Barfly

“No, I’m not going to church tomorrow,” I said. “Or the week after that. Also, there’s a high probability I’ll be a no-show for the rest of my life.”

“I understand,” she said. “I’m sorry. But if you would just–”

“Later,” I said, cutting her off and ending the call.

I was sitting in the parking lot of a restaurant and bar called “O’Toole’s”, a sporty Irish-themed cookie-cutter chain. It was convenient to my house, but not too convenient, the kind of bland, anonymous place you go where you’re happy if nobody knows your name and the food doesn’t suck too bad.

Inside, I took a seat anchoring one corner of the U-shaped bar.

“What can I get you, captain?” a pie-faced bartender asked.

I smiled. “How’d you know I was a captain?” I replied.

He shrugged and said wearily, “Everyone’s a captain, brother.”

“A beer. Surprise me. And a water,” I said.

“Start a tab?” he asked

“Might as well,” I answered.

He brought my beer, and settled into the bar stool, giving my attention to a basketball game on one of the large flat-panel televisions over the bar.

That’s when she came in and sat a couple stools down to my right, anchoring the terminus of one end of the U.

I looked over, smiled and nodded politely. She looked a good fifteen years older than me but smartly dressed and well-kept. Her hair was bleached and, because she was slim and petite, a bit too big I thought for her small face.

The bartender walked over with a glass of white wine.

“Hi Ronnie,” he said. “Been a while.”

“For you maybe,” she said in a quiet voice, but wryly, with a little spirit. “I was here twice last week.”

The bartender laughed. “Need a menu?”

“No, thank you, Rob,” she said. “Just a couple glasses before heading home.”

I looked back at the game I had no interest in while I thought through what to do about my marriage. Divorce wasn’t out of the question, but was certainly a last resort in my book. I had been through it as a kid and seen plenty of friends and family go through it more than once. The kids made the whole situation more complicated and I felt ashamed to admit I sometimes wished we didn’t have any, more for their sake than mine. At least that’s what I was telling myself at the time.

“Excuse me.”

A delicate, feminine voice interrupted my reverie. It was the older chick at the end of the bar, now standing a couple of feet away.

“Do you have a light by any chance?” she asked, holding up a cigarette.

I gave her my standard smirk and said, “Just a flashlight.”

She giggled and said, “You’re funny,” as Rob the bartender came over with a lighter.

“What’s your name?” I asked. If I was going to be single again, I might as well start brushing the mothballs off my game. Not that I’d ever really stopped, but kept it shallow and short for fifteen years of marriage. Now it seemed to make sense to take it a few steps further, work the kinks out.

“Veronica,” she said, extending her hand the way many older southern women still do, palm down as though I was supposed to pull a Rhett Butler and kiss the back of it. Instead, I took her tiny, almost fragile-seeming hand in mine, and gave it my standard gentle squeeze.

“People call me ‘Ronnie’ but I don’t really like it,” she continued. “Though I’ve grown tired of correcting them, so I’ve taken to playing a little game in my head where ‘Ronnie’ is a sort of female James Bond.”

I chuckled politely. “Well, that’s one way to do it,” I said. Looking her directly in her eyes I could see the age better up close. A lot of makeup but like I said she was in good shape and had kept herself together, but the air of desperation was a lot more difficult to hide than her crow’s feet. Several steps into my forties at this point, I could see more than I used to. Than I wanted to, really.

“May I?” she asked and gestured toward the stool next to mine.

“Of course,” I said politely, wondering if she could read my lie as strongly as I told it. Felt it. I watched her step back down to her seat to retrieve her purse and wine glass, then stood and helped her up into the bar stool.

“Well, chivalry is not dead after all,” she said.

“It’s not,” I agreed. “It’s just on life support with a very specific living will.”

Looking back I wish someone would have punched me in the mouth or kicked me in the shitter at that very moment, told me to quit being chivalric sycophant with women. But the friends I had were the same way. It was the water we swam in back then.

“Life support,” she repeated. “Pretty cynical.”

I shrugged. Why was I allowing her to intrude on my peace and quiet? Her crappy perfume, and wine and cigarette breath was making me sick.

