"Shelena, whose hair falls in tight, black curls" by Matt Miller
Shelena has molasses-black hair that falls down naturally in corkscrew-tight curls. They rest energetically on top of her beautiful head, which is on top of her beautiful neck, which is attached to her beautiful shoulders at the top of her beautiful body. I notice all of this at once, in secret, as we sit across from each other at a speakeasy. She wears a thin, black sweater that shows her collarbone, which I can’t seem to take my eyes off of, as she talks about the antiquated nature of the electoral college. She works with my gay friend-slash-coworker Harold, who sometimes jokes that her butt is so fabulous, he wouldn’t know the difference if the lights were out. Harold is one of those people who can get away with almost anything, so everyone just laughs. It only gets awkward after he says it a second and third time and then sits in her lap and then his boyfriend Jeffrey takes him outside to puke so that they can get into an Uber and go home.
Shelena wears an olive-colored skirt that seems to fall perfectly against her Olympic-Gold-medal-deserving butt. God, I love her butt. Her butt, and her collarbone, which I keep staring at conspicuously. Her skin is this perfect color of caramel and I think that the people who work at the bar put something in the light bulbs that make everything about her seem glisten-y and perfect, like when they glue sesame seeds to the bun for McDonald’s commercials, or when they spray water onto a can of Coke and do a close-up in slow-motion. I feel—as I often do—that the world is conspiring to make me fall in love with yet another beautiful woman who will —at some point in the near future—not give a shit about me. Still, though, she is the most beautiful…she is the most beautiful something.
After Jeffery and Harold go home I order one last drink; it comes with a giant ice cube and an orange peel that was burnt with a confectionary blow torch. I slide over into the seat next to her and listen to her talk. Whenever she nods or turns her head to the side those beautiful, molasses corkscrew curls flip or flop just a little bit. One of them lands accidentally on her nose; she pulls on it slightly just to let it sproing back into place and it just about kills me. I sit there next to her for over an hour while she talks about the election with a couple of co-workers I don’t know. I don’t have anything to say and I don’t know their names. I just want to sit next to her.
I wish I was different. I picture a different me sitting beside her this evening, someone who can grow a beard that doesn’t look like patchy tufts of pubic hair; someone who can wear slim-fit jeans without his stomach pressing over his belt, someone who looks good in a t-shirt. I envy this me, as he casts a sexy yet mysterious air around the table like Antonio Bandaras in 1998’s classic The Mask of Zoro, or that guy from the Dos Equis beer commercials. He doesn’t have to ask for her name. All he has to do is put his hand on the small of her back when no one is looking, finger the bare skin at the base of her spine, and she will leave with him. After which, he will spend the rest of the night deciding whether her skin tastes as beautiful as it looks. In the morning, she will sit in the kitchen of my incredibly dope, one-bedroom apartment in Soho (which I can totally afford) and watch Handsome-Me scramble eggs for breakfast while bare-chested. Handsome-Me can totally do that, because he always looks better without a shirt on, due to the Pilates, and also the Crossfit. In this moment she decides (she tells our kids later, who totally don’t have to grow up worrying about childhood obesity) that she will fall in love with me. When she tells this story we are holding hands and Still-Handsome-Older-Me chuckles a knowing chuckle and strokes his perfect salt-and-pepper beard.
Instead, tonight, I look down and make sure that my jacket properly covers the paunch of my belly. Then I go to the bar for what I thought would be a refill but turns out to be me just paying for the rest of their tabs. I don’t know why I do it; maybe because I feel embarrassed about leaving without waving goodbye, maybe because the guy making our drinks with a top knot and suspenders makes me feel like it’s the kind of place where you do that sort of thing. Or maybe it’s because I think that’s what Handsome-Me would do. I leave quietly and smoke a cigarette while I walk to the train. It’s about 58 degrees outside, but I pretend that I’m way colder than I actually am so I can pop the collar of my jacket up because it makes me look cool. Or at least I think that it does; if not actually cool, then maybe just slightly more cool than I am with a regular-looking collar…like 12% cooler. Also the smoking; the smoking makes me look cool too. I take a drag and think about Shelena’s hair and how much I love it. How I’ve never seen a girl with hair that curly and thought it to be…I can’t find the word…sensual. No, that sounds weird. Maybe beautiful…I just think that she’s beautiful.
I am staying with Harold and Jeffery this week while they fumigate my apartment. When I get back to their place they have blown straight through the drunk pizza phase of the night and right into the incredibly-loud-butt-sex portion of the evening. There is an empty pizza box and crumbles of dried crust on the kitchen counter. Through the wall I can hear lots of slapping sounds, and also Harold grunting because he is the bottom. They are perfect for each other, and I want to high-five them for being able to get pizza and then fuck each other but mostly—right now—I just wish that I wasn’t living in their apartment. The slapping sounds are too much for me.
The next morning is Hungover Sunday Brunch time in the apartment. There is a lot of groaning and the free exchange of both Advil and statements of regret. I regret that I mixed brown and clear liquids last night. I regret that I drank anything with the words PUNCH or BEACH in it. I regret that I let Harold sit on Shelena’s lap again. I regret that I didn’t drink more water at the bar. They both regret so much, so hilariously. I regret paying everyone’s tab and then running away without talking to her, I say to myself silently. The three of us go somewhere with artesian bacon and a really long line. Jeffery brings up Shelena and I don’t really say anything, but they know. I am see-through, paper thin, and alone.
About the author: Matt Miller is a freelance lighting designer and fiction writer currently based in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He wrote his first poem about the L.A. Riots, when he was 7. He wrote his first short story on his dad’s old typewriter. It was entitled The Ninja Kid, and was no doubt based on his excitement after watching an episode of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and acting it out during recess with his friends. Matt studied theatre in all forms and began writing seriously in college, mostly plays that were produced as storefront theatre. Matt makes his living as a lighting designer for theatre and dance but secretly yearns to publish the next great short story collection. He is vastly interested in love, and its effect on memory and imagination.