Building a Desert

*With still some editing to go, I offer this short story.  A hipster romance of sorts.  Feel free to comment.

1

She wakes up the next day (or the same day, considering she doesn’t remember much after 2:30 AM and likely didn’t pass out until around 4 AM or so).  She stares at the ceiling fan rotating languidly above her.  She feels fair to okay, still mildly drunk.  There are a few moments of strained recollection and concentration before she realizes the ceiling fan rotating above her is not her ceiling fan.  Neither is this her bed.  Nor her nightstand.  Though the goldfish-orange paint on a wall and the tacky thriftstore decor matches that of her own apartment, she concludes this is not her apartment.  Neither is the shirt she is wearing.  Nor the pants.

There is another body laying adjacent to and positioned away from hers. Covered by a thin tee-shirt, the shoulders are broad, most likely a man’s, but not so broad that it couldn’t be a woman’s. The hair is long, black, curly, appears shaved on one side.  The breathing patterns are non-gendered. Either possibility cuts a pang down her spine.
She is resolved, after watching the ceiling fan spin and spin and spin, to leave the bed, without disturbing the body sleeping adjacent to hers.  She wants to avoid any awkward interaction inevitably leading to other obligations, such as breakfast.  Breakfast would be terrible.  They would invariably have to pretend to know each other more than they actually do, which isn’t at all.

Carefully, she pulls her feet from beneath the covers, gently places them on the floor.  Looking around she sees the kitchen unseparated from the sleeping area, and no discernible dining area. There’s a couch that seems out of place.  Standing, blood drains quickly from her head.  She’s dizzy, but she avoids falling back onto the bed.  Clothes, mostly men’s, are strewn about everywhere.  A dresser is open, but empty.  From where she stands, she locates her own clothes in a neat pile near the door, neatly folded.  She steps over to the various clothing piles, holding the pants she is currently wearing from falling down with one hand, while the other reaches out to stabilize herself against walls or furniture.  At the door,  she disrobes from the oversized clothes.  She discovers herself wearing a pair of men’s boxer-briefs.  Looking over the landscape, the peaks and valleys on the floor, she resolves that it would be impossible to find her own underwear without rousing the body still asleep.  She decides to keep the boxer-briefs.  They seem clean enough.  She pulls her own clothes on.

Her bag lays nearby against a wall.  She picks it up and rifles through it.  She seems to have everything: her pocketbook,  a book of short stories by Flannery O’Conner, Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada by Pablo Neruda, some wayward papers that have become bent and torn in negligence, and a small half-full plastic flask of Sonny Brooks.  Noting the death in her mouth, she quickly takes a pull from the flask. She turns toward the door.

Before opening the door, she notices a shelf containing a small collection books.  She glances over them, as she is wont to do in unfamiliar apartments. She want to know whether or not she will regret this sleepover on an intellectual level, or for an entirely different reason.  A few books of poetry.  Plaith, Sexton, Rich.  This is good. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Regret regret regret.  Call Me Ishmael.  Regret.  David Foster Wallace.  A little redeeming, though up in the air, given the previous selections.  Toni Morrison.  Margaret Atwood.  Good.  Zultanski.  Uncertain. A toss up.

Opening the door like a vault wired to explosives, she steps gingerly into a damp, dimly lit, concrete hallway with various corners.  Closing the door behind her, a cool draft blows against her bare neck, like breath.  Somewhere out of sight, a heater roars to life.  After a couple of wrong turns, she finally locates the uneven worn steps that lead up to a door. She climbs the stairs from the basement, pushes open the security door to find her bike, locked to a handrail.

2

Jon comes out of the coffee shop with two cups, places one on the table for Shane.  Shane, takes it, thanking Jon.  Jon drags a chair closer to the table and sits, places his coffee on the table.  He puts on a pair of sunglasses that had been suspended from his shirt.

”So, did you guys hook up?” Jon asks as he pulls a pouch of rolling tobacco out of his cardigan.

”Which guys.  With who?” Shane replies.

“You and the girl who left the bar with you.” says Jon, licking the paper, tightening the cigarette.  He pulls out a lighter and lights it.

“So I did leave with someone last night.  Who was it?”  Shane says, readjusts his sunglasses, and takes a sip of his coffee.

“Some girl, I don’t know.  She seemed pretty drunk, but then again, so did you,” Jon says, inhales.

“Was it someone you’ve seen before?”

“It was pretty amazing to watch, you were both, like, stumbling into each other.  You’d wobble a little bit, stumble into her, and then you’d be stable but then she’d start to wobble.”

“What did she look like?” Shane says, taking another sip.
“Like those suspended balls on strings, you know, that knock into each other, you know?” says Jon, readjusting his position.

“Newton’s cradle,” says Shane.  “But, I mean, did she have nice hair?” Shane says, returning to the subject at hand.

“You don’t remember anything about her?” Jon says, lifting the cigarette to his mouth.
“No, I can’t remember anything after leaving Linda’s apartment to go to the bar.”

“How is Linda?” Jon says, smoke exiting his mouth as he speaks.

“Where did we go when we left the bar?”

“I think you just walked home, but I don’t know, I didn’t follow you.”

“My clothes all over my apartment this morning.”

“You mean this afternoon? Because you didn’t wake up in the morning,” Jon says, smiling.

“You know what I mean.”

