Disclaimer: this may/may not be fiction and it’s one of the stories in my anthology, I AM… a character! https://www.amazon.com/I-AM-character-PJ-Colando-ebook/dp/B07N8L79VZ/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1URQL5O6IS73X&keywords=i+am…+a+character+by+pj+colando&qid=1559074763&s=books&sprefix=I+Am…%2Caps%2C786&sr=1-1
Never take a dare after dark… From a woman who lives in a mad, mad world and feels impish to the core.
Or another whose longtime beau left her cracked open wide, so that she was ready to romp and stomp, wishing to exact revenge on the failed lover’s hide. Rip-rap, take that!
We formed a trifecta of good girls longing to be badass: a Catholic, a Lutheran, and an atheist. There wasn’t a deity to implore—or oversee us—we only had each other and a hungry inner goddess to appease. Pillars of dignity we were not.
What’s that aphorism about permission and forgiveness? I think none of us attuned to the order or the need to make requests. None of us intended to require forgiveness.
Just a hunch, mind you.
I’m not sharing my personal compulsion for chaos tonight, to live in momentary flame. I seldom soul search at that level and often yield to impulse. Let’s just say I’m an adventure perpetually waiting to be unleashed. A bespoke umbrella in my satchel purse could serve as a parachute to jump off any cliff. Catch-me-if-you-can imminent.
And, my hair doesn’t frizz in any weather.
We’d recently departed an esteemed literary event in tandem. We were stoked with enthusiasm for the written word, higher than kites on metaphors, with gullets sated by mega cups of expresso’d lattes and generous scoops of various gelato innovations.
Yet we clamored for more.
Our ensemble gazed into the starry, starry night, backlit by a full, full moon. The sight was enough to make a monkey howl…and our inner monkeys silently complied. Electricity surged between my companions and me. My skin felt scorched under my arms—so that when I began to sweat, I felt relieved rather than embarrassed.
Three heads swiveled to ascertain agreement to move forward, sideways, backward, anywhere. Mendy’s hair whirled and whipped past her eyes like Salome’s veil. Her eyes fairly steamed, a mirror of mine. Kitten’s, too, green as jewels. We were game.
As long as the Oz wasn’t far from the yellow brick road that returned us to our safe places of husband, downy comforter, and/or home sweet home.
Shazam! Out of the corner of our synchronized long-lashed eyes—across a patio width expanse of drab yet unmarked concrete, a canvas that Banksy would blanket with art—we simultaneously spied the black-green door, fiercely grilled and foreboding, yet screaming for us to come hither to dither.
Dressed in exquisitely ripped jeans and Sam Edelman heels, we trooped across the plantless landscape to confront the door, gliding past a window studded with neon beer signs, but shuttered from worldview. Think Disney colors sparkling against dinge.
An American flag stretched on a frame without glass to shield would have been a second window if allowed. A signal that blind allegiance was required here.
Mendy tapped at the beer-signed window, as if to catch the attention of someone on the other side. I itched to lift one of the shutter slates inside. Kitten clasped her hands and looked the other way, back to the scene of our literary event which had convened in an innocent, teen-filled coffee bar. So suburbia-safe, enlightened, competent, and clean.
Kitten’s hair whipped in the night air as she switched her focus back to the masked window. Not that we were peeping Toms… We were just peeping Mendy and Kitten and Pat.
I suddenly realized we were tiptoeing hush-hush…why? I caught a glimpse of my watch, its date window illuminated by the moonlight. Halloween was a week away. Eerie fear eased into my gut. The movie, Looking for Mr. Good Bar, surfaced from ancient memory. “Bad timing,” I shuddered, not giving that dubious thought voice.
Snap out of it, Gurr-rl. You’ve got sidekicks and spice. Plus, a burgundy leather coat with hobnails and buckles and pockets in which to shove quivering hands. A purse with credit cards and cash and insurance cards, buttressed by AAA. Tissues to wipe away tears.
Twenty steps—give or take a few—and we arrived. Knock-knock?
Not. The heavy door was locked. Ooh. With a buzzer beside it to depress. Aa-ha. Wanna see what’s behind that door. Gotta see. Gonna see.
Our knees didn’t knock though our ankles warbled, each daring the other to press the buzzer. None of us recall—nor will we cop to—who did the deed. The door eased open with an atmospheric creak, pushed by disembodied, long-sleeved arm with tats across the knuckles to spell: HATE. Time to enter like we owned it… (the bar, not hate.)
