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Contemporary Fiction LGBTQ+

He had tried his hardest not to be invited anywhere. The bug bite on his arm still hadn’t healed from the barbecue at his brother’s house the previous Saturday, and it was all the proof he needed that outings in the summer were not for him.

The temperature had been a crisp seventy-one degrees all day with a delightful, slightly intrusive wind making an appearance every so often. It was the ideal weather for a night on the town, and he knew as soon as he rolled out of bed that there would be exactly forty-six text messages requesting his presence at various locations around the city.

While certain people find the stimulation of dining out and dancing to be the perfect way to spend a Saturday evening, he always enjoyed the radical choice of staying in on a gorgeous night meant for something other than a movie seen dozens of times and slightly charred microwave popcorn with a spritz of garlic salt. It’s not that knowing he was missing out didn’t raise his anxiety, but in much the same way pain causes pleasure for some, he found that you could get a small thrill out of FOMO if you leaned all the way into it. Don’t sit at home with your phone by your side, waiting for it to buzz or trill, breaking down and inviting an acquaintance out for a drink at a bar where the floor is sticky. Turn off the phone at an early hour, throw on sweatpants, and when the oppressive realization that you’re not going out while the rest of the world does strikes you in your chest, beat right above where your heart is, and challenge that FOMO to come out and say it to your face.

“It” being that you are wasting your life by depriving yourself of socialization.

Things would all be so easy if he hadn’t become so popular on Instagram drawing those poodles. He opened the account on a whim. If you’re going to draw a poodle as well as he does, it seems selfish not to share it with others. By the time he’d drawn his tenth poodle with a speech bubble above it saying “Arf!” his account had accrued sixty thousand followers and had even been verified. A week later Good Morning, America phoned, and after that, he started hearing from old friends asking if he’d like to catch up. The strangers followed with invitations to speak at engagements, grab coffee, or even go on vacations. He found all of it appalling, but not wanting to be rude, he settled on doing something with someone at some point. It’s just that he hadn’t come to a decision about when that point would be.

An infrequent wind traveling through the day seemed like as good an omen as any to forego staying in, but he was so looking forward to watching several episodes of some television show from Russia where the English dubbing would undoubtedly be humorous despite the serious nature of the program. Something about a missing child. An alcoholic detective. The possibility of a Satanic cult. He wanted to watch the first three episodes and leave the rest for Sunday morning. His reward for having squandered a Saturday night.

Instead, he put on a wrinkled, white t-shirt and a pair of shorts with kangaroos on them. His sandals were purchased years ago when he thought he would be spending New Year’s Eve in Mexico only to come down with a virus that caused him to lose all feeling in his shins. He cancelled the trip and watched all of Deadwood while outside children made snowmen after a rather harsh blizzard. The only objective for his attire was the understanding that he had no real desire to be out and about. This was a promise he had made to himself. That he would be a person who does things. Things with people. Not always, but sometimes. That was the deal he struck in his own mind, and he was determined to honor it.

That’s how he found himself at Mack Narrow’s Pirate Karaoke Bar and Lounge--a flagrant rip-off of a Pirates of the Caribbean bar that Disney would never allow to open. Upon entering, he was forced to “walk the plank” to the table where two strangers who discovered his Instagram a few weeks earlier were waiting eagerly to meet him.

As soon as he sat down, they regaled him with stories about their poodle named Jerome. Apparently, he was a sleepy dog, and for awhile there, they were convinced there was something wrong with him, but it turned out he’s just sleepy, and that sometimes dogs are like that, and if they are, it’s really nothing to be concerned about, but of course they were concerned anyway, because he’s like a child to them, after all, and they don’t plan on having actual children, even though they did try, and oh gosh, that’s a long story, but maybe if another round of drinks showed up, they could be persuaded to--

He was hoping it was closing time. Truthfully, he was hoping it was at least ten minutes past closing time, because he wanted there to be no question about whether or not he could leave. He had to leave. He desperately needed to leave this bar and never watch another movie with pirates in it again. When he covertly checked his phone, he saw that it was only eight thirty. He had only been sitting at the table with these two lunatics for six minutes. How was that possible? Why was time so willing to betray him like this?

Luckily for him, the lovely couple he couldn’t bear to spend another minute with got a text from their poodle-sitter that Jerome had thrown up his dinner, and they fled the restaurant after apologizing profusely and offering to cover the check. He dismissed the former, but happily accepted the latter, as he now understood his evening to consist of a crab cake dinner alone while he read an Atlantic article on his phone all about how houseplants became the symbol of resistance in the end stages of the Soviet Union.

While he waited for the crab cakes to arrive, he happened to look up from page seventeen of the article (something something Belarus something something orchids) and became acutely aware of the fact that he was in a restaurant filled to the brim with people who appeared to be very happy that they were out of the house.

There was an older couple sharing a selection of appetizers. Wine was arriving at the table of two handsome men who seemed to be celebrating an anniversary. Four friends were toasting to something at the table next to him and one of them glanced over at him as the glasses were clinking and...smiled.

He smiled back.

The crab cakes arrived.

On a scale of one to six, six being the best crab cakes ever made and one being gas station hot dogs stuffed with imitation crab, they were a four.

Later that night, while sitting on his currant-colored couch, he thought he heard music playing from the parking lot of the bicycle repair shop across the street. He looked out his window, and there was, in fact, a car parked there with the windows down. Music was playing. It was loud, but it wasn’t necessarily happy. There was a strong beat to it, but he couldn’t make out any words. The driver of the car was sitting on the hood with her knees pulled up to her chest. She didn’t appear to be crying, but he felt as though he were watching the emotional center of a movie about a very sad girl.

He stood there by the window waiting to see what the girl would do. Get in the car. Drive away. Never return.

Standing motionless, the lights in his apartment turned off after a few minutes, but he refused to move. He just stood there. The music continued. Then it stopped. The girl didn’t budge. The two of them were in some sort of stand-off that only one of them knew about, and the rules of it were undefined. He could have gone outside and tried to speak with her, but he had already decided that he was in for the night.

Hard to change your mind about something like that.

Especially after such a long night.

July 26, 2021 23:57

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1 comment

Francis Daisy
10:45 Aug 04, 2021

Your sense of humor in your stories always makes me laugh! The best line (probably because it is the most relatable!) is: "He had only been sitting at the table with these two lunatics for six minutes." Your story is amazing!

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