Monday, October 18, 2010


The shadows in the bar bounced around her face like a sluggish strobe light. Sometimes they spotlighted her sins and sometimes they scrimmed the scars of her excesses. He glanced over and saw her make-up was a little too hard in that - she's a little too easy - sort of way. Her hairstyle attacked her age; like an air mattress inflated with three extra pumps, her taut clothing criticized her curves. She sat erect on the stool.

Mark tried to avoid her gaze.

"That's a pretty shirt you're wearing."

He assumed she spoke to another patron.

She raised her volume. "That's a really nice shirt."

Mark turned and met her eyes. He dropped his head to reacquaint himself with his wardrobe. He reviewed his pink and blue striped button-down. "Oh, I haven't decided whether or not I like it. It makes me feel like I'm hosting a baby shower."

She giggled. "Then why did you buy it?"

She's too old to giggle, he told himself. "It was $2 at a garage sale. I thought, what the hell." He took the baseball cap from his head and self-consciously smoothed his balding pate. He recapped.

"Well you look very handsome in it!" She raised her glass and took a sip.

"Thank you." He picked up his highball and thirstily gulped. The ice pinballed the edge of the glass as he set it on the bar.

"Can I buy you another one?"

He turned his torso and looked at her. "No thanks. You don't have to. I like talking."

She gathered herself up and slid onto the stool at his side. "I like talking too."

"What do you like talking about?" He turned and gestured to the bartender for another round.

She giggled. "I don't know."

"Well, let's start with your name. I'm Mark."

"I'm Jeanne."

The bartender set his brandy in front of him. Mark picked it up and took a small sip. "So Jeanne, let me ask you, what's your five favorite things on earth?"

She giggled and fidgeted on her stool. "Well, I don't know!"

He took his cap off his head and tried to wipe the weary from his mind with a whisk from his palm. He recapped. "Don't be nervous Jeanne. There's no right or wrong. Just talk to me."

She scrunched her brows and pinched her nose into her cheeks. "My kids." She picked up her glass and took a sip. "I like football."

"Really?" He traced the rim of his drink with his entire open hand. "I just never got into it. I watch it with my buddy but I think it's ass."

Jeanne giggled. "I like it!"

He introduced topic after topic yet found no echo. She was reluctant to initiate a conversation or participate in his conversation without his prompt. He exhausted the rotes of his chat; she exhausted his patience. "Well, I think I need to get home." He stood up, pulled his wallet from his trousers, and handed his card to the bartender.

"Before you go, would you stand outside with me while I smoke?" Her timidity was as unnatural as her lipstick shade.

"Sure." He signed the bill, repocketed his card, and pulled on his overcoat.

The unseasonably warm wind blew the flame from the cigarette so he cupped his hands to shield the fire from the gusts. She placed her hands around his and gave him a slight caress. She inhaled the tobacco and exhaled. "You want to come home with me?" She rubbed a hand around his groin and gave him a slight squeeze.

He took a step back. "No. No thank you. I'd better just be going."

She ran her tongue along her bottom lip. "It's because I'm too old. Isn't it?"

He felt his phone case to guarantee its presence on his belt. "No. You're not too old. We're probably the same age."

Jeanne filled her lungs with a gulp for guts. "Is it because I'm fat?"

He took a step forward. "Oh dear Christ no." He tried to catch his breath. He wanted to run. He wanted to leave. He wanted to get away. His conscience steeled his feet. "You want to know why? I'll tell you." He took a step back and pushed his hands into his trouser pockets. "Tonight I don't want to explain to you why my foot is mangled. And tonight I don't want to watch you try to hide your stretch marks with your hands. Tonight I don't want to worry whether or not you've got kids or grandkids at home and I don't want to have to sneak out of your house if you do. I don't want to say pretty things I don't mean and I don't want to listen to flattery I haven't earned. And I don't want to stop at Walgreens and buy condoms. And I don't want to know if you have any in your purse. And I'm in no mood to shame myself into thinking I can just risk a free throw with you. I don't want to have breakfast with you or anyone tomorrow and I don't want to be the kind of guy who doesn't have breakfast with you in the morning. And I don't want to pretend I'll call you again because I'm never calling you again because we have absolutely nothing in common except our age. I'm not trying to be cruel. I'm just trying to be honest. And I don't want to be. I stopped here tonight because I wanted to go somewhere where I'm not. I didn't want to be around me. So, it has nothing to do with you at all. And I'm sorry about that. Because that's almost the meanest Goddamned thing I've ever said to anyone and it would shatter my heart if someone said it to me."

"You do like to talk." She crushed his heart with the same carelessness she crushed her cigarette butt on the sidewalk. "You could have just said no."

"I did say no."

Jeanne turned and walked back into the bar; Mark turned and walked to his car. It wasn't cold but he shivered the distance of the parking lot.