“That’s a waste.”
“Then she picked up the bottle of Jack and threatened to break her own face. Said she’d call the cops and tell them I did it.” These are the women my brother attracts. The last one wore stripper heels to Christmas dinner.
I tell him he needs to document everything, note all the dates and times, and I take my cell from my purse and show him. “Hit the microphone button and talk. It’s that easy.” He pulls a beer from the cooler at his side and I keep on: leave her, change your locks, lay off the sauce.
“Yeah, totally,” he says, “I’ll totally think about it.” Then he hawks a loogie over the railing. It’s day one of my week back home.
At my mom’s house Dancing with the Stars is on. I spill about Curtis during a commercial break and my mom shakes her head. “He dates just like someone with LD,” which is short for learning disabilities.
“More like VD,” I say, because what do learning disabilities have to do with it? In her bedroom there are three shelves of self-help books.
“You mean STDs.”
“Actually, it’s STIs now.” When Curtis had gonorrhea, he called it “the burn of love.” “I got the burn of love!” he said, poking me in the ribs. “But it’s all good—just part of being a pimp.” He was forty-years-old at the time.
“This one’s meaner and smarter and he’s in trouble,” I say.
She says, “Let go and let God.”
She says, “This too shall pass.”
She says, “Can you turn up the TV?”
A few days later Curtis turns forty-three at a downtown bar. I show up and do my part; I mingle, I eat bean dip, I let his dentist hit on me and then pitch me Invisalign. There’s a clinking of glasses and we listen as Curtis professes his love for the face-breaker, their fight already forgotten. They dance to a hair band ballad while the rest of us watch, and then they disappear into the bathroom. “It’s an ‘80s party,” he says when I smear a spot of powder off his lip. He dances over and gropes two women who are posing for a picture, his idea of photo-bombing, and that’s when I can’t take any more. I walk with my jelly shoes and wave of bangs to a different bar, one I frequented in my twenties, so I can swallow a pitcher of margaritas in peace, smoke a half pack of cigarettes even though I no longer smoke. The bartender, a mom tattoo on his arm, tells me to name three things I’m thankful for. I say: bars that don’t observe the smoking ordinance, Dolly Parton on the juke box, running into no one I know. He says, I got one too: someone like you I can talk to. And then he stands there with the hint of a smile.
In my hometown it finds me—in line at the coffee shop, picking up dry cleaning for my mom, getting an oil change. It starts, “Curtis was so wasted last night…” and anything comes next: slurred karaoke, nudity at the pool hall, one or more pissed off women, public breakdancing, shots of tequila, angry woman’s boyfriend, threats, more threats, bloody lips, police, jail.
The day after his birthday the story came courtesy of Bandon Schwartz, high school track athlete turned electrician. I ran into him buying shoes. It went: “Holy shit, after you left—ahaha—he moonwalked on the bar—a-haw-ha—then his hand was in her—hahaha—they shoved his head in the toilet.”
I wasn’t thinking anything when I curled my fingers into a fist and flung it at him. It came natural, like undressing for that bartender. “Ahaha,” I said and shook my hand. Bandon said nothing, just looked at me hard like he wished I wasn’t a woman.
At my mom’s I put my hand on ice, my knuckles hot and stinging. “The sting of love,” I tell my brother when my mom passes me the phone.
He says, “Now you the pimp, dog!”
“Right,” I say. “I’m the pimp.” He brags on about his party but I don’t hear it. I’m feeling a rawness in my throat, from the cigarettes maybe, feeling my throat constricting by the second until my breath stops entirely. And I sit there. And it’s not that I can’t relax, inhale again if I wanted to, it’s that not breathing has its promise too, the burning in my lungs overtaking the pain in my hand.
“Sis,” he says, “are you there?”
About the Author: Kara Vernor’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Wigleaf, Hobart (online), The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. She co-hosts Get Lit, a monthly reading series in San Francisco’s North Bay. More at karavernor.wordpress.com.
Photo Credit: Leesa Cross-Smith