Tag Archives: respect

Company

watching tv

 

Walter’s drinking tonight. He’s drinking this whiskey because it makes him think of his dad, and he misses his dad. He’s drinking so much of it because Lin’s here, and through no fault of her own she makes him nervous.

They’re watching a scary movie, both of them sunk deep into the overstuffed leather couch Walter’s mom left behind when she moved away with her new husband. Walter pays utilities and a small sum that can only charitably be called rent. His brother works in New Hampshire and his sister is studying in Toronto. He likes being by himself. He likes Lin’s company more.

They have their feet propped up on the coffee table. Walter wears jeans and heavy boots, even though winter is barely more than an early spring in Jacksonville. Lin’s bare ankles are draped over his. She’s dressed more for the region than he is, in a belt-like pair of shorts and a soft pink tank. She’s kicked off the blue All-Stars she favors, and the glow of the TV illuminates her feet through the mesh running socks she has on. The image makes Walter think of an x-ray.

It’s getting late and they can both feel it, Lin because she gets up early to go running every day, and Walter because he’s drinking too much. The movie comes to an end, the heroine dragged screaming into some creature’s lair, and credits begin their slow crawl to eerie, somber music. Walter barely notices. He’s a little hypnotized by the smooth glow of Lin’s legs in the light of the white lettering. Because he’s her friend and she cares about him, she pretends not to notice.

The menu screen pops up, and Walter reaches overhead and flips the light on. Lin takes a final swig of her beer.

“You good to drive?” he asks, but of course she is. The entire night she’s only made it about halfway down the bottle.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She stands and stretches, yawning as she bends down to pull on her shoes. Walter’s dog, alerted by the light, wanders into the living room and watches her. Walter does his best to be less conspicuous than his dog, but the sight of her shimmering black hair slipping from her shoulders makes him feel like he has to swallow.

He gets up, slowly, to make sure he isn’t too drunk to stand, but he’s able to keep himself steady and he walks with her to the door. His cat patters between them, looking from one to the other. The animal either wants attention or treats, or both.

Like we all do.

The porch light is a soft amber color, and Lin’s own amber skin glows beneath it. It doesn’t shine; it glows.

Walter runs a self-conscious hand across his unshaven face, makes a casual motion to smooth down his chronic bedhead. He leans against the door frame as they chat. He listens to her but he also thinks about how her eyeliner makes her brown eyes look smoky, how she hates the light acne scarring at her temples, the scarring he suspects people only notice after she’s pointed it out. He thinks these things but he also listens.

He worries he has pickle breath. Lin hates pickles, and earlier he warned her not to get too close after he’d eaten one.

She’d elbowed him. “How close we talkin’ about here? Cuz at a certain point I’m not gonna care that you had pickles.”

Not a signal. He knows that. He wants it to be, but he knows better than to assume.

They talk a little longer, and then they say goodnight, and he catches himself almost leaning in to kiss her. Almost. His neck loosens and he feels himself reflexively about to lean in. But there is no movement, and Lin remains unaware of the trespass he almost went for.

He drinks too much, he realizes.

And then she’s walking to her car, and backing out, and when he closes the door he leans against the frame and watches the headlights trace across the wall. He groans and thumps his head a little against the molding.

He looks down. His cat and his dog sit beside each other, both looking up at him. They always look mildly surprised. Like we all do.

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” He grins and pets them with both hands, rubbing behind their ears. “I know, ya judgmental bastards.”

He walks to the kitchen, and they both get up to follow. Because he’s moving for the food bowls. Because he might not be feeding them after all. Because he’s just there, and because they want to be around those they love. Without condition. Without expectation.

Like we all do.

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Queer Exchange

fuzzy crash screen

 

We’re scrambling tonight. An idiot coworker changed the register password. I can’t blame him for that. The system forces us to every three months as a security measure. What I can blame him for is the hopelessly idiotic neglect he’s shown by not telling a single fucking person that he changed the password. No one can reach him, and the owner texts saying he’s on the phone with IT.

“I’m on hold now,” is what he actually texted. Then another text, forty minutes after the last one: “Still on hold.”

One poor woman with a cart full of groceries patiently waits for us to tally her amount by hand, and pays with cash. She’s extremely cool about it. Our apologies are answered with a casual “It’s no problem,” and she tells us she’s just grateful we let her in through the back exit, sparing her a walk through the alley to the front door. She ducks back out the same way on her way back to her apartment.

The next guy isn’t so understanding. I hate this guy, and lately it’s gotten harder for me to hide my displeasure whenever he’s in the store. He’s a fucking throwback, one of those gays who insists on endorsing every effete stereotype that society likes to hoist on the rest of us. He’s whiny and rude and self-absorbed. We’re a small produce shop but he complains when we don’t carry prices or merchandise found at Kroger. He’s a twelve year old in a gay fat man’s body, and I can’t stand him.

