Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jungle

    This is the first of what I hope will be many short stories I'll have time to put up on here. This is a very rough draft, having only been read over once, but I believe it is error-free enough to be readable. Any feedback would certainly be appreciated, and would help turn it into a more polished piece. Right now, it's greatest fault is that there are certain complications in the lives of the characters that seem unnecessary for this piece, but it is intended to be part of a series with recurring characters, where these complications will get fleshed out. I would still like it to stand on its own, however. And of course;

     This story is purely fictional. Any resemblance to persons real or imagined is entirely coincidental.

Jungle

            Joe tossed the strap of his shoulder bag over the back of the chair, his body hitting next like a deflated basketball dribbled on the street, the impact forcing the air out of his puffed cheeks with a pssshhh. He brought his head around to catch the eye of the tiny, punky bar-girl, who was already on her way over. Maker’s and a pint, hun? I gotcha. You guys rocked tonight.
            Thanks, Joe said, you guys did to. We got killed back there. How was it out here?
            It wasn’t bad out here in the bar, but they had a crazy night, punky said, gesturing to the two girls sitting across the table from him, then heading back behind the bar to fetch his shift drinks.
            Yeah, you guys have a tough night? Joe asked, leaning forward so he didn’t have to shout over the just-too-loud lounge music.
            Gemma, a pretty girl with almond eyes and a flattering jet-black bob stopped spinning her martini glass to smirk at him, What, me having to put the same ticket in three times didn’t give it away?
            That was my fault, the other, Kendra, spoke up, her smile shy at its own beauty. Her wavy blond hair fell in front of her eyes when she laughed at herself, before she brushed it back over one shoulder. When table six…
            Oh no, girl, that wasn’t your fault, Gemma intoned, patting her hand. You were amazing tonight, really.
            Kendra smiled across at Joe, and Gemma looked between them.
            Where do you wanna go tonight? Gemma asked mischievously, turning to Joe.
            Thanks, Joe said, to the punky bar-girl, who was already scooting away. The Maker’s was up and down in one fluid motion, and he ran the other hand over his shaved head while he shook the heat of the drink into his gut. Sounds like you have a plan?
            Wellll, Abby was going to go down to Jungle. Her friend Scott is on the bar tonight and said we could get in free.
            Where the fuck is that? Joe asked, before gulping at his beer.
            I think it’s that place just down on Pike, right? Kendra asked, Where they were having that foam party a few weeks ago?
            That’s the one, Gemma confirmed, taking a sip and peering at Joe over the rim.
            Christ, Joe said, finishing his beer. What’s tonight?
            It’s Thursday, Gemma said, shaking her head in resignation, So I can go with Abby tonight, and you can wait until Saturday to see me…
            Joe tried not to make eye-contact with Kendra. I’ll walk you down, he said, standing up, giving in and looking at Kendra, who was smiling at him. Have a good night, he said, squeezing her shoulder.
            She waited a moment, then put her hand on his and looked up, You too.

            Down the street, the bar crowds trading one door for another, and Gemma on her cell, Yeah, yeah, sweetie, we’re on our way, be there in a few. Yeah, bye-bye. Snap. So you gonna dance with me tonight? she smiled, slipping her arm into Joe’s.
            Who says I’m coming? I said I’d walk you down.
            Please. You haven’t seen me since last Saturday. You’re not gonna go a whole week.
            Joe looked at her, then ahead. There’s Abby.
            Gemma slipped her arm out to extend it with the other one- unnecessarily early to hug Abby, which was even more awkward when they were engaged, since Abby with her spiky red hair towered over Gemma. After an exchange of Hey girl, they turned and walked entwined towards the front of the queue under the sprawling, purple awning hanging over a door through which a beat came with such force that it was surprising the walls contained it otherwise.
            The girls approached the largest of six Samoan bouncers, who appeared to be in charge, while Joe watched from the curb, Sam Jackson running through his head, I wouldn’t go so far as to call the brother fat. He’s got a weight problem. What’s the brother gonna do? He’s Samoan.
            The Samoan turned to another and nodded his head into the club, and the other lifted a stretch of velvet and went inside. Gemma turned and walked to Joe, head bent down, trying to judge from her own vantage point how she would look from another. Abby told them to go talk to Scott. He’s gonna get us in. C’mon.
            No thanks. I told you I’d walk you down. If you’re all set, I’ll head home.
            Seriously? You gonna leave two beautiful ladies to dance all by themselves? She just broke up with Matt, you know…
            Well, you two should have a great time, then.
            She put her arms around his waist. I’ll make it worth your while… and I miss you, she added, pouting her lips and putting her dark brown eyes to potent use.
            He sighed. Fine. Jesus.
            Thank you, she said, standing on her toes to deliver a flawless kiss, then withdrawing a moment before he was ready.
            Abby was at the door with Scott, waving them in. They headed towards the entrance, till the Samoan put his dinner plate hand on Joe’s chest. Twenty, he grunted.
            The cover’s ten! Gemma pointed to the chalkboard behind him.
            Twenty, he grunted again. Joe looked for the Samoan’s eyes behind his sunglasses. No thanks, he said. He turned to Gemma, I’ll see you at work tomorrow.
            Wait, wait, I’ll pay for you.
            Nah, I’m good. Later. He started down the street.
            Jesus christ, hold on! Joe stopped and turned reluctantly. Abby and Scott were talking to the bouncer and pointing at Joe. The Samoan shrugged almost imperceptibly and Gemma waved Joe back to them. Scott talked to him, Gemma said.
            Joe glared at her, then inclined his head and gestured with an upturned palm and they moved inside, against the pulse of the music, the lights and the smoke.