“You know I was married once,” she said. “Twice, actually.” She nodded at my ring finger, gestured with her glass.

“I’m pretty sure that one day I will have been married once, also,” I said. Why the fuck did I say that? Dumbass, I told myself and looked at her mouth. Did I want a blowjob from her?

“Oh I had the big house. The Mercedes. The fancy clothes. But I wasn’t happy,” she said.

“It happens,” I said, trying to beat this thing back down. But it was too late and she was rolling now.

“Here,” she said reaching into her purse. She handed me a photograph. “This is me back in the day.”

I took it politely, still in quasi-Southern-gentleman mode, taking the odd gesture completely in stride. It was clearly her, much younger, her hair a more natural blonde, and longer. She was leaning back against a black Mercedes, her tight little body in a tighter silver sequined dress, long, with a festive but classy-length slit up the side. Smiling comfortably and widely like she was having fun posing, the angle of her lean forcing her perky tits up and forward. She was hot. I would’ve banged the chick in the picture, no question. Especially now.

“Very nice,” I said, handing it back. I was trying to decide whether I wanted to fuck her. She looked a lot older than me, but based on her next fifteen minutes of oversharing I was starting to think she was closer to my mid-forties than I’d originally thought.

She reminded me of an older aunt rather than a peer. Older women appealed to me in my mid-twenties, but the first one I got was also the last one I wanted. She had satisfied my curiosity for good. Still, she was fit, attractive enough for a guy most likely at the end of his marriage to a cheating wife. Why the fuck not, I thought?

“Why the fuck not” ended up being because of the sadness. This chick was bringing me down, big time. I thought of my wife, the mother of my kids, hanging out in a cheesy corporate fern bar in ten-or-whatever-the-fuck years showing off pictures of when she used to be seriously hot so that strangers in bars would pay attention to her.

Suddenly, I really wanted out of there. I called for my check, paid my tab, and politely thanked her for the brief conversation. She seemed disappointed but not surprised, but what did I know.

I was happy to be out of there. A few weeks and some ultimately useless marriage counseling later, the ex and I were warming toward each other a bit. She called me as I was leaving the gun range and asked me to stop and pick up some steaks and wine for dinner. I stepped into the express lane at the grocery store with my steaks and wine, and there was Veronica working the register. Fuck my luck, I thought as I stepped up and threw her a low-key smile, hoping I could limit the small talk and wishing there were people in line behind me.

“Find everything you were looking for?” she asked politely, as though she didn’t recognize me. What the fuck? I thought. Was there a subtext there? Did she still want me? Or was I reading too much into this? Did she really not recognize me? She seemed more demure and sexual in the grocery store than she had in that bar weeks ago. The heavily sprayed mane was now soft and pulled back in a simple ponytail which didn’t make her look younger, exactly, but definitely a less desperate, more girlish presence. I could almost feel that soft hair on my face.

Why was this bothering me so much? I swiped my card and completed my payment, wondering if maybe I had also lost something, if I was not as memorable as I thought I was. Why did I suddenly have zero game? Why did I suddenly want not just her attention, but her?

As she smiled politely once again, I looked at her, perhaps a moment too long. Suddenly I thought she looked good. Really good. Much better than before. Her tight cashier’s vest showed off her lean, lithe torso almost as if it were a corset, her black slacks tight enough to show off, and partially shape, a very nice ass. I could feel the blood flowing now. What the fuck was this? Suddenly I wanted to pull her hair back and brush my lips along the side of her delicate, pale nick. I could’ve fucked her all night long a few weeks ago. Images of her on all fours on a leather couch somewhere with me pounding her from behind, hearing her grunt and moan, flooded my brain. What the everloving fuck?

I almost said something but my mouth was actually dry. Instead, I took the receipt, flushing slightly when her fingers brushed mine, wondering what the fuck was going on. I thought about stopping by a buddy’s house to get his take, but what the fuck was I going to say, and what was the point?

So I went home and fucked my soon-to-be-ex-wife instead, thinking about Veronica all the while, from foreplay to orgasm. We both agreed afterward it was the best sex we’d had in a long, long time.

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