Handlebars by Jan Saenz

Handlebars

It was a good night for memories, the college kind. A party in an old house, with a small kitchen and narrow hallway. The music shook loose doorknobs. Voices fought to be heard, yet people smiled into their cheeks — into their cups, beers and hands — and everything was so fucking beautiful and full, until Eve’s boyfriend reached for her pigtails, held them in his fists and said, “Handlebars!”

It was for all to hear — all to see — and under the crude spotlight of a kitchen lamp, they stood in line for trashcan punch.

Eve reached for a red Solo cup from a tower of many and everyone laughed — friends among friends — and Eve laughed because she’s a trooper. She gets all the dick jokes and man, is her boyfriend thankful for that! He loves her sense of humor. They all do.

He kissed her forehead like good boyfriends do, lifting a plastic chalice to his cherry-stained lips. His red tongue. “I’m only sort of kidding,” he apologized, sexily. She could have pushed him down and straddled his face between her thighs (“Earmuffs!”) but it would only sort of be funny and he’d only sort of like it, so instead she walked to the bathroom, undid her hair, and sort of returned.

“Aw, why’d you take them out?”

The question came all night, from all angles — all friends — and in the back of Eve’s mind, she wondered too. She divvied out excuses like a preteen testing status updates, seeing which ones fit best.

I looked like a kid… my hair tie broke… oh you know… 

As more hours passed, more punches were consumed and Eve danced like most girlfriends do, curling her spine in patterns taught to her by the greats. By the television she grew up on. By so many girls who came before her.

She reached underneath her shirt, unsnapped her bra, and stuffed it into the back pocket of her jeans. The boyfriend chuckled, natural and nervous.

“Why’d you take it off?” he shouted over the music.

“I’m uncomfortable!”

“Can you put it back on?”

She pretended not to hear him, pretended not to care that the music had a tendency to swallow her words whenever it was her turn to talk. She kissed him and left the dancefloor, hoping to stand in line for more trashcan punch. It felt right to drink.

“What’s that?” someone asked, pointing to her head.

Eve lifted a hand to the front of her scalp, fingering a slight protrusion in the skull. A knob like the end of a shotgun shell.

She tussled her hair and said, “Nothing” in regard to the strange metal stump. (This is nothing, she thought. This is only a memory.)

The stump grew, enchanted, and at a tortuous rate. A slow burn. Eve tried to escape to the bathroom, but the line was so long. The music, so loud. She returned to the crowded living room and danced a bit faster, a bit jerkier. She didn’t want her boyfriend to see what he had done. There were two now! Two handlebars sprouting out of her head. Like parsnips begging to be pulled, they pushed and the ache swelled. Eve squeezed her breath, closed her eyes and squawked when the soil of her scalp finally split.

“Whoa, are you OK?” The boyfriend placed a hand on her shoulder and she nodded, hiding her aluminum horns beneath now-bloody palms, camouflaging them inside a dance move. But the blood, it pooled into her hair. It trickled down her wrists.

Behind them, someone murmured, “Holy shit —”

Eve didn’t want to blame the joke. (It was the punch. The punch was to blame!) It manipulated the blood. It weighed her down and she sank, slurred, sagged, crawled toward the hallway like a baby escaping the diaper. The line to the bathroom had finally dispersed and the smell of piss stung her flared nostrils.

“Baby? Baby?” The boyfriend snaked an arm around Eve’s torso, scooping up her limp body. In a panic he stole her wrists and steered her into the kitchen, parking his beloved underneath the spotlight. Sweat had gathered beneath Eve’s floppy, unholstered breasts and she tried to smile, really she did. She tried to be cool about the whole handlebars thing.

“It’s fine,” she explained. “You were just joking — I get it. I totally get it.”

People crowded around, gawking, wanting to touch her gruesome metal bones, and somewhere a boy laughed because it was funny.

Her boyfriend petted her, so sweet and sincere. He snatched a roll of paper towel. “Baby, can you hear me? Does it hurt? Do you want me to take you home?”

Eve swayed, waltzing inside her personal space.

Knowing home meant bed and bed usually meant fucking, which was nice and all. She just wished it were less of an insertion thing.

He leaned in close, like they might kiss if he stumbled. He said, “You looked repressed.”

“What?” she screamed. The music was still playing. The party was still sort of going.

“I said, ‘You look depressed.’”

He pulled away and spoke like a boy on mute, smiling between sentences, and Eve laughed because it was all so absurd — jokes getting blown out of proportion, not knowing if it was her fault or his or if it even really mattered.

The lights from the kitchen ceiling flickered, like a demon warning, as she stared into the red tongue of her boyfriend’s red mouth. Red lips, red gums and — suddenly — red teeth. Red eyes. Red walls. Red moonlight in the red window next to the redhead watching, understanding completely. Everything was changing.

Eve touched her bloody handlebars, exploring the mutation. Uncertain if they were better off before, or if this meant the party was over for dick jokes.

Nevertheless, when the ambulance sirens grew near, Eve instinctively ran out the door and leapt into the arms of a female paramedic because, at the end of the day, anything is better than the humiliation of a punch line.

 

Handlebars

 

Jan Saenz is a Houston-based writer and serial thrift shopper. Her work has been published by Paper Darts and Bending Genres. She is currently working on her third novel, a dark comedy about amateur drug dealers and the female orgasm. She has a BA in Theatre and a doctorate in useless pop-culture facts. To stalk her, visit www.jansaenz.com or follow @jan_saenz

 

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