You never saw yourself as the kind of person to be in this type of place at this kind of hour. But here you are, talking to a woman with Bright Red Lipstick in a dive bar you may or may not have considered something of a halfway house just one or two weeks prior. Or was it one or two years? You check your watch for an answer but Time has become pretentious and over-bearing: hands pointing with a fatherly reproach to 3AM. You’re tired and sleep deprived, knowing better than to waste those precious few hours of rest and rejuvenation on midweek slumming and Thirsty Thursday half priced top shelf liquors. But you’re horny.
Necessity is the nagging mother of invention which compels you forward, the steady rhythm of Bon Jovi over a neon jukebox and double-digit Whiskey Sours has abandoned you on the outskirts of that thin line between reasonable and mindless intemperance. That fleeting toxic sweetness is grinding to a slow halt. You can feel your charming buzz evaporating through your every pore and faked half-smile, and as these chemicals grow sober they turn to poison. The room begins to have an odor you can’t quite categorize but have mentally filed as the direct midpoint between ‘wet’ and ‘dog’. Everyone is suddenly missing teeth, the bartender has a lazy eye and bullet scars, the couple three seats down won’t stop arguing over their bill.
But tonight you are the epitome of self-control, managing to cloud this distaste and disinterest with the local vagrants long enough to find Bright Red Lipstick: a dull nickel among the slime, shining like sterling silver in a cupboard. She’s talking about her coworkers assumed and scandalous affair with her boss, but you haven’t been paying much attention. You’ve been diving back and forth between minimal interest and complete disregard, more focused on the feel of the bar counters damp wood against your leaning hand. It reminds you of the real wood, ant bites and the soggy feel of tree bark after it rains. Rain – something that exist only outside of this dim lighting with seven dollar mojitos and popular soundtracks on a static speaker.
You stop yourself.
Any and all thoughts of another world or perspective is too much for you to handle in this state. The long drought has a habit of taking you somewhere far, somewhere far and dark, somewhere you can’t afford to take yourself in the company of others. With a deep breath you try to catch up with Bright Reds narrative but the music blaring in the background and the solution dissolving in your blood stream makes it hard to keep up. Her long and uneventful story has become mute – your own personal silent film; capricious lips, hand gestures and head nods. A small pause in her movement cuts to words flashing on a blank screen: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Black backdrop, white lettering. It reminds you of Shakespeare, nights better spent tanning in the warm blue light of television screens and kisses creased in grins. Skipping work on Monday mornings to lay in bed and count the freckles on her shoulder, ordering takeout and answering the door wearing her bra. Shrimp lo mein and bed-sheets.
“You know what I mean?” Bright Red’s waiting eyes snap you back to the moment, and you vague a response as best you can but feel it lacks conviction. Inevitably you’ve began to feel like a foreign entity in the bar. A carefully disguised virus soon to be discovered among the giant red and white blood cells marinating in the plasma that is youthful bliss. Organs devised solely for pleasure, its source of energy the lust for the next big moment, every agent acting on behalf of a selfish nucleus balanced carefully on a keen apathy for the profound. You feel disgusted: with people and with yourself.
You watch as Bright Red knocked back a shot and notice she is beautiful, in a ‘we’re both here so why not’ sort of way. She tells you she’s considering a change of career as you nod, considering her body. There is a feint aroma in her brunette hair and neat sweat across her temple: the smell of strawberries and a thinly veiled low self esteem and suppressed inner monologues. The scent is unmistakable. Your laundry reeks of it.
It was the strangest thing. When I stepped outside all I smelled was smoke but I couldn’t tell if there was something burning nearby or if I was.
“It’s bad for you,” she’d say, pointing to the rolled tabacco between my lips, and I didn’t feel like explaining how that was the best part.
Instead I talked about cancer, how it’s something I think of often. Cancer, but not a fear of it or death or anything so pointless, just my contemplation on whether I would quit or not because of it. And I don’t think I would. I mean, you caught it already. Tough break, right? Fuck it. Smoke more. No use crying over spilled tumors.
“You’re always so negative,” she’d say, and a sick twinkle in her eye told how she secretly liked that fact a little too much.
And I explained how my optimism took longer to die than my youth, that as a teenager I spent 40 Years Underground. But she didn’t get the reference, so I told her that there’s a thin line between cynicism and indifference: that not all emotions necessarily have emotion. Apathy being one of the greatest examples, sex being another, and sometimes even love. But that last part I couldn’t find a way to phrase, so instead I just fucked her and left the motel before she would wake up.
So I guess she’ll just have to read between the lines.
You’re walking down the quiet bustling city street now as you feel Bright Red slink her arm around yours. You don’t really notice, though. You’re too focused on the melody of engines stuck in traffic and _________________. It was a short walk, a block or two at most. You feel a soft pull from Bright Red as you nearly walk past her apartment. She’s fumbling for her keys, apologizing in advance for the mess in her living room. You’re not sure how you got here or where this night even began. You feel a twist in your gut, a far echo screaming ‘run,’ telling you to get away from here as fast as you can.
Bright Red is smiling at you nervously, moving a few strands of her auburn hair from her nickel face. She tells you she doesn’t usually do this type of thing with guys she’s just met. She says she thinks you’re some type of player, so quiet and mysterious.
“Have you ever even been in love?”
You don’t respond, smiling instead as you take her by the hand, brisk steps into the abyss as the door closes behind you.