Before you open your eyes you crave mercy. You are cold and uncomfortable, nothing feels right. Your roommate yells at you, his words make little sense. Naked, curled in a ball under the dinning room table you open your eyes. The den is a wreck, the cushions have been stripped of their covers and you have an awful taste in your mouth. Your roommate is disgusted as he leans under the table and looks at you. “You’re a real asshole, you know that?” You can’t talk just yet; it’s all you can do to open your eyes.
“What happened last night?” he asks and you shrug, still unable to diagnose the unpleasant taste. “There’s puke everywhere.” Well that explains it.
Your roommate’s mother is on her way over; she’s going to take the two of you out to dinner. She has never seen the house and she shouldn’t see it like this. You figure he’s justified in his anger. Covering yourself with a stripped pillow you walk into the kitchen. The sink is filled with khaki pants and soapy water, your stained shirt is on the floor.
You live in the basement of a nice house in southwest San Francisco; walking downstairs, you find the washer and dryer running. Some how you managed to strip the couches even while blacked out, at least you had some sense of responsibility. Clips of the previous night flash before your eyes, they make little sense but somehow you feel embarrassed.
The reservations are for seven; I talk everyone into leaving around five. I’m still a little tipsy from last night and want to get a drink in me before a full-fledged hangover sets in. Besides, it’s Saturday night; we should be sitting at a bar. JB’s mom appears to be having a great time; I don’t think she noticed the wet cushions back at the house. She orders a vodka tonic. I take this as a good sign and order a greyhound, double of course. Luckily, I get the booze before I have time to feel bad; instead of lugging my way through conversation I am witty and energetic. We talk about the theater, books, and other topics well toiled by great minds. I know I talk too much, but most interesting people do. The hostess comes over and tells us the table is ready; we take our cocktails and sit. JB’s mom hasn’t stopped smiling. She’s a little loopy from her first drink and doesn’t notice I’m on my third double. JB on the other hand gives me the look of a disapproving father. Fuck him, she’s not my mom. I whirl my hand around and call to the server, “Another drink!”
Food is a tricky issue, I’ve been looking foreword to this meal, but me and JB are going out after this. I don’t want to get too full and not be able to drink when we hit the bars. I order a Caesar salad and it is the most amazing thing I’ve ever tasted. JB’s mood lightens as the beer catches up with him; he gets a little loud and starts showing off in front of his mom. He’s all grown up now and can have sex without fear of punishment. He lets her know this by explaining what it means to wake up next to a girl and find that your finger is brown. “Your nail looks like it’s all dirty.” JB explains, his mom pretending not to hear him. “But it’s not dirt.” I suddenly feel respectable.
The meal comes to an end and I’ve barely touched the main course. When JB’s mother asks why I hardly ate, JB yells: “Yeah Ethan, tell her why you don’t want to finish your meal.”
“I’ve been a little under the weather,” I tell her. “That’s why I’ve been drinking so much grapefruit juice.” We all smile, there are no problems here.
We drop JB’s mother off at the hotel, he remarks how cool she’s gotten, and I agree. He isn’t mad at me anymore, we are friends again, and we are young, and we live in San Francisco and we don’t have to work tomorrow. I feel like a winner.
You wake up face down in a puddle of luke-warm gutter water. It smells of urine, and you pray that it’s yours. Just get your bearings and try to find your friend. You walk into the closest bar and it’s packed with beautiful women, but you’re not looking for a beautiful woman tonight. You know you are covered in piss and your personal style doesn’t even qualify as unconventionally hip. This doesn’t matter. You decide that drunken bravado and an overdeveloped sense of confidence makes up for your lack of fashion sense and ability to use a urinal. “Greyhound, double.” The last words you will remember.
When you wake up in the morning you are happy that you made it home last night. Your pull-out-bed creaks yet you have not moved. Realizing you are not alone you turn over seeing a wall of back fat. From this vantage it appears you have raped the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man’s sister…again. Somehow, she rolls onto her back and smiles at you. Of course, she has braces. You wish this were a first, a fluke of some kind but it’s not. You hope one night you can leave the house and not get blackout drunk. Maybe you could talk to a nice girl, make real plans and not sleep with her right away. Stay-Puft wants to take you out to breakfast and go to all the places you talked about last night. You tell her you never do things like this and you have a girlfriend and if it wasn’t for her you’d take metal-mouth to Paris. She accepts your explanation with some disappointment. She wipes a tear from her eye with a single dirty finger. You thank God you can’t remember what happened last night. Even worse than the tell-tale finger, you haven’t bought a condom in months. You wish you were dead. But unfortunately, you’re not.
