By Carrie Mumford
I make my way through the front room of the bar, my high heels slipping sideways in the sand. He is waiting in a booth near the back, slouched over his cheap cell phone, his hair spiked to perfection. The shoes I’m wearing are horribly uncomfortable and not my style at all, but I know he likes them. He looks tired; blue, translucent rings circle his eyes, and I can’t tell you his name, even though I know you’d want to hear it – you might even recognize it now. I most certainly can’t tell you mine, although you’d never recognize it anyway.
“The audition sucked,” he says as I slide into the booth across from him.
I slip the menu out from under his hand and say: “I need a martini.” I don’t even like martinis – I prefer beer – but I always drank them around him because it was part of the show.
“Maybe something stronger,” he says. What’s stronger than a cringe-inducing martini? I know it’s going to happen again. What I don’t know is why I keep letting it happen. I’m the youngest vice president my company has ever had. I wear power suits and power shoes and I march around the office carrying power drinks. Sometimes I even yell at people. Once I had to fire someone and she cried.
But he’s so young and so handsome and so unattainable. And the opposite of successful. I ask myself why I go back and the answer is always the same: it’s the sex. But I’m lying. It’s not the sex and I know it.
He’s spinning his cell phone in circles on the scraped-up table, looking sullen and pouty and I wonder if he’s practicing for a role he’s laying it on so thick. The waitress comes back with her note pad and pen held at the ready. I have trouble respecting waitresses who can’t memorize a simple drink order. I have even more trouble respecting anyone who is wearing a grass hula skirt and a bikini top. Her stomach is tanned and taut in a way I know mine will never be and I hate her for it.
“I’ll have a martini,” I say. “Dry, straight-up, stirred and dirty.” God dammed martinis.
“And two shots of tequila, no lemon,” he adds.
“What the hell?” I say after the waitress has sashayed her way to the next table. He slips out of his seat and into my side of the booth and then grabs my hand as he sits back down. That’s when I know it’s serious. He rarely touches me in public. I could count the times on one hand, and sometimes I do. To get myself through the in-between times when we don’t see each other, I pull these public displays of affection out and hold them up to the light, turning them this way and that, examining them from every possible angle. I know it’s ridiculous – women like me aren’t supposed to lust after flighty young men. We’re supposed to eat men like this for breakfast, chew them up and spit them out and move on to the next flavor of the week, or so I’m told.
“I’m going to L.A.,” he says.
I can smell his hair product, some fancy Moroccan oil that his fancy hairdresser suggested he use for auditions. He pays more for his haircuts than I do, but I’d never tell him that.
“What for?” I ask, trying to sound casual, like I have friends who jet off to L.A. all the time. For all he knows of my friends, I might. But even as I say this I can feel my hand getting clammy in his. I want to pull my hand back and wipe it on my expensive, silky pants. I want to go back to when he called and asked me to meet him and tell him I have to work late. I want to take off the stupid yellow shoes that he claims he loves.
“My agent got me an audition for a movie down there, and I might be able to get that security job.”
He releases my slimy hand and grabs the saltshaker. He shakes it three times over his beer (always three), and takes a long swig. The dry, sandy air hangs between us while I try to force my brain to move fast enough to make sense of what he is saying.
“Well, that’s great. It’s what we’ve always talked about,” I say. At the word “we” his eyebrows shoot up and he looks right at me before turning his focus back to his beer. It’s sitting on a coaster for the beer from the commercial he was in.
We’d talked at length about moving to L.A. I’d transfer to the L.A. office – difficult, but not impossible given my recent promotion – and his friend Matty would hook him up with a security job. I’d pay most of the bills until he got his big break, just like I had been doing here. Matty was Elton John’s second cousin, or maybe third. I can tell you that because it’s probably not true.
I fiddle with the condiments, lining them up, ketchup, vinegar, salt, pepper, hot sauce. Five soldiers in a row. I think about the last time I made a pot roast. I have honed my pot roast to perfection– it was his favorite. A gal like me cooking a pot roast. Ha! I remember him talking on his phone once while I chopped carrots with abandon.
“I’ve gotta go before the little one chops a finger off,” he said to the person on the phone. I smiled as I chopped – no one had called me ‘little one’ since I was seven. When I turned around he was on one knee in front of the fridge. I stood in front of him with the paring knife in one hand, half a carrot in the other. We stayed there for a minute, him looking up at me from his position on the cold tile and me looking down. After what felt like forever he stood up, brushed off his knee, and took the carrot from my hand.
“I just wanted to see what it’d feel like,” he said.
I drop my head to glance sideways at him in the booth a few times, but know better than to push him. I’d learned he needs time to percolate his thoughts. If you press him, it floats away, just out of reach, like one of those fluffy dandelion puffs we used to catch and make wishes on. I thought that was so cute and frivolous, making wishes on dandelion puffs. I always wished he’d never leave. He never told me what he wished.
