Timothy found himself in the dance hall when he realized that all he really wanted was a Big Mac and a shake. Maybe sit at home, rub his bald dome and watch the latest on CNN with the lights out and Vicks VapoRub nearby. There were WOOP! WOOP! sounds and SHAKE THAT BADONKADONK GURRL! lyrics and couples half his age—with hair no doubt—catching gonorrhea under strobe lights that required sunglasses. He took a shot of bourbon and sat back and let the whites and greens and yellows bounce off of his shiny top and splash into this sea of smiles and STDs.
What’s bizarre, he thought, was that they all had scars like his: deep, jagged lines destroying their faces, some of them running down their arms in these hideous streaks. A red-headed woman shook her moneymaker in a corner by herself, and she looked hot, she looked fine, despite her scars, and he thought about Cindy Q., the redhead from high school whom he almost asked out, whom he often stalked outside study hall. He often looked heavenward while waiting for her and thought, Is this my time? as he took a swig of rum from his backpack.
Life’s too short, he thought on a particularly sunny afternoon. I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna ask her out, even if that boyfriend of hers is the size of an army tank, so he took another swig of rum from his backpack and went up to her, kinda spun her around as she screamed. Her pale, freckled face got painted with more freckles from his intestinal juices that sputtered out at precisely the wrong moment. He barely saw the tears hidden under his digested carrots as she fell to the floor and writhed around like a snake who smelled of bile. Security came in from all sides, grabbed his arms and he was torn away from the scene.
Back in the dance hall, underneath those BOOM! BOOM! sights and sounds, he kept staring at the redheaded woman and realized, as he took a shot of bourbon, that she looked older compared to everyone else at this club, and as the world spun and he gave it some thought, he realized that it was her! It was her!
Everything swirled in a blur of scarred teens and lights and he walked over to her, she who, frankly, looked a bit pathetic shaking her moneymaker by herself in a darkened corner. He tapped her shoulder and she spun around all flustered. He noticed that her scars were worse than he thought, they were red and brutal, eating up her face like a disease, but maybe, he thought, it was just the bourbon making images, as he took another shot. He looked up toward the ceiling which was a maze of colors and thought, Is this my time?
He said: Hi, how are you? To which she replied, Who are you?
Tim, he said and she started gasping for air and said, Is that you? Oh my Lord, is that you? He reached up and ran his hand down her fault lines and she just kind of stood there, mouth open in an oval shape, eyes puffy and wet.
What are you doing here? she said, and he said, Clearly, baby, this is a sign, Cindy, I really think this is my time, and she looked into his empty eyes, damp sadness playing hide and seek amongst her scars.
No, what I mean is why are you here, what happened to your face? she said, but his infatuation discarded her words and he brushed a few of her tears away. She reached up and tried to take his hand down but he kept it there and felt her roughness.
Stop it, you’re scaring me, what are you doing, Timothy? she said, but he only remembered Timothy as the shitbrained teen who barfed on her face and not the mature adult who wanted to make things alright.
Life is too short, he said as BOOM CHACKA LACKA music swallowed up his words.
What? she said.
Life is too short! he screamed as alcohol carved a path down his throat. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, let’s get out of here, I want to make everything alright.
She continued staring at him and her eyes were red like blood.
What do you mean? she said. This is Heaven’s Ball. I’m chaperoning. We can’t leave.
He felt himself getting angry, all he wanted to do was escape with her and watch CNN and leave the glitz behind, so he took a shot and said, What happened?
She could barely eke out words through her quivering lips, but she said: Bus crash.
Bus crash? he said.
The moment she replied The devil pushed us off I-90, his hands dropped from her face and he slumped downward.
He saw his hands grip the wheel as whisky burned his insides, his car smashing into the bus, a guardrail slicing both bus and car in half like a giant knife through two loaves of bread, sparks popping, shooting and cascading. He looked up toward the ceiling of the club for hints of salvation but by that moment the BOOM! BOOM! music had come to a complete stop and the scarred teens had formed a circle around his body yelling, Ms. Q! Ms. Q! Is he alright?
Don’t worry, she said. This is supposed to be your night. Go off and party.
He started screaming life is too short over and over again and his words collided with the scarred teens’ gasps to create a painful symphony. He screamed as though his screams would bring them back. He screamed as though his screams would put him back on a beat-up sofa with a bottle of Jack, CNN spewing static in the kitchen.
You’re frightening my students! Cindy yelled, but he couldn’t stop, his body hurt, it hurt so much.
Timothy, life is too short to be screaming like this, she said, and deep down he agreed though the sparks and the blood and the shattered bus suggested otherwise.
He felt a tap on one of his heaving shoulders and he turned around and saw no one but yet he heard a voice: Timothy, you really are scaring the students. How can I give them a prom if you insist on crying?
Timothy stood up, one leg at a time, and nearly collapsed when he thought about who it was.
It’s You, Timothy said, You put me here? and the voice said, Unfortunately yes, but now you are spoiling their party.
Soon the music started up again and the scarred teens began their syphilis dances and the world swirled until Timothy found himself sitting on a couch watching CNN, just what he wanted, except CNN was playing an endless reel of bus crash coverage and there were parents, sisters, brothers, friends, crying over these mangled bodies, sobbing: life is too short, life is too short. Cold hands slinked across Timothy’s shoulders, gripping them ever-so-slightly and the voice said, Timothy, this is your time.
Andrew Armistead received his MFA in Fiction from Adelphi University in NY. He has taught creative writing at Adelphi and currently teaches English at ASA College in Manhattan, NY. His novella Diary of a Guy is inching closer to completion.