Chapter 07 - Round of Three.
(Written in 2016 and Published in 2020).
Present - I-15 Highway, between California and Nevada
Inside, the flickering lights and static sounds of a rundown, highway-plagued bar. Amidst the shuffle of lazy, afternoon feet, the buzzing sound of neon lights illuminating the letters that spelled "Coors Light," and the ticking sounds of a flickering Open sign. Outside, every surface covered in the chalky dust of the desert; the heat of stagnant, dry, sparsely-populated air. At this moment, the picture: the life of a highway-side bar at two o’clock in the afternoon.
Inside, various souls: a man, shuffling two and fro, with a damp barkeeper’s rag, wiping down counters as if the rag was the only device he could to use to avoid the desperate faces that sat before him. And as he wipes down the same spot for the third time, the heavy breathing of the Second Man can be heard. Exasperated, slightly intoxicated; the second takes a long pull at the bottle of Coors and hammers it back atop the flimsy, paper coaster on the counter.
Looking down at the sip left in the bottom of the glass bottle, the Second Man exhales loudly and mutters, “Shit.” As if it will help his current mood, he flips his baseball hat backward. The Woman to his Left, a little younger, with a little more beer left in her bottle, gives the Second Man the side-eye. With nothing left to say, the Woman to the Left takes a long pull – the finishing pull – at the bottle of beer, slams it down on the countertop, and flips her baseball hat backward.
“Don’t try and be me right now,” the Second Man barks at her. Agitated, he flips the bill of his hat to again face forward.
“That’s new because that’s all I heard for the last two years – be like me,” she muttered, eyes peering down at the dirty floor of the highway-side bar.
“Oh don’t pull that; you knew what this meant, I mean, you knew what this was all along.” The Woman to the Left ignored the Man’s jab, staring at the floor. The faintest sight of tears at the bottom of her eyelid began to develop; only a trained eye would see the objection buried within – the one she had raised many times before, to no avail.
“That’s all he’ll ever want, just so you know,” interjected the Woman to the Right. Delicate, athletic, the Woman to the Right removed her baseball hat and set it atop the counter. Swirling the few sips of beer left in the bottom of her bottle, she raised an all-knowing eyebrow. “Isn’t that right, baby?"
“Oh, don’t you start with me now – you got what you – – ”
“What I wanted? Oh well, excuse me, I now exist to you. Congratulations, I’m no longer a chase to you; more than just an evening of unauthorized fun. You actually want me to now, and not just in that grab-ass sense,” she giggled, as she smacked the Second Man’s ass. The Second Man looked away from her, for the first time truly looking at the Woman to the Left. He could see the outline of frustration, tears bordering into her eyelashes. He just couldn’t deal. Tearing away to avoid engaging, the Second Man looked to the ceiling, examining the bar’s extensive collection of chewed gum and spit wads.
“Isn’t that just the pits, babe? Can’t keep the one you wanted to have, and now the one you have won’t stick around any longer.” The Woman to the Right rolled her eyes as she titled her head back, finishing off her beer. Throwing the empty bottle down to the countertop, the Woman to the Right snapped her fingers impatiently, beckoning the bartender for another. Excited at the moment to escape, the bartender elevated to the balls of his feet, momentarily wiggling in place, and then ran to the back refrigerator – beginning the hunt for the most remote, almost frozen beer, way back in the back of the stock fridge beer.
“You still talk to her, I know it. Don’t lie to me,” accused the Woman to the Right. Turning red with embarrassment, the second man slowly rotated his head to the floor. He hung his head, staring at the tops of his converse and the remnants of an unswept floor. “Fucking called it,” she muttered.
“He was already moving on to you when he was begging me to come back and actually be with him,” The Woman to the Left shot at the Woman to the Right.
“Sounds like he just didn’t get the timing right, then. Like many, many things in his life,” said the Woman to the Right. With a devilish smile, she threw a look of dark secrets in the direction of the Second Man. His head hung; he was afraid to look up to face her.
“So yes, he still spoke with me. Spoke with me for a long time, as if to be a friend. So you’ll get that little jagged corner in your relationship. It’s the chip in the solid foundation that will never go away, sure. But, you’ll never know what it’s like to have a man you love beg to have you return, to re-engage after years of giving up on you, only to discover he’s already lurking in dark corners with another woman.”
“I had no idea you even existed!” spat Woman to the Right.
“Neither did I; believe me, neither did I.”
The barkeeper returned with a round of three more cheap beers, nearly frozen. Uncapping all three, he placed the beers before them. “Trust me, neither-did-fucking-I,” said the Woman to the Left, as she threw her hat on backward and brought the beer to her lips. One deep breath in, and in the next moment, she was throwing back the entire beer as fast as she could, regardless of the icy burn and carbonation.
