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FICTION: Struggle, Pain & Other Conundrums (3)

Previous Parts:

Struggle, Pain & Other Conundrums (2) with the teachers
Struggle, Pain & Other Conundrums (3)at the bar


This project is peppered with swearing and references to sex, so if that’s not your cup-of-tea, then please go in peace.


The Licorice All-Sort & The Bartender (Pt. 2)
Whatever she was marinating was definitely a compound problem, and getting too invested in the pain of others is a professional hazard. It was rare, though, to meet someone who knew turn of the last century feminist author Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and that Rodin didn’t sculpt all the feet and hands of his sculptures. She’d also called the woman she’d pointed to “Fox-faced” and then said “Tally-ho” to the professor which, he believed, is actually what is said at fox hunts. Even heavily sauced, she was quick.

“I am going to quickly scan around to see if anyone needs anything,” he started, “I am telling you this because you strike me as someone who will assume that if I look away it means my answer to your question is ‘no’ when it’s not. I just want to make sure I can actually give you my full attention.” She smiled, a real smile from somewhere unencumbered by alcohol, from somewhere tender that lives beneath several layers of bite and sass.

“Okay,” she said softly. A scan of the bar revealed a predictably dwindled patronage given the hour and tipsy pairs in various negotiations – more and less overt – about sex that might or might not occur before the dawn of a new day. No one looked harassed or uncomfortable or trapped. Everyone had a drink. One of the wait staff was in a corner counting tips, the other had the spray bottle and was wiping down empty tables. He was not needed by anyone just this second, so he turned his gaze back to her and found her eyes exactly where he’d left them, her hands settled in her lap, shoulders lowered, spine straightened.

“My brother died," she said, "a blood vessel in his brain burst. It failed utterly at its only fucking job and he died and he was without a doubt the best part of me and I’m sure I made his life a living hell but he truly loved me. All of me. Truly me. And he’s just gone now. It’s the strangest fucking thing, really. It’s like he vanished. And, I never thought of myself as someone who needs to be rescued by anyone, no less a man, but he’s gone now and I’m realizing – I’m realizing that I actually don’t know how to live without being rescued, that my life is defined by endless rescues I didn’t even understand were rescues, and my knight in shining Armani was my brother who loved all of me and now he’s vanished. I won the sibling lottery and never felt alone ever and now he’s gone. He’s dead.” Her hands twisted around each other for a bit as her eyes fell into her lap and lifted up again to meet his. They were plain-old-fragile now, her eyes, frank and fragile from their roots up and outwards. They’d be fragile in any type of light.

“My brother died,” she said again and ushered in a stillness between them which she broke herself moments later with a series of fidgets and shimmies that had her off her stool. One of her hands braced against the bar because, she felt certain, it needed her to keep it steady for a moment.

“I have to pee,” she said and he pointed to his left. Being her favourite bartender notwithstanding, he’d never seen her before tonight and didn’t want her to get lost.

“Thank you.” To his incongruous, awkward delight, especially given its juxtaposition with all she had just shared, she took mincing steps as though she were wearing a long, tight skirt and started to sing from the Mikado as she walked:

“Three little maids from school are we/ Pert as a school-girl well can be/ Filled to the brim with girlish pee/ Three little maids from school!” It took him a second to note that she had changed the word “glee” to “pee” and by the time incongruous delight turned into a burst of unexpected laughter, her wide-legged navy pin-striped pant legs over black Doc Martens of indeterminate height had returned to a normal stride and she was most of the way to the washroom.

The professor came to the bar to buy one more round for himself and the fox-faced lass.

“She’s certifiable.” The professor said, his head nodding toward the washrooms.

“Seems to be, yes. But also kind of awesome, no?” The bartender replied as he worked through the professor’s drink order.

“Maybe.”

“Would you even still be here if she’d agreed to let you bring her home?” The professor said nothing, grabbed the two drinks, turned back to his fox-faced quarry with a libidinous smile and was met by an equally rapacious one.

The bartender checked the clock and grabbed his own bottle of cleaner. He worked the counter from near the entrance towards the back of the bar. When he approached her beer and her neat line of upside down shot glasses he decided to lift and wash under them all as carefully as possible. There was no way a woman like that wouldn’t notice if he put all the empties away or made an editorial decision about her ability to finish her beer.

Though I probably should, he thought, glancing at the clock again, she’s missing last call and I should have cut her off a while ago. He didn’t know her tells, though, he told himself, and except for the dizziness when she hopped off her stool, she hadn’t been slurring, repeating herself, losing words, losing facial control or any of the other more obvious signs it was time for him to stop serving. There was no denying that she’d certainly had way too much for him to let her leave with car-keys out and ready, if she even had any. He ran the important numbers in his head. She was maybe 5’3” and more on the curvy side so maybe 140lbs. She’d been there for at least seven hours and had been ordering beer and shots at pretty regular intervals…

No snacks.

A couple glasses of water.

There is no way she isn’t blotto and I really should have cut her off.

If paying his way through endless years of school with bartending had taught him anything, it was that people do wear true and dangerous inebriation differently, but that chemistry and math are what they are and he definitely should have stopped serving her.

Dammit.

THOUGHTS ABOUT FICTION & FEEDBACK: My human child and my fiction babies are the softest parts of my soft underbelly. All I want is for them to find good ways to be out into the world. I am also, always, at least a little terrified when they do. My teenager gets to make a lot of his own decisions about this process. My fiction must always wait for me to do the legwork.

Parts of this particular project began in a political place, so in addition to more garden variety fears about writerly suckage, I wonder if I have – in any way – overstepped my cisgender, straight whiteness, and/or relative financial securities in a haze of myopic privilege. My underbelly is always afraid I will offend people.

BOTTOM LINE: I will delete hateful comments without compunction, but I welcome meaningful, educative feedback, ideas, suggestions, and dialogue. Best, S.

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