I have a whole folder of short stories I created last year. There’s no recurring themes or characters…just ideas that rolled once my fingers started banging away at the keys. Here’s one about an uninvited wedding guest with a careful eye and a belly full of Tullamore Dew. Enjoy.
The band played for hours. Those songs you knew and loved from the moments in your life that had somehow carved out arrogant little spaces in your mind; like those crafty minutes of your youth when you stole a cookie or a kiss. The songs that put you back in that bus seat at noon in 8th grade, headed home half-day with a broken leg, blowing cigarette smoke out the window that was barely cracked and smeared with the grease of the last forehead that had been pressed against it to sleep or dream.
The band kept time while bodies followed each other across the floor through a maze of heavy perfume stink and cigarette breath. It took extra sips for the great uncles and second cousins to sing themselves sick, yet no one worried how they’d get back home. I listened to that god damn band play hit after hit, while avoiding eye contact from the single maidens in their perfect pink dresses, looking like shiny new dolls in the giant toy store windows in December. They were precious in plain sight, but nothing to take lightly. They gathered between gang-shout choruses to lay waste to the secrets of the groom’s side and annihilate any tacky necklace or open toe shoe worn outside their tiny perfect legion.
The great oak of the bar kept me from sinking as I stared out at the dance floor. I was calm and content to tap my toe, but restless enough to slowly chew away the skin from the inside of my right cheek. My jacket still smelled of her perfume, the remnants of a hug she handed out sometime after cocktail hour but before their first official dance as man and wife. I breathed deep, my lungs shallow from the whiskey that burned my throat and floated menacingly in my gut, but also because I loved the way her perfume swirled from my nostrils to my brain triggering the fiction. I wanted to stay inside my head and live there for the night. I didn’t have to work too hard in that space. There, she came to me and asked for another kiss. There, love went from noun to verb. And I was fine with that.
I ordered two shots and put another ten in the tip cup. The band picked up the tempo and there she went, rising from the head table perched at the tip of the room to the center of the dance floor. She’d had too much wine. Her tell was a sly, crooked grin. Those nights, when a wild fire burned in her eyes, always led to some sexy fight for the bottom. She loved my weight on her, my face in her neck. Heaven looked like our former bedroom in distress; the war waged between the sheets. Yet, there she went skipping across the ballroom floor barefoot, hips left and hands right, aunts and cousins stepping in and out of her special light.
The next shot burned going down. A stranger could mistake the wince for a grin, and I wouldn’t blame them. I loosened my tie and ran a ragged hand through my hair. I was a younger man when she called me her best friend, and now I stood far along the edges of a room full of the most relevant people in her world, having clearly dropped incalculable positions on that list. Truthfully, I was honored to witness the show. I was honored to have once held her face in my hands, and crushed to know she would never stay.
Her stagger turned into a sway in the arms of a best friends date or fiancé. From this distance they all looked the same, bankers and lawyers. All toothy grins and fancy cufflinks; imported bottled beer and plumes of bluish cigar smoke leaking from mouths full of expensive dental touchups. They laughed and their lazy frat boy high-fives shook their settled bellies. They weren’t offensive, they were just simple in a way which turned their back on books and records, and painting during snow storms. Time well spent when the roads hid from the traffic and so did we.
The DJ passed out inflatable instruments ushering in a wave of impromptu guitar solos. My vodka was gone and the ice tasted like lime. I folded another ten and shot the bartender a wink as I stuffed it in his jar. He wasn’t paid to concern himself with the strangers at his bar, and I couldn’t care less what he thought. Desperately needing a change of scenery, I strolled through the deep recesses of the banquet room and saw her headed towards the stairs down to the restrooms.
I trailed her down the winding steps, pulling my arms into my coat. She stopped at the door to the ladies room and stared back at me. She flashed that genre bending smile that floored me ten years ago and kept me wondering ever since. She came alive on the canvases I dragged a stained brush across. She breathed life into the chords I strummed on the worn Washburn that barely stayed in tune. She somehow managed to work her way into the very fabric of who I was, and she wasn’t mine.
My head cocked to the side the band rolled into something by the Stones upstairs, a terribly blunt reminder that it was impossible to get what you want. In fact, I’d always had exactly what I needed, but never found the right words to prove it. There were nights when the wine was right, and her hand was connected to the face of the man she loved. And we kissed like raging kids, like drunken idiots in the street; but those kisses weren’t anything more than a demonstration of frustration. They were the short fuses of our ambition, rigged to blow.
Outside the women’s room, in a moment too perfectly deserted, she opened her mouth to speak and I pressed my finger to her lips. Those cherry red lips, stained from wine and makeup so perfect she looked like she came from the glossy pages of a fashion magazine. I imagined she wanted to say all the magical things she whispered in my dreams. I wanted her to tell me that everything up until this moment was simple series of missteps and errors; innocent misfortunes that life had to offer. But I’d never know.
I reached out and grabbed her hand. I felt her porcelain skin, tracing those delicate fingers that used to roam my body without plans or permission. I brought her hand to my mouth and kissed it gently. I slid my fingers around hers and smiled. She knew that it was time for me to leave, and not look back. I stepped to her left and out into the February wind. I didn’t glance over my shoulder, and I didn’t go home to pine. I stopped penning love songs and never painted another picture. It didn’t take wild horses to drag me away. It was simply time to push things forward, where she’d live behind my eyes at her very best.