What if I were to write about you? You, the girl at the bar who’d wandered about this party like a moth looking for its flame. You’re still innocent, and I’m intrigued by you, my moth in black. It’s an apt name, and it makes me smile. So few things do these days.
You know how to wear a dress, that’s for sure. And you don’t need to work it like the others do. Smooth as a single malt scotch.
I watch you finally find a seat at the bar and order a drink, casually observing those around you.
Look at those guys waiting for their big shot. When and if they eventually hit it big time, they will learn the full extent of loss: loss of freedom, of genuine friendships, of security and privacy. Love though, that’s what I miss most. Perhaps I’m too old to find it. And, too, perhaps you’ll be my next mistress – at least until one of us gets bored. Nonchalant I’ve found works best. And let the winner of these sometimes joyless affections take heart. I’ll never promise more than I can give. I come as I come.
I’m ready to venture over in your direction when I notice you eyeing the gentlemen at the end of the bar, noting as authors do, the way you run an index finger slowly around the rim of your wineglass. Surprisingly, it’s not the famous movie star you’re looking at, the one that was recently voted America’s sexiest man by the latest edition of some flippantly feministic women’s magazine. The same ones with the headlines that state that with only ten questions you can determine who and what your man is thinking about as he masturbates on the toilet.
But no, it’s the man sitting next to him. He’s older than you of course – maybe by ten years. This man hides his age well.
I wear mine like a badge. Pinned on, regardless of what people may say. My age is written in the wrinkles, stated in the lines.
“Well, hello,” a gentleman says to my left.
“Pleasure,” I say in response, casting a glance in his direction before returning my evaluation to you.
He introduces himself. Words I either don’t catch or can’t remember. Is that because of you? I’ve been known to tune out many, though never thoughtlessly. Intriguing.
Gentleman mistakes my grin for acknowledgement of whatever he’s been saying and tells me he’s a friend of a friend.
“So Jill told me you were a writer?”
I nod, uninclined to tell more.
“I write, too,” Gentleman says.
The man you’re looking at leans back to examine the derriere of a woman who’s approached Star, and you turn aside, your finger poised above the half empty glass.
You sense me before you see me and turn slowly on the bar stool, swiveling to look about the room. I meet your eyes and can’t help but wink. There’s something there. A connection. Electricity?
Ah, perhaps I’m your light. It’s been so long since I’ve felt that spark of excitement ignited by a mere look, a playful gesture.
You return the smile and walk towards me. I know you feel it too. But then again, maybe I’m just yearning for a new woman. The deadlines are finally past. The book will come out next month.
Gentleman follows my eyes noting your approach. His smile widens, becomes more genuine, less trying to impress. He knows you. Good.
I wait for introductions.
God, you’re beautiful.
You were 59 when I met you, old enough to be my father and similar in some ways to that aging gentleman of my youth. You had thinning hair parted to the side, a slight protrusion in the middle, long arms and a firm grasp. Standing next to you at the event, I had to look up. Age had not yet bent your back and wouldn’t for maybe another decade or so. You exuded youthful strength in those firm fingers that held mine for just a moment too long when introduced by a friend of a friend with whom I rarely spoke – but introductions must be made and socialities observed, though I can’t recall Friend’s wife’s name. Did he have one, my introducee?
Your eyes met mine with dark secrets. I knew they were there, and I suspect you knew that I knew that beneath your fine demeanor something deeper dwelt. You were a man at peace with secrets and you let me see it, unafraid to be exposed. Or did you simply not care, finding yourself past the point of caring; finding life an irrelevant passing fancy, whereby we, its human inhabitants for a brief time, must hold onto a part of ourselves because nothing ever really is permanent?
I wondered, what were your secrets? What stories did you hear, what horrors did you see … what demons still lingered from your past? You intrigued me. Or rather, your eyes did.
I smiled, shifting my feet to bring me closer, curious. The musk of your cologne and the smell of your leather blazer brought to mind an ex-lover and carried with it the entire naughty episode associated with one whiff of anything smelling like that leather coat of my past.
