He ran one pink hand over his coarse, red beard and tugged. The steam from shirtless men and glistening women created a fine mist around his twirling, rotund body and fogged up his black horn-rimmed glasses. A few feet away, I danced in place, closing my eyes and spinning once, twice. Joaquin, my dance partner, kissed a tall guy. I didn’t know what time it was or when I last felt this good and sweaty. Someone licked the side of my face, tried to pull me towards them, but I pulled away laughing. I felt hands caressing the curvy small of my back, hovering over my butt. I kept my eyes shut as I grooved to the bass beat. When I finally opened my eyes, Red Beard jumped up on the stage. He twirled and gyrated to a blood thrumming drum beat. Two women joined him. They danced behind him like back-up singers, bodies swaying in choir-like synchronicity, their meaningful focus on Red Beard and his graceful potbelly jiggling in harmony with the red and silver flashes of light, conjuring the spirits that kept everyone moving, laughing, and embracing in the dark, cavernous space. Slick bodies rubbing harder against me. Glowing faces turned up. I didn’t know where I was or who I had become. I pushed my way to the enormous unisex bathroom with its long corridor of mirrored walls, ten sinks on one side, tall gilded bodies leaning forward attempting to balance on 7-inch heels, applying lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, and one brave Queen gluing caterpillar eyelashes on, and a sweet, cherubic middle-aged man holding her other set of eyelashes in his hand. I pushed door after door until one gave. And as collapsed on the toilet, I pulled my phone out of my bra. The face of it lit up with an incoming call and my finger hovered over his name.
An earlier version of this flash titled “Therapy” was published in APT (Aug 2016).
They drank green cocktails with cucumber slices, ate hotdogs on buttered buns, and listened to an a cappella version of “Lilac Wine” sung by a young man with pumpkin orange hair.
“Drink up, sweets,” Ramona said. She punched her boyfriend’s shoulder. His bald head glistened under the bar lights.
I felt the knot on my forehead. Yesterday, she caught me with my back turned. I didn’t see the book coming at me.
Tonight, she wanted her boyfriend drunk. “Sweets, do you want me?”
Pumpkin boy was now singing “Tainted Love” with a fake cockney accent. He clapped two beats before singing the refrain and I jumped to his clap.
The barflies watched my small titties bounce.
Ramona didn’t scare me. She thought she did. She didn’t understand that I let her hit me.
I chose to stay with her. I chose not to jump out a window and feel the pavement scratch my heels.
Tonight, I’m her best friend. “Not my daughter,” she told me earlier as she plucked her eyebrows in front of the bathroom mirror. Eyelids caked with black eyeliner, she turned to me and said, “Blow on them.”
From a WIP vignette collection by Gessy Alvarez.
Featured Image: Frank Habicht’s fifth-floor rooftop in London’s SW5 district served as his “favorite open-air studio” and “was a melting place for exuberant parties on mild summer nights,” he writes in his book.
We fell asleep on the couch, alcohol on our breaths. Mambo and cha-cha-cha beats in our knees. Damn two-dollar high-heels left welts on our feet, but we danced all night with different brilliantine men: gold teeth, mustaches, pinky rings that looked too big for their pinkies. Manhattan Center was always packed on a Saturday night. Giant fans kept dancers cool, but never disturbed the shellacked beehives and too-good-to-be-true jewels.
Outside was 34th street with its neon Irish bars, burlap covered bums, and you and me, running away from the cigarette fog. Out those black and gold Manhattan Center doors, leaving behind cheap cologne, hairspray, watery beer, the bottle of Dewar’s that got us a table in the middle of the action, and that damn greaser who pulled on your hair when you said no, shoved his thumb against your forehead to force you to sit back down. And me, in my pink dress, too young to speak up, to make a spectacle, to declare my seventeen-year-old presence. Me, lifting the glass bottle over my head.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” you said as we walked through a crowd of tourists. I was your guardian angel. The one groomed to stop you from making bad decisions. What I shouldn’t have done was dance with the tall, white guy. I shouldn’t have placed my hand on his chest, felt his heat.
We walked up to the glitzy squalor of Times Square and stared at the boys with plucked eyebrows and hair-nets. We watched them bum off cigarettes from distinguished movie-going husbands. One boy leaned in and blew us a kiss. You kissed a ruby polished finger and returned the love. I licked whiskey and blood from my hand; the greaser’s blood not mine. I pulled a dollar from my bra and handed it to the hotdog vendor. “Two please and one Coke.”
You reached out, squeezed one of my tissue-stuffed boobs, and chortled into your paper plate of steamy onions slapped on top of a mustard smothered hotdog. “Just checking out my competition,” you said before taking a bite of your hot dog.
From a WIP short vignette collection by Gessy Alvarez.