Stella was the first to arrive and she kissed me on the lips as I walked through the tavern door. I think the kiss was supposed to be passionate, intense; cinematic even.
It wasn’t quite that.
It was spit and teeth. It was clumsy tongues and my chapped lips and this was the first time we met face-to-face and the lonely men sitting at the bar stared at us as if we were just another freak show passing through their world, a circus tent that would later be rolled up and hauled away.
We finished the kiss and it took all of my will not to wipe my mouth with the back of my hand.
I led Stella to the corner of the nearly empty tavern and we found a booth that was wood grained and dark, a corner that smelled like stale beer and dead cigarettes.
I helped her off with her coat, a long fur coat that might have been fake; the kind of coat one needs to keep the southeastern Michigan winter at bay, a winter with a constant and bitter blowing wind scented with exhaust and tinted with rust.
I looked her up and down as she slid into the booth. Her body was alright, not quite as she advertised in her emails but then again is any product ever as good as its ads claim?
I think not.
Stella had told me she was curvy and maybe even voluptuous. The body sliding into the booth was kind of heavy actually, a big butt in tight jeans and a sweater giving a glimpse of fleshy cleavage and I’m a man,
I like fleshy cleavage.
I left my coat on and asked her what she wanted to drink. She said a Bud and a shot of whatever I wanted her to drink so I said,
And I rubbed my hands together and blew in them even though they weren’t cold and I wondered if I should have ate lunch first even though it was only eleven in the morning.
I walked to the bar and ordered two Buds and two shots of Jack. The bartender was some man made out of ash and skin. I would have forgotten about him forever if he didn’t stare at my wedding band and wink at me as he handed me our drinks.
I put our drinks on the table and I took off my own leather coat that wasn’t nearly thick enough for the late January day but my wife told me I looked good in that coat so there you go.
Stella looked me up and down as I slid into the booth and I watched her face for a reaction, the way I was trained to watch clients faces in all those sales classes I took years ago. You look at the eyes and the corners of the mouth, you know, for the hint of a smile or a frown.
I had told her in my emails that I was athletic and that I liked to work out.
That used to be true.
I saw her stare at my green tie as it followed the contours of my stomach. The green tie was a gift from my grandkids at Christmas, a green tie that my wife said looked good on me because it enhanced the color of my eyes. I watched Stella blink and then she turned her face away as she put her mouth around her bottle of beer.
I sat down, grabbed my shot of Jack and said,
Here’s to you.
She lifted her glass in return and drained it and didn’t look at me. She looked everywhere but right at me. She looked at the hazy men sitting at the bar who were still staring at us as if we were paint on a wall just waiting to dry.
The shot made me cough but it did nothing to Stella. She sat there fingering her gold looped earrings as her eyes darted all over the place and I tried to make conversation.
I’ve never done this before.
Stella shrugged and said,
I forgot my cigarettes. I’m gonna run out and get them.
She grabbed her coat and purse and said she’d be right back.
I sat and waited for her to come back.
I finished my bottle of beer before I realized she had ditched me.
I checked my watch. It was still only quarter after eleven. No one would be looking for me at the office for the rest of the afternoon as I said I was going on sales calls all day, that I had some leads I wanted to follow.
I walked out of the bar and expected the men at the stools to snicker at me but they just stared at me blankly, as if my presence in their world was nothing more than an intrusion, the way a commercial on TV interrupts a football game.
I drove across town and went back home.
My wife didn’t say anything about me coming home from work so early; she didn’t even turn her head away from the TV as I dropped my car keys in the bowl by the front door.