She’s lying sideways on a scratchy wool couch with this guy’s half-tumescent cock in her mouth and she can’t remember where she is. Someone’s office, not the guy’s, but he had a key. She half recalls him fumbling with a key ring in a dimly lit hallway that smelled like carpet cleaner. Obviously he brought her here hoping for something like this but she can’t remember how she got into this awkward position and whether he asked or she offered, which seems unlikely because she definitely isn’t interested. She’s been trying to cut down on her drinking, tired of daily hangovers and unnerved by the blackouts, but it hasn’t really been working. She goes off the booze for a few days and then back on to celebrate the few days off. And she can’t seem to turn down free drinks.
She remembers stopping off at this bar on the Upper West Side where her friend Joan bartends because she wanted to ask Joan if she’d seen Rick. She had a new story to tell him about the crazy super in her apartment building. His name wasn’t really Rick; the first time they’d met he’d raised his glass and said, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and she’d laughed, and the name Rick just stuck. He was witty and charming and they both liked Bogart and NASCAR and Proust and hated cats. She’s had drinks with him a bunch of times since then, different places but the same general neighborhood. He gave her violets once, that he’d bought on the street. She thinks he might be gay, or bi, they’ve never really talked about it, but she likes that he flirts but doesn’t really come on to her. She’s tired of the we-were-both-too-young-just-out-of-college-and-didn’t-know-what-we-were-doing story of her brief first marriage and doesn’t even bother with it any more when she meets someone new. She’s had her fill of one-night stands and longer flings where guys treated her like shit. Seven years since her divorce and no longer counting.
She dropped by the bar where she sometimes runs into Rick, but her friend Joan wasn’t there, and Rick wasn’t there, and this old guy wanted to buy her a drink and she said why not, because he wasn’t bad looking for an old guy, nice eyes, neatly trimmed white beard, brown leather blazer, and he was carrying the new issue of the New York Review of Books, which she’d just read but he hadn’t yet. He looked at her face, not her breasts. He didn’t touch her while they talked, also a plus in her book. Didn’t ask some lame version of “Do you come here often,” which in fact she did. They traded opinions about where to get the best martinis, and how the neighborhood had changed. She can’t remember what else. Or his name. Or how many drinks she had. A lot. She remembers him helping her with her coat when they stood to leave, how his hand lingered on the nape of her neck as he steered her to the door.
The blinds are up and the darkness outside presses against the floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s probably a good view, lights twinkling on the skyline, traffic crawling on the parkway below, bridges in the distance, but she can’t see anything but the old guy’s gray pubic hair and sagging purple balls and she’s wondering if she can just stop. It must be late, time to go home. Did they drink until closing? His cock smells like urine and tastes sour. Her stomach turns. She so isn’t into this. What she really wants is to go home and curl up alone in her bed under her blue satin comforter with a snifter of cognac and watch “Casablanca” on Netflix. The movie didn’t really end well for Ilsa, though, left alone on the tarmac, watching Rick depart. Or did he make her depart? They parted. She’s not sure whether that was the last scene, or just the last scene she remembers. It was an airport. She thinks it was raining. She’d like to live in Paris, or maybe Lisbon or Madrid. She used to read French novels and talk about moving to Paris, but that was ages ago.
“Finish what you started, sweetheart,” the man says. There’s an ugly edge to his voice. She feels a wave of nausea. She’s having trouble catching her breath, suddenly aware that she’s alone in a deserted office building with a stranger who’s nothing like Rick, and who doesn’t seem like the guy with the nice eyes she met in the bar at all. She doesn’t know him, or what he’ll do. Doesn’t know what she’s started, or when it started, or how many years back she’d have to go to find the beginning of what is happening to her now, and when it will ever end.
Jacqueline Doyle lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her flash chapbook The Missing Girl was published by Black Lawrence Press last fall, and she has recent flash in Wigleaf, Hotel Amerika, New Flash Fiction Review, and Post Road. Find her online at www.jacquelinedoyle.com and on twitter @doylejacq.