I had watched her very red lips for some time, wished I had a cigarette, wished the mirror behind the bar wasn’t stickered obnoxiously with seventeen – yes, I counted, seventeen – no smoking signs
N A GESTURE LEARNED FROM CLASSIC MOVIES featuring smoky bars I asked the bartender to buy the woman at the end of the counter, the one with the wilted red rose in her wavy brown hair, with the goddess-like profile, the slack world-wearied posture, the papery complexion, her next drink; I had watched her very red lips for some time, wished I had a cigarette, wished the mirror behind the bar wasn’t stickered obnoxiously with seventeen – yes, I counted, seventeen – no smoking signs, wished the lovely lady with the red red lips and the red red rose would turn to me, smile, or move. The bartender raised his gray bushy eyebrows at me. Said, you sure, sir, you sure you want to buy that
lady a drink? I stared back, said yes, you deaf or what? He shook his head. Said, ok, just makin’ sure. There being no other ladies in that direction, in the direction of the counter’s dead end where my lady slumped so statuesquely, I shook my head. Said moron
under my breath as the bartender said chump
under his. Then he took a few sidesteps, leaned over to my red lady. Buzzed his fat lips near her ear before he shuffled off, to the back, to tend to someone hollering in the back alley, something about a delivery. The jukebox was busted. The resulting silence was smoke-thick. The red lady turned to me with half a creaky stool-swivel. Full front now. And I saw what was on the other side of her face: an eye shriveled shut, gray shrunken skin, burned bleached corroded skin, skin wilted like a rotten piece of fruit, awful epidermal pocket, eyeless socket, an eye collapsed onto itself. But the strangest thing is, that wasn’t what struck me first, that grotesque missing piece of her face: it was the haunted, pained, kill-me expression in her good eye. And her red red red lips.