There are stories that make me proud I wrote them and there’s this one. Writing sometimes takes me places that aren’t pleasant, with characters who are unlikable, where a scalding shower might be needed to wash off the scum. Fortunately, there are journals like Close To The Bone who love this kind of stuff. They published my story in October 2018.
by DL Shirey
The conversation needn’t be engrossing, pleasing would do. Pleasant enough for Della to ask one question: ‘What kind of movies do you like?’ If she chose to ask, she knew how the evening would go, just not how it might end. Like a good movie, it’s better when the end comes as a surprise.
Della never tried the same bar twice, yet the script was always the same: guys asked if she was alone, plied her with drink and said anything to make small talk larger. They were looking to get laid, but so was Della. While they took furtive glances at her unbuttoned V of skin, she searched the men for lies.
In the year since her divorce, each man she’d slept with had lied. Eventually. Della expected it and she hated the part of herself that presumed. She didn’t want to admit to losing hope, but these nights out were starting to scratch of something that felt permanently repetitive. Della longed for new warmth and security, but had enough experience with men to know there would be no chance for a relationship until sex. The quicker she got there the better, as long as Della didn’t spot the inevitable lie.
Other than answering the movie question, the rules were simple: no lies that first night and don’t touch her hands. While Della freely gave the rest of her body, she reserved the intimacy of holding hands until she knew a man better. Whenever a candidate slid into the seat beside her, Della folded her hands protectively between her thighs.
And there was no wrong answer to the movie question. If the bar-talk went on long enough and Della decided to ask it, all he had to do was respond.
Two had already tried and had been denied the question. Truth was, Della had another criterion. There had to be something in a man’s voice, the opposite of cocky. At some point in the conversation, Della would close her colorless lashes and listen for sadness. It had to be there somewhere, hidden behind the earnestness; just a trace of melancholy, a simple scar that she could hear beneath the salesmanship.
Della had no idea what drew Warren to her. He had looked down the long polished bar, studied each face reflected in the mirror behind the endless, dustless shelves of bottles. He selected Della. Maybe it was the open chair beside her. Maybe he already hit on the ones with perfect makeup. Maybe average becomes above-that when a man’s night grows short. Della dropped her hands to the folds of her new skirt.
Requisite chitchat tumbled from Warren’s thick lips. She didn’t concentrate on his mouth, or the way his baggy eyes flicked to the plunge of unbloused silk. Warren’s oiled hair wasn’t important, neither was the sag under his chin. Della saw none of that as she closed her eyes and listened to the man speak: Branch Manager, widower, promotion brought him to Chicago, stories of truth and sadness both.
Della opened her eyes and smiled. She looked to the mirror at the back of the bar, watched herself as a couple with this man. The freckles on her cheeks bunched a little higher. She moved ice around in her drink, playing for time; Della didn’t want Warren to think it too easy.
As the conversation progressed, she glanced at the mirror many times, making sure her moves didn’t seem staged: how she dropped her head when laughing at his jokes, or when she raised it up again, tossing long, mouse-brown hair around her shoulder and down her back.
“How’d you like to get out of here?” Warren finally asked.
“Sure. What kind of movies do you like?”
“You want to go to the movies?” Warren looked disheartened, lines between brows channeled. “I was thinking my place.”
“That’s fine. But what’s your favorite kind of movie?”
“Is that important?”
“It is to me,” Della said as a matter of fact. “It tells me a little about the man I’ll be fucking.”
Dirty talk was a sure way to get an enthusiastic response to her question, and Warren answered with gusto. In the car they chatted easily about spy thrillers. He liked Jason Bourne, that kind of thing. In bed she imagined Matt Damon when Warren climaxed, wondered if a rich movie star shouted out for God, or grunted as if a stunt man was punching him in the stomach.
Later, when they made love again, it was Warren she saw. Then she watched while he slept with that cute, sad smile on his lips. Wide awake, now, she got up.
For the past year, Della could never fall asleep unless she watched a movie on TV. She went to the living room not bothering to put on clothes. It was warm in the small apartment. Besides, she was proud she stayed in shape. Her body was the one thing over which Della had complete control. Damned if she would become another dumpy forty-something. She could do whatever she wanted with her body, use it however she saw fit until she had another good man in her life.
Della decided she liked Warren and wanted to fall asleep on the couch thinking of him. She looked for DVDs and found none. She grabbed the remote, powered on the big screen and found Netflix. Any movie would help her sleep, but if it was one Warren had watched, so much the better.
Della scrolled down to Watch It Again and the string of movies previously viewed. There they were: stupid buddy movies, one inanity after another, sequel upon sequel.
“Liar,” she said, looking toward the bedroom.
Their first night together she had found deceit. And, according to her rules, this was the end. Della hung her head, put her face into her hands and pressed hard, hoping the pressure could somehow help her decide. Della splayed her fingers, stretching the expressions on her face until anger became frustration became resignation.
Everyone hid themselves in the beginning, Della thought. What mattered was how often it happened and when the truth would finally be revealed. She pulled her palms away slowly and raised her head.
Decision made, Della snapped off the set and went to the kitchen. She found the sharpest knife in a drawer below the filthy counter, next to the stained sink. Returning to the rumpled couch, Della slouched low against a cushion.
“Liar,” she said of herself, having broken the rule once again.
Della began a slow trace along her palm, running the blade down the rift of her lifeline, next to the other scars. Over and over, following the contours of her hand, increasing pressure until pinpoints of blood welled.
She only cut in places Warren wouldn’t see when they made love again in the morning.