Fiction - The Wormwood Collective, Absinthe Literary Review

In that place on the corner of First and Main
a short by Karen Ashburner

I saw you leaning into my view, eyeing the clock on the wall behind the bar and flipping your wrist, just to check, just to make sure that all was right and I was still there, still looking back in your direction.

I felt your hand, felt your palm glide and your fingers search for the small of my back, that spot just under the cotton of my shirt as you walked by, holding the drink you bought for that girl, the skinny one with the nails and the hair and the dress, the black dress I would never wear because it dips too low and clings too tightly to hips that are so much smaller than my own.
And I know what youíll say, since itís all the same and Iíve heard it before, not from you but from someone just like, who sat on that very stool, and wrapped the same charm in the same swollen words that he would never think to say to the girl who came on his arm, the one who left in a hurry, down the stairs, banging the door against the wall.

Itís all so easy, donít you think?

To wait for the old man next to me to finish his beer and stumble off, since heíll be gone too long and need help telling the skirts from the pants on the old door that too many drunks have scratched their names into as they waited to pee, not noticing the spot on their crotch as they walked away, trying too hard to prove that theyíre fine to drive and not too drunk to bring someone home and make the bed shake.

        And youíll scoot over, sly and smooth, like youíve practiced at home in the corner of your basement at the portable bar your dad made out of plywood and black plastic veneer. The same bar where he sat drinking too many too-dry martinis with too many olives and dreamed of the pool table he would never own, back when he was single, right after the divorce, when he still cared about the half naked women in string bikinis parading by his sliding glass doors at his new condo complex, the one that put up the sign on Highway 11 in the summer of Ď76.
        Stay single, it said. Stay with us.
Then Iíll look over, casual at first, like I donít really know, but Iíll give you that smile, the one my mother taught me years ago. And youíll say ďHey,Ē just to get the ball rolling and Iíll say ďHeyĒ back, and just for a second, I will lose that line of my near perfect vision, so that all I see is your nose and mouth when I look at your eyes, and your eyes and ears when I look at your mouth.
        And then weíll talk, about the world in general and you in particular and how Iím the only one who seems to understand. And Iíll ask about her, like I donít really care, but you know the truth and so do I because itís already started. And she knows it, like me, hates it, like me, struggles like me to make you look as she leans over himóa strange man to her, a best friend to you, the friend who came along to help blow out your candles, to handle your girl and run his hand up her waist when you found the one who would do for the night.
        Then Iíll see you next month in the gym on my street and Iíll want to say ďHeyĒ and youíll want to ignore, just enough to make me notice, while you lift and you curl, make your smooth palms rough, make it look like you work. All in an effort to attract a girl while you step, step, step on a never-ending staircase, mechanical and timed, all drunk with sweat, just like you were on the night I said yes.


© 2002 Karen Ashburner

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