“Were they all your clothes?”
“Yeah, all my clothes.  When I left my apartment last night, everything was put away and when I woke up this morning, all my clothes are everywhere,” says Shane, indicating “everywhere” with his hands.
“Was anything missing?”

“Not that I can think of.  And I was also wearing panties.”

“What?” Jon says, removing his sunglasses.

“I was wearing woman’s underwear.”

“What kind of underwear?”
“I told you, panties.” says Shane, trying to indicate the shape of panties with his hands.

“Yeah, but were they like, lacy or a g-string?”

“They were kind of lacy on the top, but they weren’t, you know, sexy.”

“Do you have them with you?” Asks Jon, smoking.

“Why would I bring them with me?” says Shane, drinking from his coffee.

“Because you’re a pervert or something, I don’t know about your private life.”

“Christ, no, I didn’t bring them with me.”

“So you were probably both naked at one point.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think anything happened.”

“How do you know if you can’t remember anything?”

“Because.  There weren’t any condoms or anything lying around.”

“That doesn’t mean nothing happened.”

“And I wasn’t depressed.”

“What?” says Jon, flicking the ashes of his cigarette away from him.
“Usually I’m depressed after I have sex.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.  I feel empty inside.  That’s why I had to break up with Lynds.”

“Because you got depressed after sex?”

“She thought the sobbing was annoying.  The better the sex the sadder I get.”

“Okay, but if you don’t remember actually having sex, then how would you be sad?”

“My cheeks weren’t sticky, you know?  How your cheeks get after crying?  They’re sort of sticky?”

“I haven’t cried for at least a decade,” says Jon, flicking his cigarette into the street.

3

Shane wakes up staring at the spinning ceiling fan.  A few moments pass for him to realize where he is.  His bedroom, or, rather, his studio.  His eyes start to focus.  After several minutes of staring at the ceiling fan, he resolves to stand up out of the bed, against the wishes of his body and mind.  Slowly, pushing against the resistance of the oncoming hangover, he stands, stretches.  He walks, slumped over, counting the floor tiles, as he usually does when regretting certain decisions of the previous evening…7, 8, 9, 10.  He reaches to turn on the faucet.  Instead of a faucet, he finds a lamp.  Believing that the lamp is part of a half-dream-imagination, he rotates the lamp, expecting a gush of water to pour into the sink.  The sink, though, seems to be more like the wooden top of a nightstand.  When water doesn’t start pouring, he reevaluates his surroundings.  He looks up and around. He is comforted by the salamander-orange of his walls, but everything is out of place.    The bedsheets are the same but the bed is slightly different.  The décor is similar to his, but different.  The window isn’t as high up as it’s supposed to be, and there is sky outside rather than ground.  This is someone else’s apartment.

Realizing this is someone else’s apartment, he immediately becomes aware of his nakedness, or near-nakedness.  His socks are still on, and he is wearing boxer-briefs.  He looks around for his clothes, but doesn’t find them on the floor, which is cluttered with woman’s clothing.  He notices some rises and valleys in the bedsheets indicating another body, but the face is turned away.  He attempts to recall the events of the previous night.  He went to the bar, then he can’t remember, and that was his night.  There are flashes of detail, but no one specifically comes to mind as the person he left with.

Should I wake up whoever and ask what happened? he thinks to himself.  Probably best not to.  This person might actually remember what happened, which could be worse than not knowing what happened. What if this person says he is an idiot, or that he was droning on about how useless his degree is, how he can’t stand his coworkers, or that he simply wouldn’t stop talking?  What if this person tells him that he was physically inadequate, couldn’t perform, or something else humiliating if they had attempted to have sex.  There is a huge block of memory that he is missing that this person could have possession of it. He decides against rousing the body from slumber and continue the search for his clothing.

Leaving the bedroom, he walks through a kitchen, and into a living room.  This place is a mansion compared to his studio.  He finds his clothes neatly folded next to a couch.  He pulls them on, in a hurry, putting his shirt on inside-out, nearly tripping as he forces his legs into his jeans.  He puts on his penny loafers.  Checks for his wallet, his keys, anything else he came with?  He walks over to the door, pauses at the bookcase.  Some poetry, okay.  Books on performance.  Russian authors.  More Ayn Rand than he is comfortable with.  Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison.  House of Leaves.  Okay, the Rand may be forgiven.

He hears stirring from the bedroom, a rustling of sheets.  He opens the door, steps through, and closes it softly behind him.

 

4

June and Michelle order coffee, sit down outside.

“I think I might be sleeping with a ghost.”

“What are you talking about?” Michelle asks.

“I woke up, and I think I slept with somebody, but no one was in the apartment.”

“You had six shots of tequila last night.”

“Does that seem excessive?”

“It really depends on what your goals are,” Michelle says. “There was that one guy last night, are you sure nothing happened with him?” she asks.

“I’m not exactly sure which guy you are referring to,” June says, lifting her coffee to her lips.

“The fucking idiot who stole the beer from from the Walgreens,” says Michele, pulling a pack of cigarettes from her bag.

“Can you be more specific?”

“There was only one guy who stole beer from the Walgreens.”

“I mean, was it that guy wearing the hat with all the stickers on it that kept trying to buy me drinks?” June asks, taking, indicating a hat with her hand.

“No, some other guy.  He was that Dr. Who looking guy, except drunker,” Michelle says. “I mean, he was funny, but he kept trying to break things,” says Michele, pulling a cigarette and light from the pack, and placing the pack back into her bag.

