Whiskey Eyes

             They had stayed up late the night before with their bare feet on his front porch drinking bourbon and looking up at the dark sky with white sprinkles. He had mentioned something about the air, how it smelled sweet. Like cantaloupe. She licked her lips and tasted the air. She liked when he talked that way.
            In the late morning, she drove to the closest grocery store and walked to the produce section. She was unsure if she would purchase the whole melon or buy the already sliced prepackaged kind. She figured the melon might be more of a romantic gesture. They would cut it in half, spoon out the seeds and lick the juice from the tips of each other’s fingers.
            She picked up a melon and headed towards the beer aisle. The cold touched her skin in a way that made her toes tingle in a way she liked. She looked at the stubby Coors bottles, noticed the six-pack was on sale. She reached to grab the handle and let her hand caress the side of one of the bottles. She figured she would need something to pair with the fruit.
            As she walked towards the checkout aisles, she began to think about the inside of a cantaloupe. The soft fruit dressed in a color she called dreamsicle orange, hiding behind a rough khaki-colored exterior. How had his melon suddenly come to define her relationship with him? She began to wonder if she, herself, was like a cantaloupe. How many times had she been told she was too hard? Too rough? As if this were a bad thing, not opening up to every person that came along. To her, showing someone what was inside meant something. Something they had to earn.  
            She had been working as a hostess in a local restaurant. It had been slow lately, and she could often be reading while waiting for walk-ins. Next to the hostess stand stood a glass three tier stand where she purposefully left her books visible to the customers waiting to be seated. Hell’s Angels. American Psycho. Please Kill Me. She liked making the customers nervous.
            Before she was a hostess, she used to work in a café. She was in charge of several things, but her favorite part was making the fruit salad. There was always the pineapple, watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, purple grapes, cantaloupe. She would arrange the fruit very specifically, each with its own section. She loved the way the colors ran together, as if she had just created a piece of art.
            He used to come in during the late mornings before the lunch rush. He would ask her about the music, what records she had been listening to lately. Gradually, they started talking about their favorite books and their mutual affection for bowling. After a couple weeks of this, he wrote his number and his email address on a piece of paper. She liked the way the paper felt in her hands. Later that day when she got home, she took the paper out of her pocket and placed it underneath a magnet on her refrigerator.

