This is a story I wrote for a class I’m taking. I was happy with how it was received.
An amber mix of melted ice and whiskey slowly spun circles in my glass. Three tiny chunks of ice floated around the whirlpool I created. With eyes squinted, I downed the last third of my drink. Those tiny icebergs cooled my throat, combatting the whiskey as it tried to burn away my pain. A gasp escaped my lips as I remembered why I don’t drink often.
The now empty glass slammed onto the dark wooden bar louder than I meant. It echoed across the polished boards, drawing the attention of the woman seated next to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed her head turn towards me, and the smell of her perfume followed her gaze. The sweet scent of a familiar fragrance that sparked a distant memory. A memory of the first kiss Linda and I shared more than twenty-five years ago.
In a college bar long ago, the same sweet scent of gardenia and baby powder drifted up my nose the moment Linda’s lips touched mine. Her delicate fingers brushed my neck, which changed my cheeks to the color of her soft lips. She tenderly traced tiny circles on my neck.
Her touch my made my heart flutter. Her kiss made me light headed. Her eyes, blue as the oceans of an island paradise, had captured me immediately. Those eyes made me want to know her, to kiss her, to be in her and with her forever. Eyes that reflected the sun, even on dark and stormy days. Eyes surrounded by an apricot skin without a single wrinkle or blemish.
Except for that one wrinkle, etched in the corner of her left eye, slowly creeping out, cracking her beautiful skin. Having not noticed it before, I stared at the wrinkle while our lips danced. I watched the deep wrinkle spread. The tiny crack split into two lines, then four, then eight. I saw the wrinkles around her eyes spider web outward, digging into her skin. Skin that no longer had the light sheen of youth. Her skin began to darken, to grow thicker. Blemishes and blotches slowly appeared. My lips no longer moved against hers.
Astonished I was no longer kissing her, a much older Linda withdrew from our embrace and stared at me. The deep lines on her cheeks framed the frown she wore. Her eyes tightened. Her nose scrunched up, mashing the wrinkles between her cold eyes together. “Charles,” my name was bitter on her lips. “I want a divorce.”
The last words my wife spoke, two days prior, broke me from my whiskey induced reverie. Those words haunted me enough to alter memories of our better times. I shook my head violently to push away the hurt. I quickly glanced around the bar to see if anyone noticed me daydreaming. People were everywhere, some laughing, some lonely. None were gawking at the guy whose life is crumbling, except for the beautiful woman who smelled of gardenias and baby powder.
I quickly glanced down at the bar to avert her inquisitive eyes. I wondered if she could see my pain. I wondered if she was judging me, as Linda was so fond of doing.
“Want another?” the bow tie wearing bartender asked.
I looked at my watch. It told me it was 9:27 PM, which was late for me. The larger crowd in the bar told me the conference goers were done with their daily meetings of new sales pitches and now continued their revelry in the lounge. I made a mental note to check for national sales conferences at the next hotel.
“Sure. Give me one more,” I said as I pushed the empty glass closer to him.
He quickly swept it up and turned away from me, towards the brightly lit shelf of expensive colorful bottles. I regretted asking for another as I stared at his back. Alcohol dulled the senses, hampered my alertness. With my job, I had to be alert. I had to watch my surroundings constantly. I needed to read people like Bartender Joe does. I don’t know that his name is Joe, but he looked like a Joe. I had to make split second decisions constantly and make the right call.
I was glad I wasn’t at work because I needed to dull the pain of our last fight. Linda knew I had to catch a flight for work. She planned that fight out perfectly, then dropped the divorce hammer when I had no time to argue. I left without a fight.
“That’ll be $4.75,” Joe said as he set a fresh glass in front of me.
I handed him a ten dollar bill. “Keep the change,” I said as I glanced at my watch again. Only a minute had passed since I last looked at it.
“Waiting for someone?” a husky voice asked from my immediate right.
“You looked at your watch twice in less than five minutes.”
The alto voice belonged to the beautiful woman seated next to me. I didn’t know she was still staring at me. Her lack of accent told me she was not a Dallas native. She must have been one of the conference attendees. “No. I’m not waiting for anyone.”
“Oh. I assumed you were waiting for your wife.”
How did she know I was married? Why was she talking to me? Did I murmur some revelation of my impending divorce in my alcohol-fueled daydream?
My confusion must have been apparent to her because she pointed towards her empty left ring finger. I looked at my own heavily wrinkled hand, which wore a heavily scarred gold band on my ring finger. A ring I have worn faithfully for twenty-eight years. I tried to hide my embarrassment and looked back at the bar. The whiskey fueled an unnecessary paranoia. I stared at a small crack in an otherwise immaculate surface of the expensive bar. The hotel spared no expense in designing this lounge. A bar area that seemed more at home on Wall Street than in downtown Dallas, Texas. Recessed lighting dimly lit the tops of our heads, red leather high-backed stools arranged neatly along the chocolate-colored bar, and I was seated at the one spot with a crack in it. The story of my life.
