It’s rarely too late and never too early, so the sea is rife with heads and hands, each one too eager to claim what they will inevitably squander anyway: loose change kept in a pocket until it gets too heavy or the cute bartender needs a tip. As you wade in at the entrance, the guy at the door acts like he remembers you, maybe does actually remember you, maybe was here the last time you were. Dark and hazy, strobe lights occasionally blinking with unreasonable confidence before exploding in the surge one by one. The walls stay upright long enough to display the work of the locally infamous; a painting with a blowjob face and one with the head of the devil. A table in the corner calls with its nearby bookshelf of board games. You and a friend try to find one with all the pieces before the dice float away, sipping Too-Sweet Somethings because you recently gave up drinking straight liquor for show.
An acknowledgment from across the shallow end becomes an approach before you sidestroke back from getting your second drink.
“What have you been reading?”
You utter the name “Dostoevsky” in the strangely stale semi-darkness, and that alone should have cut the disco track that was playing or at least slammed the fallboard down on the amateur pianist and his entourage drifting a little to your left. A conversation ensues about “The Brothers Karamazov” possibly, a tirade more than likely, and you are somewhere else as always, eyes over waves and lips and shoulders, zeroing in on the back door. Your friend gets cornered, answering questions about her kids.
“I’ve always wanted to be a father!” Everyone above water raises their eyebrows in a collective move strong enough to shake the blowjob face off the wall.
The sea of heads and hands parts, praises the half-moon, the Bee Gees, and the art of Saturday night, and reforms. The historically untouched cigarette machine provides a pleasant backdrop to the verbal nonsense two inches from your face, maybe three when he pulls back for air then dives in again, no board, no floaties.
“I’m going to get a drink.”
“Oh, I’ll get one for you!” Two voices shout in unison as you inch your friend forward by her wrist, but the sea is raging just then and you can pretend you didn’t hear them.
Out the back door, you accidentally flood the bonfire before it slams behind you. Running past the dick statues, past the moon-bathers, past where the buoyant jukebox fades to a white-noise hum. To the side alley where a metal gate sits stranded between two buildings, likely well over 6 feet tall but after 3 Too-Sweet Somethings, your math skills have dulled. You pull and it’s locked. You try and fail to scale it, cool chain link on your still-wet cleavage, piercing half-moon flickering through your open-and-shut fake eyelashes. As is the way of these things, the only way out is back in.
The sea is swelling inside as waves knock pool balls about and further soak the swimmers in the neighborhood’s cheapest deal on PBR. The heads and hands appear to have swallowed the two young men from before. The cigarette machine still seems to rest immobile and emotionless, indifferent to whatever might be happening on the too-plush couch beside it, a texture you don’t generally want to feel on your way in or out of there. In spite of near-constant water lapping, friction left its mark on those reddish cushions, burning and sticky. Low tide; a path opens up and you’re swimming, past the piano player and the blowjob face and the devil and the guy at the door who acts like he remembers you, maybe does actually remember you, maybe was here the last time you were. The street is iced over, filling your lungs with relief cold and cutting, with getting away with the something-sum of nothing, with steel-specked city air just beyond murky seawater. You laugh all the way back to the car.