Dialogue III

~ two people talking

“So what are you really doing here? Picking up women, right?” the woman said.

The man turned to her, squinted, and moved his mouth into a position of slight discomfort. He almost shook his head. He almost got up from his stool. The ceiling fan whirred into recurrence overhead and the bartender had moved away to some unseen position on the other side of the bar. The woman, not noticing or acknowledging the man’s look, turned her gaze around to the rest of the dim bar’s absent passageways.

The man, still pondering his own answer to the question, spoke. “Is that what you are doing here? Seem to have a fixation with it.”

“I’m not fixating on it. Just working with what information I have. Making a best guess,” the woman said. She looked the man’s form over, straddling the stool and hunched over the wooden bar top. “After all, you’re a guy. And this isn’t a gay bar.”

The man considered making some kind of sarcastic remark over the assumption of his gender. But he decided against it, partly because he didn’t want to make light of that type of thing to a person he didn’t know well. But mostly he stowed the remark away because it wouldn’t at all be funny.

“Have you been here before? How do you know what type of bar this is?”

“You know what, you’re right. I don’t. Let’s start over: Why did you come here tonight?”

“Well, why do you want to know? Do I even have to have a reason?” the man asked in refreshed tone.

The woman looked straight ahead and took a deep breath, leaving his return question vigorously unanswered. A sigh released, coinciding with the sound of a car’s passage just outside the door. It was still raining outside. The tread of the tires slapped audibly against the drenched street. The man detected the same kind of spent energy from within this establishment, from both the motion of the tread and the sigh of the woman.

We’ve only just met. She only wants someone to talk to. Like me. I don’t need to be so indignant. So difficult. Remember: honesty.

The man took a deep breath of his own and steadied himself against the bar. He couched his left shoulder against it in a turn to more fully face the woman.

“I don’t know. There’s your answer. I don’t know why I am here, right now.”

She smiled and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “That’s alright.”

A pause surfaced between them. After taking it, both spoke simultaneously.

“So what are you doing — ” said he.

“I just left a guy,” said she.

The man’s eyes widened. He didn’t know what to say, so he remained silent.

“That’s why I’m here,” the woman said resolutely.

The man sipped his drink and nodded. The woman turned away, again. This time she didn’t sigh. But he felt her vulnerability keenly. Shades of it rose to the surface, in her and in him, and in between them.

You need to say something …

“Yeah… Relationships are a hell of a thing.”

Not that.

But it was too late. It had been said.

She chuckled and repeated under her breath, “A hell of a thing.”

She took her a drink of her own and asked him. “You look about my age. How many relationships have you been in?”

The question made the man’s heart race. His breathing became short. He pressed his toes to the bottom of his shoes with full force. Remember, honesty. He was speaking his answer, his truth, before he was thinking.

“Never been in a relationship.”

She turned a side eye to him with confusion. With her head cocked to the side, the glint in her eye turned to one of violent curiosity.

“You’re joking?”

The man shook his head. “No, not joking. Well, I am … I have been … in one before. But … It’s complicated.” He took a deep breath, swelling in the air around him with an air of avoidance. “It’s not a lie. Just … In retrospect, it didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t real.”

The woman raised her chin and squinted at him. “Real,” she whispered.

The man could not discern if her word was a further question, a mockery, a judgment, or something else. The uneasy gaze fell away and the whir of the fan overhead lingered. Both of them returned to hover themselves above their drinks in a silent repose.

Eventually, the man released the other side of his breath. ~