I think he can read my disdain on my face. I tell him our system is down and ask him if he’s comfortable writing down his card information. He tells me he’s not, which is understandable, and I apologize. What throws me, though, is his attempt to hand me his card immediately afterward.

“So, you want me to write down your info?” I ask him.

“No! No, I’m not comfortable with that.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sorry, sir, our system’s down…”

“Well WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE UP?” He gives me a glare I would almost call evil, but he’s such a priss I can’t help but think of it as bitchy. It’s weird, how prissy he is. The guy’s a head taller than me and outweighs me by a good seventy pounds.

“I don’t know, buddy. It crashed.” I sigh, and tear off some receipt paper. “You can just take your merchandise, and we can take your phone number down and call you to settle the difference at your earliest convenience.”

He notices my irritation, and his mood shifts to apologia. “I’m sorry, I just had an issue lately with my information, and it was a nightmare…”

“I don’t care, sir,” I say, too honestly, of course, but there it is.

“I’m sorry,” he says after a moment, “but do I irritate you?”

“No,” I lie, unconvincingly.

Later, after we close, I stroll down to a bar and get a couple beers. He’s there, of course, because God was the kind of kid who liked kicking puppies.

I sit beside him without realizing it, and it doesn’t dawn on me that he’s there until he notices me and starts talking.

“You seem disapproving of me,” he pushes. “I’m not trying to be catty, but…”

“From one queer to another,” I tell him, hoping to shut this down before I take a few more shots, “you fucking embarrass me. And if somehow you’re not queer, then I still find you embarrassing on a human level.”

“How DARE you call…”

“…myself queer? Fuck you, prissy-pants, you don’t own that goddamn word. You’re a shitty, pampered little asshole, and I don’t want to fucking talk to you.”

“I’m friends with your boss,” he threatens.

“Everyone’s friends with my boss. My boss fucking loves me.”

“And nice play trying to pretend you’re gay. That’s the lamest shield for gay-bashing I’ve seen in a while.”

“I’m not gay, I’m bi,” I correct him. “But I don’t care if you believe that, either. I’d never fuck you, you fuckin’ whale.”

I’m being meaner than is necessary, but fuck him. Fuck him for appropriating me into his definition of himself. Fuck him for using a defining aspect of my humanity as a fucking shield. Fuck him for never carrying cash.

I down two shots of Cutty Sark, one two in a row, and ask for another beer. Something hoppy, something that’ll boil the way my blood is right now. Right now I hate this fucking kid the way I hated the redneck last week, who went on and on about how much he hated queers and Jews, a bizarre double-hitter for a guy like me. In a way I hate this kid more. At least the asshole last week was bold enough to display his evil transparently. This shit hides behind shields. He’s a coward who uses persecution as a blank check to be an asshole. He probably sells it as being “brave.”

I turn to the friend I met there, another bi guy. I kiss him. He’s initially surprised but he gets what I’m doing, and he rolls with it. I hold the kiss a little too long, long enough that the pissy tub of aggravation to my right knows I’m not bluffing.

“I don’t fuckin’ like you,” I tell him when we break. “In point of fact I might fuckin’ hate you. You’re a prissy bitch and you’re every reason I got beaten up every week in high school. You live in the lofts upstairs, and I have to card you when you buy wine. So I know you’re rich, and I know you’re younger than me. I would bet a week’s pay you never got a tooth knocked out in a public school’s locker room because you like kissing boys. I got two fake teeth because my tastes weren’t limited to pussy. So fuck you, and fuck your false outrage.”

I was going to take another shot of Cutty Sark, but I let my temper get a hold of me and I sling it across the asshole’s shirt. The bar has my card in the system and the bartender knows me, so I make peace with the automatic gratuity they’ll charge and I leave, hugging my friend as I go.

“Later man!” he calls, then dives into a conversation with his current girlfriend. Girlfriend, by which I mean he and she fuck now and again.

Outside I come across a young woman I saw earlier in the evening, an attractive kid, a college student. “Oh hey, you work at the store down the block, right?”

“Sure, yeah. Whenever I catch myself behind the register, I mean.” I smile to indicate I was joking, but drunk as I’ve gotten it might just look like a snarl. She smiles a little but she clearly doesn’t get it.

“Hey, um, I actually think you may have rung something up wrong when I got apples there earlier…”

I sigh, and reach into my pocket for a cigarette. There’s a handful of small bills beneath the pack, and I pull them out and throw them on the sidewalk.

“Take the difference out of that,” I say, and walk to the bench on the corner. I light my smoke. My ears are burning and my face feels hot. I sit on the bench and wait for the end of the race between my blood and the booze. The prize goes to whichever burns its way out of my system the fastest.

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