ART BY HOPE GANGLOFF
I sat and sipped my way through my first beer, and began to feel a little looser. A breeze blew across the outdoor patio section of the bar, I could feel my chest prickle against the fibers of my T-shirt. I had just shaved off my chest hair for the first time, before heading out for the night. It had continued to get thicker and thicker as I grew older, and I hadn’t been able to decide what was less fashionable: not shaving, or caring so much that I’d have to spend an extra twenty minutes in the shower every day, itching and inspecting, making sure no patches remained. Common sense stated: “Do what you want to do, do not try and conform to another’s standard of beauty,” but what I really wanted to do was conform. I didn’t care about it at all on its own, but if someone else did, that was enough for me to do it.
I had brought two pints with me outside and downed the first one as quickly as possible. It helped stifle the awkward feeling of sitting alone amongst groups of other people. I had come out knowing that I’d just leave lonely and angry, like usual, but going straight to sleep seemed like admitting defeat. There was no chance for me if I just stayed in bed, I had been alone for almost a year. My last girlfriend never said whether she cared about my chest hair or not, but she must have had a preference. The men in the advertisements in her fashion magazines, or on her Instagram, never had chest hair unless it was a 70’s throwback thing, a joke. Additionally, I reasoned that shaving might throw her for a loop, that she’d laugh, or I’d suddenly look fatter or more baby-like when we slept together. I had stuck with the status quo. She didn’t shave her pubic hair, and I never said anything about that, so we were even.
She had dumped me as we finished our second year at college, but through Facebook I could see that she gets fucked by this other kid now who has a face that looks like a deer’s. A long mouth and snout with huge, inky eyes. I was vaguely aware of his existence until one day he showed up in my basement, where my housemates were throwing a concert for their band. I was taking some of my laundry out of the dryer near the stairs, while the band was playing to fifteen people or so on the other end of the room. He was exuberantly thrashing in the little mosh pit, eventually smashing his face into one of the amps like it was someone’s windshield. The guitar cut out, but he couldn’t be stopped halfway through the song, so Deerman just kept going at it, repeatedly connecting forehead to the black mesh that covered the apparatus of the speakers. Buck fawns, when their antlers start to come in, are very aggressive- but it’s due to pain in their scalp, so it’s really more like teething than anything else. Watching this, I felt a cold satisfaction, but began to panic. If she found this to be preferable, there must have been something very fundamentally wrong with me.
My sternum was burning, I took another sip of beer and wondered if I should have put something like aftershave on my skin. Glancing down, I could see that my skin was turning bright pink, noticeable even in the dim lights supplied for the outdoor portion of the bar. The space was enclosed by a tall picket fence painted crimson red, the official color of our university’s branding. It was impossible to see over to the other side, the backyards in the neighborhood were kept private.
I had exactly one other girl I did anything remotely sexual with the entirety of the previous year. We met at a friend’s party. She was an athlete, with a stronger body than mine, and I felt like this pathetic male leech when I leaned up to kiss her while she straddled me. I tried to laugh the feeling off, but things got complicated when she placed her finger over my mouth and told me to shut up. I lay there, trying to figure out if she was just trying to talk aggressively, or if I had been out of line for laughing anyway. I eventually got up when the opportunity presented itself and just left, telling her I’d call in the morning. I did, but she said she had practice.
I was halfway through my second pint when someone I recognized from a French class I had taken the previous semester came up in front of the table I was sitting at. He was with a girl I vaguely knew from another class, maybe Marxist Literary Theory. They seemed happy to see me, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember their names. Jack, maybe, and Anita, if I had to guess.
“How’s it going?” Jack said, after recognizing me. They sat down, as if they had been looking for me, for some reason.
“Good! You still taking French?” I asked him.
“Good!” We both laughed.
Anita had these patches of forearm hair that stood out to me, sort of like a long haired dog with mange. I couldn’t tell whether she had shaved around these particular spots, letting it grow to absurd lengths, or if her genetics just did this, and she was alright with it. My chest tingled. I gave a little scratch through my shirt, above my heart.
“You still doing socialism?” I said to her.
“Yeah, I’m taking a Social Philosophy course now with Professor Bernstein. He’s absolutely fascinating. Have you had him?”
