How Delmare Wrote his Next

Saloon was a fancy name for the place. Saloon had associations by etymology that suggested class. This was not a class place. The squeak-hinged door had squeaked the same tune for forty years—opening-to-closing, six days a week. (Closed Sundays, except for select parties and football games.) A twenty-four inch, dust-dimmed TV hung from the ceiling in one corner. The jukebox under it still ran on vinyl, and a good portion of the old favorites were scratchy, skip prone, and too sentimental for good thinking. One of the records that still played beginning to end without skipping was “Amazing Grace,” by Elvis. This was not an “Amazing Grace” sort of saloon. There once had been a large print of “La maja desnuda”—the one without clothes, the first one Goya painted—hanging between the squeaking door and the TV. But times had changed and all that remained was a large, faded, rectangular green swath, evidence that the saloon had once had decent, manly decor and been painted green.

“There was, of course, the pool table with faded ball trails in the greenish cloth along the rails, and across the room from it, next to the back door, a card table with a dusty 100 watt bulb hung over it. The back door was locked at all times now. Gambling no longer being a problem with the authorities, it was no longer needed. The bar was across the room from the squeaking door. On the wall behind the bar were shelves with the usual assortment of bottled poison. There was also a refrigerator-freezer that buzzed, hummed, and occasionally chuncked ice into a freezer bin. The bar was still regularly polished by the proprietor, barkeep, bottle washer, sandwich chef, and bouncer, a large unsmiling man by the name of Osborne Frisbeels.

This was a hell of place to write a comeback novel, thought the forgotten western, bodice ripper author, Delmar Swain, but it was where he was. He had awaken one morning, some four weeks before to find that, indeed here is where he was. Thirty years of alcoholic stupor since his last published novel (Saddles Emptied by Gunfire), and he wakes up in a cheap Montana bar that, except for wear and tear and the great green absence of the Goya on the wall, was still the same as when he partied his first legal party.

In four weeks he had written, rewritten, typed and retyped a description of the saloon. But nothing would start from it. He knew the reason why nothing would start; and it depressed him. The big green rectangle on the wall between the TV and the door glared down at him. And it, too, was depressing. He thought about whetting the mind with a good snifter of Hennessy’s. But he knew that was no good. He’d been down that road, and look where it got him. Besides Osborne Frisbeels (whom everyone called either Ozzy or Friz) would not bring him a snifter or a shot, anyway. Friz cooked him breakfast and made him a sandwich for lunch and soup for supper. But he made it clear–Hennessy’s and such were off Delmar’s menu. “I didn’t drag you out of the gutter and buy you a new (well used) typewriter to feed you whiskey,” Friz told him.

The reason nothing would start is that the description of the saloon was not a good description to start the sort of pot-boiler, lay-lady-lay novel that made Delmar his squalid reputation and the small fortune that he had managed to drink to zilch. This depressed Delmar because he did not want to write another Marty McSwain, shoot-em-up, lay-the-lady novel. It depressed him because he did not want to admit that such a piece is all he had in him. He stared at the green patch between the TV and the door. It gazed blankly back at him.

Osborne Frisbeel did not like the beginning of Delmar’s new novel. “There’s no women, and no .45s, and nothing happening,” he said. When he brought Delmar his lunch he peered over his shoulder at the paper flopping out the top of the typewriter. “You need righteous whores,” he said. “You need angry guns a blazing, you need a good old window busting, barroom brawl,” he said.

“Thanks,” Delmar said.

“I mean it, Del. You need something to happen.”

Finally, one day. Exasperated beyond all composure, Friz said the one thing that really helped. “For Christ’s sake, Del, put the picture back on the goddamned wall. I can’t do it because of family values and women do not approve. But put the picture back on the goddamned wall.”

That was it. That is what started Delmar Swain’s comeback. He put the Goya back on the wall. He rolled a new sheet of paper into the typewriter and put the picture back on the wall. He pecked out:

A large print of “La maja desnuda”—the one without clothes, the first one Goya painted—hung on the wall between the double swinging barroom doors and the TV.

“Marty McSwain, sipping a whiskey neat, one elbow propped on the bar, one arm slung around the waist of Rose Lastner, was admiring the artistry of the picture, when he heard the familiar cocking of a .45 revolver, and then his friend, Friz saying, “You put a hole in that picture, and you are a dead man.

Thus began Delmar Swain’s comeback novel, The Faded Roses at Apache Springs. Unfortunately, the editor removed the first paragraph. But even without “the comely nude”, Netflix bought the movie rights. And Delmar was flush again.

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