Not a Bar Story
What she wanted was to write a story. Not the story. Not a life-changing story. Not a cautionary tale. She wanted to write a good story. A story that people would remember, or maybe forget, and when reminded, gasp and say, yes, of course! Perhaps that story would begin in a bar, though she already knew: no one wanted to read bar stories. But her bar story wouldn’t take place in a bar; it might start there, but she knew how the story ended and it wasn’t in a bar.
Anyway, she didn’t go to bars. In college, she was too broke; she bought forties and drank in her room, or out in the dark patches of the university lawns. One of her friends, a senior, whom she’d known forever, well, two years, but in college six months was a lifetime, passed her a blunt. He was a self-described pothead, and she, stressed about finals and roommate drama, knew she ought to relax, that the last time she’d smoked weed she listened to Amy Winehouse and sang aloud, for the first time unselfconsciously. This time too, lying in the grass, making up the names of constellations, and arguing Nietzsche, the friend’s ankle hooked with hers, she relaxed. She passed the joint once, twice, six times. She fell asleep.
A violent shuddering woke her, the arm she’d slept on sore and damp with dew, her friend rolling away from her, whimpering. She sat up, alarmed, and her shirt, inexplicably unbuttoned, flapped open. She stared at her exposed left breast, also unaccountably, outside the cup of her bra. She shoved her breast into her bra, buttoned her shirt. From the verge: I’m sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry. Her friend’s voice broke, and she snapped awake, worried for him. Confused too. She reached for the shoe she’d kicked off — she remembered doing that — and felt stickiness in the back of her knee. The moment she touched it she recognized the slimy feel, but it didn’t make sense, and she kept patting her thigh and higher, while the sticky streak that ended past the hem of her shorts dried against her hand. Her friend was in tears, hating himself. She went to his graduation.
That was the first story she wrote. She made up the details, the scent of the grass, decided that the stargazing was maudlin, something she’d delete in revision. Revision required distance so she put away the story, maybe even dragged it to her trash folder, and wrote another one.
That story also did not begin in a bar. That was a love story. The story of her and him. In the story she called him Ryan. Ryan who winked at her across the desk in a meeting with a dozen important people, Ryan whom she wanted to fuck so badly, who brought her green tea the morning after they slept together, the tea sweetened with just enough honey so she knew that he’d been paying attention. Ryan, for whom her body bloomed, the sex sometimes tender, sometimes funny, sometimes rough.
One February, she shivered entering the apartment, her coat still on while the heat kicked in. Ryan said, Let this fire-engine heat you up, fake growling in her ear, hard against her. She laughed. But his hands were warm on her, as was his breath in the crook of her neck. Her pants came off, she leaned against the sofa, and when he pulled her body up in a soft pyramid like he had a dozen times before, she wiggled her ass into his crotch. He moaned and lay on her. Suddenly, before she could comprehend, incomprehensible pain and his cock was inside her ass. Stop, she screamed, stop. But even she barely heard herself, her mouth full of cushion. She couldn’t understand why; even during the roughest sex, he’d entered her pussy from behind. She screamed and flailed and he groaned and shouted and collapsed, and her couch wasn’t even stained.
The next seventeen stories she wrote somehow didn’t include coats, couches, winter, characters named Ryan, or the words honey, dozen, or pyramid. She published these stories. She married. A man who is a friend and lover and partner, a generous father to the children.
The marriage is successful. Ten years in, she looks forward to his return from work trips. He travels often. She’s ill when he gets back from Auckland, a stomach bug, her breath is the worst, but he’s so happy to see her, so happy to be home he still has his shoes on as he joins her in bed. She tells him he’s filthy, her voice a rasp. Instantly, he’s erect. No, I’m sick, I really don’t want to. I know, he sighs, but it’s been nineteen days. He pushes himself into her pelvis, and she pushes him away. He pulls away, hurt, and she tells him this virus is exhausting, and he says he gets it, he does. Does she know he’s been in a plane for thirty hours, lots of women wish their husbands wanted them as much as he does her. This time, she’s ready, though not prepared. Right away, she’s writing the story in her head, while he’s hugging her and whispering that she must want him a little bit, she’s missed him hasn’t she, and she says, yes, but, no, and he says, please, bourbon, which is the old old joke from when they first met, in a bar, and he asked what she’d drink, and she got the order of words wrong. No, she says, please, no, scribbling faster, and now he’s thrusting in her, so dry no words come.
Bix Gabriel is a writer, MFA candidate at Indiana University-Bloomington, fiction editor for The Offing magazine, co-founder of TakeTwo Services, occasional Tweeter, wishful gardener, and seeker of the perfect jalebi. Her nonfiction has appeared in Electric Literature, Guernica, and elsewhere, and her fiction was most recently published in SmokeLong Quarterly. She is completing a novel involving the war on terror and Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence, set in New York City, Dhaka, and Guantánamo Bay.
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Image: SC King
Artist’s bio: SC King is an actor/writer/musician/illustrator from Tulsa, OK, currently working on visual media to aid the constant fight for representation of the disenfranchised.