While waiting to use the gender-neutral bathroom (a bar owner’s weak attempt to distract patrons from realizing he couldn’t afford two), you check your cell phone to see if he’s returned your text. The woman in front of you sways back and forth, humming an unfamiliar tune, desperately trying to keep her balance in her six-inch stilettos, while sipping the last few drops of her Coors Light. A man wearing a purple-sequined dress comes stumbling out, one hand gripping the door for balance, the other clutching a knock-off Prada. He looks at you, both of you, trying to decide which one is prettier. He compliments your complexion and asks you if you know a guy named Robbie who apparently owes him money. He introduces himself as Star and you tell him your name is Alice. You share a laugh and he floats away on pleather knee high boots and cocaine.
It’s finally your turn to piss. You slide in, careful not to touch any part of door. Once inside, you grab a paper towel and use it to turn the lock. You fumble to get your zipper down and steady your legs as you hover over the feculent toilet and while you release the thirty-two ounces of beer you’ve just consumed, you notice you’re standing in someone else’s piss. You make a mental note to burn your shoes when you arrive home.
The tank lid is lightly dusted with cocaine like when the first snow of the season covers the street and you can still see the asphalt underneath. The walls are covered in a collage of sharpie wisdom, graffiti, band stickers, and vintage porno magazines. You can’t help but notice the one above the light switch; a girl dressed in daisy dukes and a pink flannel shirt tied underneath her implants, bent over a stack of hay bales, a heavily greased cowboy wearing nothing but a pair of black chaps, snakeskin boots, and a Stetson behind her, holding her hips, his head tilted back in ecstasy. “Who gets off on this shit?” you ask yourself and are reminded of the time you found your older brother’s stash of smut-zines hidden in his junior high gym bag in the back of his closet, next to his golf clubs. You were ten years old and had just become the recipient of a power only granted to a select few little sisters. Grossed out by the image of your brother and these two strangers playing a game of freeze fuck on the wall, you quickly finish your business.
You notice an advertisement of sorts, some girl named Ashley K. who is apparently highly skilled at fellatio, her telephone number neatly written in black marker above the rusted sanitary napkin disposal. You are sure that this is someone’s sick idea of revenge. You imagine Ashley crying somewhere while deleting messages from strangers. You wish you had a marker to remove her name and number. Then again, Ashley could be a coke whore. You never met an Ashley who wasn’t a little loose.
As you flush the toilet with your piss soaked ballet flat, you notice a quote from your favorite children’s book: “We’re all mad here.” You wonder if the spirit of Lewis Carroll is with you now and if this is a sign from the literary gods. You long to take a pill to make you small; small enough to slip through the crack of your lovers’ door to find out for yourself what you already know is true. You decide not to wash your hands for fear of catching a disease from the cloudy faucet handles, thick with soap scum and mildew. You find your country apple scented hand sanitizer in the hidden pocket of your purse and pour half the bottle into your palm, rubbing it in as fast as you can, letting the excess fall onto the gray, concrete floor. You check your phone again. No new texts.
You grab another paper towel to let yourself out and are greeted by a trio of drunk blondes armed with their authentic Louis Vuitton bags and collagen smiles. You smell their Burberry London perfume and the tall one bumps into you as you exit. She apologizes three times as the other two file in. You wonder how they ended up here. You wonder the same about yourself. They call it “slumming it” and thinks it gives them much-desired street cred. These baby dolls do not understand the severity of the situation. They are small white rabbits in a fox den. It’s only a matter of time until they are separated and the fear paralyzes them. Best-case scenario, they’ll wake up at 6AM in a stranger’s bed with smeared mascara and twenty new messages, fighting off a hangover while they hail cabs back to the Upper East Side, calling their girlfriends to check if they made it home safely. Days later, they’ll hold freshly manicured hands as they sit in uncomfortable plastic chairs, waiting for their blood tests to come back negative. They don’t understand how HIV works. It takes a while to work through your system.
You make your way back to the bar and order an Alabama Slammer and a Heineken Light. The shot goes down easy, but the beer gives you acid reflux. You swallow the pre-vomit that tries to escape your freshly glossed lips. A woman with acne scars and clumpy, blue mascara elbows her way in between you and the old man sitting next to you. He doesn’t pay either of you any mind. He’s more concerned with the antique, ruby ring he’s fumbling with, muttering under his breath in between sips. The bartender pours him another scotch on deck. The old man looks up, nods in thanks, and returns to his ruby.
“Excuuse me!” the woman yells while waving a crumpled twenty, her arm stretched across the bar.
You try not to make eye contact. You turn your body and give your attention to the two hipsters playing pool. They look like walking ads for Urban Outfitters. Your phone lights up. One new message. You can hear your own heartbeat in your ears, like when the doctor lets you listen with his stethoscope, only not as clear, slightly muffled. You retrieve the message. It’s your new roommate informing you that you are out of toilet paper and she’s broke until next pay day. You don’t reply. You make another mental note to find a new roommate.