“Was it the guy I left with last week?”

“I didn’t hang out with you last week, so I have no idea.”

“Yeah, I woke up in someone’s apartment, I think it was a guy’s, and I was wearing his underwear, but I don’t think we had sex.”

“What do you think happened?” Michele says, lighting her cigarette.

“I think we might have been trying on each other’s clothes. Can I have a drag?”

Michele starts to laugh, causing her to cough, smoke bursting from her mouth with each cough. “Seriously?” she manages to say between coughs.

“Honestly, I don’t remember anything after last call.”

“That might be the ghost you’re sleeping with,” Michelle says recovering.  “I thought you quit.”

“I know, I just want one drag,” says June, taking a drag off the cigarette and handing it back to Michele.  “I liked it more when he didn’t actually exist.  Like, when he was an ephemeral spirit.”

“You could still be fucking a ghost, though.  Just because a dude stayed at your house does not automatically mean you didn’t have sex with a ghost.”

“Right.”

“That’s logic right there.  Affirming the consequent.”

“So, logically, I’m still sleeping with a ghost.”

“Yes,” Michelle says, lifting her coffee to her mouth.

“But I don’t think there was any sex.”

“What makes you think there wasn’t any sex?”

“Because, I don’t know, all my clothes were on and there weren’t any condoms or any post coital odors or anything.”

“Post coital sounds like a curling iron.”

“You know what I mean?  There was no soreness, or anything.  So I don’t think there was any sex.”

“Of course,” Michelle says, “if you had sex with a ghost, there wouldn’t by any of that, you know?”

June picks up her coffee, but holds it, stares at it.  Without taking a sip, she places it down on the table in front of her.  She looks at her nails, ravenously bitten to the nub.  She looks up, just over Michelle’s head, as though searching for an airplane.

5

She wakes up the following week in the unfamiliar studio apartment.  She is not surprised.  She had, in fact, anticipated this outcome to her evening at the Y Bar.

The first occurrence was a fluke.  While drinking at a friend’s house, she became impatient with how slowly the shots of Jameson were effecting her, so she poured shot after shot into her mouth.  Upon finally leaving the apartment she had been at, she began to feel the effects of the first shot and her cheeks felt warm.  When they reached the Y Bar, the second shot began to kick in, whereupon she purchased another shot and a beer.  As she threw back the shot she had just purchased, the third shot (shot being shorthand for simply grabbing the bottle and pouring what approximated, in her mind, as a shot, but was in reality, probably equivalent to three shots) began to kick in.  By the time the she finished her beer, the fourth shot began to compound with the first three shots, and she could tell she was probably going under. Her speech began to slur, her sentences became one long rambling word, and laughing when she couldn’t talk.  As she vomited into the filthy toilet of the Y Bar bathroom, the 7th shot was squeezing its way past the blood-brain barrier.  By the time the purchased shot at the bar kicked in, he was already past any prospect of hope of remembering anything for the rest of the night.  Realistically, the effects of the last shot would still be lingering as she awoke in a stranger’s bed the next morning.

This time, her obliteration had been planned to recreate the scenario of the previous nights.  She had intended to remain conscious enough to actually meet the person with whom she had spent more intimate time with than any other person in her life in recent memory.  Alas, she was unable to keep her shit together, and upon arriving to Y Bar, her impatience (and nervousness) led to pouring round after round into her mouth.  That, combined with poor nutrition, quickly pushed her past the point of remembrance.  Now, she’s here, surrounded by walls eerily painted the same Goldfish Orange as her own walls, a ceiling fan, and a sleeping body turned away from her.

The thought of reaching out and touching the body crosses her mind.  She could reach out and touch the shoulder, roll him over without waking him, just to see his face.  Within this entity, after all, contained a knowledge about herself that she does not possess, namely who she is in these stupors, if  she charming or uncouth.  Is she someone she would want to know.  What kind of person is attracted to the kind of person she is when she is in these states?  What if he is a terrible person himself?  This other body is a witness to her body in moments of unrememberance.  If her body is contained in this body, to touch him would be touching herself. She resists.  Does she want to know herself?  What if, in contrast, this person is contained in her?  What if they were both just black out drunk?  What kind of person is drawn to someone who is black out drunk?

As she swings her legs from the bed, she find her socks on, and wearing her own underwear, thankfully.  Also, the tampon she uses to absorb monthly discharges of blood and mucosal tissue from the uterus and vagina is still in place, decreasing the chance of intercourse quite considerably.  The floor is not littered with clothes as she remembers, and is remarkably similar to her own floor.  She searches and finds her clothes, again, in a neatly folded pile near the door.  She dresses, runs her fingers through her hair to look somewhat presentable.  Upon picking up her bag, it catches on an edge, overturns.  All the contents tumble onto the floor.  The sound of the falling contents causes movement from the bed.  She scrambles to shove everything back into the bag, but the body in the bed keeps moving.  Hastily, she opens the door and slips through before the body can turn over and see her.

6

He wakes up to the closing of door. He inspects his surroundings to make sure this is his studio and not the behemoth one-bedroom he found himself on a previous night.  The wall is the same color, the window is in the right place, the sink is where it should be.

