“What He Said,” flash fiction by Matthew Meriwether

I ask her what he said. He her boyfriend. He her boyfriend, the bartender, the man who watches. He told her I was rude. He told her I made fun of him and the other bartenders. He told her I was with “that girl you hate.” That girl our old friend. Our old friend with the boyfriend who used to be our friend, too. Our friends who escaped into love, away from me.

“Were you with Caitlyn last night?” she asks me.

“No way. What?”

He described her as “that girl you hate with the boyfriend with the big head.” The boyfriend with the big head who is my friend Ethan, who is my other friend Kelsey’s boyfriend. Not the girl she hates. Not our old friend. He doesn’t know any of our friends.

He told her I kept ordering drinks then saying I didn’t want them. The “drinks” was one drink. The drink was a beer called “Alpha King.” A man I used to know, a tenuous friend, had ordered one and told me the name of it. I made a joke. I said, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Or I said, “I could use an alpha king right now, too.” And then the tall glass of orange, foamy liquid was handed to me, like a punchline I hadn’t thought of. “Oh,” I said. “I don’t want this. I was joking ….”

Of course I didn’t want a beer called Alpha King. Of course that guy with the beer wasn’t really my friend. Of course this isn’t really my life. Of course I’m not really here. He took the beer away and vanished.

Later, drinking outside with some friends on the empty patio close to last call, a boy got up and said to us, “Come here,” or he said, “Follow me.” He was a boy we had been drinking with on the patio. He was kind of like a friend. He was kind of like a friend because we were all drunk. He had long greasy hair held in a ponytail and a small silver metal necklace that wrapped three times around his neck, as if his neck was something that needed to be contained, or held back, or held.

We followed him. We, a gay boy and two straight girls with long brown hair and eyes that glittered with interest, glittered like sidewalks in rain, like here, please walk on me, like go where you need to go, through me, like please pass through me, like look down on me then don’t look back.

And then the boy and one of the girls were playing a piano in a large and empty dark room. The piano was old and in the corner under the glaring red exit sign. The other girl and I sat on the empty stage beside it. She whispered to me, “I like him. They do this kind of thing a lot …” “She’s so pretty …” “I don’t know …”

And then the men came. The men who were the bartenders, the watchers. They all had beards, long and thick like old brooms. They all wore helmets, they all were walking with bicycles. They looked like mormons, or ministers, doctors, cops, humorless gods who stare and don’t speak. “Look what the cat dragged in,” I said. Or maybe I said, “What happened to your heads?” Or maybe I said, “Don’t forget your elbow pads,” or maybe I said, “Ever tried knocking?” Or maybe I said, “Fuck off, nerds.” I laughed like a monster with nothing to lose and they told me to leave, except they didn’t say anything, just stared like floating rocks.

We ran outside, or we walked. The men disappeared. The boy with long hair played music from his car. The girl who played piano with him lingered by his open door as he sat inside; the other girl floated behind the car on the periphery of things. I think I said, “Now what …” I think I said, “Who here thinks I’m pretty …” I think I said, “Is it obvious I want things …” I think I said “Where does this lead …” I think I looked up at the moon, except the moon was not there, or it didn’t look like the moon. What did it look like? Like a punchline I wasn’t prepared for.

She wants me to apologize to him. Him her boyfriend the bartender man god, bicycling into the moony sky. She wants me to fall on my knees, beg, look up with undeserving eyes. It was a joke, I didn’t want this.

“They were rude to me too!” But that isn’t what I mean. “They kicked us out!”

“Were they closing?”

Oh, yes. They were closing. Everyone was closing, it was all closing. “Can you apologize to him?” she says. I think I say, “Ha ha ha …” I think I say, “Sorry,” to myself, to her. It still sounds like a bad joke. Like a sad joke. I still wait for laughter or applause, arms holding me, holding me back.

 

 

***

Matthew Meriwether is a writer and performer currently living in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He writes and performs music under the name Fresh Tar, and is recently the author of Knock Knock (The Dandelion Review, 2018), a chapbook of narrative prose.

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