Esquire Fiction Contest Part 2: Never, Ever Bring This Up Again

If you missed Part 1 of my inappropriately hilarious barroom tale of football and male hygiene, be sure to head HERE. If you’re all caught up, I present to you Part 2 of Sara Dobie’s “Never, Ever Bring This Up Again.”

Never, Ever Bring This Up Again, Part 2

A block later we’re back at my bar. It doesn’t have a sign, but there’s my damn dog, sitting with his tongue hanging out, tied to a parking meter out front. I didn’t do this to my dog; my business partner, James, did this to my dog, because he doesn’t like cutting limes with a dog at his feet.

“Guess James is here,” Max says.

wolfhound Joby looks like he’s about to get laid when he sees me. His brown, doggy eyes shine, and he’s smiling. “Hey, dude,” I say, patting his head. He’s half Irish Wolfhound, so he has a huge skull. No one messes with my dog; I guess we have that in common.

I turn to head inside, and Joby barks when I open the door to my bar.

“Joby, no,” Max says.

Joby sits down, resuming his tongue-flapping posture. I hate that my dog listens to Max.

Inside, it’s dark. We don’t open until four, so the place is empty. There’s one TV tuned to ESPN, rehashing the well-deserved Steelers victory from the night before. My sandals stick to the decimated hardwood floor, and I almost fall forward after wading through what looks like a spilled Jager-bomb.

“Hey, grace,” announces James’ voice from the dark.

“Hey, man,” Max says, and he brushes past me. One of the bar stools does a shimmy when he walks by; Max isn’t walking straight anymore.

After dislodging my shoe from the sap-like spill, I walk toward the back of the bar—toward my office. “Have you morons slept?” James asks.

I pause and glance at the TV. It’s Hines Ward, flying through the air to catch a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the end zone. I almost drool, so I close my mouth.

“Hello? Nolan?” James says.

“No, we never slept.”

James is a big guy. I’ve seen him bounce men Max’s size like skipped rocks across King Street. Funny, because he looks cuddly. He has this tight, curly brown afro, and at the right angle, it glows like a halo under the Charleston streetlights.

“You get his balls waxed?” James says, nodding toward Max, who’s fiddling around with something behind the bar.

“I’m working on it,” I reply, and I stomp to my office.

James and I met as seniors at the College of Charleston. We smoked a lot of weed together and wallowed in our shared lack of career aspirations. It had been James’ idea to take over his dad’s bar on King Street. It had also been his idea to make me co-owner. I think he was in love with me once, but he never said anything so I wasn’t sure.

The fluorescent light is already on when I reach the office. It’s the size of a bathroom stall with 1970s wood paneling on the walls. The floor is as sticky as the rest of the place, and it smells like smoke. The only office-appropriate deco is the computer and telephone.

I click on the Yellow Pages website that I bookmarked for taxis and pizza delivery joints. I start typing “bikini wax” into the search box just as Max arrives in the doorway wearing silver shades and carrying two glasses of Red Bull. For some reason, I think, Never trust a man in aviators.

I take the iced energy drink without saying a word.

“My mouth tastes like Bigfoot’s ass right now,” Max says.

I stop typing, hands floating a half inch above the dusty keyboard. I look up at Max, and his tongue is moving inside his mouth like Joby’s when he’s trying to eat peanut butter. “Jesus,” I mutter, and I dial the first number that pops up on my screen.

I hold the receiver in my right hand and pick up my Red Bull as the phone rings. I take a sip, and it ain’t Red Bull. It’s Red Bull and vodka, and I’d say the ratio is about fifty-fifty. “Max!” I spit the concoction on my desk just as a high-pitched female voice says, “Hello, it’s a beautiful day at Stella Salon.”

“Hey,” I say, wiping booze from my chin. “Hey, I was wondering, do you wax balls?”

Max sounds like he sucked water into his lungs, and the high-pitched voice on the phone sounds like she’s the one choking on liquor. I hang up when she says no, but I’m ready with a follow-up phone number. I dial, and Max grabs my hand.

