Trouble on the Way
There is a sizzle of mustard light that wafts through the bar. This sleazy haze drips slowly from the cigarettes, balanced on chewing lips and falls in clumps to line the last remaining ashtrays found in the wild. The smoking section signs are extinct. Most places they have been ripped from the walls and replaced with no smoking signs, but here the only signs emblazon clever pictures with beer brands and light up notice-me-neon.
The bell tinkled when he tossed open the door, letting out the humid AC and letting in a wave of wind, heated by asphalt and left over from daytime. We did not notice much of him, only a white wife-beater and cargo shorts. His most noticeable feature were the off white socks he wore under his black reebok sandals. Sunday nights are not busy in the off-season. Summer grinds down the business at the bar, and the college is closed. There are us, the stragglers who live on campus, but Sundays are quiet, and most everyone keeps to themselves. When he walked in with his friends, we noticed because they were the only ones near to our age, with full hair and softly tanned shoulders. We noticed enough to share a glance with them, then looked at each other. Food arrived and we forgot him in the beds of hamburger buns and buffalo bites.
He approached us just after we wandered to the jukebox. On quiet nights the musical lineup could be altered. On quiet nights, no one cared if we played the oldies and sang along in made up harmonies, especially when we sang in the back by the billiards. Baba O’Riley. Billie Jean. Billy Joel. As we scrolled the list we felt a body, like a radiator behind us – stood closer than my boyfriend does in the bedroom. Bad Moon Rising. We scrolled past it, just to check if there was anything else to want.
“You have really bad taste in music.”
The heat from the bar stayed pleasant. Steve and Alex strode along the counter, rubbing it with a damp cloth. Brian, the bouncer stared at the far wall, arms crossed.
“Seriously, you guys have shitty taste in music. You should put on Beyoncé.”
We ignored him, stepping towards the grey plastic of the jukebox. We pointed down the list at songs we liked.
“Come on, Beyoncé – you girls must love Beyoncé.”
I turned, not meeting his eyes.
“I’ve always preferred Rihanna myself. I’m not really into Beyoncé.”
A cursory retort, cold and fleeting and he might back off. We had a plan: pick a song, pay, and slug down a beer while singing unsolicited karaoke using indoor voices.
“She’s shit compared to the queen. You guys have trash taste.”
Suckling grease from crusty fingernails we scrolled back through the music options, and without more than a seconds thought Kim pressed hard on Bad Moon Rising. As we turned to walk back to the vinyl booth, a box popped up on the screen.
Choose your second Song
“Beyoncé! You have another for a better song.”
We hesitated, feet turned away from the pair of thick sneakers behind us. We could find one more song.
“How do you feel about Queen, Lex?” Kim asked, scrolling to the Qs, determined.
“Yeah! Play the Queen!” The boy yelled, fist pumping and sloshing some of his beer down his shirt. The muscles in Kim’s upper lip twitched.
“Bohemian Rhapsody?” Kim asked me, giving the boy her back.
“I’ve never heard that song by her,” The boy said.
“Sounds great to me.”
As we clicked the song, the boy let out a groan.
“You know what? Here,” He said, digging around in his back pocket and glancing towards his friends who watched from the counter. He thrust a few dollars in our faces.
“Here,” he said. “Some cash for you to put on some good music. Not this other crap.”
I hadn’t spoken since my quip earlier but anger tumbled past my throat.
“No. Keep your money, or put on Beyoncé yourself.” I grabbed Kim’s arm and pulled her towards the stairs just as our songs started.
“Why are you bitches being so cold? Too good for me?”
He may have spoken but our raised middle fingers got the last word.
We sipped Lambic – Pêche – and our low chatter and harmonized songs, in time with the music we put on, faded beneath the rumble and clatter from the boy and his friends at the counter. Droplets of foam sloshed below them and splattered to the floor, but the bar was empty, so we paid them no mind.
It was not until we paid that we could smell them. The splinters of smoke mingling with the vapors of armpit hair. Although I opened no tab and paid up front, Kim had not. As we approached the cash register heads swiveled or stretched to gaze upon the only girls in the bar. I felt the tingling heat and the sweat stained musk curl behind me again but it was a voice to the left of us that spoke.
“So what was that cold shoulder earlier?”
“What?” I said.
“You gave my friend here, the cold shoulder. You have boyfriends or something?”
“No,” Kim said.
“No,” I lied, staring down his well groomed hair and squared off glasses. His button down shirt was pressed, and muscles rippled beneath, but he gave off musk like mildewed wallpaper. Kim turned to pay and the new boy gazed down my shirt. The old boy flit his eyes over her ass.
“Do you go to the school?” The boys asked.
“Do you think I could go to the school?” the first boy said.
“There’s an adult program, yeah. I had an older guy in one of my summer classes. Nice guy. Probably in his 70s.” The corners of my mouth were up but my head was tilted down and my eyes slits.
“Ew, you fuck old men?!” They laughed, patting the meat on each other’s biceps and gazing in mock disgust, first up my legs then across my chest again and again. Although I waited they never sought my eyes.
“We go to the college.” They said, holding back appraised giggles.
“You want to come home with me?” said the first of the boys. His smile gleamed like fresh bird droppings.
“Sorry. I have plans.” I said, looking towards Alex, the barkeep, or Brian, the bouncer. Neither looked up from their phones, though Alex frowned as he handed Kim her change. The boy suckled on his beer eyebrow raised, waiting for an explanation. Kim fumbled with her wallet, zipper stuck. The boy’s wrist lashed out, catching her wallet for her. In a swift motion he pulled the caught zipper and forced it up, splitting the seam on the inside. We pushed past the boy and his friends, as the neon lights bounced colorful streams off of the polished wooden counter and onto their faces. They became dappled in blues and oranges and green. The laughter followed us to the door.
“Have fun eating each other out,” they called.
Whistles and snorting laughter followed us out the door. A bell tinkled, echoed by the coins that fell, bounced and scattered to the ground from Kim’s broken wallet.
©2015 Lex Vex