Otto Burnwell

This Drink’s on Her

You started doing it as a joke, any time your wife made you wait in restaurants or bars. Especially bars. You hated drinking alone, nursing the one whiskey, killing time until she showed up. You never knew what to do with your hands.

To explain you were waiting for someone always came out sounding like a dodge, an excuse, since you couldn’t be sure when she’d show up from work or whatever “engagement” she had.

So you’d settled on this one joke to fend off your discomfort.

Your wife had taken a new lover, you’d say, and you were giving them time to get used to each other. You’d add a little half-smile of apology, but never laughed.

It put anyone curious or judgmental on the defensive, unsure how to respond. It bled off your anxiety as you pictured what you might look like to anyone bothering to notice you sitting by yourself, giving off that kind of first-date failure or rookie predator vibe.

The response, in free drinks, surprised you. Totally unexpected. Bartenders especially would sport you to a free one. For the wait, they’d say. You perfected the nod of humble gratitude and furrowed brow of wounded pride to mask the guilty pleasure at the cheap victory. You’d salute with the glass, saying “this drink’s on her” and they’d laugh—with you, not at you.

It worked in most places. Probably not the kind of thing you’d try in a biker bar, or red-neck dive, pissing on your own manhood.

You watched the waitstaff for any reaction when she finally did show up. Did they gossip among themselves about her? Like—did she look freshly fucked? Did she act guilty or evasive? Did she even look the type to leave a new lover for drinks and dinner with the likes of you?

She’d enjoy herself, oblivious to her unfortunate reputation. Her vivacity—if that’s a word, then it’s her—her vivacity an odd underscore to what you had the staff thinking of her.

Maybe she would have thought your insecurity funny. Maybe she would have been flattered. You can’t come clean about it now. You could beat yourself up for not appreciating what you had. But it’s a little late for that.

Now, you whip out the line for real. That first time out alone, you didn’t feel at all guilty when that free drink showed up. Some nights it would get you a second freebie when you called for the check, when the waitstaffer got all tender for the long-suffering guy with the randy wife, eating, then leaving alone.

Tonight, in the bar when you tried it, you were sitting next to an older woman. Lots of makeup and side-boob.

She wanted to know all about it, not bothering with excuses or apologies for listening in and chatting you up.

You’ve never given much thought to filling in the details. No one ever asked before. So you make it up as you go, how it ended much too soon, how she’s probably happier, probably better off, maybe you were a jerk, not appreciating what you two had and you deserved what you got. But—you admit—there are things about the whole situation you can’t stop brooding over. Guess it goes with the territory, you say.

She asks about the asshole lover. You dismiss him with a hand wave. Never more than a name to me, you say. Not that you’d been formally introduced.

What’s he look like? Better looking than you, she asks.

Never saw him, you say, and you aren’t all that keen to find out. In fact, you’d like to avoid thinking of him at all.

Not like you should go up, shake his hand and ask him his intentions, she says. You laugh and say no, probably not.

You’re a young enough guy, she says. There’s other fish in the sea.

Much wisdom, you say, and heft your glass. To wisdom. But then you add, it’s hard to go back, throwing out the net when you can’t forget that first fish.

She turns on her stool to face you, looks you over, and says, come on babe, I can fix that. Make you forget your own name.

That she can do, says the bartender, then hurries to add, not that I’ve ever needed my memory wiped.

She laughs and says, you wait, there’ll come a time, even for you, and she laughs along with the bartender. Just like to see the customers satisfied, he says back at her.

If I don’t fix you right up, she says, it won’t cost you a thing. She points to her glass and the bartender fills her up. I’m the Angel of Subtraction. I can take it all away. Whatever it is. I’m here nights and weekends.

Watch yourself, the bartender says to you, she can be addictive.

Bring him another one when we’re done, she says to the bartender as she slips off the stool, a mite unsteady. He’ll need it.

She leads you to a booth in the back, chatting as you go.

Very scientific, she says. Known fact. Resets the chemicals in your brain. I read up on it. I’m not just a pretty face, she says, and laughs. Once I get done, your brain won’t know what to do with itself.

 She gets you seated in the booth, balances her cigarette on her glass, and slips under the table.

Watch the door, she says, and let me know if she does show up.

No chance of that, you tell her, as she takes you into her mouth. But she does show up, superimposed over the lips on you right now.

What would you say? If she did walk in? Standing over you, this cloud of hair, rinsed to a bright rust between your knees? Sorry? It’s one-time thing? I’ll tell you—if you tell me why you left without a half-believable reason?

You think you are about to embarrass yourself with a soft performance. Her vivid absence distracting you from the expert attention given to your crank.

But her face begins a slow dissolve as you respond to the Angel of Subtraction under the table. It’s a long way, but a swift trip, and from a distance you can tell the orgasm train is approaching the station. The nerves in your calves and thighs wake up and the tingling vibration builds. It chugs up to your midriff, your belly flinching and flexing and then the tingle spreading to your ass, clinching closed, all attention to the mouth.

You’re concentrating and you are feeling the swell of intense pleasure rise up through your crank, the forewarning of juice to come and then it’s electric, like lights going on all over the house, your dick swelling—swelling beyond the capacity of your skin to contain it, and the vocalizing that comes unbidden, warnings of impending deluge.

The music is louder somehow. Maybe the bartender turned it up to cover the sounds you’re making. The room fades, the walls fade, the world fades, and you clinch holding onto this feeling. Teetering at the precipice, already over-balanced, you are a cartoon character windmilling your arms to keep an impossible balance at the cliff edge, and then—you explode and rise, not falling, the contractions, a biologic efficiency, jetting it all out of you.

The Angel of Subtraction doesn’t recoil. Instead, pushing down hard, she makes you feel the back of her throat, the swallowing muscles constricting the head to take it all as the convulsions go on, and the sucking goes on, and you are trapped — deliciously trapped—and your legs and belly flinch and jerk, the nerves receiving and responding to the nervous system gone mad with sweet chaotic pleasure.

And then you relax—which is not the right word, but it will have to do—so the weight of your body descends once more and you are lumpen, settling on the booth bench.

She tongues the spot that always makes your leg jump, just because she can.

She comes up from under the table, swinging her ass onto the bench beside you, running a hand through her hair and taking up the cigarette she left burning on the rim of her glass.

 So, she says blowing a jet of smoke up into the dim, shaded light over the table, can you even say the name of her new lover. You think a long minute, then say, yes. Yes, you can, as it swims up from its dark hole, back into your memory. Death, you say. Fucker’s name is death.

The bartender standing there with your fresh drink, goes ‘whoa’ and sets the glass down on the coaster. On me, buddy, he says.

Might as well bring me another while you’re at it, she says. This one’s going to be tough, and she slipped under the table again.

As you are engulfed, surprised at rising again, you hoist your glass to the vacant seat, the missing face across the table, and say, this drink’s on you.

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