The night of the lit party was the night of the man in a tunic. Diagonally-cut, his little outfit showed off his skinny, hairy legs. That same man wore a drum major’s hat, and he carried a baton.
His job, I think, was to drive traffic from the sidewalk to the party inside the dance studio next to the vintage clothing store. The women in the windows did that too. They wore bathing suits and high heels and posed well.
I hadn’t come to spite her. She told me to come. She sent a text that day. “Hope to see ya,” she said.
I didn’t know what the night would bring. My friend Sam forwarded the evening’s information to theater friends of his, and even they couldn’t make sense of it.
Work that week was sweaty and hot and I knew, even if we didn’t reconcile at the party, I’d be in shape for the others. I could intimidate the fey, artistic men. Maybe the women in their red lipsticks and unkempt hair – though wild in a purposeful way – would see the thickness of my arms and spend a moment wondering how my body would feel on theirs. As the week along, that hope of mine increased.
On the day of the event, it was hotter still. I brought steel down from racks and drove it to a machine that cut the steel. I pushed the steel and measured it. I stepped on the pedal and felt the thousands of pounds of steel slamming against concrete covered in oil and spit and dirt and chew. On my afternoon break, I checked my phone.
It had been a month, maybe two, of “how are you doing, what are you up to,” of me responding with I’m fine, what are you doing, of her texting to say “I’m not sure, I might go out later, would you want to hang out tomorrow?” Of me saying that sounds great. Of the next day asking when we’d be seeing each other. Of silence.
“Sorry, I passed out early,” I’d read, sent at some hour of the morning. Often it went that way at first, then only on weekends. After that, sporadically. She needed to know I’d still be there.
On our first date months before, her black skirt started above her waist and her white blouse ended not long after her breasts. In our booth, listening to her talk about fashion design, I felt myself wish for something I knew, somewhere buried in my denseness, would never happen. But I think it was the moments, they seemed real as she slept over, and even before that, as she sat across from me and drank her two martinis. And how she kissed passionately.
The time after that she came over to my place but left at two in the morning to go to another party. The time after that is when I asked her out to a music festival but she said she couldn’t see me because I had shaved my beard. She was just kidding. After that, maybe a week later, she texted me nine times on a Sunday, and at first I didn’t respond. Though when I gave in, as I knew I would, I called, and when she answered she said she’d be going out that night with someone else. After that, she texted every weekend to see what I was doing. Always, I would answer. Those like Brenna are stronger than steel.
Somewhere in there, she invited me to the lit party as well. It would celebrate writers, and people who knew writers, and bloggers who once dated people who called themselves writers. But a storm knocked out the power that night, so they had to reschedule. Then things went as they did, and by the time the event came around the second time, the texts almost had stopped. Brenna had others. Or maybe not. I didn’t want to know, either way.
On the week of the rescheduled lit party, I worked with a strange hope. I didn’t plan for us to get back together, or to find out if we’d ever even been together in the first place. I only wanted to see her face. I hadn’t thought the last time, when she stayed over and we joked in the morning about my butt – she said it was meaty like a stripper – would be the last. I’d grown my beard. Lost a pound or two. Even become tan. She would have to remember when we made out by her car after dinner one evening. There were people walking by.
So the day of the lit party came, and on break that afternoon I checked my phone to see the time and the place and the “Hope to see ya.” Pouring over the size and shape of the letters, I understood she was telling me not to come. But I was propelled by the last bits of my pride.
So we went, my friend Sam and I, first going for Mexican food across the street. Sam ate as I drank two margaritas, hoping they might grant a power, perhaps something like invisibility. I wanted to be translucent as I saw through the glass of the restaurant. There, in the gallery’s front window, was a model posing in a bathing suit. I took a large drink and looked at myself. I was as opaque as ever.
After Sam finished his food, I paid for the meal and we made our way. It may sound strange, but as we got closer I could sense the building girding itself against my entry. But with a wave from the man in the hat and the baton, we went inside.
Packs of artists stood around the small space. Prints, even books on the walls. In the back, a projector shot images of a woman in a bathtub. A typewriter sat on the floor, with a beanbag for those who wanted to sit and write nonsense. Plastic baby dolls, the ones children find after a nuclear war in the movies, hung from the ceiling. Around them short stories were taped together like a ransom note. I hadn’t been able to imagine what the evening would be like. Everything was how it should be.
Soon enough, there she was. She entered from the back, harried, her face flush as went to a model to attend to her suit. I grinned a stupid grin, doing nothing to stop what was coming, which said a lot about me then, and even now.
When she was done fussing, Brenna stood up to talk with another model. Still, she had not seen me. Though the room was small and it would’ve been strange had I pretended she didn’t exist, or, worse still, accepted that she was okay with living as though I didn’t. So I approached.
Brenna was always well-dressed, “v fashionable” as she would say, and that night was the same. She wore a black jumpsuit with shoulder pads and a plunging neckline. Something, I think, a flashy comedian in the 80s would’ve worn, or maybe a pop star would wear now.
For a second, trying to gauge her outfit against my normal shirt and shorts, I thought of what I’d say. I couldn’t call her by her name. Almost from the start I had been “Champ” and she was ”Tex.” As I walked toward her without a plan, I used the one name that came to mind.
“Rihanna, hey.” And when Brenna turned, it was like her face became an abstract painting, melting onto the black and white checkered floor.
“Hey,” she said.
After that, we might’ve spoke two or three more words, though I cannot hope to remember what they are. Brenna soon faced the model. I retreated to Sam.
We stuck out like bears in a den of rabbits, some of which I recognized from websites and journals, creative writing blogs, dating websites. More began to fill the room as I dreamed of my fantasy coming true. Of us somehow getting together.
Then she was near, pinching at another model’s suit. It would have been worse, for both of us, if she just ignored me. So I called her to by her name and she walked over, which gave me some control. I held a beer and stood up straighter. All that evaporated as she pulled it from some pocket.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
“Good, yeah,” she said, a loose grip on her phone. It seemed like a shard of glass.
“Cool,” I said with a defensive smile covering my face. I could feel it.
After I introduced her to Sam, I asked, like a friend who happened to be a boy, “So, what’ve you been up to?”
“Oh,” she began, “I actually started at French Meadow, the last…”
“French Meadow,” Sam interrupted. “I was there the other week. They have those sandwiches…” And he didn’t stop about the history of the restaurant for several minutes.
He sensed my awkward pain, I think. He believed talking would help. Also, it’s possible, he worried I’d ask if she had a boyfriend. And it was possible, if given the chance, I might have asked something like that.
But there was no time. Sam kept on about the sandwiches, and as the seconds stretched into minutes, Brenna dropped her pretense. She texted, and perhaps out of loyalty to me, or maybe out of obliviousness, Sam kept on talking. When he finished, Brenna left without ceremony, still looking at her phone. If she said goodbye or if I did, I don’t know. We stayed only a short while longer.
Sam found artists to talk with as I stood by him, the studio filling to capacity. Modern dance music had begun to play loudly and the artifice of an literature event was unyoked. We were at a party, though neither of us were invited.
So we left, and as we stepped out at dusk, it was cooler. Like another climate. And I tried to imagine as we strolled down the sidewalk that I had stepped out into another place. That I was someone else entirely.