Before midnight, before ordering that magenta, effeminate drink, before getting laughed at by other barflies for doing so, she grabs you.
It’s nothing threatening, a quick jerk, a petite tug. The way a child pulls on her mom’s coat, when they’re at the grocery store, on aisle five, and she’s begging for a cereal the mother knows is too sugary to be part of a balanced breakfast. Of course, like the child, the manicured hand leading you, and the woman attached to it, will inevitably also get what ‘it’ wants. Always has. Every material your retinas absorb speaks to this, sending varied but similar messages. Her neon nail polish: yes, I do like to stand out. The hemline: I’ve never felt repressed in the slightest. The peacock earrings matching the neon nail polish: I am confident. Just look at my excellent taste in accessories. The tight tight black dress, that revealing neckline which almost meets the navel: No, I’m not fervently Christian, but I am gorgeous. This hand, your new nightclub safari guide, has spent its whole life throwing sweets and cereal in the shopping cart without any hesitation; for a woman you’ve never met, you’re sure about this.
As she leads you somewhere darker on the dance floor though, some place past the strobes, near the exposed brick and under the moonflower lights, what doesn’t seem so certain is how you ended up in her cart. As her left leg plants like any good Russian gymnast, and the other swings wide so that her thigh can say hello to your thigh, and her toes can curl around your calf, you wonder when exactly one transforms into chosen cereal. There’s the jacket you borrowed from Nick after chem class. It could have attracted her: suede, two-button, single-breasted, designer—or at least you believe it to be from the Italian-sounding name stitched inside. Perhaps it’s the watch on the nightstand Charlie didn’t say you could, but then again, never said you couldn’t take (because you didn’t ask). Or it’s as simple as her having too many Blue Moons, or it is a blue moon, or a full moon, and werewolves are out, and vampires or she’s a vampire wanting blood, a siren wanting flesh, a ghost haunting for a lover’s warmth before she passes over.
You’re not even sure this is really “you”? If one were to make the three steps back up to the bar, would you still be swiveling on that same stool, pretending to be a cowboy at some saloon? But the most curious sensation as her semi-covered groin rubs against your fully covered groin, the best part as she straddles your right leg, is that you cease coming up with reasons and questions. Her puppy eyes, or to be more specific, her Siberian husky puppy eyes make it hard to even remember the word ‘question.’
It’s a simple dance: the theory of how close two people can get to one another. Your silhouettes transform into one two-headed creature amongst a backdrop of crimson and green flashes. The bass loud. Her abdomen and chest rocking into and away from you in gentle waves. Up against the wall your hands sprawl like a blooming flower over the exposed brick, her hands riding up and under your shirt. She buries her head in your chest until you feel strong, a protector for this young woman and her full lips and curled eyelashes brushing your neck. You spin her out and she comes back like a boomerang or planet in your own personal orbit. She bends over till there is practically no more thigh left to uncover. Her hands grip on the silver railing leading up to the VIP lounge for support, and the way she backs into you, the way she lets you playfully tug on her dark hair makes you already feel like a very important person. It makes you feel like someone else. You initiate things you normally wouldn’t do, putting a finger in her mouth, a kiss to her navel, a grab to the ass, fingers immersed in her locks, and you only get more encouraged when you see a pleasured smile appear from that dark complexion. Somehow this dance has already made it on your all-time-great-romance list. Suddenly Madison Hemsworth, Christmas 1999 and shooting off Roman candles with Brooke Perry, August 2004 have been bumped. A left arm now wrapped on her side, the other, a spot higher, closer to the first bone on her rib cage, the placements high school dances engrained in you, body and soul. Near her bra and near her heart, there’s a slight hint of extra skin, a miniscule extra bit of fat not obeying the rest of the dress’s orders. It’s such a slight plop, a small human imperfection escaping an otherworldly dress that you can’t help but pinch it. She pulls back, a jolt, so prompt that the excess must be something tender, a bruise or pimple. Even with her step back she’s closer than any other dance you remember. A full arm’s length apart seems so innocent compared to this dancing—less streamers, corsages, and pop music, more heroin and rock ‘n’ roll. The fingernails she’s running up your back must look like twinkling neon stars, and you almost risk losing contact with those husky eyes so that you can see the constellations shifting on your spine.
“We are really close,” you say.
“Heh, yes we are,” she answers, and you regret making such a stupid remark.
“You’re very beautiful.” You wonder how many obvious statements you’re going to rack up tonight.
“No, I’m not.” She’s being modest. You’re about to say how tight that dress must be but you’re pretty aware she knows this too, that she probably planned it that way.
“What’s your name?”
“Suri,” she says.
“That’s a breathtaking name.”