            Inside, the singularity of Joe’s male whiteness made apparent the reason behind the extortionary cover. There were quite a few white women, an equal number of asian and black women, but the men were almost exclusively black and asian and in clearly segregated posses. Joe took the place in quickly, ignoring the feeling that the music had screeched to a stop when he’d walked in. The place was cavernous, with a second floor balcony circling the entire dance floor, and wide, curving stairs leading up to it. Equally difficult to miss were the circular cages at equal intervals about halfway up the wall.
            You want a drink? Gemma at his elbow asked.
            Nah, I’m good, he said, dumping his bag into a tall chair at a nearby table.
            She raised her eyebrow at him.
            I’m good, he repeated. You gonna dance? he asked, gesturing with his chin out to the floor.
            That’s the idea. I imagine you won’t.
            Do I ever?
            She shook her head. Your loss, she said, taking Abby’s hand, who had just returned with martinis for her and Gemma, and leading her onto the dance floor. He didn’t watch them long enough to see them make it onto the floor. He took another look around, and behind him, then sat back and pulled his bag onto his lap. He flipped it open and pulled out a soft-cover gray book as thick as a brick on its side, pulled his bookmark out, stuffed it in a later page, and tried to find the best angle to make out the text in the intermittent light.
            The pulse of the music did not mix well with the author’s, and he found that even his usually extraordinary powers of concentration were strained. He persisted. And he found himself offering this as a price for far less, for a first kiss in fact, because he had met with resistance or, on the contrary, because there had been no resistance. In love it often happens that gratitude, the desire to give pleasure, make us generous beyond the limits of what hope and self-interest had foreseen. But then the realization of this offer was hindered by conflicting circumstances... He looked up to see Gemma enthusiastically abrading her backside against Abby’s lap, while reaching up and sliding her hands around the back of Abby’s neck.
            He looked around again. Bright lights hung on the wall behind several of the larger booths, shrouding the occupants in the glare of staring directly into them as one approached. He held his gaze on one until his eyes adjusted, till he could make up half a dozen women giggling around a central male in dark glasses with his arms spread-eagled on the back of the booth. He stared back at Joe, then brought his right arm down and extending his first two fingers, turned his hand sideways, kill-shot style, aimed at Joe, pulled the trigger and let the slow recoil emphasize his point.
            Joe stared back for the count of four, went back to his book. The dozen words of the current song were being jack-hammered into his head by the even smaller number of notes that accompanied them, which made giving a shit about the tribulations of 19th century French aristocracy harder than usual. Whiskey would help, but that would be admitting defeat. He pressed on. … at a point when as a rule it had more or less become a matter of indifference to the Duke, whose actions, like everyone else’s, were more often dictated by previous actions than by the original motive which had ceased to exist… Gemma slid her arm around his waist, You’re sitting here reading fucking Proust? Did you see us dancing?
            No.
            Hmm… too bad. It was hot. Two girls, all alone out there… She took a pull of her martini, then slinked back onto the floor, throwing him a final smirk over her shoulder. He watched her go this time, her small, lithe frame carried in a way that drew stares far more endowed women envied. He rolled his eyes and shook his head.
Another mistress was in the offing. No doubt the love which M. de Guermantes had borne each of them in succession would begin one day to make itself felt anew: in the first place this love, in dying, bequeathed them to the household like beautiful marble statues…
A blur passed before his table and he snapped up to see a gorgeously determined blond slicing her way through the thumping bodies, with a bag over her shoulder and several more equally determined, and gorgeous, girls trailing. They cut through to a small door beyond the end of the bar, flung it open and disappeared.
            He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell. He knew better than to text Kendra, especially since her husband was supposed to be home tonight, but he decided to allow himself one: Hi.