By default, I went first. Each of my friends seemed glued to the pavement, perhaps making imprints like the glam shoeprints at Graumann’s Chinese. We were either going to be famous or infamous—
I grabbed my companions’ bracelet-ringed wrists—one woman’s right and the other’s left—and yanked. Ready set or not, we were going in together. Into the DEVA Bar, wild discovery in mind.
We trooped forward, near side-by-side, ready to take on the gauntlet with leather jackets, jeans, and perfume. We paused to inhale, detecting only each other’s scent. Thank heaven, neither offensive skank nor clash among the florals. A mask to enter a swill-spill bar. Lungs filled with intent.
The initial stillness and gloom reminded me of the cloudy, dark waters of a Caribbean dive after the churn of a storm. While Mendy, the former scout, paused again to acclimate her eyes to the smoky dark, Kitten knelt to reposition one of her heels.
Perhaps she edged a stiletto knife nearer to the stiletto heel or smoothed the tape on her shiv. I hiked up my jeans, wishing that I’d worn a belt. How had I acquired this hitch in my step?
So, we entered, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, dumb, dumb—
bitches from suburbia out on a la-la-la-lark. Oh-h, did the noise level ever crank, escalated to 100 decibels or more? I longed for earbuds or cotton balls to stuff in my ear canals.
The bar atmosphere was strikingly low-life, a hardcore juxtaposition to the literary sprightliness we’d enjoyed moments before. No discernable menu on the wall… And likely no gelato and caffeine. Just jeopardy galore.
An inclination to get this over with launched me into the room.
A spirit whipped past me and Mendy was already at the bar, negotiating, as she always does, for three drinks. I didn’t care if mine had a flimsy paper umbrella or an olive or spritzer or wedge of lime. I needed to hold fast to something to prevent me from fetching my purse-sized generic hand cleaner to ooze a dose onto my palm and rub-a-dub-dub. I could see from Mendy’s clenched jaw and eye squint that she had the same goal.
But a good deal was first. She handed over a wad of bills and turned from the bartender without change, already sipping on her drink’s straw. It might have been whiskey and coke. It might have been rum. It was definitely not water that she sucked.
I edged my sweater’s sleeve down, down, down, so that it covered my palm like the fingerless gloves of a street busker, as barrier to touching a bar glass of questionable cleanliness. Suddenly a drink slid down the bar, as if it rode the slide I feared in third grade.
I grabbed, glad that I was prepared. I didn’t bothering to wink a thanks—I wasn’t into errant eye contact yet.
Besides, I was thirsty. Drink in hand, I allowed myself to sip through the plastic straw, now winking at Mendy who’d sidled beside me to savor what might be the last straw. By the time I’d remembered to swirl the straw in my frosty glass, I’d already gulped the entire three shots of rum that had hunkered in the bottom.
On the other end of the L-shaped bar, an almost criminally inept stripper worked her fanny—occasionally near patrons’ glasses resting on the bar top—so that the dangling strings teased provocatively tied-to-tease, were already soaked in beer. I hated that woman for her flat abs. Her hands slide up and down the pole as if well-lubed.
The woman, not the pole.
A tambourine’s jangle crisped through the din, followed by a brushed snare and a chicka boom-boom. Suddenly Mendy dropped her purse, filled apparently with enough coins to feed every vending machine in China, and thudded square onto my toe. I felt as if an anvil had strayed from the blacksmith’s shop, which is what the bar interior’s resembled: all black with more than one horse’s ass assembled.
“Nay-nay-nay,” my conscience said. “But wait, I’m thirsty!” my stomach enjoined. “More cowbell!” somebody yelled, and I found myself on my feet, ready to writhe. There was no time to talk, no time to decide, no time to balk at the invitation extended.
I nearly gasped as I wide-eye-spied Mendy clanging a tambourine fervently against her backside, her new silver necklace freefalling against her chest. Her ultra-white teeth bit her lower lip in concentration. The woman had her own beat and I knew it by heart. I could feel a tug… Onto the bandstand, I went.
I watched Kitten edge toward the restroom—or else the back way out of the bar. I wasn’t certain in the murk. I preferred not to contemplate a potential hook-up, but given her state-of-mind, such an exit demanded a friend’s applause. I silently said, “Congrats!”