He has the sense that someone had just been there.  The sheets next to him are disturbed as though someone had just left the bed.  A corner thrown to the side.  He rises to see if there is anybody else in the studio but there is nothing, just still air.  He rises from the bed, does his floorboard counting to the sink.  He makes sure it is a sink this time, relieved that water is dispensing as it should be.  He gathers water in his hands, pushes it against his face.  He turns off the faucet, and walks to the door leading into the hallway.  He wants to open the door, check to see if there is body leaving his apartment, but he isn’t wearing much clothes, and he is self-conscious about his body, so he decides against it.  He finds a book on the ground at the doorway.  He picks it up.  Must be one of Jon’s, or it could be Linda’s.  Without looking at what it is, he places it on the bookshelf to join all the other books people have left behind.

7

“I have a huge favor to ask you,” says June/Shane walking up to the outdoor table Michele/Jon is sitting at..

“What is it,” says Michele/Jon say lackadaisically, as though the effort to say the words is too much, eyes hiding behind large sunglasses.

“I need you to come to the Y Bar with me and watch me from a distance and see who I leave with.” June/Shane says, still without sitting down.

“Why don’t you just remember who you leave with?”

“No, because I won’t remember.  I think I have to be blackout drunk for it to happen again.”

“That sounds a little defeatist,” says Michele/Jon.

“I don’t think it’ll happen if I’m sober.  I think I have to be drunk, recreate the scenario, and you stand a little bit away from me and watch.”

“I don’t really want to go to bar to watch you get drunk,” says Michele/Jon as she/he pulls a cigarette from a pack/rolls a cigarette on his lap.

“No, you’d be watching to see who I keep leaving with,” says June/Shane, placing her/his arms on the table, leaning forward.

“Um.”

“What?”

“Okay, maybe.”

“What do you mean maybe?”

“I don’t want to watch you get drunk and then have drunk sex with another drunk person,” says Michele/Jon as she/he puts the cigarette to her mouth/licks the paper, tightening the tobacco, and placing the cigarette in his mouth.

“Nobody said we’re having sex.  I don’t know if there’s any sex.  With as drunk as I get, I doubt there’s any sex at all,” says June/Shane, becoming very expressive with hands.

“You wake up naked…”

“Not every time,” says June/Shane.

“…or not wearing your own clothes, I mean, what else would you do naked?” asks Michele/Jon, lighting the cigarette.

“Honestly?”

“No. Not honestly,” Michele/Jon say, exhaling the smoke.

“We could just be taking off our clothes and talking about our feelings.”

(Still clasping the cigarette, Michele/Jon puts both palms to her/his face, pushing the glasses out of the way, rubbing her/his eyes as though the eyes are a large scratch-off lotto ticket.)

“Maybe we get naked and do jumping jacks.”

(Still rubbing his/her eyes, there’s the slightest hope that beneath the silvery layer, this lottery ticket, this one is a winner.)

“Maybe, we get naked and use our bodies as instruments to make body music.”

(Blank stare.  The lotto ticket is worthless.)

“Maybe,” says Michele/Jon, hoping to cease the string of words coming out of June’s/Shane’s mouth, “while your clothed, you both talk about how funny it would to get naked and pass out so that in the morning you would wake up and wonder if you had sex with each other.”

“That sounds dumb.”

“But you were both so drunk into oblivion before leaving the bar, it would be impossible to ever remember if the two of you ever copulated.”

“Super dumb.”

“But you are so conscious of the fact that that you are both past the point of remembering anything that when you talk about how funny it would be to get naked, the proposition becomes serious, somewhat sad, beyond the point of a joke, and now a social experiment.”

“Ridiculous.”

“Maybe you’re both so lonely but unable to feel any affection for each other because you are so drunk you can’t speak and your body is numb, that you both tacitly agree to disrobe and lie naked next to each other.  And you keep doing this, week after week after week.”

Pause.

“And now you want to bring me into this,” she/he says, leaning back, taking a drag.  “This pathetic, what, this pathetic…”

“Romance?

“Not a romance.”

“I’ll just ask Linda if she can do it.”

“No, I’ll do it.”

“Thank you so much,” June/Shane say, and walk away.

8

June wakes up.  The familiar ceiling fan is not hers.  The same bed sheets, not hers.  The same goldfish-orange, but, perhaps a slight shade different, a little brighter?  She likes it more than her own. She does not have an urge to leave immediately this time.  She wants to stay a little longer.  A body in the bed, also not hers.  The hair, from what she can perceive for her particular angle, is dark, short, curly, shaved on one side.

Given the recollections that now emerge through the static of last night, she has no idea who the person next to her might be. She spoke with several women and men over the course of the evening, a few with whom she exchanged explicit innuendo.  Her final memory before everything completely fades out, is of tugging on the inseam of a man’s pants for “dick inspection.”

She talked to one man who had short black hair similar to the hair she was lying next to.  He accidentally bumped into her, or she into him, on the narrow patio that made occasional abrupt physical intrusions inevitable. He only spoke with her briefly, in mangled, elementary French. She responded in Spanish.  Neither understood each other, but they continued as though they could.  There was mock-laughter at feigned jokes, and then actual laughter at the absurdity of the exchange.  He kept repeating, “Vous etes belle,” over and over in different intonations, occasionally guffawing in a parody of a Frenchman.  She responded in strings of Spanish phrases, mostly insulting or mocking him, knowing how unlikely he would understand.  They continued long after the humor had expired, which itself was humorous.  Mid conversation, she told him to stay where he was, abruptly turned away.  She pushed herself through the crowd towards the entrance.  Inside the bar she continued to push through the crowd, avoiding eye-contact or any prompts to pause, until she was at the bar ordering two shots of well-tequila.  Once poured, she began her journey out of the bar, towards the patio, carefully weaving around flailing drunk bodies, holding the shots safely aloft, as though holding the last embryos of an endangered species.

