, she’s playing d.j., progressing almost effortlessly from Johnny Cash to Dead Can Dance. I can’t bring myself to tell him that I don’t really listen to country anymore, that it’s one of the things I have given up.
He picks up his guitar, strums quietly along with, quietly under Jenny’s stereo. He’s been working all night on a song tentatively titled “Leaving for Baltimore,” a not-so-subtle tribute to his latest ex.
“Pretty ironic, then.” I say, more to break the silence than anything.
“What is?” He doesn’t look up from his fingers slipping over the strings.
“Us.” I say. “Tonight. Being back here for the reunion, having a couple of beers. Your ex. You’ve got the perfect country song right here.” I take another pull off of the can of Budweiser, cringe and swallow.
“Nah,” He mutters. “All that reunion crap’s overdone. The perfect country song has to have a good story. Every writer’s written a shitty reunion story. It’s too melodramatic. You need something else, some other real tension.”
I lean back, watch the hairs on his forearms in the breeze from Jenny’s AC, watch his fingers move so airily over the strings.
“Regardless of whether it’s the perfect country song or not,” Jenny pipes in as she brings three more beers from her fridge, “I’m glad you both came back for this. It’s good to see the two of you in the same town again.” She smiles, throws her arm around me, gives me a squeeze and a quick look.
“Me, too.” I say. “Me too. It’s nice. It’s been a really long time.”