            “I’ve never heard you talk this much,” he said. “I like it.”
            The first night they met for a drink, they sat outside. It was a weeknight, so the bar was mostly empty. A few familiar faces stuck around, painted with the exhaustion of an honest living. The evening air had gotten cold quickly, and the goosebumps on her skin began to crawl up the length of her arms.  As she crossed her arms and rubbed her hands up and down trying to provide warmth, he noticed and removed his denim jacket. The inside was lined with a texture that reminded her of sheep wool. He placed the jacket around her shoulders and saw that she was blushing.
            What was she even talking about? She had been talking about one of her favorites poems and then got sidetracked into talking about whatever was on her mind. Nothing important.
            “You stop yourself a lot,” he said, “when you talk.”
            She bit her lip, unsure and unsteady of what she was supposed to say. So, she asked, “why would you notice something like that?”
            “Because I like when you have something to say,” he said. “Is that strange?”
            “Yes,” she said. “I’m not used to it.”
            “Used to what?”
            “Having someone interested in what I have to say.”
            She thought, perhaps, she had been too honest. He would lose interest in her due to her rush to prove a lack of confidence. She waited for him to tell her what to say or to change his mind about the evening. Two months earlier, she had broken up with a very insecure man who constantly asked her when she was going to leave him. But look at what I’m doing now, she thought, I don’t know if I’m any better.
             They decided to move inside and sit at the table in the darkest corner. Across the room, there was a cowgirl, bright, fluorescent and yellow, that hung on the wood paneled walls next to the jukebox that no one was paying attention to. There was a quiet sadness to her that he was surprised by. He wasn’t sure how he would be able to break through, or even if she would dare to let him.
            “I get a feeling,” he had started to say. His hand on the empty glass, which by now was a pool of melting ice.
            Her eyes, unsure of how his words were forming. Her hands, underneath the table, quietly picking at her naked fingernails.
            His mouth began to move. “…that you’ve been with men who weren’t good to you.”
            Someone had finally put a quarter in the jukebox and it started to scream a song that reminded her of the desert. She felt like a deer in the headlights. She was certain she had already revealed too much. She was exposed as if living in one of those dreams when you’re walking down the street naked.
            “We don’t have to talk about it,” she said. “After all, I’m sitting here with you.”
            She smiled, took one of her hands from underneath the table and placed it on his knee. She had surprised both of them with this gesture.
            “You,” he said. “You’re something.”
             She had always wondered what it would feel like to be amazing, but she liked ‘something’ because he had said it to her. She would have a flashback to this moment, months later when they were drinking bourbon on his porch. She could still feel the way he used to make her feel.
            They had begun to see each other regularly, and a week and a half later they were at her apartment. The record player sat on top of one of those televisions they don’t make anymore. The screen sandwiched between the speakers of a wooden tank that could be adjusted depending on where you were sitting in the room. It had been in her in grandmother’s house when she was little and liked to be reminded of a different time.
            “How old are you exactly?” he teased.
            “Do you want to see my heating pad?” she laughed.
            There were books stacked in the corner of the living room. Photographs on the wall of pictures she had taken in college. She noticed he had taken off his shoes and looked comfortable sitting on the olive-green couch.
            “What do you want to listen to?” she asked.
            “I trust you.” He winked.
            Her fingers gently began skimming through the weathered binds of her record collection. She wanted to impress him, wanted to pick the right sounds that might satisfy him. She put on an old country record and asked if he was hungry, not realizing the only items she had in her fridge were cut up slices of cantaloupe and a half empty container of cottage cheese.
            She went to the kitchen and took the fruit from the plastic container and put it into a ceramic bowl. She sat down next to him on the couch and motioned the bowl towards him, the same motion as if she had just clawed her hand into her chest in order to give him her heart.
            When they looked at one another, her body began to feel things creating some sort of an emotional hunger. They sat on the couch listening to the twangy sounds of heartbreak, enjoying each other’s company. Outside, the wind was strong and the leaves of the trees made a sound as if whispering in someone’s ear.
            “Are you thirsty?” she asked.
            “Sure,” he said.
            The night before she had gone to the store to buy a couple bottles of cheap red wine. She had finished one off by herself, eating take out and watching lousy television about women who only seemed to be able to talk about men and shopping. She had found the women pathetic and uninspiring. She had opened the second bottle hoping to keep her buzz cool, but she fell asleep somewhere between the women going on vacation and waking up to one of them sleeping with another one’s ex.
            She came back from the kitchen with two glasses half full and handed him one.
            “How are things at the restaurant?” he asked.
            “They’re slow right now,” she said. “Hosting is awful. I hate answering the phone.”
            “Have you thought about your next move?”
            “Not really,” she said. “I don’t know what I want.”
            She wondered how this might sound to him. How unattractive it might sound to be with someone who doesn’t know what they want.
            “What’s going on at your job?” she asked.
            She got up from the couch to turn over the record. She noticed him watching her as she did this and as she walked back towards the couch she made sure to sit so the outside of their thighs would be touching.
            “It’s fine for now,” he said. “We’ve been working on restoring an old sewing factory.”
            He took out his phone and showed her a picture with the words float like a butter sting like a bee written in what looked like black ink on the dusty grey wall of the building. Earlier that week, someone he worked with had tried to convince him that this was where Muhammad Ali used to fight. She found this endearing and quickly asked,
 “So, what made you want to talk to me?” she asked.
            “Your eyes,” he said. “They’re this unusual shade of light brown with flecks of gold.”
            “That’s very specific.”
            “You have whiskey eyes, lady.”
            “Whiskey eyes? But I’ve been drinking wine.”
            He moved his hand towards her face and placed it on her cheek. His movements were careful as if knowing he was touching something delicate. His rough, almost animalistic face moved towards hers. He had a crooked smile and sea green eyes. The shadow of his unshaven face reminded her of what a birds-eye view of a dark forest might be. Their lips pressed together as she brought her hand further up the length of his thigh. She pulled away briefly and asked if it was okay, what she was doing with her hand. He smiled and nodded. She started to unbuckle his belt.
            One Saturday afternoon they were sitting in the bed of his truck looking out across the river, which was higher than usual. They watched as the chocolate thick brown water carried tree branches and plastic soda bottles to nowhere in particular. The radio was turned low and she could just make out the whispers of a Velvet Underground song. There She Goes Again.
            It had been several minutes since they had spoken. Underneath her sunglasses, her eyes were sad and wet. She felt as though he was floating away from her, and her arms were tied down to try and bring him back down. I don’t know. Those had been her last words to him, and he had nothing to say. She thought, how preferable it would be to be the voice on the radio, invisible and in another world. At that moment, she didn’t know what he thought about her. If he had forgotten that she was still ‘something.’ Or was she about to be nothing?
            “Tell me what you’re feeling,” he said.
            “I don’t know what you want from me,” she said.
            “Are you afraid of me?”
            “Why would I be afraid of you?”
            “You don’t seem comfortable around me.”
             She was swimming inside her head now. Treading water, her mind trying to keep her above the line. Although they were sitting inches away from one another, they couldn’t have been further away.


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