She found him, standing where he was when she left him.  “Salut,” she said, placing the shot in his free hand. He took it, looking into her eyes.  “Merci, beaucoup,” he replied, and they clinked the shotglasses together before throwing the cheap, burning liquid at the back of their throats.  After this, she remembers that they might have improvised a tango on the crowded patio, her leading, he stumbling, swerving and bumping into other patrons, who were either repulsed or in awe.  For a stumbler, the man wasn’t bad.  But this could merely be her dream-conscience still active in her wake-conscience.  The only words of English she could definitely remember the man saying were “My apologies. I highly doubt that I am going to remember anything after this shot.”  To which she responded, “That’s okay, me neither.”

Now, lying here, next to the body with short, dark hair, she reflects on the man last night. She recalls further interaction with him, but she’s uncertain whether these memories are fabricated out of optimism or if they actually occurred.  She grows increasingly frustrated with discarded reminiscences, until the idea dawns on her: she could reach over and touch his shoulder. She could shake the body awake, nudge it enough that the body to rolls over.  She could, at last, look upon the face.  What a brilliant idea!

With some effort, supine, she rises upon her elbows.  Slowly, she twists her torso towards him, rising and pivoting on her right arm, careful not to disturb the springs of the mattress too much. The bed sinks beneath the pressure caused by her arm, but the body does not move. Her left arm does not move.  She looks over at the body, motionless.  She rises on her right arm, the sheets move lower down her torso, and also reveals the torso of the adjacent body.  From what he can see, the back, the neck, the body is slender, lissome.  She would say that it looks almost fragile, like a snowglobe.  Minutes pass.

She moves her left arm now, slow, towards the the shoulder.  The breathing of the body is barely perceptible, the back rising and falling, inflating and deflating.  She moves a little more, extending her arm, adjusting the pivot of her body. Her heart beats like a loose sail in a storm. A tiny panic overcomes her.  She extends the reach of her left arm further towards the shoulder, flexes her oblique in the strain to reach. He inhales.  She reaches.  He sleeps. She reaches.  Now, her hand hovers, a hair’s breadth away from the skin of his shoulder.  She is overwhelmed with a thought that the boundaries between herself and his body are more defined than ever in the moment before she touches him.  She feels far away,  she feels detached from herself, like a parachutist leaping from a plane without a parachute.  She can feel his body heat against her fingertips, but does not touch him.

Quickly, she withdraws her hand.  She rolls her body in the opposite direction.  She moves her feet from beneath the sheets to the floor.  Her socks still on.  She is wearing his underwear, again.  She is slightly disoriented, though, now familiar with the surroundings.  She walks, stealthily, hastily, through the studio.  Her clothes are folded at the door.  She pauses at the bookcase, and glances over the selections. She wonders if the Flannery O’Connor could be hers, since she hasn’t been able to locate it lately.  The thought is lost, though, while she fumbles with her pant legs.  She hops on one leg as her other becomes stalled at the knee of the pants.  She falls into the wall.  The noise of her clumsiness causes more panic.  She stands, petrified.  There is no response to the noise.  Finally, she succeeds in pushing her limbs through the appropriate legs, pushes her feet into her shoes.  She foregoes buttoning her shirt or fastening her fly to grab her bag, toss the door open, slip through, and close the door in a single movement.  She walks down the hallway, adjusting her clothing, her buttons, and out the building.

9

When he wakes, he doesn’t move.  There is another body accompanying his in the bed.  He can feel the bed’s sagging beneath the weigh next to him. He lays still, unmoving, tempted to roll over, see the face, the body, to make sure that it isn’t a ghost, that it is a real being.  The body stirs, slightly.  He does not.  He can feel slight tremors in the mattress beneath the movements.  He tries to close his eyes, to fall back asleep, but his mind is racing.  He tries to recall who the body next to him might be.  His mind rolls through the faces of all the people he interacted with over the course of the previous evening, but none of them stick out in his mind.  All of his interactions, were brief, bumping into several people, ending with a joke, a laugh.  One woman, though, keeps coming to mind.  He remembers talking to her once, very briefly.  She bumped into him on the patio as he was talking to Jon.  He apologized in French, “Pardonez moi, s’il vous plait.”  The woman responded in a string of what sounded like not-French.  Stammered, he responded with “Vous etes belle,” over and over in different intonation and speed, attempting to pass off those three words as proficiency in the language. She seemed to understand,  responding in what sounded like Spanish, perhaps insulting him.  The half-semester of French he slept through years ago escaped him, and he could only say “Vouse etes belle,” over and over.  She laughed, though, so he continued.  He laughed in a manner of a French archetype.  She said some more things in Spanish, then turned abruptly and left.  He stayed where he was, looking out into the street in front of him, running the conversation through his mind.  After a few moments, she returned with shots, handing one to him.  He quickly threw the shot at the back of his throat, apologizing for the possibility of remembering very little.  The rest of the night is non-existant.