“Even without that ring, I would have assumed you were married.”
“How?” I asked without looking up from the small crack.
Her words had a playful bounce to them that took me off guard. “A good looking gentleman like yourself had to be off the market.”
I looked up at her, no longer fixated on the crack. She seemed out of place sitting there. She wore an old world beauty that was too elegant to be seated at a bar. She looked like a starlet from old black and white movies. Short blonde hair clung tightly to her head, curls perfectly sculpted along her brow. Eyes and lips decorated in a way to accent a natural beauty, rather than to cover up the imperfections of aging. She would be better suited in a corner, sharing a drink with Hemingway or laughing at boring hunting tales from Teddy Roosevelt. Not seated beside me, playfully entertaining my misery.
“You’re blushing,” she commented. “Not used to a woman hitting on you?”
“No,” I said simply.
“Your wife is a lucky woman.”
I looked at my watch again. Twenty minutes till ten it said. Twenty minutes to see if my marriage was really over. Whenever I traveled, Linda always called me at ten o’clock without fail. It was her way of telling me that I was still on her mind, even if work carried me far away from our home outside Philadelphia. Even on nights after we fought. She always called.
“Are you sure you aren’t waiting for someone,” she said. “Or am I just so boring that you want to be somewhere else?”
“No. I’m not waiting for anyone. I just…” I didn’t know what to say. I paused and stared at her with my mouth slightly agape. The next words stuck in my throat. I suddenly felt guilty even talking to this beautiful woman who was obviously flirting with me. I felt like I was betraying my marriage vows. Instead of saying anything I refocused my attention on the crack in the bar. It ran parallel between two boards, then branched out suddenly into the dark slat of wood closest to me. It wasn’t a product of something striking the bar. There was no indentation around it. It was simply an imperfection in the expensive wood. A by-product of age.
“Well,” she said with a huff, “you obviously aren’t in the mood for company.”
“Wait.” One word and she stopped turning away from me. It was probably out of pity or simple curiosity, but she stopped. I told her about the fight Linda and I had two days ago. I told her that we had been drifting apart the past two years. I told her about the ten o’clock phone call and how important it was. It was a constant in our turbulent marriage. I don’t know why I opened up to this strange woman in the bar. It could have been because her perfume reminded me of my wife. It could have been that I was angry, or simply lonely.
She told me her name was Rebecca and she was widowed. Her husband died of a heart attack two years ago that was brought about by long work hours, stress, and an unhealthy addiction to cheeseburgers. She told me she was from Portland, Oregon and only here for a business meeting that she hated attending. Her husband left her in control of his company that manufactured the little electronic tags in clothing stores that set off an alarm when a shoplifter tried to sneak out with a sweater. I laughed at the notion that someone actually makes and sells those things. I assumed the clothing stores made them for themselves. I stopped laughing once she revealed how many millions the company was worth.
“So, what do you do Charlie?”
I narrowed my eyes as she called me that. Only Linda and my dead mother called me Charlie.
“Oh sorry.” Her apology was more laughing than sincere. “How about Chuck?”
“Chuck sounds like a hairy guy that wears flannel and chops trees for a living.”
“But Charles sounds too official.”
“Chuck it is,” I said with a grin. Rebecca’s good natured spirit put me at ease. She continued to flirt, but not as obvious as before. She must have heard the pain in my voice as I told her about the fight and my impending divorce. I told her that I was fairly positive Linda had been cheating on me for over a year now. I assumed Rebecca would have seen that crack in my emotional armor and used it to launch another full-scale flirtatious assault. Instead she seemed to back off in her advances. She listened attentively as I speculated that Linda was sleeping with our neighbor. She probably knew from my sharp, pointed words that it was more than speculation, but she never told me I was being paranoid. Linda always accused me of being paranoid.
“So what does Lumberjack Chuck do for a living?”
“I watch people.”
“You watch people?”
“In a sense.” I grinned mischievously. “I watch a very select group of people.”
“A very select group of people,” she repeated. “What are you some kind of spy?”
“No,” I laughed at the prospect of me being a spy. “I watch a select group of people on TV and make sure they don’t break the rules. They usually hate me being around.”
“Are you playing some kind of game with me?”
“Maybe,” I said playfully.
“Well, are you good at watching people?”
I scanned the dark lounge. The guy falling asleep in his hand at the end of the bar was too easy a target. Behind Rebecca a couple waited in silence. The way they stood with the backs slightly turned to each other and shoulders close but not touching, told me they were in mid argument. That was also an easy observation. The lounge was too dark to get a good sight of most of the patrons so I continued to search.