Your phone beeps, indicating a low battery. You fumble around in your oversized purse in search of the charger you stole from your ex. Your hands swim in a sea of panty liners, loose change, crumpled receipts, and rogue, orange Tic Tacs. You feel a tap on your shoulder and smile as you lift your head to greet your lover. Of course he didn’t text you first. Marco’s too hip for that. He still shows up at your door, unannounced, holding a bag of Thai takeout and a bottle of red wine for Christ sakes. The tightness in your chest begins to subside until you realize that the guy standing in front of you is not Marco.
“Hey,” he says in a suggestive tone.
His smile reveals a mouth full of crooked, tobacco-stained teeth and you’re fairly certain he doesn’t own a mirror or a razor. This guy is the poster child for bad hygiene. You can’t help but judge him based on the excessive amount of dirt underneath his fingernails.
“Chuck, nice to meet you,” he says. His voice is what you imagine a serial killer’s would sound like.
The odds are totally against this guy. You almost feel sorry for him. If you’ve learned anything from reading Cosmo on the L, it’s never date a verb: Bill, Mark, Bob, Neal. You don’t care how hot or rich or funny they are. This is a rule your mother agrees with and rightfully so. Her second husband Bill rode the unemployment train for ninety-nine weeks and faked a fall in front of a grocery store on Thanksgiving. He settled for five grand and bought a one-way ticket to Aruba. That asshole didn’t even leave your mother a note. Husband number three, Neal, was a real douche canoe. He managed to gamble his way into bankruptcy and after the divorce, your mother found out he had opened four lines of credit in her name. You make allowances for Marco because technically, he is not a verb.
Chuck’s eyes violate your body. He doesn’t even try to hide it. He hisses and throws you a “Damn, girl.” Before he wastes his best pick up line on you, you politely tell him you prefer women. As the words escape your mouth, you realize this was a bad idea. Your desperate attempt to repel him turns into a full-fledged fantasy. His immaturity makes you want to punch him with a closed fist the way your father taught you when you were twelve. One clean shot to the face and it’s no more “C’mon babe, you know you want this,” followed by “Every girl loves cock, even lesbians,” or “Can’t I just watch?” Disgusted, you abandon your fresh beer, tip out the bartender, and make your way to the exit.
The rain blows sideways. The streets become mirrors. Streaks of red, yellow, and green chase each other down Bleeker. A text arrives. Hey, I’m running late. The new guy never showed. I’ll text you when I’m omw. It’s already 11:45 and you’ve decided you’ve had enough social interaction for one night. You wait a few minutes to return the text. You don’t want to seem too eager or worse, desperate. No worries, I think I’m just going to grab a cab home. Rain check? He responds a few seconds later, almost too quick. Sure. Sorry, love. He includes a winking, frowning face. You fucking hate emojis.
You hail a cab and give the cabby your address. It smells like cat piss and Black & Milds. You lean your head back as you look out of the window, watching beads of rain chase each other. At a stoplight, you watch a couple make out under the awning of a bodega. He holds her face with his hands and hers are placed gently on his chest. Their eyes open and close simultaneously. The lovers’ rhythm.
The cab jerks you forward and you almost smash your face on the tiny flat screen in front of you. As you buckle your seat belt, you notice an advertisement for The Lion King on Broadway. Three years in the city and you still haven’t seen a Broadway show. You text your sister and ask her if she wants to meet you in the city next Saturday to catch a matinee. You tell her to bring your niece, Sophie. She sends you a yes with a smiley face. What the fuck is with this emoji obsession? She asks you about your date with Marco and you text back: I’ll call you tomorrow.
You begin to over analyze the situation, a trait you’ve picked up from your mother. You recall your last conversation with Marco. You invited him to Sophie’s birthday party at the Bronx Zoo and he said he already had plans. You asked him what his plans were and he told you his roommate Kevin scored two tickets to the Yankee game. The following Monday you call him to see if he wants to grab a bite during your lunch break and he doesn’t answer. He texts you later that night to tell you he slept until noon and he and Kevin got wasted at Stan’s Sports Bar after the game and didn’t get home until after five. You agree to meet on Friday. He knows a bartender at a hip dive bar on Bleeker and he could hook you both up with free drinks.
The cabby turns the corner down your block and you ask him to turn around and give him Marco’s work address. You never go in when he bartends. He says his boss is really strict about shit like that. You’re tired of pretending you don’t mind that he flirts for tips. You hand the cabby a twenty and he gives you your change. You gently close the cab door, but the wind slams it shut. There’s a five-dollar cover to get in and a fat guy with a grizzly beard stamps your hand with a blue star. You only know one of Marco’s coworkers and you don’t see her. You ask the bartender with the pink hair if he’s here and she shakes her head no. She asks you if you’re a friend of his. You reply, “You can say that.” She gives you a pity look and you make your exit.
