"The desert bears only a scathing sun, and nothing more."
"What about mirages?"

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Missing Opportunities - Prose.

The bar was an artery. It was narrow and dark in there. The walls were crimson and seemed to lean in and crush your ribcage, push you up against the other patrons until you felt too close. Like you could reach out and stroke a stranger’s face and she would look at you and smile, her eyes cynical and nihilistic but glowing with the light of opportunity. That’s what the bar stank of. In hindsight it was beer and sweat and bleach and something like mildew, but when you stood on the tiny ten by ten stage and looked out into the dark all you smelt was the opportunity.

In the same way an artery draws blood away from the heart and sends it careening into the depths of the human body, the bar pulled musicians in and pushed them off in all different directions. That was the draw of the place. One night there might be a burly country man, his vocal chords twanging and plucking like the banjo between his arms. And the next some liberty spiked punk screams anarchism, even though we all suspect he clings to a nine-to-five corporate job. It didn’t matter who you were, that bar took you in. It took you in and accepted you as you were—sloppy or talented—and presented you with the locals: The riff raff of 97th; the indie kids from City Centre; the unimpressed bartenders at the back, looking on as you hit the stage.

The floor was cement, cracked and pounded from years of stamping feet. Each evening as the band began to set up, the owner dragged an old mop across it. Even in the seconds before last call, my eyes and my head and my whole body fuzzy from the evening, I remember faint scent of sterilization.

That night felt like nothing but a missed opportunity, ironically. My band was a flurry of motion, haphazardly laying down cables, instruments, and amps. We were tighter than we had ever been, and I knew our set better that I knew the rise and fall of my own chest. But the bar was pumping serious blood tonight. People moved in and out of the doors, slouching on the curb and taking drags on cigarettes or sucking down beer at the tables inside. It was packed and hard to move. And worse, she was supposed to be here.

I remember bits and pieces of the night. I remember the smell and the red walls and the cement floors. I recall with some clarity an old love seat rammed into the corner. It was ratty and torn. There was a young couple that spent most of the night sprawled across it; I remember watching them with envy. I wished it was me on that couch, my arms twined around another’s waist, reaching up to brush away her hair away and kiss her neck.

Mostly I remember Jenny. She always had these unforgettable eyes: they were the color of a forest floor as autumn turns to winter. When you looked into them you saw the warmth of summer but the bitter frost creeping in along the edges. I had always found it hard to maintain eye contact with her, but that night I couldn’t look away. It had been almost a year since the last time I saw her. We exchanged the odd text message, and once in a while we bumped into each other on Facebook. But we hadn’t spoken face to face. There was something there before. And it ended. I never quite got over it. She was still slender, her skin as pale as ever.

We met at this bar. I remember that day like I remember my own reflection. She was leaning up against the bar smiling at the bartender, a cluster of girls gathered around. I never understood why women had to travel in packs; it was impossible to approach any individual girl without being stripped to the bone by ten other pairs of eyes.

Jenny was stunning. Easily the most attractive of all her friends, with dark hair hanging in beach waves. She dressed like she belonged there, while the rest of her friends seemed overdressed and out of place. The bar was clearly her idea. My band was playing that night too, so I sidled up to the bar and slipped in beside her. I leaned over to steal the bartender’s attention away from her. Intentionally.

“Can I have a few beers for the band?” I asked. The bartender nodded and turned away. In the corner of my eye I could see Jenny looking at me. The bartender handed me a tray and I lifted it precariously and turned. Jenny was still looking at me. I gave her my best flirtatious smile. She beamed back.

And now I couldn’t stop staring. There she was, just standing on the side of the stage with her roommate. The room seemed at once more densely packed than it was before. My heart was clanging in my chest, the beat uneven and dissonant. I ambled over, my feet like lead. She saw me coming, it didn’t matter how packed the room was. She looked skittish, but she forced a smile anyways. She had flawless teeth and nice lips. I still get goose bumps when I think about all the time we spent twined together on the couch. All the times I felt those lips against my own.

“Hi Jenny.” I said as I approached.

“Hey.” She smiled again. It felt strained. My hands were damp and clammy. I stepped forward and hugged her. I felt every fiber in her body tense. She smelled the same: sweet and sultry, some kind of perfume with a french name. I imagined the commercial: “rolls of lavender infused with the essence of witch hazel.”

“I’m so glad you came! Uh, how have you been?” I asked as I let go and stood back. I tried to look content. I tried to look happy even though I hadn’t been in a very long time. Even though I spent every night awake, moving from my bed to the couch and back to my bed again. Even though every moment I didn’t spend trying to sleep was spent thinking of her and how badly I’d ruined our relationship.

“Um, well you know, I can’t complain. Everything’s good.” Of course it was. How could she not be okay, when she looked like that, when she was the most stunning, smart, talented person I’ve ever met?

We stumbled through conversation like this for a few minute—mostly it was me talking, trying to fill the silences—before I was yanked away for a sound check. I walked away from Jenny feeling like I’d made some ground, taking a few steps towards repairing what I thought I had smashed to pieces. I had been trying to tell myself for over a year that I didn’t need her anymore, and that I was over her and over us. But I was still irrevocably in love with Jenny.

We started our set and even though we played okay, my heart wasn’t in it that night. I’d left at the side of the stage with Jenny, and my mind kept wandering back to her. My fingers slipped across the strings of my guitar as I kicked in an overdrive with my foot and then leaned into the volume pedal. The drums pounded on and kept my hands moving, the bass guitar was thrumming in my throat. I think our singer tripped over a wire because suddenly he was on the ground rolling into me, the microphone pressed to his lips. I remember looking out into the dark as we hammered out that chorus and forgetting the opportunity that the bar presented for my music. I forgot the last year of my life. I forgot how many hours I spent playing my guitar and trying to distract myself from how depressed I always was. Instead I was thinking about how I’d met her here, and now I might have a chance to win her back.

When we finished our set I packed away my guitar and amp and wandered around the narrow room looking for her. People pounded me on the back and complimented me, offered me drinks and advice and drunken hugs. I barely heard them. I couldn’t find Jenny. I asked around. I found out she’d left halfway through our set.

- - -

I wrote this last semester for a prose class I was taking. I thought at the time that this was one of the better pieces I've written. In hindsight, I still have a long way to go.


  1. It moves well..has a good flow. The ending is tight too. maybe strip it down a bit...

  2. Olie is right, it has a good flow - it really keeps moving.
    I really liked it JB. Very intense, emotional, descriptive and laden with that bittersweet strangeness of seeing past lovers. You can feel that sexual tension and gnawing hurt that accompanies that experience. You describe well that ache, that longing, any performer/athlete deals with when they try to play through through that emotional pain and the ensuing numbness to everything but the object of affection. I've felt that myself. Descriptions like "the bar was an artery," "unimpressed bartenders," and "heart was clanging in my chest" were just some of the great descriptions. You should post more of your work like this - maybe see this as a first chapter to a larger story? novel? movie script? hmm? perhaps?


"Write with our backs to the wind and our faces to the hard, bleaching sun."