To my left were a group of guys standing in a circle with their backs to the bar. All of them wore suits, each a different shade of navy blue. They all had ties pulled from their knots, loosely hanging around their necks. They drunkenly spilled their drinks as they laughed and bumped into one another. I decided this group was a good target. I told Rebecca those guys were all salesman here for the conference, and each one was getting drunk with the hopes of getting laid before the sun was up. I pointed out how the loudest of them kept leering at a table of women in casual business attire. He was the alpha of the group and was hoping to prove his manliness. She sighed, telling me that was an easy call that anyone could make. I took another drink of my whiskey and intently studied the alpha.
Content with my analysis, I specified my description of him. “He’s not a good salesman. In fact he barely scraped enough money together to attend the conference. His false charm will probably land him in the room of one of those drunken women, but once there he won’t be able to perform and either blame it on the alcohol or fake passing out. His failure to perform at his job impacts his performance in all aspects of his life.”
“How can you tell all that?”
“Notice his suit is a lighter color than the rest of his companions?” She nodded. “That is from multiple times being run through a washing machine. He can’t afford the cost of dry cleaning and he only has one, maybe two suits.”
“Maybe that’s just the color it’s supposed to be,” she playfully said.
“When he lifts his arm, you can see that the creases around his armpit is darker. Also, see how the elbows are even a lighter color? Slightly worn.” She nodded again. “That’s because he spends most of his day with his elbows on a desk and his head in his hands, wondering how he can afford his car payment and rent. If he were a better salesman, this wouldn’t be an issue. His poor performance at work has destroyed his confidence in everything.”
“Not bad. So if he is the loser of the group, which guy is going to successfully score with those women?”
“That’s easy. See the guy to his right? He is drinking a light beer, whereas the others have hard alcohol. He cares more about staying in control than being a party guy. He won’t let the alcohol make his decisions for him.”
I could see her staring intently at the young attractive man that I pointed out. Her eyes darted from his gelled hair, to his tailored navy jacket, to his black Oxfords. “He is attractive.” The way she smiled at him as she spoke caused my chest to tighten. I was enjoying her company. I didn’t feel as lonely in her presence.
“Yeah. Maybe,” I huffed. “But he is an assface.”
She peeled her eyes away from him and looked at me, a shocked smile playing across her lips. Her head tilted slightly, like a puppy hearing a new noise. “A what?” she asked.
“An assface. You know one of those guys who washes his face last in the shower.” She continued to just stare at me with that lost puppy face. “He is a narcissist and a control freak. His appearance is everything to him. See how all the others have unbuttoned jackets and loosened ties?”
“Yeah,” she said. Her eyes returned to him but not as lustful as before.
“His jacket is still buttoned and his tie is only slightly out of place. In this setting, that screams to me that he doesn’t want to relax. His clothing is an indication of his personality, perfectly put together. Afraid to let loose.”
“What does that have to do with the shower,” she asked.
“His face is his prized possession. So much, that it overrides common sense. He jumps in the shower and scrubs his whole body, then spends the last few minutes meticulously washing his face. Never realizing that the same soap he is washing his perfect face with, just finished scrubbing his ass.”
She looked at me blankly. For agonizingly long seconds, she stared at me with eyes devoid of any humor. Slowly her stone-faced façade cracked, as the corners of her mouth turned upwards. Laughter burst from her lips which made her spray her drink across the bar. Oblivious to the gawks and glares she received from the nearby drunks, she laughed loudly. I smiled as I watched her genuine mirth at my deadpan attempt at humor. She laughed like Linda did when we were young, enjoying the moment and not caring who watched.
Her poise was lost momentarily as she leaned back in the red leather seat to catch her breath. She inhaled deeply, in a vain attempt to regain her composure. Rebecca softly closed her eyes, took another deep breath, and then leaned forward towards me. Her soft hand landed on top of my wrinkled hand. I felt one of her fingers fall between two of mine. Her touch made the hairs on the back of my hands stand on end. All the air in my lungs seemed to escape at once, as her simple touch left me gasping for breath. I felt an excitement I had not felt in years. She leaned in closer as her fingers snaked towards my wrist. The scent of gardenias and baby powder softly enticed my sense of smell. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the simple touch of her fingers as they delicately traced a small circle on the top of my hand. Warm fingers, soft from an easy life found a cut on the back of my hand. Her finger drifted lightly over the crack in my skin. Her finger tenderly outlined the small imperfection, a casualty of life. The noises of the bar and its drunken patrons faded from my coherent senses. I felt the slow rise and fall of my chest as Linda continued to touch my hand. Her perfume drowning the smell of old beer and sweat. Her warm breath on my cheek.
