I chugged hard on the last of my beer and wiggled the empty can in the air for Mustachio behind the bar to see. Another cold sweaty can arrived with its short shot buddy. Then another. And another. A parade of cans and shots across the bar and the place filled up with people.
A woman I recognized came through the door and pushed her way into the crowd. She walked down the bar and sat next to me on the only empty stool.
We had already introduced ourselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon, watching cartoons in the wrong colors on the old T.V. behind the bar.
“Oh hey, Eric? Wait, no.” She jabbed her finger at me. “Aaron. How’s it going?” The bartender brought her a beer and a whiskey shot without asking.
Stephanie’s hair was short and spiked. She was wearing baggy shorts and a dark, extra-large polo shirt that concealed the shapes of her body. She smiled a lot and her laugh was so unencumbered that I was completely endeared.
I’d seen her on other evenings with her arms around women. Heard her mention troubles with her girlfriend to the bartender. I felt no pressure to impress her and the two of us drank our beers and chatted about our jobs. Siblings and lovers. Where are you from again?
Stephanie’s girlfriend had moved in with her recently and they both worked from home. “I think we’re seeing too much of each other.”
“I hear you. My girlfriend Molly’s working on her PhD dissertation. She’s there when I wake up and waiting for me when I get home.”
I wanted to tell Stephanie how the daily grind was grinding me down. Ten years in the same cubicle, traveling hours every day to a job that meant nothing to me. How the empty struggle leaked apathy into every aspect of my life. How my amazing girlfriend bored me for no good reason. How I did nothing with my free time but drink. How I blamed myself for not figuring out a better way. But I knew I was drunk so I didn’t.
Stephanie leaned in close when she spoke. Bare skin kept making contact. It was summer in the city and our sweat made the touches intimate. Lightning bolts from my belly and my balls. The old familiar electricity of unfamiliar female flesh. I watched her take a slow swig on her beer can and scan the crowd to either side.
I looked too, hunched over my beer and wishing I worked from home instead of a shitty office cubicle, checking out the women in the crowd and wondering which one she might want.
A new bartender was making the rounds and I cracked a new beer. The place was solid noise. Everybody screamed their conversations at once. Music mixed in and a cackling laugh lashed out of the din every now and again. I can’t remember who started it but Stephanie and I were suddenly kissing with our tongues.
Her breath was hot and tasted like the lip of my beer can. My hand went to her hip. It was large and doughy. Completely different from Molly’s trim body. My head swam. A new kiss, an alien geography after years in the same familiar embrace.
Stephanie pulled away and looked at me, shook her head and smiled and chugged the rest of her beer. I tended to the second half of another enormous shot of whiskey. Then we kissed some more.
“Molly and I are always trying to get girls to come home with us.” I ventured during another beer break. I told her about our first and only taker, last Christmas.
“Our lover deserted us when she found out we didn’t have any cocaine.”
“I’ve never had sex with a guy before, “ said Stephanie.
My guts jumped up into my throat. I forced myself not to leap up and run from the place. Just sat staring at the crimped aluminum rim of my beer can.
I plucked the phone from my pocket and sent Molly a text message:
met a girl. might want to get down with us. real cool. kinda big. lesbian.
Molly taught class a few nights a week but this was Friday so I knew she was at the apartment. She liked to hide when she heard my keys and pounce on me when I came through the door.
The phone lit up and moved around on the bar.
on my way!
This was the girlfriend that bored me.
On my way to the toilet the floor rocked gently and not unpleasantly beneath my steps. By the time I did my business and stumbled back to my stool, Molly was inside the bar by the door trying to spot me in the crowd.
Molly scanned the faces with darting glances. Chin slightly raised, a faint pout on her lips and a distant look in her eyes as if she weren’t looking for anything at all. She wore a white sundress with an orange floral print that hugged her small waist and sturdy legs. Her “jumper legs,” she called them when we were alone.
When we caught each other’s eyes, she smiled and waved and worked her way through the crowd. I was happy to see her face. I kissed her and she put her arm around Stephanie like they’d been lovers before. The three of us did a shot of whiskey together.
Molly wasted no time leading the movement of our little gang from the bar stools down the few blocks and around the corner to our apartment. My brain felt happy and airy and light, like a silk handkerchief caressed and crumpled and placed pleasantly in my skull. I took big breaths through my nose to smell the air and the girls and to try and never forget the night.
And it was Friday! No work tomorrow.
Work. Fuck. I forgot about that. I’m a beaten man. A weakling.
The apartment door closed behind us. We stood in the kitchen, kissing and taking off our clothes. Molly got down and undid the simple silver buckle on my black leather belt and Stephanie kneeled down next to her. They took turns sucking on me, but the lightning bolts from back at the bar were gone and the entire apparatus was dark down there.
“Grow, gummy worm! Grow!” I shouted, and we all had a good laugh. But agitation was bubbling in my belly.
“To the bedroom!”
I led the way and we all piled onto the bed. Molly called it our “tent-bed” because it had curtains around it. Molly had names for everything. Hauling our combined clothing up and down five flights of stairs to and from the laundromat was called “partner carry”.