“Come on, I was kidding about the bet.”

“I wasn’t,” I reply, pulling my wrist out of his grasp, but he doesn’t let go. His hands are strong from years of spinning bottle caps off beer bottles.

When Max interviewed for a bartending job, he admitted he wasn’t a big guy. He explained he’d spent his life staying out of fights by being funny, and James and I agreed; we liked that trait. We had enough big dudes around; why not hire a funny guy? Plus, women liked Max, even if he was what I called a “short narcissist.” On top of that, I liked Max from the start, and well, that never happened.

“Nolan, come on, give it up,” he says, and he lets go of my hand as an answering machine beep echoes in my ear.

“Hey, my name is Nolan, and I need someone to wax my buddy’s balls. If your salon offers this service, please call me back,” I say, and I leave the bar number and repeat my name before hanging up and glaring at Max. I see myself reflected in his aviators, and I resemble a Charleston homeless person. My dingy brown hair is in a frizz-ball on one side, and there’s old mascara smeared under my blue, bloodshot eyes. “You made the bet, and the Steelers won. The guys will think you’re a wuss if you don’t go through with it.”

“They won’t think I’m a wuss when I tell them I kissed you last week.”

“Moron.” I yank Max into my office, slamming the door behind him. “You won’t say a damn word.”

“Of course I won’t,” Max says, looking like I kicked him in the nuts. “I was just messing around. Speaking of…” he says, and he puts his drink down long enough to kiss me again. I let it happen, and it’s not messy or drunk, even though we’re both messy and drunk.

I remember the time he found me a cab on my birthday because I was about to be sick at the bar. He ran a block down King Street and shoved some chick in platforms out of his way to do it. Another time, a man resembling an ex-basketball player grabbed my ass, and Max got the crap kicked out of himself trying to defend me.

He pulls away. “You taste like stale cigarettes,” he says, but he’s smiling like the Cheshire Cat if he’d eaten Alice.

“Whatever,” I say, tumbling back into my vintage desk chair with the broken front wheel and sagging left armrest. “Regardless of your kissing me, there’s still the note on the chalkboard.”

“What note on the chalkboard?”

“The one that says, ‘Ask Max about his balls.’”

“Bull.”

“You don’t believe me? Go see for yourself.”

He turns around, knocking me and my chair into the wall with the side of his knee. I hiss like a pissed off mammal, and Max goes running back into mid-day bar dark. I wait for it. Wait for it. Then, “Hey! Who wrote that?”

He’s back yelling at me. The aviators are in his right hand, his morning cocktail in his left, and Max is pissed. I’ve seen it before—the way his brow wrinkles in the middle and his mouth hangs half-open. He juts out his chin, curving his upper spine like an old woman with osteoporosis, and his posturing reminds me that the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

“Who wrote that?”

“James.”

“James? When?”

“Last night after the game.”

“So people saw that?”

“The whole bar saw that. Can you say…wuss?”

“Aw, hell,” Max says, and he puts his aviators back on. For a moment, his “Aw, hell” reminds me that Max is a Southern boy—something he tries to hide because he thinks the accent makes him sound dumb. Max never went to college, and I think he resents that I know this.

There’s rustling down the hall from my office, and sunlight reflects off Max’s sunglasses and into my face. “Jessica, you gotta help me,” Max says, and he disappears from view.

I take a sip of my Red Bull, vodka. I hear Max talking to our waitress, Jessica, and I take another sip. James appears in the door and says, “What’s going on with you two?”

“What?”

“Nolan,” James says, because James knows me better than anyone.

“Nothing’s going on. Just tired. And drunk.”

“Go home,” he says, and I think it’s funny that when James is sad, his afro seems to shrink.

“No. I have to find a salon. Max is not getting away with this shit.”

“I agree, but it can wait until you both get some sleep.”

I won’t be able to sleep.

“Nolan!” I hear Jessica yell my name. “Somebody’s messing with your dog!”

“It’s probably Byron,” I say and shove past James.

* * *

The End. Part 2. More to come…

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