His mission of the evening was to recreate the same conditions of the previous week in an effort to pinpoint who it was he was bringing back to his apartment or who brought him back to their apartment.  Jon, was his designated wingman to monitor and confirm who this individual was.  But now he is awake, the person lying next to him asleep.  He could simply roll over and look at this person, confirm who she (or he) is.  Of course, doing so would make all his efforts of the previous night obsolete. The same would go for Jon’s efforts.  And what if this wasn’t the Spanish-speaking woman with whom he had been smitten.  What if it’s one of the various bar patrons he tries ardently to avoid?  Men and woman who are crude, slur their words, stumble, grab the inseam of his pants for “Dick inspection?” refers to him as “baby,” or “hon,” when introducing themselves to him?  The fear that the person lying a breath away from him might be one of those people rendered him unable to roll over.

So, he lays there, unmoving.  Five minutes go by.  Ten minutes.  An hour.  He tries to force his eyes closed, coerce himself back into slumber.  Each time he feels himself edge towards the oblivion of sleep, a flash of the previous evening rushes through him, a bolt of an image of who this might possibly be.  At times, he is certain he could feel a heartbeat through the mattress, or he could hear the sound of eyelids opening. Finally the body stirs.  At first, the movements are barely distinguishable. They are the movements of a body realizing its eminent situation, hair against the fabric of the pillow, turning towards him.  He pretends to breathe normal. The pressure in the mattress becomes poignant. He interprets this as a rising of the body, perhaps onto an elbow.  He keeps his eyes closed. The angle of the depression combined with the operation of gravity pulls his body towards the other body like a black hole tugging on a star.  He resists moving towards the body, pushing his weight against the event horizon.  There is silence, then more movement, the friction of skin against the sheets, and more movement.  He feels the sheets move down his torso, but doesn’t react.  The movement does not feel deliberate, rushed, threatening.  If it did, he might casually reach into her bedside stand and grab his small .22 caliber handgun he keeps in the nightstand, and press it against the neck of whoever is next to him, even if it is Linda. Linda might gain some thrill from this, though. He isn’t sure this is Linda.  Again, a slight disturbance against the mattress, a body readjusting, moving, the concave against the weight of the body coercing his own to roll into it, but he resists.  An omniscient silence. He can only hear the tinnitus chorusing in his ears, the traffic outside so distant, the traffic that people make, people completely oblivious to all of the unimportant things that happen all around us all the time even though it is these unimportant things that make everything so damn possible.

He can feel it.  Four barely perceptible points of warmth on his bare shoulder.  At first a tingle, then a warmth, but then burn.  Almost fire.  Or he imagines this.  In the map of his mind, a body is hovering over him, observing him, reaching out to touch him.  He swears he feels the warmth of fingertips, closer to touching him than God touching Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  He does not move.

The body moves away, suddenly.  He hears clothed feet pushing on the floor.  He hears the floorboards whine as the feet traipse hastily towards the door.  He hears cloth fiction against skin.  This person is leaving.  He can roll over and stop her (or him).  He can ask her (or him) to wait.  He can see, finally, who this is.  His eyes close tighter.  He hears a slight thud against a wall or a door.  A silence, unmoving.  He can roll over and laugh, this is funny, isn’t it?  Us, going on like this?  He closes his eyes tighter.  More movement, cloth against skin, perhaps.  Some silence.  Wait, stay. In the next moment, the door opens and closes.  He opens his eyes.

10

“Did you see who it was?” Shane asks, walking up to the the table outside the coffee shop Jon is sitting at.

“Pardon me?” asks Jon.  He is holding an orange, examining the surface.

“Who it was that I left with,” says Shane, still standing.

“I’m sorry?” says Jon, placing the orange to his mouth, biting into the surface.

“Did you see who I left with?”

“Don’t you remember who you left with?” he says, lowering the orange, pulls at the peel at the bite marks.

“I think I know who it was,” says Shane.

“It probably wasn’t her,” says Jon, continuing the process of peeling the orange.  He places orange peel fragments on the table.

“How could you say it wasn’t her?”

“I actually have no idea what I’m talking about.”

“I mean, you saw who it was right?” says Shane, who doesn’t move, still standing.

“Did you say you needed coffee?  Let me buy you coffee, I only have my debit card,” says Jon, now finished with peeling the orange, rising to go inside the coffee shop.

“I’m fine on coffee. Who was it that I left with?” asks Shane, pulling a chair out, lowering himself into it.

“…and I hate getting one coffee with a debit card,” he says, entering the shop.

A moment passes.  A woman walks by wearing large white-rimmed sunglasses.  Shane recognizes her as one of the bar patrons from last night.  Does she recognize him?  He can’t tell through the sunglasses.  They don’t acknowledge each other.  Or, rather, they acknowledge each other by not acknowledging each other. Is this her?  Shane asks himself.  She keeps walking.

After Jon, comes back outside, carrying two cups of coffee, balancing a half-eaten orange on top of one.  He places a cup on the table in front of Shane.

“So, anyway, what have you got going on today?”  asks Jon, lowering himself into a seat, biting into the orange.

“Who did I leave with?” asks Shane, without picking up the cup.

“Now, I didn’t actually stick around to witness your escapades,” says Jon, talking through the orange and juice in his mouth.

“What?”

“Well,” says Jon, swallowing, “I kind of got a little more drunk than I intended to.”

“Are you serious?” asks Shane.

“And I don’t know what happened but…” says Jon, now drinking from his cup.

