(This was last month’s story for the writer’s meeting. The topic got to be “beer, glass and fear” one of these peculiar group efforts. The story still doesn’t have a real title. There’s something about this story that my writer buddies liked very much, I’m not so sure about, and my husband finds too simple and strained. Tell me what you think about it, please. And I’m still in search of a title. Also, I might want to stop starting stories with “A woman walked into a bar.”)
Nice girls like me don’t go in a bar like this, I thought while sitting down on a bar stool in that dingy little place, and ordering a beer. But then, since I was neither a girl anymore nor particularly nice that was okay. I did fake nice for my job, though, nice and patient and warm and caring. Fuck.
The place was dark, and full of smoke. I didn’t know that was still legal. There were a couple of people in here, looking like regulars at their own table way in the back. The bartender was placing drinks before them, a glass of white wine in front of a blonde woman holding a cigarette. She was standing too close to one of the men, wearing a tight white top, and low rise jeans on her narrow frame. I would have thought her to be around fifty if it weren’t for her voice, loud and harsh, sounding like she was a chain smoker. She was probably quite a bit younger than she looked, alcohol and nicotine having marinated her beyond her years.
I didn’t quite know why I had had the urge to come here this evening. I had passed this little hole of a bar often on my way home from work. The bead curtain at the entrance, the small cluster of regulars standing right in front of the door day and night, and never had I thought to go in here. But tonight I just couldn’t stand the thought of going home, of business as usual, and so I had come here.
My beer took too long to arrive. The bartender served everybody else before me. The two men standing to my right between the bar and the slot machine were looking at me. Sideways glance not meant to be seen.
I don’t know why I keep on doing this. I can’t do this work any longer, it’s killing me. Always nice, always smiling, always presentable. Sometimes I think I should give it all up and get a job as a cleaning woman. At least that’s honorable work. Work that needs to be done.
I should have gone home. Drink my own beer in front of my own TV, not in a bar watching sports with the sound turned off. Or better yet, I should have gone to the gym, work out, meet some friends and be civilized. Fuck.
At first I thought this was a good job. I had become a nurse to help people, to ease their pain. Then, after working in the emergency room for a couple of years, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I looked for something easier with regular working hours. And so I had ended up in that place, a place for people with money, a place that had nothing to do with healing. And now I had the feeling that it was wrong to help these patients, our clients I was supposed to call them, I had the feeling that they all deserved it, that they should just give up trying. Maybe I should go somewhere else, even a hospice would be better than that.
I didn’t like it in here, and I didn’t want to talk to anybody. The guy sitting next to me tried to make eye contact, and started inching closer. I put a few coins on the bar, put down my half-empty bottle and left again. It had been a mistake, coming here, what had I been thinking.
It had been better for a while when I met Johnny. I had someone to come home to, we sat in front of the TV together, and then he made plans about marrying and family and kids. I don’t think I want kids, I had said, and he was totally mad at me. Not that he really liked kids or was a family guy or something, just, that’s not something you’re supposed to say, especialy if you’re a woman. Fuck.
I’ll just go for a walk. That will be better. Down the canal, away from the people. It was cold already this time of year. Throughout the day one could fool oneself, it still felt like summer, almost, but now in the evening, it got chilly. I had to close my jacket. My beloved leather jacket. Johnny hadn’t liked it, that old thing, he had said. He wanted me to look like a lady. Or sexy. Or both. He didn’t like my flannel shirts, and jeans and boots, and the oversized brown suede jacket with the big buttons on the front. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up, the sweatshirt I wore underneath the jacket. Nice and warm. I can take care of myself, I don’t need anybody to look after me.
Not like these nice damsels at the clinic, all of them falling in love with the doctors. All of them came with their nice little husbands, husbands who were secretely ashamed, who knew they weren’t real men. The women came like they wanted the doctors to fill in for their husbands. Of course, often it wasn’t because of the men. But mostly it felt like it were.
At work I was just a decorative and practical shadow. A nice, starched white shadow, smiling, leaning a hand, helping, carrying things, guiding people, a nice little white shadow, a servant, almost a ghost, and part of the furniture. Of course, at the clinic’s Christmas party Doctor Whiteheart always said how grateful he was for his staff, and that he couldn’t do it without us. Fuck.
Maybe a cigarette would make me feel better. I already smelled like it anyway.
The condom broke. It wasn’t my fault. Johnny had already broken up with me twice. Because he wanted to have a family. And because I didn’t want to he couldn’t take me home to meet his parents. Of course he couldn’t. He wanted a real woman, someone nice, and caring, someone who would fold his socks, and clean his apartment and cook for him. Not someone who liked going out and drinking beer, and playing computer games. He hadn’t minded in the beginning. When we met he said I was refreshing, and that my boldness made me sexy. And then he wanted a nice little wife, and I can’t be that.
I tried. Really. I even tried to cook, and have dinner ready on time but for some reason I never could do it right. It was always too late, or too early, or the wrong thing to make, or too salty, or whatever.
And then he came back, and after a few days everything was all right again. There was someone to come home to and to spend the evening with. And then the condom broke. And then he left and he didn’t call. He said, he had work to do. On the weekend. Johnny never works on weekends, never. But he said, this time was special, and that his boss had made him do it. And then I knew that he had broken up with me again. And I thought, this is it, this is the end. And a part of me was relieved. It is over. Forever over.
But then I started to feel weird. I thought I had caught a virus. I didn’t want to eat anything, and I felt nauseous all the time. And then I tried to remember my last period. And I couldn’t. And then one day at work I just took one of the pregnancy tests for myself.
I thought Johnny would be happy. That was what he had wanted, wasn’t it? But he just slammed the door in my face and screamed something about me not getting any money out of him, and that I was a hysterical bitch, never to come near him again, ever.