As Madison sauntered through the crowd, it parted.
She wanted it to. The light gave the place a dreamy atmosphere, as if the bar was not only a hundred square feet crammed between the grey buildings, but a whole universe separated from the road by the bass of the music.
On nights when people would actually stop and talk to her, which was very rare, the narrow path in front of the counter was her red carpet. Most of the time, though, it was just like a runway, and she wasn’t sure if she had to smile because models weren’t supposed to in fashion shows. She just walked. What she knew for sure, though, was that she had to be flawless. She knew her pace – slow enough to let everyone watch, and fast enough to give them the chance to catch just a glimpse. No more. Letting them know you liked to be watched was out of the question.
She slithered through the crowd, listening to their eyes over her body – she craved the sexual tension she created, of course, the way a male’s gaze crawled along her neck, breast, abdomen, and how it followed her as she left their eyes alone with her ass. But mostly she fed off the feeling of being perfect, and different.
She didn’t care who was watching her, as long as they had the same look in their eyes: pure ecstatic devotion. She deserved it.
She worked hard for it.
It was food, it was water, and it was shelter.
If she did not feel that gaze for too long, her body would literally bend – her hair would get greasy, her nails would gather all the dirt they could find on their way.
Her body would ache.
* * * *
The college bar was fucking filthy
The college bar was fucking filthy. Jack would have been surprised if someone had told him that they ever cleaned. The rubber of people’s sneakers would squeak against the fake wooden floor, but no one noticed. No one except for him. After all those years, he had started to hear the quietest sounds of the bar. People would be too busy, involved in their conversations or listening to the music, to notice the rest. Glasses clashing like bells, cans of beer crushed between veiny fingers, the leather peeling off the old stools. Pool cues and balls bouncing against the wood.
Mystery Girl’s shoes wouldn’t rub on the floor, though. She seemed like she knew where she was going on every step, and despite the high heels, she had never fallen, even if the old, fake wood slates were coming off and the floor was scattered with puddles of beer. Her bosom rolled rhythmically with the music, no matter what it was, and she seemed to do it instinctually. Jack noticed she didn’t drink. It didn’t look like she needed to.
Jack looked at her and took a shot of Fireball as if it were the last sip of coffee taken in front of a trash can and you need to throw the stupid cup away before you keep on walking.
He glanced at the ceiling for a second, his vision blurring as he saw the cracks on the wall. A spider paced slowly on the dirty plaster.
“Jack, are you on?” Matt showed him the pool cue, rolling a quarter between the fingers of his left hand. Droplets of sweat ran down his shaved forehead. Jack glanced at her before she turned the corner to go sit in the back of the bar.
He slammed the Fireball shot glass on the counter.
“I’m fucking on.”
He approached Matt, then walked past him.
Mystery Girl was sitting at a table by herself. Bingo, he thought.
“Hey, I’ve been watching you and you look damn good.”
Jack didn’t know where it came from. Well, from the shot of Fireball, probably.
He saw her closing her eyes and then looking up at him. He stood there, his Hawaiian shirt a bit loose on his shoulders and the old jeans brushing the dirty floor. Jack looked down and remembered that he was wearing stupid flip-flops. In October. Why the fuck had he decided to make his move when he looked like a hobo and wasn’t sure whether he had cut his toenails?
Shit, son,” she said, “where have you parked your horse?
“Shit, son,” she said, her voice just as low as he had imagined it would be. But then a Southern twang crawled into her speech, “Where have you parked your horse?”
Her eyes were black in the dim light of the bar. She puffed some smoke out and put the cigarette between her lips immediately after.
As she stood there, expressionless, waiting for his next move after having made fun of his accent, he saw Odessa sitting in her place, a million years ago. He blinked, and saw his ex wife again, instead of Mystery Girl.
He clenched his teeth to push Odessa away, but she was still there, as if he was in the study of their old house.
She watches him from her red velvet chair behind the mahogany desk that she inherited from her rich grandmother from Chicago. Jack sees her now, her eyes blue and big, but just as cruel as the ones of Mystery Girl. She is sitting there and handing him the pen to sign the divorce papers. As he stands there like an idiot, he notices a half-eaten cheesecake slice on a black, fashionable designer plate he has never seen in their house before. For some reason, it kills him.
He looks at Odessa again, her face still, then he grabs the damn plate and tosses it against the wall.
He can’t stand it. The stupid bitch has been sitting there the whole time, fucking nibbling at a cheesecake slice and waiting for him to come home to give him the divorce papers.
The cake slips on the wall as he walks out the door and heads to the bar, as he always does.
As he closes the door, her icy, calm voice resonates from her study.
Odessa disappeared as the Mystery Girl stared at him from her table at the bar. What didn’t disappear, though, was Jack’s awareness that his dick had stopped working consistently the night Odessa handed him the divorce papers, when he tried to sleep with the first college girl he met at the bar after drinking too much Fireball, as the cold letters on the papers spun in his head.
* * * *
Madison didn’t know why she had done it.
The guy seemed hurt. Well, maybe he was just drunk, and he was not expecting her to be so rude about him being from the South. He hadn’t done anything wrong really, he had just given her a compliment.
And it was what she wanted, she thought as she saw him walking away, his shoulders a little hunched. She wanted to be watched. But being watched, being at the centre of attention, meant that you could get more than what you really wanted.
Going to the bar alone hadn’t been a brilliant idea. The only friend she had in town had told her that she had to do homework, and Madison had started feeling so depressed, sitting alone in her room, that she had gotten dressed and, instead of going to the City, walked fifteen minutes to the Irish bar in Bronxville. The chilly breeze of the October night had made her shiver in her short, velvet python dress, but she needed the bar.
She smoked another cigarette, looking around as a couple of dudes played pool next to her. Then, before she could realize it, someone slammed two pints of beer on her table.
It was the redneck again. He seemed to be around 35, his blondish hair still healthy and his beard only mildly sprayed with a dusty grey. His Hawaiian t-shirt was awful, and she could not believe he was wearing flip-flops in October, but he seemed not to care.
“I decided that you should try this beer. No worries, I didn’t put any filth there. But it’s damn good and you seem too lonely to really wanting to be left alone.”
Madison looked at him, a genuine smile on his face as if he really wanted her to enjoy her night, as if he was forgiving her for being so rude about his accent.
He was one of the good ones, she could tell, but he was too close.
Being watched from afar was all she wanted. She did not feel the same about having men close to her, giving them the power to maybe even touch her, listen to her voice, gather information about her. What do you do, where are you from, how do you find New York? Yes, I bet the weather is good in Oklahoma, not like here.
When a guy got closer to her, her throat would dry out.
In the worst cases, when she really thought something could actually happen with a new guy, she suddenly felt his hands around her neck, and her body would shut down completely.
She knew she needed to overcome the fear. He was far away. She was safe.
The blonde redneck was still looking at her, two dimples appearing under his blondish beard.
She put off her cigarette in the ashtray.
“I’m Jack,” he said.
She got up. “Nice name,” she whispered, then she walked out of the room.
She tried to feel the same as when she was used to. Eyes on her as her body moved rhythmically, the male gaze slipping all over her. She didn’t.
She ran out of the bar and did not allow herself to cry until she was home.