Something doesn’t seem to register fully here. The dancing stops. Her head starts to look in another direction and your eyes widen in a worry that Suri will be going soon. Clearly she doesn’t need more praise. It’s boring to her. But you can’t think of giving anything else to this Cinderella. One can only thank this woman for making dancing, a gyration here, a step there, seem like magic again. It’s weird, but there must be a secret she’s not telling, of how she could do such things. Was I out of my body? It’s like an electric current in every pore. I taste summer, if that’s even possible—something really light, young, building, but you don’t say any of these things.
“That dress seems pretty tight,” is what you say, which seems, again, obvious, boring, redundant in flattery, but not so bad that you think she’d get anxious, start looking at her phone, and saying that things are getting late, when they aren’t nearly close to being late. She says she has to go the bathroom; she has to go see her friends, she just has to go.
“But we just got to chatting,” you say, almost hooking onto her with your index finger.
“I know but it’s getting close to midnight, and well, my friends are over at the bar. That’s where I saw you. You’re a wonderful dancer, um?”
“Cole,” you say.
“Cole,” Suri says, “you’re a wonderful dancer.”
You think about asking if that’s the reason you were grabbed from your stool. It seems more appealing though not to know why. Suri apparently saw, or mistook, some attribute of Cool, something you tapped into while on autopilot, and you’re worried if you know what it is you may overthink or try to demonstrate it to the point that it never comes back. You don’t want to manually override it. Or even worse, she could just say I was just drunk and out of my mind as some pretty girls can do so coldly, so well. It’s better to just ask if you can buy her a drink.
“Alright,” Suri explains, “but I really do need to go to the bathroom first.”
“I’ll be here,” you say.
“And I really should check on my friends eventually. They’ll wonder where I skipped off to.”
“Check away. I’m ready to move when you are.”
If there are any other bluffs of hers to call, you’re ready. She might say, “I have to take my friend home.” Then you’ll call a cab for the young lady who perhaps made some poor decisions. “The girls are going to a new club up on Grove,” maybe she’ll say. Excellent, I know the bouncer. He’ll get us in. “I’m really tired, and my feet are sore from the heels,” she announces. I’ll get you a Coke and a pedicure. “Well, I just don’t feel well.” I’m pretty sure I have a Zoloft or Prozac or Valium somewhere in these coat pockets.
You’re ready to put to sleep any other excuses she issues for leaving. But her puppy eyes only turn in the direction of the restroom, like she promised. Her backside slowly losing disco ball and LED light until you no longer can make out the nice rump from the mediocre ones still shimmying around her. Four minutes ago her head was burrowing so deep into your chest, that you never imagined you might lose her. Five minutes ago you didn’t even know she existed. Right now is a different story. Right now your body is walking to the bar and your head is playing Pong with the idea Suri might not want to be around you anymore—and you hate her for it—and to express this hate you do exactly what she was trying to avoid—which is staying around her longer—until she has no choice but to come out and say she’s uninterested—which just ends up reaffirming what you already knew to be true—which just makes you hate you for letting this be said out loud over real airwaves.
She comes back, having a pallor that makes you readopt the theory she might just be a ghost looking for a lost love. It’s a clammy sweat on her tweaked brow, tepid to the hot one you two conjured on the dance floor. Suri guzzles the violet-red potion you ordered, a tropical thing called ‘strawberry field,’ which appears to be inhabited by more fruit and little beach umbrellas than some real beaches you know. Her neon nails seem a little less shimmering now; a splotch of orange matter seems caked on every other one.
“You were in there quite a while,” you say, pointing to the restroom.
“Tell me about yourself, Cole,” Suri requests with a fresh throat, a thirst quenched by the purplish thing the bar serves in a Mason jar.
While you’re already irked that she ignored your comment, changed the subject completely, you do comply. She stumbles a little on her way to sit, probably also thanks to the drink. The huskies are staring at you again, waiting for a milkbone. Somehow everything like Dartmouth and pharmacy school and your family reunions in Orlando comes up. Probably because the dogs keep yelping, so you keep chattering, even though you’re pretty sure these aren’t the sorts of treats they’re really interested in, you keep trying to feed them because their owner is just too damn cute. It’s still all you know for certain about this girl.
She explains how she used to be a waitress, but her Dad is helping her out, finding something that pays better, a secretarial position with one of his friends hopefully. “He’s always helping me out,” she says. Her Mom’s located in a town called God-knows-whereville and has a promising career in God-knows-whatmanagement. Her younger sister—”well, she’s a star.” Fifteen, only fifteen, and Lila already placed ninth at nationals in ballet, and big sister is telling you now, unwaveringly, that next year she’s placing fifth. “Maybe fourth,” she adds.
Of course, you don’t hear this. The simple but trimmed-to-shoulder hair, the cinnamon skin, the hand, Hell, even the crumbling napkin the hand is holding, are all too overwhelming for you to recognize words about a brother who had his run-ins with the law in high school, who sold weed behind the baseball diamond but is at least taking computer classes now, and some sister who had her own troubles, a bout or two of eating disorders. How she worries so much for this sister. She wishes she’d find someone who knows she’s worth something, makes her embrace that, ya know? That she wishes she’d hear the good things (there’re so many!), all the good, darling, charming things people tell her.
