Pen to Paper: The Stakes

Music had no substance anymore. Mr. Fisher felt this thought float through his mind lazily, and he trapped it back. How true. He listened to the mix of synth beats and keyboard and auto tune and took a gulp of his drink, first slow, then quick and greedy. He knocked back the remnants of the gin and tonic and quickly asked for another, watching the curvy bartender upend liquor into a glass. He looked blearily around the bar as his empty glass left his hand and was quickly replaced by the full one. He took a drink, noticing a lack of lime and the change of song. He sat alone, an empty seat at the bar next to him, waiting, inviting, lethal. He loosened his tie and tried to remember why he’d come to this bar, why of all places he’d decided to stumble here, which was all dim lighting and dark wood and sultry strangers mixed with music that wasn’t him, let him melt into another person who did bad things and frequented these places. He’d had a track record of haunting spots like these before he got married, back in law school when he had time to go out. Didn’t need to make excuses, study groups and so on. He felt guilty, for sure, listening to more junior assistants complain and say, Man, all I want is for someone to make me dinner when I get home and remind me that I’m working for a reason, you know? To make someone happy. Mr. Fisher would nod and say something like, It’s the dream, buddy, without really meaning it. He wanted to mean it, wanted to think about his gorgeous wife and the new bump protruding from her belly as good things rather than confining and oppressing. The junior assistants would clap him on the back and say, Man, you’ve got the life.

  He wasn’t typically the kind of guy who spent time at bars anymore anyway, he mused, knocking back his fourth gin and tonic and peering at the curves and dips waltzing around him. He used to want to be exclusively with his then-girlfriend, collapsing on the couch after a long day of work and having a beer, looking at her and being unable to look away. She called it his dumb luck look, like he couldn’t believe that he could ever be with a woman like her. Stupid lucky. And now, years later, when he should have lauded his blessed fortune on bended knee, he discarded and disparaged it. He admitted this freely to himself and even indulged it, going to conferences that didn’t exist to different cities, getting drunk at bars like this one and enjoying the beneficial effect of wearing a suit and expensive watch. That’s what his dad used to say, at least, “all’s you need is a sharp suit and a shiny watch” and you’re in. The dad who waltzed to Florida with his girlfriend as soon as he could retire.

Mr. Fisher’s wife would murmur on the phone to him when he called, talking about her prenatal yoga and whispering, I miss you, come home to me, and he’d answer, I want to, I will, I’m sorry. She’d laugh and say work is more important but that she had dibs when the baby was born. He broke out in a cold sweat once when she said this, he remembered, he sat down on the bed and quickly told her he had to go, there was a meeting or some other made up excuse that required his attention. She’d said goodbye quite happily, adding in a genuine note of surprise when she said she felt the baby kicking, laughing in delight.

Mr. Fisher was drunk at this point. He knew it, knew that when he got into moods like this that he made bad decisions, and he knew he should leave, call a car and slink up to his apartment and burrow in next to his wife. The song changed and it was a good one this time, “Cry to Me,” Solomon Burke, and almost lazily he watched a woman approach him slowly, dark, smoky eyes that flicked back and forth between the seat next to him and the mirror behind the bar. Trouble. She sat down next to him without bothering to ask and sat up straight. She looked different than his wife, sexier, naughtier, bouncier, and she swiveled her stool towards his, her foot resting gently against his calf, and asked, What are you drinking, handsome?

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