This story is by Vanessa V. Kilmer and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I drop my name tag on the counter next to the sink. I run my thumb over the white letters. ELDON LAMB. Clean. Unscratched. My boss’ idea of a birthday present for a twenty-two year old. I toss the gift wrap and ribbon in the trash. Outside light flashes as the door opens and closes.
A girl walks into the Staggerin Bar & Grill, in Love, Saskatchewan, Canada, (“Liquor in the front…Meat in the rear”.)
I say girl because that’s how the jokes start, but this is a woman, and she doesn’t look funny, at all.
She catches my attention because it’s eleven in the morning and the bar is empty.
She catches my attention because she’s a strange woman in this small town, population 30.
She catches my attention because she wears a black parka edged in dusky fur. Dark sunglasses and a black half ski mask cover her face. I look for a gun. She must be a Bond assassin because she has no reason to dress like this on a Fall day with temperatures in the mid-fifties.
The gloom of the bar swallows the outlines of her body as she stands perched on the threshold of the dance floor. She doesn’t shoot. I sigh and sit up straight.
“Hi,” I say.
She raises her arms in movie slow-mo, tilts her hood back, and scrunches the mask down around her neck. She plucks the black knit cap from her head and white blond hair tumbles down to her waist, blinding me.
I slide off my stool, catch myself before I hit the floor and lean against the bar for support.
She looks around the room without moving any part of her body. I look, too, taking in the scuffed, dirty floor, brown leaves, cigarette butts and peanut shells piled in corners. Flickering neon light fades the washed out green felt of the pool table. Grey stuffing sticks out of the cracks in the red plastic coverings of the stools and booth seats. I trace the graffiti carved into the wood bar, polished by decades of elbows and dishwater rags.
My reflection in the dull mirrors on all four walls matches the ambiance of the place: long brown beard, mustache and hair, uncombed in two or three days, threadbare red and black flannel shirt over a dingy t-shirt, jeans I’ve been wearing since high school and equally old work boots. The only new item in the whole place is the electric blue cashmere scarf around my neck, a birthday present from my mother.
I grimace at myself in the mirrors and realize she has no image in them.
I swivel my head from her to the mirrors several times. She is in the room but not in the mirrors.
“Um,” I said.
My witty conversation gets her attention.
She glides to me.
“A beer, please, Eldon,” she says. Her voice vibrates along the liquor bottles. She removes her black gloves, pulling on one finger at a time, revealing long white hands tipped in cotton candy pink nail polish. The color shocks my eyesight, out of character to her white skin and hair and her black clothing.
“A beer,” she says.
I pull a bottle from the ice case, pop the cap and sit it on the bar in front of her.
She looks me in the eyes, lifts the bottle to her mouth and drinks the contents in one swig.
“Thank-you,” she says. “I’ll see you the same time tomorrow.” She spins the empty bottle on its side before leaving.
I work my shift, a long and boring Wednesday afternoon. I rush home and spend the night remaking myself.
Thursday morning, I watch the clock, rub my naked cheeks and chin, smooth down the my shirt and try not to touch any part of the bar. A burst of sun blinds me for a second.
Again, all in black, she wears a tank top, tight leather pants and biker boots. Her white skin and hair glows in the murk.
Adrenaline surges through me.
Goosebumps run along my arms.
“A beer, please, Eldon,” she says.
I pull a bottle from the cooler, pop the top, wipe it down with a new, white towel and place it on a napkin in front of her.
She winks, downs the brew and leaves.
A whoosh of breath escapes my lungs. The brief encounter devastates me.
“I’m sick,” I tell my boss over the phone. “I can’t work today.”
I leave in search of the woman. I ask every man, woman and child in town if they’ve seen her. No one has. She is not a visiting relative or friend. She is not staying at the only bordering house in Love. There isn’t a single camper or trailer in the RV field, no strange cars parked along a side street. Love in the Fall is an empty place and no place to hide.
I go home dejected, depressed and stumped. I toss and turn all night. I’m addicted. I need more than a three minute fix once every twenty-four hours. I have to have more. I have no idea how to get it, but I’ve already decided I will give up everything, do anything to get more. More. I’m obsessed.
At sunrise, I take a cold shower. I groom and dress with care.
I am at my post. I hold my breath in anticipation. The big hand of the clock ticks past eleven. There is no flash of light. She is not here. It ticks a second minute, then a third. She doesn’t show.
I yell at my customers. They tolerate my bad mood, move away from me, leave me alone, assume I am still not feeling well. I bang bottles and glasses, spill drinks, slap the dishrag in wet clumps on the bar, splashing my clothes with dirty water. I’m sick, alright.
The evening and night drag on, a torment. I don’t sleep. I pace my apartment. By morning, I look drained, sallow, dark circles bruise my eyes. I do my best to look my best. I still hope to see her again, although I doubt I will. I want. I crave. I’m sick with hunger for her. I throw up even though I haven’t eaten in two days. I rinse out my mouth with mouthwash, take a deep breath and try to get a grip on myself while gripping the sides of my bathroom sink.
At eleven, I start to breathe.
Her brilliance feeds my soul.
“A beer, please, Eldon,” she says.
“I missed you yesterday,” I say. I sound pathetic, needy.
“A beer,” she says.
I hand her a bottle. She drinks her beer.
When she’s done, she smiles at me. I warm up. My fatigue vanishes. I stare into her eyes.
She touches my hand. Electricity shoots through me.
I’m in a oval, white room, laying on a smooth table. Light emanates from the plastic walls. I am naked, but not cold. I feel like I’m in a lukewarm bath, not sure where my body begins and ends compared to my surroundings. I try to move, but my limbs don’t obey my mind.
My heart rate speeds up until she appears beside me and touches my cheek.
I see sunny beaches with green blue water, gentle breezes kiss my nude body. Sunshine dances in the gentle waves. I laugh at her innocent games.
“A beer, please, Eldon,” says Sunshine.
We drink cold beers while lounging on soft sand. We make love.
I wake as sunshine falls across my face. I stretch, yawn. I sigh and smile. I kick the blankets from my legs. They fall from my bed onto the floor. I take a cold shower, dry off. I brush my teeth. I comb my long hair, shaggy beard and mustache. I touch the scabbed-over needle puncture wounds on my torso, my thighs, my arms. I turn and see track marks running along each side of my spine. I frown.
I go to work.
Well done, captivated me.
Toni Kief says
Intriguing, some stories feel long, but this one flies. I was anxious to read the resolution, and was surprised.
I love how you pace it, Nessa.
Nice reading, Nessa. Kinda like the old coffee houses. They didn’t have coffee. I wouldn’t have expected a bar in a small town of 30. A roadside, quite common.
Nicely placed, intriguing, and the ambiguous ending leaves me wondering…