“I haven’t.” She spoke with a bit of a drawl, and I tried to keep from emulating it.
“He’s great! I don’t get a lot of what he’s talking about, but you can tell you’re learning a whole lot just by listening to him.”
I smiled while they continued to talk amongst themselves, and eventually left to buy another drink. While I was waiting to get to the front, swarms of people were entering and leaving the bar. A beautiful girl I also recognized from my French class passed by on her way outside and said “hey.” I reciprocated, we never made eye contact. Her name was Karen, we had once worked together on a presentation in which we had to pretend to run a ticket counter at la Gare du Norde. The other students would order and we would write tickets to their correct destination.
An older, bigger guy seated at the bar swiveled to me after she passed. He had kind of rigid features, and an untidy beard. I supposed that he might be a truck driver or an electrician, something like that, he didn’t seem like a student.
“You know her?” he said, slurring his words a little.
“No. Not really. We took a class together.”
“The girls here are fucking something, aren’t they?”
“She just told me she’s saving herself for marriage!”
We both laughed. I got another drink and sat down next to him.
“It’s always like that, though,” he said. He took a long gulp, his throat bulged. After a deep, heaving breath, he continued on.
“One time, a chick like that convinced me to drive behind her all the way to her family’s vacation place, a cabin out in Pennsylvania, she said that we’d have plenty of time alone before her dad got back with the groceries, and then the next thing you know, I’m fucking his dumb daughter who has no sense of distance or time on her little kitchen countertop when he comes in, and drops the milk bottle which for some fucking stupid reason was made of glass, it must have been artisanal milk or something, so it shatters all over the floor, and I pull out of her, turn around and stand there for a minute, looking at the fucker, with my dick kind of bobbing there while he stoops over to pick up the glass while I say that I’m sorry and shit and he doesn’t say anything, so I think we’re cool, we understand each other, man to man, until his glasses fall off of his nose, and he stands up again with a handful of glass, which, without saying anything, he throws all at once like a fucking snowball of sharp ice, which caught me right in the fucking gut, and some of it sticks in and I scream ‘FUCKING CUNT!’ or something like that, at which point this horsefucker, who’s still in an office suit chases me across the glassy milk floor and out the door, bleeding from the feet and stomach, fucking naked.”
“Wow,” I said.
“And then I had to sprint back to my car trailing little bits of blood and glass all the way and trying not to flex my abdominal muscles at all while running and then my car of course is locked, so, there’s that, and I had to break a window and that gets powdery safety glass all over the inside. Then I realize all I can do is release the handbrake and sort of coast down the little hill, because I don’t have any keys, they’re in the house with my wallet and jeans, and by now the adrenaline is starting to fade, but I have to go back, I have to get the keys. I have to go to the hospital. So I pulled the brake again and got out from the car with the blood and window dust coagulating all over me in a smeary red paste so that I glint in the sunset and there were these weird optical things on the trees. I march as best I can, with more and more fire in my feet and in my stomach back up the road and into the little cabin, through the same door I just left, and the Dad’s just squatting there, looking out the window into the backyard, and I feel a little bad for him, I would have felt more if not for the glass. So I guess the right thing to say is that now I feel a little bad for him. My feet dripped a little into the milk, mixing blood and white and I hobbled over to the armchair and picked up my keys, but I couldn’t put my pants back on because of my stomach, so I just held them in my hands and started back for the car, but the shards in my feet really started to flare now so I just fell over. I tried to look down at them, pulling my legs to my face, but they were covered in dirt and milk and I could almost see the bacteria on my skin and my beard was made of roses, and that was it- I woke up in the hospital.”
“How’d you get there?” I asked, scratching a bit around my right nipple.
“She says she took me to the hospital, but her dad must have helped carry me to the car, she couldn’t have done it alone.”
“And you met this girl here, at this bar?”
We drank together for a few hours, and I lost track of time. Eventually, the bartender sounded last call. I finished my beer, nodded to the storyteller, and left.
Outside, illuminated in orange by the streetlight, was the guy with the deer face. He was reclining supine on the sidewalk. Karen was squatting by his face, saying, “Hey, you have to throw up. If you can’t, I’m going to have to call an ambulance.”
“He alright?” I asked.
