by Hugo Esteban Rodríguez
It’s Saturday night and Nick, Chelsea and a disembodied voice are biologically conditioned to seek the biological and social imperative (carbohydrates, protein, and a mate) in darkened, smoke-stained corners. The pre-game features three moving parts: Nick, Chelsea and a third element who although nameless, was the one responsible for vehicular safety. He exists in every one of these arrangements as narrator, raven, conscience, story-teller, sin-eater.
Let’s call him Tim.
It starts Thursday night with the end of graduate school obligations followed by a Friday of research, four piles of laundry, and getting rid of the mountain of greasy dishes in the sink. Then everybody could enjoy a Saturday of college football and useless Facebook conversations over which team would make it all the way to the national championship. Everything building up to Saturday night lights.
In the end, people can only change themselves and any attempt to change others becomes a Hail Mary.
But hey, it worked for Doug Flutie.
Chelsea was a teacher, Nick’s friend from undergrad who had taught him lessons that could be summed up in under 140 characters.
One: To be intoxicated is to be in love.
Two: To love a woman is to have hands able to scratch that itch right underneath her bra.
Three: To be drunk in a woman is to look into the girl’s eyes and know right then and there that she was the one.
Nick looked at Chelsea, who kept stealing glances at the door.
“Is she the one?”
“How do you know?”
“I just told you.”
Chelsea’s book was a guide to romance and short fictions and longer nonfictions. Nick learned that love waited, beyond uncomfortable theological implications, waited for the moment where you could be with someone who was just as scarred.
Nick was just waiting for a brief window of time when two heavenly bodies would align and the moon cast just the right shadow.
They saw that night that love was also entertaining temptation and disaster. Chelsea, swarmed by beautiful men and women, fiddled with waistlines and curls of hair.
She turned them all down.
“You’re smiling,” Nick said.
Chelsea held out, waiting for someone to come through the door, for an answer to materialize at the bottom of her beer. And near midnight, Nick would still be learning from Chelsea about how to hide his fear.
“What will people think?” he had asked at one point.
“Well, I think,” she said. “That their thoughts don’t pay the fucking bills.”
She caught Nick trying in vain to mask furtive glances at a nearby empty table where another woman sat, playing on her phone. Black dress.
“What are you doing?”
“For?” Chelsea’s eyes were blue and cold.
“Whatever you’re waiting for,” he said.
“I’m waiting for love. You are waiting for opportunity. Go talk to her.”
“It feels weird.”
“What, approaching strangers at bars?”
“Just go. I’ll wait.”
Nick sipped his overpriced and over-iced whiskey and looked over again.
He feared approach as he feared the blackness at home, waiting to swallow them in the form of late-night infomercials and empty beds.
Nick walked up to the woman, gripping his drink for stability.
A lack of creativity. The plan fails.
Nick offers a surrendering smile and retreats in the direction of the bathroom where he releases a stream of nerves before heading back to the waiting Chelsea.
“Didn’t go well?” she asks.
“It’s going to be okay.”
“I’m going to die alone.”
“Oh, please. One bad night.”
“Of how many?”
“It’s a numbers game.”
“Hey, you’re drunk,” said Tim, coming up to Nick and Chelsea with the imprint of teeth on his neck.
“I’m not,” Nick said, defensively. “What happened to you?”
“I thought I was getting lucky.”
“Looks like you were.”
“Then her husband texted her. Let’s get out of here.”
“Where to next?” Chelsea asked.
The headlights were bright and Nick felt like he was floating in a pool of sound and yellow.
He looked up and held his hand up in the air as if to block the streetlight only to realize that the inevitable couldn’t be covered with his fingers.
OFFICE OF THE COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER
This is where we dissect the last twelve hours.
We take a scalpel and trace a road from Montrose to West Gray and back home, an incision passing through five bar and one restaurant before ending back at home, in the bathroom, huddled over and making empty promises to cold porcelain as the tiles twist at hard 45 degree turns.
Blood-alcohol: 0.123, legally intoxicated, judgment poor, senses impaired. Personal belongings: Four bottle caps, a lighter, and crumpled receipts. We see that the smell of nicotine hugs the body like a burial shroud.
Someone is taking a hammer to the inside of the deceased’s skull.
The liver has been pushed to the limit by whiskey and beer.
We lift the eyelids up to see flashes of memory.
Footsteps on concrete.
Bodies collapsing against a mattress.
What he should have said.
What she should not have said.
The deceased saw the Rubicon, then a mistake of flesh, sweat, drunk lust, and sobering release.
Emesis shows brown liquid in which a half-digested taco is the mattress for a few pieces of pickle and two cherry stems. A loss of $55, and the remaining $22.05 would exit within a few bowel movements.
The autopsy is complete. We move our body out of the way and the light makes the body react, writhing in pain and then he raises his right hand to shield himself from the glare. The slate moves and a sheet falls to the side. Another naked body is exposed. Smaller, left hand intertwined with the first victim’s right.
Her blue eyes are wide open, her naked skin is cold.
Hugo Esteban Rodríguez is a citizen of the former Republic of the Rio Grande and he received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. His work has been published in The Airgonaut, Spirit’s Tincture, Picaroon Poetry, and Donut Factory. He loves sports, tacos, metal, and spending time with his girlfriend and furchildren. He also blogs about writing and mental health at www.dosaguilas.org. And yes, he is a total taco snob.