“So you didn’t even see if there was anyone I was talking to?”

“…I woke up in someone else’s apartment.  I have no idea whose.  I don’t think it was anyone that I knew,” says Jon, lowering his cup.

Shane’s face becomes scrunchy in disbelief.  His brows furrow, lines form in his forehead, his mouth agape in disbelief.

“I know it was a woman though,” says Jon.  “I’m certain of that.”

“I…”

“I know, right? Sounds so familiar, doesn’t it?” asks Jon.

“I just…”

“Maybe if you could come to the Y Bar with me and see if it happens again.” says Jon, biting into the orange.

11

“You still don’t know who he is?” Michele asks through her large white-rimmed sunglasses as June takes a seat.  They are outside a coffee and tea shop that specializes in cupcakes and toast, facing the street.

“What do you mean. I was going to ask you who it was.”

“I have no idea who it was.” says Michele, pulling an apple out of her bag.  “Want an apple?”

“Goddamnit, Michele, one thing, I asked you to do one thing.”

Loudly, Michelle says “You know how the Y Bar is.  You can’t expect what you planned on doing to actually happen there.  It’s where optimism goes to become a pessimist.  Really, you should have an apple.”

“What do you mean?” asks Michele.

“About this apple?”

“About the Y Bar.”

“Like, you walk up to it, and you’re already drunk,” says Michele, biting into the apple. “I have another one of these, I got them from the farmer’s market.”

“Are you serious?” asks June.

“About the farmer’s market?” says Michele reaching to pull another apple from her bag.

“About the Y Bar.  You really didn’t see who I left with?”

Placing the apple on the table in front of June, Michele says, “It’s so dark that…”

“You didn’t see if…”

“…you can’t see…”

“…I was talking…”

“…anything, let alone…”

“…to anyone?…”

“…keep track of…”

“…you just…”

“…every person…”

“…went and got drunk…”

“…you flirt with so….”

“…after I asked…”

“…I had a couple drinks…”

“…you to see if I…”

“…with this guy…”

“…was leaving with…”

“…who told me…”

“…someone nice or if…”

“…this ridiculous story…”

“…it was a creeper…”

“…about how he was there…”

“…who could have killed me…”

“…to see who his friend left with…”

“…and then how would you feel?  Wait,” says June, narrowing her gaze at Michele.

“…and so we just ended up leaving together…” says Michele, looking away from June, onto the sidewalk, taking a bite of her apple.

“…are you mocking me right now?” asks June.

Silence.

“You ended up leaving with another guy?” asks June, after the pause.

“Ostensibly.”

“Who says ‘austensibly?’” asks June, picking up the apple on the table, taking a frustrated bite out it.

“I do, ostensibly.

“So, what you did is,” says June, talking through the apple in her mouth, “you left with a guy who was there to see if he could see who his friend left with?”

“Yes,” says Michele, after weighing the question and response carefully. “You didn’t happen to see who I left with, do you?  I mean, he took off this morning before I woke up.”

“I…”

“Like, was he okay, or just, like, some shitty hipster?”

“I think we’re in the wrong genre.” says June, taking another bit of her apple.

“Of what?”

“I haven’t figured that out yet.”

 

12

Ostensibly, a week later, he decides to go to the Y Bar completely sober with the intention of acting drunk in order to recreate the scenario in which this mysterious woman would be attracted to him, and finally meet her.  By some inexplicable law of quantum string theory in which a person is reborn in another universe and that other universe is simply nothing other than becoming another person and experiencing life through their eyes in what an omniscient being might perceive as the same universe, yet a theory only barely applicable in this situation, she also decides to go to the Y Bar with the intent of remaining sober pretending to be drunk so as to attract whoever it might be that she has been leaving with week after week.

They arrive at the Y Bar at the same time, wearing strikingly similar outfits: tight odd-colored pants, a tee-shirt, minimal makeup.  He opens the door for her.  They make eye contact.  She says thanks, he mutters something that sounds like “sure.”  They take note of each other’s outfits, quietly denouncing them as pompous and simple, yet alluring.

Throughout the evening, they have a series of brief encounters with each other.  He compliments her outfit.  She compliments his makeup.  They stand in line for drinks neither of them has any intention of consuming.  Each encounter, they make sure to act increasingly inebriated.  He slurs his words, she stumbles awkwardly. Each encounter brings an air of suspicion that s/he might be the person that s/he has been waking up next to week after week  This suspicion, though, lingers in various other patrons as well.

Near the later part of the night, around midnight or so, Shane tells a woman that she would be hot if she were a zombie.  This is something he believes he would have said if he were drunk.  He is forced to withdraw to a dark corner of the bar after observing her look of disgust upon explanation of his reasoning in explicit detail.  From this dim corner, he observes the boisterous crowd, reflects upon and regrets various life decisions.  He still holds a full glass of gin and tonic he has used all night as a prop aiding in his appearance of inebriation.  He considers drinking it and ordering another and another, but he resists.  Maybe this sobriety is what he needs.

June is is also forced to withdraw to a nearby corner after one of several drunk men make a lewd comment, attempts to grab at her, and trips over himself in pursuit as she walks away.  Though she still holds a full beer she purchased earlier, she grabs a pool ball from an abandoned pool table, determined to strike it against anyone else who makes a similar crude advance.  She wonders if this is how she acts in that stage of drunkenness, and if so, what kind of person is attracted to her in this state.  When she is really drunk, is she attracted to people like him?  Perhaps it is best not to try and meet this person.