There was no partner anywhere that could carry this limp dick.
“You ladies have fun. I gotta do some prep work.”
I staggered out naked, bumping against the door frame. Flopped down on the couch and lit my bong. I could hear Molly in the bedroom: “Mm-mph…” and “Ohhh God!” and “Yesss!” while I sat at the coffee table stroking and stretching and squeezing and yanking and trying with all my might to get some kind of response.
I felt grumpy and drunk. Irritated and uneasy. Threatened. Like there was a guy with a bigger penis in bed with my girl. I staggered back into the bedroom. Stephanie’s face was in Molly’s crotch. I backed up and took a running dive at the bed.
“Ha ha!” I cried out as I leapt. Laughing and squirming, planting kisses and grabbing breasts. A chubby little cherub sent to the heavenly hospital for healing.
Stephanie wiggled her way beneath me and spread her legs wide. She grabbed at my hips and pulled me down into her. Looking me straight in the eye, she hissed through her clenched teeth with each thrust, “Come on. Come on. Come on.” Ramming me against her like she was trying to resuscitate me with her vagina.
I mushed pathetic against her wetness.
The whiskey rage was gaining ground. Stephanie took a chance tonight and I let her down. Molly peppered my back and shoulders with kisses of encouragement but it only made me feel pitiful. How quickly the flightless cherub falls.
Of course I had two women and I couldn’t get it up. I was weak. Miserable. I returned each day to a job I hated. I didn’t even have kids to feed. I was a cowardly shithead.
I stood up off the bed and screamed down at my sleeping penis, “You stupid little motherfucker!” and swatted it as hard as I could with the flat of my hand. Then I stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind me.
In the living room I grabbed one of the flimsy folding chairs from IKEA that Molly and I kept around for guests. I chucked the chair at the kitchen wall with all my might like it was the filthy, rotted, despicable disappointment I felt inside me everyday. It banged loud and clattered to the floor.
“I’M A FUCKING LOSER!” I roared at the ceiling. “FUCKING LOSER!” I threw another chair and it clattered all around the apartment. Causing this minor chaos calmed the storm in my gut.
My upstairs neighbor hammered hard on his floor and I froze in silence. Caught! I was deflated for the moment. Just the ever-present whir of the exhaust fan from the roof of the deli downstairs. Certainly there was a siren somewhere. Then the bedroom door opened.
Molly and Stephanie came out silently and got dressed without looking at me. I wanted to run away.
I walked Stephanie to the door. I couldn’t stop saying sorry. We hugged and she hurried down the steps. I clicked the lock.
With the stranger gone, the memory of her wasted desire flooded my veins.
Molly was already back in the bedroom waiting for me to tire myself out. It was getting to be a routine: I throw the little IKEA chairs around and scream for a bit. Then I come to bed.
And in the morning, I get up and go right back to that cubicle.
I spun on the room looking for something to destroy.
Illuminated on the glass surface of the coffee table my father built for me from cereal boxes I collected during junior high, there was a lamp my mother gave me. A salt rock the size of an ostrich egg with a bulb inside on a round wooden base. It glowed a calming orange and lent a cozy fire-lit feel to the room.
I snatched up that lamp and hurled it hard, “Fucking LOSER!”
The heft of the thing made it satisfying to throw. I diverted my aim from the table at the last instant and the rock hit the cushion of the couch. For the slimmest of moments I was relieved and thankful. Then it bounced back in an arc and landed on the table top with a crunch. Cracks zig-zagged out from the point of impact.
“Mother. FUCKER!” I dropped to my knees and smashed my palms down with all my strength.
I was shocked at how easily my hands shattered through the glass.
I thought of my father and the 1987 Super Bowl. Giants Vs. Broncos on my family’s first color television. Mom said the players had nice butts and Dad jumped suddenly from the couch, grabbed a fist full of her hair and dumped his entire can of beer out on her face.
I looked at my hands. My right one was bleeding from everywhere. My left palm now had a mouth.
“I’ve gotta go to the hospital,” I said quietly to the room.
The bedroom door creaked open. Molly came creeping out chewing on her fingernail and looking at me apprehensively.
I stood up and went to the kitchen sink to rinse my wounds. The dish towel was hanging over the faucet so I grabbed it and started off for the emergency room, clopping down the stairs and the up the blocks past 14th Street in my flip-flops.
Blood covered my hands and dripped a splatter trail on the sidewalk. Molly followed me with a pile of pastel washcloths, every so often holding one out to me in an attempt to staunch the bleeding. Every few steps I screamed at her to get away.
“Go find a real man. Just leave me alone.”
She ignored me and held whichever of my hands were free while they stitched me up and when we finally made it back into bed, I apologized and she kissed me quietly and told me to sleep. Things would be better tomorrow, she promised.
I dozed off peacefully, imagining their faces at work the next day. “I quit,” is what I would say. I was sure of it.
After a few more years I did, but not that Monday morning.
“I tripped on my cat in the dark,” is what I told them.