You check your wallet to see how much cash you have left and hail another cab. You give the cabby Marco’s home address. It’s only a few blocks from the bar, but it’s raining and this makes it more dramatic. The cabby pulls behind Marco’s baby-blue Vespa. You hand him a five and tell him to keep the change. You walk up to the brick steps and pause to take a breath before climbing them. You take out your compact to check your makeup and apply a fresh coat of lip-gloss. You open the door and enter the corridor. You walk down the hall and stand in front of his door. You knock three times and wait for him to answer. You hear two sets of footsteps, one coming toward the door, and the other shuffling towards one of the bedrooms. The door opens and Marco is standing in front of you in a pair of unbuttoned jeans with no socks or underwear. He runs his hands through his curly, black locks and gives you a sideways smile.
“Hey babe, I thought you said you were going home. The new guy ended up showing up right after I texted you back. I figured you were already home, so I didn’t bother calling you. Kevin and I grabbed a couple of six packs and he’s passed out with some chick in his room.”
“No worries. Can I come in?”
“Yeah babe, come in. There’s beer in the fridge. I gotta’ take a piss. Domestic beer goes right through me.” His movements were quick and improvised like his body was telling his brain where to go instead of the other way around.
You can smell it. He fucked her in the living room. It’s a combination of sweat, Dior, and latex. Still, you keep your cool, pretend you’re oblivious. He comes out of the bathroom and you can smell the dial soap on his hands as he tucks a piece of your hair behind your ear. He never washes his hands after a piss. You kiss him and taste his cinnamon toothpaste.
“You look beautiful babe,” he says as he bites his bottom lip. This is not the first time you’ve noticed it. You used to think it was cute. You used to think you made him nervous which gave you that extra boost of confidence you needed in the bedroom. Reality is a ruthless bitch. You think back to that day in Central Park when you waited over an hour for him on the bench near the John Lennon memorial. He showed up with a bouquet of azaleas, kissed you gently on your cheek, and whispered, “I’m sorry” into your ear. As he pulled away from your face, he gave you his best sad eyes and there it was. The moment he bit the right side of his lower lip, you fell right back into submission.
You are ashamed of your naivety. You’re thirty-two years old and still blinded by the possibility of bliss, refusing to observe the most obvious signs of betrayal. But somewhere, deep down, you always knew. Marco was built like a Greek god; a six-foot-two Argentinian with a chiseled jaw and a perfect five o’clock shadow. He had done some print modeling in the past and even dated Kirsten Dunst for a few months (her rebound after Jake Gyllenhaal). It’s not that he was out of your league, but guys like Marco have no interest in monogamy. You never doubted his love for you but unfortunately, it was not enough to keep his pants buttoned.
Marco looks down at the floor and back up at you several times.
“Do you want to go back to the bar? You look too pretty to stay inside. Look at me, I’m a mess. I was about to hop in the shower before you came. I can be ready in fifteen minutes, babe.” He stumbles and catches himself over his shaky words.
You take your earrings off slowly, place them in your purse, and let it drop to the floor. You slide one hand down his unbuttoned jeans and unbutton your blouse with the other, staring him down like the prey he is.
“I’ve had enough of the bar scene for one night.”
“Yeah? Marco asks with his eyes closed, trying to fight his libido. He grabs your arm, signaling you to release your grip and begins to lead you into his bedroom. For a second, you hesitate. You realize that you are in complete control, a new feeling for you. The good girl in you is fighting to be heard. You’re better than this, Kate. Leave gracefully. Be a lady. He probably lied to that poor girl. What if it were you behind that door? She’s probably terrified. Just when she thinks she’s convinced you, you feel an electric current run through your body. Everything around you slows down. The silence makes you want to scream as loud as your vocal cords and lungs will allow. But on the surface, you are calm. You’ve never felt sexier in your life. You want him more than you’ve ever wanted anyone, but just to play with, not to keep. The idea of an audience excites you.
You consider the possibility of regret and shame, the phone call to your therapist, the weekend you’ll spend in yoga pants and a hoodie on your pull out couch watching The Notebook and eating your weight in Cherry Garcia. You decide to fuck him anyway. Let her hear you on the other side of Kevin’s door. She’s trapped now. You’re the fox and she’s the white rabbit. You pull out all of your tricks. Those yoga classes really paid off. You fuck so long, he forgets she’s still there. He falls asleep on your chest, leaving a puddle of drool. You sneak out from underneath him, pick your clothes up off the floor, and quickly dress. You are tempted to open Kevin’s bedroom door, but you fight the urge. You stand in front of it, for about thirty seconds, which feels like an hour. Nothing. You imagine her, sitting on Kevin’s bed, paralyzed, crying without sobbing, letting the tears roll down her face without wiping them away. You quickly grab your purse and head out. As you approach the corridor, Kevin comes stumbling in drunk and barely notices you. You say hello and you can tell he’s trying to remember your name.
“I know you,” he says pointing his finger while trying to regain his balance.
“Yes, we’ve met a few times. Good to see you.”
“You too, Kat.”
“I knew that.”
“There’s a white rabbit in your bed.”