She edged past me, rubbing my leg on the stage with her ample bosom. I chose not to take it personally. Besides I was too engaged in hustle to cowbell along with “Dead Man’s Party” by Oingo Boingo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhN8SdulOFc
Yikes! My brain clanged with recognition that Halloween was a mere week away. What the hell did this foreshadow?
Midway through the second number the dollar bills and chants began. Were they saying “Take her off” or “Lock her up”…? No, they were saying “Take your clothes off!”
I looked at Mendy and she looked at me. We shrugged—but not out of our clothes. There wasn’t more than thirty dollars on the stage. Not the right price! Ever or yet!
A hand grabbed my ankle, clawing at my jeans. Omg! I tried to lighten my thoughts by feeling heartened that I’d lost a few pounds, so the snapped waist wouldn’t pop so that my pants would be easily lowered. Mendy had safely sequestered herself near the drum kit. The drummer, knuckles tatted with LOVEwas compelled to keep the beat—and his hands off of her—while I near-toppled from the limelight while another grungy male pawed my pant leg.
Dark thoughts returned as I recalled a misshap not that long ago in which I’d innocently injured my arm when I fell off a curb. I didn’t have time to go to the ER nor could I invent a suitable cover story for returning home in a cast.
I needed grace.
Bzz. Bzz. My crotch vibrated. Bzz. Bzz. There it was again, like an insistent restaurant reservation alert. Bzz. Bzz, answer me.
I pretend-stumbled into the shadows and inched my hand into my ultra-tight jeans with a renewed pledge to diet. Finally, my fingertips tapped the goal.
It was my phone, jammed deep in my pocket to keep it safe.
I quickly fished it out and righted it to read. It was a text from Kitten! She’d crawled out the bathroom window, dropped to her knees—simple when the DEVA Bar building was a mere one story and crept to her car in the parking lot.
CAR REVVING AT FRONT CURB IN SECONDS. TIRES READY TO SQUEAL OUTAHERE.
I stashed my phone back into my pocket, grasped the cowbell tight, and Conga’d down into the crowd. Applause erupted, but the men in their booziness were unable to follow fast. Most swayed this way and that, still seated.
Mendy quickly stepped into place behind me, her shoulder purse scooped up and tight to her shoulder. I noted that she’d cross-bodied mine as well. She looked like a Mexican soldier double-bandoliered for a shout-out alongside Pancho Villa.
I preferred an image of Butch and Sundance, so I switched channels. However, in the scenario, there was no question as to who those guys were. They were a bunch of flesh-craving drunks.
As we danced our way through the packed bar, I noted that a few dudes had nodded off and I almost felt insulted—so I beat the cowbell into each duds’ face, not pausing to see if they awoke to the alarm. Who cared if our bar tab was paid in full? We were outta there.
I elbowed the door and allowed Mendy out the door first, chivalrously showing my friend badge. I watched closely as she edged out. Huzzah, my purse was clear. Who cared if our bar tab was clear? We’d provided entertainment for free, on the house!
We scampered across the concrete, my artfully-ripped jeans gaping wider at the knees. Though we weren’t naked to the waist, like the bartender sneered about another female patron who wandered into the bar, my nipples perked in the chill air.
Maybe it was the fear. Maybe it was the arc of adrenaline. Headlights flashed, and I hoped it was our friend’s vehicle and not a drug lord or, worse, a vice cop.
Kitten’s car came roaring to the curb and we dashed inside, leaving the frigid night air outside with a slam. The radio blared “Slow Ride”, but we were not in a musical mood.
Mendy screeched as she settled and clicked the seatbelt. Her long, thick hair rebelled, still stuck in the car door, but Kitten’s pedal was to the metal. We were off and away, away, away.
I could hear leather rustle as the mad tambourine player arranged herself in the back seat. No doubt she’d eased her mane inside the car. “Where are we going?” she shouted above the rock ‘n roll noise.
Mendy always hadda know, to be in control. I didn’t ask because I already knew from Kitten’s second text, the one I was reading now.
“Mars Hookah Lounge is just around the corner,” Kit said. “We gotta chill before we go home.”
I looked down at my hands. Apparently, I’d been wringing because they were rough, red, and raw. When Mendy tossed my purse over the car seat, I immediately went for my L’Occitane hand lotion.
So literary, so Lady MacBeth, now that our adventure-on-a-dare was done, Act One.
Before this story goes noir, let’s back up to the entry joke: so, a Catholic, a Lutheran, and an atheist walk into a bar…
Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=68477″>Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=68477″>Pixabay</a>