I am thinking about the answer to a question that you should have asked me. We’re sitting in this sorry, smokeless bar in West Hollywood, full of these fucking hipsters in cardigans and owl glasses, these Zooey-Deschanel-fringe-wearing/ ponytailed-lumberjack-bearded bastards, who think that they know something about art, or the universe; who never learned to drink properly and have eighteen volumes of Bukowski on their shelves. There’s a drink in my hands. You’re telling me about the reams of pages of metaphors you could write about my eyes, my hands, the slender curve of my (not-considerably slender) neck. I know nothing about art, or the universe, but I know that there’s a difference between the words on your tongue and your fingers creeping up my thigh. There’s not enough drink in the world, or in my hands. Of course you would bring me here.
You are telling me this story about your ex-girlfriend, the one with the tattoos who left you for the neckbeardy Men’s Rights Activist in Pasadena. It’s all totally unfair, you’re explaining and you’re asking; why do nice girls always want to date assholes? The truth is that I don’t know the answer to this question. I’m sitting here, still not enough drink in my hands to know the answer to this question, but I am on a date with you, so I don’t know what this says about me. Your thumb is drawing tiny circles, closer and closer to the inside of my thigh. The girl at the table next to us has stopped raving about her yoga class to stare. I haven’t succeeded in stopping you.
The bartender is starting to hover like she thinks she might need to save me, this indie rocker with an undercut and a pierced lip and one of those tank tops with tasteful sideboob, and I don’t blame her, because she’s probably saved a hundred girls in my position. Still, it’s irritating that she should have to, when I’d been so almost hopeful. What was I hoping for? Okay, your profile had the prerequisite dog-lover pics, the ‘I work out’ humblebrag, the grad pic, the frat pic, the one of you at the top of some giant fucking rock- but your eyes had seemed kind. ‘Not just looking for a hookup’, your page had claimed, but no: there’s your hand, pausing to flex across my thigh like you’re getting carpal tunnel in your wrist. I really don’t want to think about how that particular affliction might have arisen. And now you’re leaning across the tiny booth to blow on my ear, which I guess you’ve seen in a movie or something, and I can’t help but shiver at the moist breath tickling my neck. Perhaps you take that for a sexy shiver, because you have the gall to whisper ‘what are you thinking about?’ like I’m seconds away from crawling under the table and giving it up to you.
The truth is that right now I’m somewhere else. I’m thinking back, all time and regret and the wisdom of hindsight to a night two years ago, in England. About a boy who walked me home down cobbled streets, guiding me like my own North Star (with his bright eyes and blonde hair) from the food truck, with polystyrene cartons in both our hands and the only warmth coming from some melted cheese on fries. I’m remembering how we walked together down the snowy parade, over the dip in the stone steps that has been worn in from over seven hundred years of men and monks and scholars bringing back one night stands from market square. That’s where we’d met, that night, and I was alone, and drunker than I am now, and I was not feeling like myself when he stood at my side and said ‘Hello, haven’t we met before?’ I think his name was Andrew.
At this long-ago time I met Andrew, I felt like I knew everything there was to know about boys and love and desire. Which is laughable. I didn’t know anything, then- not about art, or the universe, or what a boy might want when he offers to walk you home from a food truck outside a crowded club. So when Andrew smiled, I had no idea what he was asking for, when he wondered aloud what our living quarters looked like, like my fourteenth-century courtyard was more thrilling than his sixteenth-century courtyard. I didn’t know that I would like what he wanted, until it transpired that everything Iwanted was to suck his tongue between my teeth and feel his body shiver. Until, in fact, we were there that first time in my bed, and I said ‘I haven’t done this before’ and he asked what I had done before, and he took my face in his hands and said ‘I will do whatever you need me to’. Then, I knew for sure. He let me flip us over, and he did not pin me down, and later I straddled his thick thighs, felt the corded muscles of his arms around my waist, and felt safe there.
It’s funny, isn’t it? I am sitting here tonight, an ocean away, and I am looking at you and these girls in cardigans and owl-glasses, settled into the sides of skinny men in skinnier jeans, but I am thinking about Andrew, and that night and his smile; and how I asked him not to fuck me, so he didn’t.
“How is the lady liking her beverage?” you are asking. I sip on for a moment before realizing- ‘the lady’ is me. I am the lady. I have the breasts and the dress and the inability to move your hand, therefore I am the lady. Easier to be amenable to third person when you’re seven drinks down in a West Hollywood bar, but the girl in the yoga pants is unimpressed, and the bartender looks like she’s coughing up a lung. I want to laugh with her because I feel like this should be the dealbreaker. Thing is, your hand is on my thigh and experience has taught me that a lot of things could happen if I move it again. If I move your hand, then I will be the frigid bitch who moved your hand, who thinks she’s too good for you, like that ex-girlfriend who doesn’t know what she’s missing and probably had a much more slender neck. And, look: it’s not that I’m terribly afraid you’ll try to show me what I’m missing- but I’d rather be bored of you than afraid of you.
So I sit here with you in this sorry bar, hesitant to move your hand. You start telling me, mouth a slurring rush of red from the wine, about the terrible fucking phonies in this town, here in this city of polyester angels with fake eyelashes, and fake breasts, and sugar skulls on their torsos, getting their dicks wet because they think that a little death will make them tangible, and here and now you are three drinks down and sad about how the universe is too small to escape sadness, and it is all incredibly tragic. I am not listening anymore.
Abigail Mitchell is an English writer who recently graduated from the University of Cambridge with a BA in History. Currently, she is a graduate student in the MPW Program at the University of Southern California, where she is also an assistant lecturer. Abigail is the poetry editor for the current edition of the program's literary journal, the Southern California Review.