“He’s fucked up. Do you know him?” she said up at me. I told her I didn’t, and she said, “I’m going to stick my fingers down your throat,” with a softness. “You have to throw up.” She placed her hand in his mouth, and some spit drooled out. More and more people were leaving the bar. He coughed and his eyes rolled, and she let his head fall onto the pavement, extracting her digits, which dangled ropes of mucus off of his bottom lip.
“Do you have a car?” she asked me. I didn’t.
“Should we call 911, then?”
“I might know someone with a car, inside.” I said, “hold on a second.”
I went back in the bar and called over to the guy who had warned me about the girls here. He finished the last bit his drink and closed out his tab before following me outside.
“Did you say you had a car?” I asked him.
I gestured at the prostrate Deerman. “We could give this kid a ride to the hospital, before the cops find him.”
“Do you know him?”
Karen was gone. She had left him propped up against a young, thin tree.
“I don’t, but nobody else is going to do it. It’s only a few blocks away,” I said, “I’ll try to make sure he doesn’t puke in your car.”
“I’ll pull around front,” he said, bringing out his keys.
He walked around the corner, towards the parking lot.
The new boyfriend was heavier than I expected. I gave him a sharp smack on the back to see if he was still conscious, he opened his eyes and rolled them.
“Hey, I’m going to take you to the E.R,” I told him, loudly. “You’re OK.” His head and neck fell to rest on my leg. His cheek was warm. I moved my leg slightly, and he slipped onto the metal grate around the tree, his skull making a soft thud on the ground. It was just the two of us in the darkness for a few minutes, I listened to the sounds of the frogs and crickets.
A little beige 90’s Toyota pulled up in front of us and turned its hazards on. The driver walked out, and I said I’d lift underneath the shoulders, if he’d help with the feet. The guy was completely limp. We piled him into the car, and his body was slack against mine.
“Buckle him in, would you?” my friend asked, “in case we run into the cops.”
“Sure.” I leaned over and pulled the strap over his waist. I tried to see if he was breathing, it seemed like something to do, and couldn't notice anything in particular, so I hit him again, and he snorted back to semi-consciousness for a second. I thought of the driver bleeding out in this backseat. I wondered if you could see stains in the light, or if he had gotten it redone. But really, the whole thing was probably bullshit.
We pulled up to the drop off section of the hospital, and an attendant brought us a wheelchair, but he was so limp it could barely hold him, his legs were constantly getting stuck underneath the wheels.
The receptionist asked us who he was, but we didn’t know his name, so she asked us to find his wallet, for an I.D. It wasn’t in his jacket, or the back pockets of his jeans. The car guy pulled it out of the front left pocket, and handed the whole thing over the counter. She entered some information in the system.
“Do either of you know if he still sees a pediatrician or not?”
“We have no idea,” I said. “We found him on the corner.”
The kid spit up a little bit in his wheelchair, dribbling clear spittle down his chin and shirt. The receptionist instructed us to move his head to the side. I let the other guy do it. The skin around my bellybutton was on fire, I had to scratch it. A nurse instructed us to move him to a corner of the E.R. waiting room and eventually some other attendants took him away.
“My house is right around here,” I said to the driver, “no worries about taking me back.”
The two of us still had to walk through the parking lot, though. On the way, to break the silence, I asked him if he thought we had done the right thing.
“He might have just needed to sleep it off, but I don’t know,” he said.
His car sputtered to life after a few attempts. I walked home alone. It had gotten cold, my chest still itched in every conceivable way. I took off my shirt, the temperature and little bits of wind felt great. From the back of my mind, I remembered one time, back when my old girl and I had returned from a walk in the woods behind her house. We had sat beside each other in one of those flimsy white plastic lawn chairs, and she was mostly in my lap, I guess, but her head pressed against my left ear, her hair tickled my neck, and her right breast pressed into mine. Looking back at it now, I couldn’t figure out how exactly we could have been sharing that chair, or how our bodies could have been positioned in that way. Maybe it hadn’t been like that at all. I shrugged internally, and felt my throat for a second, as I walked back home.
A few days after the whole ordeal, I logged into Facebook, and clicked through pictures of my ex-girlfriend and the Deerman, smiling together, doing things altogether unrelated to the other night. I shut my computer lid and walked to the bathroom, and lathered myself up with some aloe cream, which Google had recommended for irritation.