Work sucks, no shocker there. My first real job right out of college seems to paint a grim future of mediocrity and servitude. A real life has been thrust on me and I don’t like it. I have bills to pay and rent, people expect things of me and I don’t want to deliver. And it’s not a job I want or anywhere close. It started out as temporary gig until I got my bearing in a new city. Then debt mounts, choices are limited and all of a sudden I’m expected to pay for school if I go back. So here I am, stuck in the job I swore I would never take, but hey, at least I have medical and dental right?
You don’t like going home right after work. Sitting on the couch watching TV seems like such a waste, but going to a bar on the other hand, that’s doing something. Sometimes you meet up with JB, sometimes you go alone. When you’re alone, you read a book or maybe write. Anything to keep off the bar stares, that horrible gaze into nothingness worn by the solitary drinkers. The listless look of a failed dreamer screams of a wasted life. No, you will not get the bar stares, some lines you will not cross. You didn’t make plans with JB, but its not that hard to track you down. After the two of you hit three more bars the need to return home grows. You hop on the muni-train and make one last stop at your local tavern. The bar is crowded a mix of locals and new faces. You know you are not as hip and stylish as you want to be, but drunken confidence can make up for that.
I belly up to the bar like gunslinger in the old west, “Two bottles of beer,” I say to the bartender.
“Why are you so serious?” this attractive older woman asks me as I settle onto my stool. She looks pretty hammered and although older she is a much more attractive than most women who approach me. JB and I look at each other and smile.
“I’m pretty sure I was just joking.” I say.
“You look serious.”
“Well, I feel fine.” I turn to JB, instinctively I somehow know that blowing this woman off will pique her interest in me. I don’t know how I know this and it is not a feeling I often get, but somehow it works. She nudges her stool closer to me and listens to our conversation; I get up and walk to the john with the swagger of a well-hung man.
I walk back finding JB in deep conversation with my mark. Their faces are close together and they seem to be talking with some level of intimacy. There is a feeling of defeat swelling with in me; it seems I have missed my window. This makes me mad and I start being a real tough guy who doesn’t give a fuck about either of them.
“Do you work?” she asks JB.
“Of course,” I butt in, laughing at her ridiculous question.
“I want to work.”
“Then get a fucking job.” I turn away and look at the bottles behind the bar. JB explains that I’m an asshole. I don’t take any offense. I catch my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Even though I’m with people, I recognize that listless gaze of a failed dreamer. I’d rather die then have the bar stares, so I go outside for a smoke.
Before I take my first drag I hear: “My husband won’t let me work.” She brushes up against me. “Can I have a cigarette?” Her long black hair catches the streetlights and reflects them making a bright white band in her hair. She isn’t wearing a bra. Her breasts hang slightly but still defy gravity. I feel like I’ve some how won something but I stay aloof and continue to play the unaffected tough guy.
“Here.” I give her a smoke.
“It feels good having a job doesn’t it?”
“No. Work sucks and you’re an idiot for complaining.” I can’t believe how obnoxious I am, but she seems enjoys the shoddy treatment.
“I want to have kids, but my husband doesn’t.” She takes a long cinematic gaze casting her eyes down the street. I turn to see what she is looking at, but find nothing worthy of real reflection. “He’s old and has two kids with his first wife.”
“Things are tough all over.” I say giving her a snide look. If this woman’s soul was an ocean I don’t think I’d get my feet wet walking through its waters. “I bet he’s rich too, takes you out all the time and buys you everything you want.”
“All I want is children.” She looks at me like a little girl with a naughty secret. “And I’ll get them any way I can.” She throws her cig on the ground and asks: “Do you want to go for a ride?”
