I hated Moe’s bar. I hated the way it smelled, like day old spilled beer and sweat, with a token hit of cheap perfume. I hated the dark and the drabness of it, that the floors were black linoleum tile and sticky, that the booths were poorly lit, and the walls blood red. Dead blood red. You know what I mean.
I went there anyway, right on schedule every Tuesday and Thursday nights, and sometimes even on a Saturday night, late. Past the time a nice woman like me should be in bed with her husband – that is, as long as he wasn’t already out with his whore.
The last time I saw her was a Tuesday. The past weekend I had been in the bar, drunk before I even walked through the door on nips of rum and whiskey that I downed with Shannon in the parking lot, like teenagers. The liquor made my throat burn and eyes water, but I loved the confident haze I settled down into whenever I drank to any excess.
That night, I had screamed at a waitress to turn up the music; I danced around the pool table until Shannon led me home.
The last Tuesday wasn’t like that, though.
I pushed open the bar door and pushed my glasses up the brim of my nose at the same time, head down as I pretended to struggle with my purse and the laptop I was carrying in my arms.
“Hey there, Hannah,” Moe said to me. The bar was empty, and he was sitting perched on the edge of a booth at the back of the bar, playing a game of Solitaire and looking like he didn’t want to be bothered. His fly was unzipped, but of course I didn’t tell him.
I sat down in my usual booth, the one that gave me a view of the whole bar. I knew she was there if Moe was playing his cards. I was expecting her.
I opened my laptop and started skimming over what I had just written at home, but it was only moments before I heard footsteps coming out from the kitchen, and I looked up to see Amy’s stupid face.
She didn’t slow her steps. She didn’t pause or jerk, her eyes didn’t stray from mine once they’d connected. She didn’t flinch or falter. But from across the bar, I could hear the sharp intake of breath that my eyes hadn’t seen.
It’s that moment when your heart contracts suddenly. When the shock of something steals your breath and sets your heart to racing.
I smiled sweetly. “Hello, Amy.”
“Oh, hi Mrs. Mulraney.”
I narrowed my eyes at her.
“Sorry,” Amy stammered. “Hannah, sorry. I always forget.”
“Come on, we’re like old friends now, we see so much of each other,” I said.
“You’ve been coming in a lot lately.”
“I find it a very relaxing place to write in the evenings. Not much business this early.”
“Right,” Amy said, and blew a big pink bubble with her chewing gum.
Bubble gum. It was so tacky, such a disgusting little habit, to be chewing something constantly and popping it in people’s faces. I pictured her suddenly in a cheerleader’s uniform, her bare, perfect young ass peeking out from beneath a pleated miniskirt, her hair in pigtails, her mouth stretched wide open and her head bouncing up and down on my husband’s cock.
“I’ll take my usual,” I told her, and went back to my writing.
I couldn’t concentrate though. How could I? I wasn’t really there to write that day, I was there to observe. To intimidate, maybe. To threaten.
I had suspected that Amy and Evan had been sleeping together for a while at that point. It had been three months to be exact, but I had never had any proof. For the longest time it was only speculation I had as to where Evan was going all those nights. Evan said he had joined a bowling league, and for a long time I believed that every Wednesday and Sunday nights he left the house for the lanes just like he said, to drink beers and knock pins with his work buddies. He would come home late smelling of cigarette smoke and have beer on his breath, then that changed.
He started drinking vodka around that time, and the scent of beer had left him. Sometimes he would come home having not drank anything at all, I could tell. Those nights he came home wired, laying in bed awake next to me for hours. I would catch him with his eyes open, staring at the ceiling and smiling. That’s when I began to wonder.
Evan kept going to bowling league, but then he started coming home and didn’t smell like cigarettes, he smelled like powder. It was only the slightest hint at first, and then since I noticed it I kept on noticing it. Baby powder has such a distinct smell. You think it’s subtle, probably, but it isn’t. Not when your wife is suspicious.
Finally, I called Jeannie Harper, the wife of one of the men Evan bowled with.
“I’m so sick,” I told her. “I just want Evan to pick me up some medicine on his way home but I can’t reach him on his cell. Do you mind calling Bill at the lanes so Evan can get it from me?”
She called back ten minutes later. Evan wasn’t there. He hadn’t been there in three weeks, he hadn’t even called to say he was leaving the league.
It was easy, finding out who she was. I just decided to follow Evan out one night, and he had come straight to Moe’s. We both acted surprised to see each other, husband and wife meeting as strangers. I told him I just wanted a change of scenery to write, he told me that the guys in the league were taking a night off. Liars, both of us.
And then she walked up to the booth we had sat down at, she had taken that same gasping breath, but that first time she didn’t hide it as well. Her face had flushed and she had smiled at me too hard and too often.
Amy walked up to my table holding a tray with a little metal tea pot and a mug. I smiled at her and pulled out my own box of tea bags and set it on the table.
I wonder what she thought of me, then. I wonder if she laughed at me behind my back, knowing that she was fucking my husband and I was a dowdy little housewife whose glasses were always slipping down my nose and who carried around her own bags of tea like a grandmother. That was not who I was. It was just who I wanted her to think I was.
“How’s college?” I asked as she poured hot water over my tea.
“Really boring,” she said, not looking at my face. “I just have back to back English and history classes this semester. I hate writing.”
I stared up at her blankly and caught her eye, then smiled slowly.
“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t even think.”
“Oh, Amy, it’s fine. What are you majoring in, again? I keep forgetting.”
“Ah,” I said. “That’s what my husband, Evan, majored in. It seems to be just the degree for people who can’t make their minds up about things. Evan never knows what he wants. He told me the other day that he just wants to take off, leave this town and disappear somewhere. Whisk me away to some tropical island or something, isn’t that crazy?”
Amy chewed furiously on her gum. Her eyes were widened and her limbs looked stiff as she stood there holding the tray.
“Sounds pretty great to me, actually.”
Was she jealous of me? Was she picturing her lover with his wife on a beach, scantily clad and in love? Was she wishing that it were her instead of me?
“I admit, it would be very romantic,” I said. “Not to mention thrilling, to just take off like that, to just disappear. And sexy, those islands. Have you ever been to the Caribbean? Evan and I actually just went this past fall. There’s something so… erotic about it.”
Amy’s cheeks flushed and I could see her working the gum in her mouth, spreading it around over her tongue. She took a deep breath and blew another enormous bubble.
“Our sex life is great anyway, though. Evan just can’t seem to get enough of it at home.”
The pink bubble burst and splatted back onto her cheeks and hair, and Amy dropped the tray she had been holding.
I covered my mouth with one of my hands and tried to not have an outburst. I wanted desperately to keep my cool.
Amy picked up the tray and straightened back up, pulling strings of bubble gum out of her hair and off of her furiously red face. “I, um..”
“You’d better go take care of yourself, Amy. You’re just a mess.”
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Carrie challenged me with “The pink bubble burst and splatted back onto her cheeks and hair.” and I challenged Kelly Garriott Waite with “There was a dark shadow crouched in the corner of the room. It looked human, but how could I be sure?”