(6th in this challenge)
I forget the specific name for the event in the bar, but murals were painted. A vast blank white rectangle flanked either side of the stage area and two naked people (well, in nude underwear) stood at the front of the stage between the rectangles, one girl (bare-breasted), one guy (unmistakably excited to be standing next to the girl), awaiting. Ten artists approached at some point: four stationed at each bright canvas and one at each person. The artists painted for a specific amount of time, then moved to their right to the next station until eventually they’d circled around and ended at the station left of where they’d begun. Judes and I were there to witness art begun then either continued or taken over by new ideas as the night progressed until it all hopefully built toward some greater, interconnected work.
At least, the flyer said that’s why we were there.
Judes went to hang out with someone she wanted to hook up with. She abandoned me after ten minutes (as I knew she would). It was her crowd—hipsters and so much chain smoking that the dense smog of it nudged me as I wandered. The smoke probably lasted in the space well after closing time. I was just joining in, observing with nothing else planned except to sip my drink strategically; I didn’t want to get drunk until I knew how I was getting home.
A DJ played 80s mixes and some experimental whatever that sounded like Tasers being activated. No one danced, very few paid attention to the artists when they began. I vaguely recognized some around me from class or campus, though they didn’t seem to recognize me. There was one red bearded guy, much shorter than me, who I’d passed every day somewhere on campus for the past several semesters. We’d never acknowledged one another. I don’t remember ever making eye contact with him, but we did then and he nodded at me before turning away for the rest of the night and I suddenly I felt as if I could belong there among them.
My cell vibrated. The light of it in my eyes darkened the rest of the space. Judes had texted:
“U’ll b k 4 while there yea?”
I was not in love with the word there.
“Where are you?”
“Out but bck son love love”
I stepped backward toward a wall. Someone was already there but I didn’t look at them; instead, I sipped my drink, staring back and forth at the well-lit nakedness and near nakedness of both the girl and guy, even though I was only attracted to one of them that night. That night. He was turning into a zebra; she had flower swastikas sprouting from her belly button.
“Is your name Sebastian?” the someone beside me (a guy) asked.
“Yeah,” I said. He stepped sideways, closer. His beard shown below the most natural handle-bar mustache I had ever seen. It didn’t look part of a costume. His floppy hair, alert eyes, and knowing smile gave me the impression that I’d stumbled onto a friend, though I didn’t know him.
“Do you remember me?”
“Um, no? Sorry.”
“You went to T___ J___ middle school, right?”
“You don’t remember me? I’m Michael.”
“No, I’m so sorry.” How many thousands of Michaels had I met? It didn’t matter. I liked him, thought that we should’ve kept in touch because of his smile and his peaceful vibe. “Did we go to high school together, too?”
“No. Just sixth and seventh grade band. You don’t remember?”
“No.” I half-wanted to remember.
“I played tuba.”
“Oh, well then you were way in the back.”
“You don’t remember me? I think we were attracted to the same girl.”
“I can’t remember anyone else.”
“Well we were. I had a mustache then, too, remember? I was the only kid in band who did.”
“I used to wear extra-large shirts even though I was a skinny guy?”
“People used to joke that I was only wearing a shirt because sometimes they were longer than my shorts.”
“I used to wear them because I had…really large…? Well, I guess you don’t remember: I had man boobs.”
I looked at his chest instantly and was so ashamed. “I’m sorry. I’ve done drugs and stuff since then,” I lied—it seemed like the best excuse. He smiled in an accepting way.
“So this is really, great, right?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Man boobs? I fought myself not to look back at his chest.
“So I saw you come in with Judy?”
“We were supposed to meet up tonight.” The most-wolfish grin appeared on his face.
“Oh, she’ll be back. She went off with someone, I guess.”
“Yeah, she does that.”
“Yeah, she does, haha, doesn’t she? Ummm…” How dare he know my friend as well as I did. “So, man boobs? Haha. Man boobs.”
“Yeah. It’s hereditary. I had a breast reduction and I have to do a lot of cardio. Any fat and it goes right to my…” He hovered his hands right over his pecs. I liked him more. At that moment, I knew my life had been lacking something and yet had been very complete all at once ten minutes before I’d met him.
He wanted to chat. I actually was happy to have the option to chat with someone. Our conversation consisted only of the present day. I resisted looking below his face. When the night progressed, Judes returned and seemed astonished and yet not astonished that Michael and I knew-but-didn’t-really-know-each other. She stole him away without apology, the way only great friends can. As they walked away, holding hands, they smiled back at me and I wondered how much they already knew about one another, and if I didn’t know some of it.
Near closing time, once the murals and models were fully painted, I flirted with the guy model. He understood I was flirting and didn’t mind, though he wasn’t flirting with me. We bonded on mutually being disturbed by the faces drawn on the girl model’s breasts, though he could not possibly have guessed my reasons. We agreed that some of the sections that artists had painted over shouldn’t have been covered and that some that remained uncovered should’ve been painted over. We didn’t really want to get to know each other but we were pleased to be chatting to the other until our respective friends arrived to take us home and we left the bar.
Most of this happened to me, except for the closing paragraphs. While I chatted to my former middle school band mate (yes, with man -clears throat-), we stood next to a raffle for newborn puppies. I focused on their photographs at several points during the conversation. I hope they’ve had happy childhoods.