You don’t tell JB you are leaving; you just get in the car. You decide to stay tough and arrogant, you decide that’s what she wants and that’s what will get you laid. “Do you want to see where I used to live?” She asks putting her hand on your thigh.
“Of course,” you say. She rubs your leg as she drives speeding and swerving through the narrow streets of West Portal. You are scared to death, but your persona is not. “Take it easy,” you command, but she ignores you. You stop in front of a house, it’s only a few blocks from yours, and maybe you should just call it a night. Fun’s fun but she’s weird and you have work in the morning.
“I used to live there.” She looks into your eyes and smiles. “Now a family of chinks lives in MY house. They eat in MY kitchen and stick their yellow hands in MY garden.” You feel uncomfortable but on the surface appear to be unfazed. “Let’s break in, tie them up, and kick the shit out of them.”
“You’re a fucking nut job.” I grab for the door handle; it’ll be a quick exit and tomorrow a funny story. “Later,” I say pulling on the door handle. Out of the blue I feel her hand on my crouch and stop dead.
“I want another beer.” She says. I still want to leave but I’m stuck in my tough guy persona and now I’ve got a hard-on.
“Let’s go.” On the way back to the bar we start groping at each other, over the clothes but it’s getting heavy. I slide my hand up her shirt and she giggles. She starts saying how easily men are led around by their ding-dongs.
“Uh-huh, sure, whatever you say.”
She parks the car and leaves it running. Still fondling each other, I try for a kiss but she retreats. “What’s your deal?” I snap but recognize something familiar in her reluctance. I have been in this situation before – a married woman, drunk and looking to get even. I’m not proud of what I have already done and tomorrow, when the booze has run out, I will probably feel worse. She backs away in a huff and I’ve had it with this dick-tease.
“Hey, I don’t know what your deal is but I’m heading home.”
“I have cancer in my eye,” she says.
“Bullshit,” I say honestly not believing her.
“Look for yourself.” She leans into the light and I get a good look at her face for the first time. She is a true beauty and I start feeling guilty when I see how sad she looks. Her left eye is badly blood shot. I almost say so what, but her other eye is perfectly white.
“I’m going to die and he won’t give me children.” She puts the car into gear and rams the mailbox sitting on the curb. She backs up and hits it again. I want to leave; this is not normal behavior, but I can’t stop acting tough.
“Is this supposed to freak me out?” I say turning away from her. “Because I’m kind of bored.” I pull the door handle and she grabs my hair, I fall back in the seat and she is already over the center console and on top of me.
You don’t know what hit you, she is writhing madly, tongues and hands are everywhere. You stop for a minute and think jackpot. Her hand slides between the door and the seat, there is a plastic click and then you’re fully reclined. She swings her head whipping you with her long black hair. It seems a bit off, like she’s going though the motions. Maybe mimicking something she saw in a movie or probably something her husband has conditioned her to do.
“Do you want to know what it feels like?” she whispers and you nod yes, of course you want to know what it feels like. She puts both hands flat on your chest and slowly moves south. You close your eyes feeling her wrestle with your belt and zipper. She removes one hand. You hear her opening the middle console, a condom you assume.
“This is what it feels like to have cancer in your eye.” You open your eyes; the gun barrel is so close that your eyelash grazes it. You freeze but feel yourself being hurled recklessly through space. You feel like a doomed passenger in some unstoppable collision. There is a desire welling up in your chest that craves more life. Anything, good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Any flavor will do.
You try to look away but can’t bring yourself to move. You see her face and it is stern, committed to a thought. She sees you looking at her and smiles but there is no comfort in her smile. There is no acceptance of your fate, just the feeling of slamming on the brakes seconds before a collision. Her smile is ugly but you don’t have to look at it much longer.
Timmy Waldron received his MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson in 2013. His short-story collection World Takes was published by Word Riot Press in 2009. He is an editor of Best New Writing and his fiction has appeared in The McNeese Review, The Serving House Book of Infidelity, Mud Luscious Press, Dogzplot, Necessary Fiction, Sententia, Monkeybicycle, and What’s Your Exit? Timmy has work forthcoming in Keyhole Magazine, and The Word Riot Reader.
Bar Stares originally appeared in thievesjargon ‘s Issue 44.