No. Not Linda’s hands. Rebecca’s hands. I opened my eyes abruptly and turned to face her. Rebecca was inches from my face. She stared at me like a cat stared at a wounded mouse. A hungry stare. Her eyes betrayed her willingness to pounce. The tip of her tongue, which pinched between her white front teeth told me of her desire.
I quickly withdrew my hand from under her tender touch. As I sat back, putting some distance between us, I glanced at my watch. A glance that turned into a blank stare of my own. The green digital numbers revealed it was seventeen minutes past ten. She had not called. I had not remembered to check. I had forgotten to be upset that she didn’t call.
“She didn’t call,” Rebecca said. “She is serious about this divorce Chuck.”
“I know.” As I answered her, I continued to stare at the time. It really was over. She didn’t call, and Linda always called. The hairs on my neck stood up, not from a tender touch, and not from excitement. From a fire deep inside my gut, I felt a heat rising. It was burning my arms and the back of my tingling neck. I started to sweat from this heat building in me. Suddenly the world began to shake and catch fire all at once. I became content to let his feeling run its course. I would not stop this inferno of emotions.
A soft touch on my hand slowly cooled the fire inside me. I shook my head slowly to reclaim a clarity of the world. The fires stopped burning and the world stopped shaking. All that was left was Rebecca touching the same cut on my hand, exposing the crack in my armor.
“Seeing as how you’re basically single now, want to take this party up to my room?” As she spoke the feline hunger in her lips and eyes returned. I countered her look with one of blank apathy. “Come on Chuck,” she teased. “Your wife has been cheating on you, and we will never see each other again after tonight. At least get the satisfaction of a good revenge screw while you are in town.”
Without realizing I was moving, I stood up. I felt the fire in my stomach start up again. We raised two healthy kids, who had families of their own. They gave Linda and I three wonderful grandchildren. Sure, six months of the year my job had me travel a lot. It took me all over the country every week. But I gave Linda everything she wanted. An overly large house in one of the nicest suburbs of Philly, private schools for our kids, and she had no shortage of luxuries to keep her happy and occupied. I catered to her every desire the times I was home. Made every opportunity to spend time with her. Yet, she still finds time to fuck our neighbor!
In all the years, I had never once been with another woman. Sure, the desire was there. After a game, the guys and I would head out to wind down. Sometimes we would get hit on, promised all sorts of fun activities by women we would never see again. But never once did I stray. Now, this elegant woman from Oregon offered me the same chance. This chance to get a little payback at Linda for my broken heart. Revenge for making me love a woman who apparently didn’t love me.
Rebecca leaned over the bar while she paid her tab. Bartender Joe took her platinum card and headed towards the register. She faced the bar, but the twist in her slender hips allowed her to see me while I gazed at her. A sly smirk escaped her round, pouty lips when we made eye contact. She blew a kiss at me, then motioned with a single long finger to come closer.
I took a single, confident step forward. Being an arm’s reach away, she held out her slender hand to pull me closer. The tips of her fingers had an ivory line painted across the edge of each one. A French manicure is what Linda called it once. I liked that look, Linda only tried it a few times. It fit Rebecca’s delicate hands perfectly. The tips of her fingers glowed under the dim recessed lighting of the lounge. Her overall appearance was a picture of perfection, down to her manicured French tips. Except the small hangnail on her right middle finger. The tiny crack was a light shade of red and slightly swollen. I wondered if she could feel her heartbeat in that miniscule wound on her perfectly sculpted hands. I was transfixed at the small crack.
“Ready?” she asked. Her voice sounded awkwardly sultry. Anticipation and alcohol impaired her refinement and poise. It didn’t taint her perfection, it merely added to her realism. As the crack in her finger did.
“Thank you,” I said as I took her hand. I brought her delicate hand up towards my face and gently placed a soft kiss on her hangnail.
She tilted her head again. The hunting cat look replaced by the confused puppy again. Her lips still held the smile of hope, but her wide eyes revealed her confusion.
“Thank you for a wonderful evening,” I said. “You have been fun and exciting, and this has been a night I won’t forget. But when I stand in court for my divorce, I want to face Linda with a clear conscience. I want her to know that even though no one is perfect, she didn’t make my morals crack.”
Rebecca’s eyes narrowed. I assumed she was mad as I watched the playful smile melt from her lips. Briefly I noticed her bottom lip protrude slightly, before she regained her composure and smiled at me. “I was right,” she said. “You are a gentleman.”
I squeezed her hand gently before letting it fall back to her side. I gave her a wide smile and nodded to her before I turned around to leave. I looked at my watch. It was close to the bottom of the hour.
“Chuck,” I heard Rebecca call from behind me. I turned to see her playful smile returned to her lips. “You never told me what your job was.”
“Nope.” I couldn’t hide my smile as I left.