“Jesus, would you stop that,” the Second Man muttered.
Pulling the bottle away, the Woman to the Left looked to the Second Man, “Oh what, are you embarrassed by me? Is that it? Embarrassed of the ‘little girl’ you loved? Embarrassed like you were all those years ago, but you were too fucking coward to admit it. Go fuck yourself,” she yelled at him, as the alcohol began to take its toll.
“I don’t like you like this,” the Second Man spat back.
“And in what state have you ever actually, fully like me? Huh? Wouldn’t that be the million-dollar answer of the night,” retorted the Woman to the Left. With a deep, seductive laugh, the Woman to the Right began to find entertainment in the awful situation they were in. Stranded on the I-15, in the middle of nowhere, between one destination and another, sat two broken hearts and a spiteful soul.
“Well ain’t this just a bucket of goddamn laughs,” the Woman to the Right muttered. “Ain’t this just the damn prettiest?! A man, in between – in between the woman he loved, still loves, and the woman he wants to love. Ain’t that just a book of fucking poetry.”
A book of fucking poetry. In the silence of harsh words, the three sat in a row at the countertop of the otherwise deserted desert bar. Between the blondes with baseball caps, the Second Man stared forward at the fridge of shitty beer, and atop it, the low shelf liquor. What they didn’t know is that he had loved them both; loved them never at the right time. He loved the Woman to the Right when she had finally given up on him. Years of insecurity and embarrassment, he would never actually accept that he loved the little know-it-all from nowhere. By the time that little brainiac made it somewhere in the world, she was gone from him, gone without an emotional trace of ever caring. When he saw the heartfelt footprints disappearing from his path, he began a dead sprint after her, trying to chase her down.
But on that path of long-winded phone calls and sporadic romantic getaways, there she was – the Woman to the Left. Jesus, was she seductive and appealing. Simply put, she was just an addiction he could not quit. So, after the long-winded phone calls finally ended for the night of the book-bound brainiac, the Second Man would hang up the phone and find the Woman to the Right in dark corners of fun and frivolity. He’d dodge the adoring comments of local friends and the flash of social media evidence; the Second Man and the Woman to the Right would intertwine. All the while, way off to the left, now somewhere from nowhere, the Woman to the Left was starting to retrace her steps back to the man who left her.
The beer began to talk for him – “Fucking poetry,” he muttered in a cheap-beer-buzz-haze.
“The poetry I always wrote,” said the Woman from Nowhere. “The poetry I always loved,” said the Woman in the Dark.
It was unclear to him, as the beer began to take its toll. At the fuzzy edges of his vision, he could see the Women of the Left and the Right lean into the bar top, making eye contact with one another. He could see, as if in unison, the women move their hands to reach for their hats. In perfect time, they both adjusted the bill of the hat to the back of their head and slid off the bar stools.
“Don’t do this,” he said with feigned desperation.
“Shut up -”
In perfect time, they strutted in high-waisted jeans to the entrance of the dust-covered bar, little traces of sand and debris spraying the wake of their emotional storm. As they navigated plastic tables and wobbly chairs, the Second Man searched for something to say. But he knew this was all over. In the middle of two destinations, with absolutely nowhere to go, he had nothing left he could say.
Approaching the entrance to the bar, he could hear sneakers come to a stop. With no further movement, the Second Man took that sound as his sign to spin himself to face them, the Women, and make one final, pitiful, plea. Slowly, he turned around, as the entrance door began to open. Coming half-circle, in the glaring light of the desert sun, all he could see was the silhouette of just woman. Just one small, baseball-capped woman, standing in the door frame of a highway-side bar.
Just one woman – the woman. The woman he had been so desperate to be with, to love, but he would never outwardly express. The woman he cheated to have, and eventually cheated on. The one woman who brought him from nowhere to somewhere, who now was everywhere but here, with him.
“Funny how that works,” he heard The Woman say. Standing in the blaring light, he saw her throw the rest of a cold beer back. Tilting to almost a backbend, she finished off the last drop and pulled herself to a standing position. Pausing in the heat and sun, she pulled herself together. “It’s fucking poetry,” she softly bit back at him and threw the glass bottle to the floor. As the bottle shattered into pieces, she muttered again, to herself, “fucking, fucking poetry.”
Fucking poetry were the last words he heard whispered into the heat and blaring light. He watched the silhouette of one woman, The Woman – of the left and right of his life – walk into the desert sun until the door slammed, and it all went black in the poor lighting of the highway-side bar.
In the seconds that passed he heard the faint sound of the bartender.
“Another round of three?” the bartender asked.
Fucking poetry, thought the Second Man. Another round of three.