For a brief moment memories flooded my mind of me wearing it as I’d curled up on the floor naked except for its smooth feel. I’d reveled in its cool embrace after such heated passion. You should never have worn that coat, not tonight when loneliness would make me fantasize about those warm hands, that firm grasp.
The little black dress I wore to impress men of my age seemed cut too high for your tastes, in my opinion. Your caliber of man would want more sophistication. I would not be able to catch you by the length of my tanned thigh or the curve of my breasts above the low cut bodice. No, you were the type of gentleman that valued integrity and preferred an agile mind to an agile body. I sensed, in the way you conversed with friend of a friend whom I can’t remember dear wife’s name, that you knew more than you were willing to say.
You made the meaningless idle babble that so often accompanied boring black-tie social gatherings come to life.
“So what do you think of that murder in the paper?” Friend said.
“We’ve all heard of the murders. The news channels have inundated us with it every day,” I say.
You raise an eyebrow. Not condescending, it’s a slow movement, the tilting upwards of your chin. When Friend speaks you focus your attention on him as he fills you in on the headlines we’ve all heard before.
“He just went ballistic and opened fire.”
“Technically, there are predetermined factors that would have gone into it.” It’s a simple statement of fact from you.
“I heard he just woke up and started shooting,” Friend continues. “He simply cracked, the media says,” Friend swings his glass of wine back and forth in his enthusiasm of the subject.
“He’d had to pick out the restaurant,” you say. “Plan the attack by obtaining bullets, stake out the best entrance, decide on the night to pull the whole thing off.” You take a large swig of ale. “These sorts of attacks require meticulous planning. They’re not spontaneous.”
I smile, enjoying the smell of you while observing the line of your jaw.
You brandish the beer bottle dangling loosely from two fingers, palm displayed to emphasize your point. “Think about it.” Your voice is sure, the tone measured. “He’s driven by the need to make a mark in society.”
“Perhaps,” Friend says, nodding his head. “Perhaps.” He turns to look around, clearly thinking he’d picked the wrong subject. “Look, there’s Lucille. Will you excuse me?”
“Certainly,” I say.
You give a barely perceptible nod. I can see from the sparkle in your eye you’ve enjoyed the debate.
“You know,” I say, recalling my college psychology class, “some studies show environment plays a role long before the drive to shoot someone has even entered the perpetrator’s mind.” I’ve got your attention.
“Indeed, such thoughts start long before the fatal scenario,” you say.
“However, some would say you could be born with the disposition to kill,” I state.
There’s a smile in your eyes, fine laugh lines that turn up at the corners. Are you appraising me or my words?
“Necrophilous character is openly fed by a malignant aggression that glorifies death and demolition,” you say. “It takes time to build up to annihilation.”
“Certainly, you should know all about death after writing several mysteries on the subject.” My grin widens. I glance at Friend chatting with Lucille across the room, “Too bad he doesn’t read mysteries,” I say. I sense we are each challenged by the other. To show our intelligence or … perhaps, to break the doldrums of these flat formal functions we must attend to make acquaintances and build networks.
“Mmm, it would seem you are a fan.”
Unsure of what to say, I simply reply, “Perhaps.”
I continue, “In all honesty, it’s the men who interest me,” I say, turning my head and grinning slyly. “Every victim of the tattooed serial killer in your mystery series is a man.”
“The men,” you say. “Well let’s talk about them.”
You take a step to the doors leading to the courtyard, stop, turn back and hold out your hand. Did those eyes examine my body, or just take me in as a whole?
I grasp your outstretched fingers, feeling them curl around mine, and hold on enjoying the warmth. You pull me forward, release my fingers and place your hand gently on my back, steering me through the crowd. I can feel the heat of it through my thin dress.
“So, Sarai,” you say. There’s roughness in the gentle words. “What do you do for a living?”
“Accounting,” I say, knowing the only reason I’m here is because my cousin managed to secure the catering contract, and one of the few free tickets that came with the honor was given to me.
You can see right through me, I sense. I feel naked, vulnerable in your presence. I look around to break our gaze, sure you’d seen into my soul.
~Torie Amarie Dale
Published in The Petigru Review
First place winner of the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards for Short Fiction 2013