Shane takes notice of June nearby.  He rises, walks over to her, asks if he can pull up a seat, dropping his façade of drunkenness.  She nods towards a vacant seat.  He sits, and they sit, neither saying a word for a long period of time.  They stare across the dark space together, at the the crowd in their various states of drunkenness.  The somber drunks, the boisterous drunks, those who are clearly sober, pretending to enjoy themselves, those who handle their alcohol consumption in a sober manner, taking neither pleasure or disgust in the act, those pouring liquor down their throat as though they were tying their shoes.

Shane turns his attention towards June.  “I think I’ve run into you here before.  We’ve talked,” he says.

Without looking at him, June squeezes the ball.  “What?” she asks.

“Nothing.” Shane says, turning back towards the crowd.

“You know, I was pretending to be drunk earlier, to see what would happen, you know?” June says.

“Sometimes I have to pretend to be drunk too,” says Shane, turning his attention from the crowd back to her.  Her eyes also pull away from the crowd toward him.

After a few more comments, they are relaxed with each other.  Their conversation is easier.  They cover a range of topics, from attaining government grants to observe the micro-social norms of the Y Bar to their completely useless degrees in college.  June loosens her grip on the pool ball.  They share the experiences that ultimately led them to this secluded part of the bar.  To Shane’s surprise, June isn’t all the repulsed by his comment about zombies earlier.  In turn, she shares with him her own uniquely lewd comments, which coerce smiles across both faces.  June shows him the pool ball she had intended to smash against his head if he had been like the last man who spoke to her.  He apologizes.

“For what,” she asks, “You’re much less of an asshole than everyone else here.”

“For men, you know, in general.  If it makes you feel better, you can still smash that ball over my head.” June shifts her body closer to him.  She says she would, but that she would give him a ride to the hospital just to show there are no hard feelings.

“June, I can’t think of anything more romantic,” says Shane as he shifts his body closer to hers.  Beneath the table, their knees touch.

“Maybe,” Shane says, “you’re the one that I came to see.”  The comment slipped out of his mouth before he could stop it.  He can see them, the words, hanging in front of him, taunting him, as though he could reach out and grab them before they continue straight into her ears.  There is no awkward shifting, though.  No backing away, as though this woman knows exactly what he is talking about.  Or, she didn’t him. There is that possibility.  Everything is on pause.  The earth sort of shakes, swallows both of them whole, but they  are in the same place.

The silence is finally broken when June says, “That depends.” She maintains eye contact.  “Have you ever read Flannery O’Connor?”

Though his smile remains,  his eyes look off to the left, searching for that part of his brain that holds that name. Where had he seen that name before?  It sounds so familiar.  He decides he hasn’t, but doesn’t respond immediately, assessing all other possible responses, scenarios, outcomes.  He first wonders if this is a real question. If it is, should he answer yes and lie, and go further with this person? What will happen later, when she discovers he was lying? Should he answer no, and potentially end everything now?  Is this a mock question?  Is she trying to be sarcastic? Will saying yes make him look like an idiot?  If he says no, is he backing away from her?

As for June, she tries to make the question sound casual.  The question is an enormous risk for her.  She increasingly believes this man, whose knee is ever-so-slightly pressed against her own knee, is quite possibly the man in whose apartment she found herself waking up in  And he’s great!  He laughs and her comments, he makes her laugh, they are witty together! If this is him, it would mean all of this trouble of the evening, the introspections, the regrets, self-doubts, have been justified. But only if he says yes.  If this man says no to this question, though, and has no idea what she is talking about, does not acknowledge the book she has passed on the bookshelf in that strange studio, then this is a disaster. An answer of ‘no’ will either mean he is backing away from this situation and does not reciprocate the interest, or that he genuinely has no idea what she is talking about.  If he has no idea what she is talking about, and he is thus not the man she has been waking up next to, then she has been waking up next to someone such as the man who stumbled over himself in pursuit of her.  This thought makes her nauseous.  Odds are 2-1 that she will be lonely.  She watches intently though a veneer calm.  His facial movements indicate the struggle to comprehend this question rolling through his mind.

“No,” he says. “I don’ think I’ve ever heard of her.”

Gently, their knees separate, like a ship pulling away from a dock for a very long voyage. Each fumbles awkwardly with their drinks, which they now consume thirstily, wishing for more. Their eyes search for spaces in the crowd.  Their conversation becomes stilted, awkward, though still lighthearted.  It is a conversation of dinner guests departing at the end of the evening, already distant, leaving the other behind.  His heart sinks, her spirit defeated. He announces that he’s getting tired, that he still has to go meet a friend at another bar.  She says she should probably get going. She is up and moving towards the door before he can start his next sentence.  She says it was a pleasure talking to him, and she hopes they’ll run into each other again someday, but she is already out of range for him to distinguish what she is saying. She hurries beyond range before he can ask for her number, or if she would like to go to whatever bar he said he was going to next.  His eyes well with tears as their distance increases.  He hangs back, allows her to go.  Avoiding the stumbling drunks in the crowd, she pushes through the door. He orders a shot.  He orders another shot.  And one more when the bartender announces last call.  This is perhaps the first time he remembers the bartender announcing last call.

Neither of them return to the Y Bar for a very long time.

 

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