“Her hair, I swear it changes. Reddish, jet black, whatever it wants to be. And her skin, it’s this real mocha cream concoction, no moles—”
You’re beautiful, you think, again. The way Suri’s hands trickle and tighten around the leather she’s sitting on lets you know that this is the real significant part of the talk, the climax, the crashing crescendo, though you have no clue what’s going on. Your head starts nodding to imply concern and the wrinkle or two on your forehead narrow in compassion. You’re a bobblehead of sympathy, and through all that juddering and mindless vibrating an awareness shakes loose that you probably aren’t the first guy to involuntarily gesture for this girl. That you are just some recent relative in a long line of nodders pretending to listen, all of them, lip-drooling, mouth open, head-bobbing to their own questions. The questions their own brains and genitalia are asking: Yes, I do want to fondle those tits. Yes, I do want to fuck this girl.
As Suri’s arms signal in a way that may as well spell out something vulnerable in sign language, now you have a second fact you’re certain of about her. And you almost feel sorry for her. You almost feel guilty when she pounces like the jaguar, like the more sexually astute Cinderella she is, and delivers her tongue to your molars. You almost feel bad for not listening. Until you don’t.
After midnight you’re surrounded by women named Jamie-Lynn or Tammy-Lynn or Jamie-Tammy-Lynn. But ones that all fall safely under the title of Suri’s “friends,” a number of other striking woman, but not like Suri, who stop long enough from complaining about having man-calves and circles under their eyes and droopy skin to notice the slender, magenta ‘Peacock Dream’ you ordered. One of the more outspoken Jamie-Tammy-Lynns can’t help but comment.
“What are you, a pussy?” she says.
Well this is hysterical, not to you, but the rest of the table. The red-headed one is pounding on the wood surface like bongo drums, the sultry-voiced girl is snorting (her vocals make even this sound sexy), the particularly large-breasted one is jiggling, and Suri? Well, you don’t want to look but your head is already mid-pivot, and that gorgeous hand, which was once your friend, your guide, is already starting to cover that gorgeous mouth which is gorgeously snickering.
“Oh Suri, that dress is amazing,” says sultry voice. Apparently they’ve moved on to a new topic. Suri lifts her arms as if to take in the dress better, as if she just discovered she’s wearing such a thing. With her arms raised, comes that extra bit of skin popping out near her armpit. In the bar light, which is slightly better than the dance floor’s black light, you realize that you were right all along. That skin isn’t a bruise or ingrown hair or blemish but just what you first thought it was, simple skin. Skin that she immediately pushes back in to the restrictive form of the dress.
“It’s okay, I guess,” she shrugs.
“NO! No, it makes you look dazzling.” Sultry is adamant.
“Well, thank you, sometimes more than anything I feel it makes me look…fat,” Suri says, as if she’s trying to fit all these words into one.
Like the nodding earlier, your eyes roll involuntarily. How much praise does this girl need? Her head scans the table, looking for someone to give her a fix. Her friends stay quiet probably the same reason you stay quiet; you’re tired of feeding remarks to someone who doesn’t need them. You already tried earlier and she didn’t want them. And when her head scans faster, her mouth widening in shock, her puppies barking, until she stops at you for approval, you can’t lie that you don’t enjoy staring back—saying not one damn reassuring thing. For one second, probably for the first and last time in her life, this girl is going to suffer like you suffer.
Which is twisted and manipulated to mean Are you there? Well of course I am. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to answer you now, Suri. I simply get up, look at the watch that wasn’t mine, put on the jacket that doesn’t belong to me, and start to leave.
“Where are you going?” Suri asks.
“Home. Now it’s actually late.”
I think I hear her say something else. A why or what that both seem saturated in surprise. I know I hear one of the Tammy-Lynns say “loser,” and if I weren’t already out the door I’d thank this beautiful young lady for reminding me what I am and what a woman like Suri and them will always be, bitches. Thank you for reaffirming my paranoia. In fact, it’s almost a relief to know the world again the way I’ve always known it. As I hail for cabs, my taste buds recount the kiss I received. How one could only imagine a peck from a girl like Suri to be gentle, soft, even transcendent, and how the reality was far from that. If anything her tongue felt dirty, dry, even vomit-y, like she’d thrown up.
Fits her true nature, I tell myself, before stomping on a puddle holding my reflection and waiting for a ride.
Jeremy Grace grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some publications he has been featured in include Dark Sky Magazine, The Legendary, and the University of San Francisco’s The Ignatian. In the fall, he will join the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Wow. That hurt my heart to read, but it was magnificent. Bitter and lush at once.
Thats the idea.