            It was only a few seconds before it vibrated: How’s it going? : )
            I’m the only white guy here. You?
            Ouch. Paul is out still. Our night. Just reading, listening to music. Glad you texted.
            I’m sorry.
            Me too. Should go. Bye.
            He had felt a surge in the crowd’s energy, and looking up, he saw that the determination of the blond and her friends was eliciting it. Each had taken position in one of the cages suspended over the crowd and was dancing years off her life. The DJ and the crowd responded with an ancestral ferocity.
The descent was rapid and total. Joe watched as women backed themselves into their partners, grabbed their hands and placed them on their own exposed stomachs, where they lingered for only a moment before sliding upwards. The few men on the floor who still had shirts on remedied this. He tried hard not to look for Gemma, but he didn’t see her anyway.
Several of the enormous bouncers were now moving through the crowd with large canisters attached to small hoses. They took up positions below several of the caged women and began soaking what little clothing they had on with soda water. The floor roared, and the bouncers, finally smiling, turned and began soaking the crowd, starting with the ladies who presented themselves first.
Joe watched the blond twenty feet above him as she ripped the front of her white cut-off t-shirt in half, till only the wetness and its stretch against her breasts kept it on. She flung her head down, then tossed her hair back in a single motion that would have been gentler in a highway crash. Her pale, taut flesh absorbed and reflected the sporadic light, obscuring all else. She demanded to be desired, completely and utterly, and every part of him obliged her.
He watched her robotically precise routine, perfectly aligned with the roaring music, through three cycles before he saw Gemma making her way out of the floor towards him. Gave up on Proust? Found something more interesting to set your eyes on? she asked when her head was on his shoulder and she had his perspective.
Yeah. I guess. I’m taking off.
Perfect. Me too.
What about Abby?
Oh, I was dancing with this guy till he noticed my wedding ring, then he suddenly got really interested in her. I was gonna tell him that my boyfriend was sitting over there, but I didn’t think that would help my chances.
Probably not. He gestured for her to lead the way.
She smiled up and him and strode to the door.
As they passed into the cool night, the music fell off him like a shroud. He smiled, stopped and turned to the Samoan, still at the door, You have a great night, sir. A very good night.
The Samoan turned his sunglass gaze unto Joe, and ran it up and down him. Hmph, he grunted, and turning back to his statuesque position, let out a tiny, almost silent chuckle.
Joe arched his back till it cracked, then turned to Gemma, Well, have a good night.
What do you mean?
I mean good night. I’ve got to get some sleep. I worked thirteen hours today. Twelve tomorrow.
I’m drunk and turned on and you’re going to bed.
Yeah, unfortunately, I’m neither of those anymore. Wake Chris up. He’ll be happy to have you like that... though he'll be shocked, I never send you back to him like that.
She started to say something, stopped, and dug in her purse for her cell. Good night, she said, already walking back up the street, flipping through her messages.
See you tomorrow, he called after her.
He thought she reached up to wave over her shoulder, but she was putting her phone to her ear.
He began the slow walk home, passing out of the emptying crowds of the bar neighborhood, down a quiet avenue of store fronts, then turned downhill to cut through a reservoir. At the upper end of the small pond, he stopped where the lights of the city were blocked by trees silent and still below the stars. He put his hands on his head, craned it back, and sighed.

2 comments:

  1. This one time I tried to get into a club and I was such a dork they charged me like 20 bucks for being a geek. Everyone else got in with no charge.

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  2. Awesome. It's like the world doesn't recognize it is pretty much owned by us Hartmans. Yeah, there was this goth club in Seattle, (you may have gone there with us once) where the girls and rhyd liked to dance, and they always used to try to charge me like 3 times the cover because I wasn't wearing black and had no tattoos or piercings. I think the message was "Massive Personal Insecurities Only."

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