“I’m going alone,” he almost whispers towards me. The waitress returns with her tray and plunks the martini and two shots of tequila down on the table. I can tell the martini is going to be terrible –the liquid is too clear and will likely taste like rubbing alcohol going down. I pay, and he slides a shot glass into my hand. He holds up his shot glass and nods towards mine. I don’t know what else to do, so I pick it up and clink it against his. I can’t help but feel like I’m acting in some terrible reality TV show. It’s all so scripted and dramatic.
He tips the shot into his mouth, and I do the same. The tequila burns a trail down my throat and into my stomach, and I can feel the ridiculous sand crunching under my shoes, harsh and abrasive. The stupid shoes are squeezing my feet, and yet somehow the sand has still managed to make its way in-between my toes. I wonder if anyone else is there to be dumped. Maybe this bar is some sort of famous dumping zone that I don’t know about, since I’m so out of the loop these days. Maybe the girls at the office would have laughed and shaken their heads knowingly if I’d told them where he’d asked me to go.
“I’m never going to be able to give you what you want,” he finally says. I concentrate on his hands, long fingers clasped around his salty beer, and wonder what it is he thinks I want. The line sounds rehearsed, like he’s practiced and said it out loud before, rolled it around in his mouth like I heard him do with so many other lines.
“You can have my sofa… and my car,” he says.
“I don’t want your things,” I say, taking a chug of the martini and trying not to make a face.
After a while I say: “Isn’t this even a little bit hard for you?” I spit the words at him like little bullets, even though I know they’re pathetic, rubber bullets at best. I shove my row of condiment soldiers back into place at the end of the table, right up against the wall. I slide closer to the wall too, widening the gap between us, hoping that he’ll notice my coldness. Hoping it’ll snap him back to me as if we were connected by some sort of giant elastic, not just sex and mirrors and made up things.
“Of course it’s hard – you have no idea how hard.” He smiles at the waitress as she passes with a tray of drinks. I can see his crooked tooth, the “lady seducer,” I’d once called it. That tooth was going to be his big break, he told me. It set him apart from all of the other perfect, straight-toothed actors.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” I ask. He looks back into his now empty glass, shifting the last dregs of beer back and forth across the bottom.
Just before I step into the cab at the end of the night he says: “See ya, buddy,” and punches me lightly in the arm. A punch in the arm. Like I am his little sister, or a friend’s girlfriend. Not like I am his lover, or a high-powered business woman.
When I get home I go straight to my shoebox-sized bathroom. It’s so small that you can sit on the toilet and barf in the tub, which works well, because that’s exactly what I do as soon as I take off the shoes.
Between heaves I look up and see a pink daisy razor on the edge of the tub. I pick it up and rub it back and forth across my wrist, looking at the thin blue and purple veins crisscrossing just under the surface. I knew a girl in grade six who cut her wrists. The week before did it she shaved her hair and her eyebrows right off. We all avoided her when she came back to school; she had no hair and big bandages on her arms. I wonder how much it would hurt, or if it would even work. I imagine him being called back from L.A. to my hospital bed, or my funeral. Would he cry? Would he regret? Would he feel like I do right now?
My stomach churns and I turn my head just in time, bitter martini and tequila filling the tub and splattering the wall. I walk to the kitchen and leave a message at work and tell them I have the flu, and that I won’t be in. I go to my room and I take out a bottle and dump the whole thing into my hand. So many pills that some fall on the floor. I stuff them all in my mouth, just like I saw in a movie once. I’m not telling you this so you feel sorry for me. I know how pathetic it is – bigwig businesswoman overdoses after being dumped at the Tiki Bar by a struggling actor. It makes me feel mortified when I think of it – it wasn’t me. That’s why I’m telling you, and no one else.
Even worse, the pills don’t work. I just sleep for ages and then barf some more, but it does get me out of two days of work.
I wait for him to call. I expect him to come back like every other time. I scan IMDB and Google for new mentions of his name.
Months later I run into his friend Chris L. at the grocery store. That was his real name, but there are lots of Chris L.’s out there, so I think it’s OK to say. Chris balances a basket of food on his thigh and tells me that he heard he knocked a girl up his first week in L.A. The baby is due in September. A girl they plan to call Destiny, of all the cheesiest things. Chris says I’m better off without him – he never understood what I saw in that actor goof anyway.
He left his car in my parking spot, but I don’t go back there until it’s spring and the snow has started to melt. It is the first truly sunny day of the year, and gray water is running in dirty streams through the gravel of the lot. The car looks even rustier than before, the metal around its wheel wells fading into a powdery brown. There’s no way I could be seen in this car.
He’s left the keys in the coffee-sticky cup holder, and no one has even bothered to steal it after all these months.
I sit in the musty car for a long time, opening compartments, feeling under the seats, hopeful for a note or a sign or anything at all, but he’s swept the car clean like I see them do in those crime shows.
Finally I put the key in the ignition and turn, hoping that the click of the key will magically make me forget everything that the chug of the crappy old engine will turn me back into the person I thought I was.
Bio: Carrie Mumford is a writer and editor living in Calgary, Alberta. She writes short stories and non-fiction articles, and is chipping away at her first novel. She blogs weekly at blog.carriemumford.com, and tweets up a storm at @CarrieMumford on Twitter.