Hunger: A Short Story

 Fort Cemetery at Watson Mill Bridge State Park in GA. Copyright Jamie Holdorf,  www.serendipisea.com

Fort Cemetery at Watson Mill Bridge State Park in GA. Copyright Jamie Holdorf, www.serendipisea.com

I’m standing on the side of the road under a flickering streetlamp (the only streetlamp on this drag) after an excruciating night at the bar. 4am. My feet hurt. My lower back clenches. And the cut on my neck hums dully throughout my body. The faint smell of blood and beer still hangs on me.  I think back on the past few hours…

Gary usually stops by every Saturday for his fix. Loud. Crude. Angry. Your typical drunkard. He prefers cheap beer straight from the bottle. I knew he had reached his limit three drinks before the incident, but my greed overrode my better judgment. Plus he’d never gotten violent before. Maybe a belligerent rant or two, but nothing like tonight. Apparently his wife is cheating on him…or so he believes. I can’t remember all he was saying—I was only half listening. He never really talked much about her, except to complain every once in a while about how she rarely put out and when she did it was like fucking a cold fish. Honestly, I thought to myself, I couldn’t really blame her. I imagined having sex with him would be like having a reckless jackhammer slamming into me. I would have to shut down every bit of feeling just to survive the experience.

But when he started accusing everyone at the bar of sleeping with his wife, I had to step in.

“Gary,” I tell him, “It’s time for you to get a cab.”

“I don’t take orders from you, bitch,” he slurs.

I’ve been working here for so long (what's it...ten years now, right after high school?) that I’ve learned not to take it personally.

“Gary, c’mon man. You’re drunk. I’m going to call you cab and you’re going to go home and sleep it off.”

“Home?!” he cries. “Home…there is no home. There is no bed. There is no sleeping next to that…that…” His voice strangles a bit as he collapses onto the bar. Jim, another regular who spends his money slowly nursing Rusty Nails, catches Gary and tries to help him stand back up. Gary’s wounded pride must have hit its limit in that moment, because he suddenly roars back to life, grabs Jim’s glass and hurls it across the room, screaming, “I don’t need your help, motherfucker!”

“Gary!” I cry. Without thinking, I reach out to restrain his monstrous limbs. His angry fingers wrap around the empty longneck he just finished. A scream like nothing I’d heard before emanates from within him as he swings the bottle at my head. I duck just in time, but in his drunkenness, he doesn’t have a very solid grip on the bottle, so it slips from his hand and smashes into the glowing display of alcohol behind me. Glass shatters everywhere. Liquid rushes down the damp, dusty wood. I cover my head and squeeze my eyes shut, but not before a slice of broken bottle ricochets off the back wall and hits me in the neck.

“FUCK!” The stabbing pain buckles my knees and I have to lumber down to the end of the bar to avoid collapsing into a pile of shredded glass. My hand instinctively finds its way to the side of my neck. Blood, more than one typically wants to see coming from one’s own body, streams between the webbing of my fingers. At least I don’t feel any glass. Must’ve bounced off me.

In the chaos, five or six men manage to hold Gary down long enough for him to surrender the fight. He now lies on the ground, weeping, with his demons exposed. Were it not for the throbbing pain in my neck and the blood matting up my hair, I might feel sorry for him.

“Out! Everyone out now,” the manager, barks. He simply goes by JB. No last name. He’s on the shorter side, but built like a brick. Thick and wide. Late 60’s. Worked here for as long as I can remember. He doesn’t say much, but when he does speak, you listen.

It’s close to 2am. Most of the people have already paid their bills and those that don’t throw some wadded-up cash onto the bar as they rush out into the cool night. No doubt a relief compared to the thick, acrid stench inside. Gary half mumbles apologies as Jim carries him towards the door.

“I’ll take him home with me,” Jim says. Once the place is clear, I start to regain some awareness of my body. I’m a little frozen. Shocked. Except for the gash on my throat, I have lost sensation in other parts of my body. As I stand in the heavy silence, I exhale and feel my limbs melt a little. Warmth comes back to my feet and hips, as an exhaustion like I have never known sweeps over my eyes. I swoon a bit.

“You ok?” JB inquires. He’s less concerned with my health and more interested in making sure that he doesn’t have to take care of me. He’s always been uncomfortable when dealing with delicate matters. He’s a practical man. Intimacy is not something he does well.

“I’ll be ok,” I say.

“Well, take a few moments and then we’ll clean up.” He hands me a glass of water and I soothe my scorched throat. As I slide onto a stool, he heads to the back. I stare absently at the wreckage littering the spot where I stood just 10 minutes ago. JB returns with a broom, a dustpan and a metal garbage can. He starts sweeping up and throwing away mounds of glass in crashing chunks.

“I’ll be right back,” I say and head off to the bathroom to survey the damage. Despite the circles under my eyes and the glassy stare, everything looks alright. The cut is already starting to clot. It felt a lot worse in the moment than it actually was. The wound itself is relatively superficial. Just glad it didn’t hit any major blood vessels. I run some water over a wad of disposable brown paper towels and gently dab my neck. It feels cool and sharp. After a few rounds of this, I head back out to help JB.

Two hours later and we are finally locking up.

“We’ll take care of inventory tomorrow—er, um, later today,” JB tells me. “Just get some sleep and be back here at 4:30. If you need the day off, I understand, but I could really use your help here if you can make it.”

“I’ll be here,” I say. I don’t even pause to think about whether or not I want to. I just say yes. Like always.

“Good. Well then…see you later.” He makes his way to his truck. “Hey…uh…you want a ride?” he asks, as he turns to look at me.

“No thanks,” I answer back, a little shocked at this gesture of goodwill. “I’m fine.” Without a word, he heads towards his red Chevrolet, gets in and drives off.  I’m surprised I declined his offer. I mean, after all the drama of the evening, a ride home would be nice. But something in me needs the clean air, the solitude, the quiet. Besides, I feel too buzzed to go home now, especially after drinking all that coffee while cleaning the bar. A walk will do me good, I think to myself. I jog across the road, but instead of heading straight home, I lean against the pole with the flickering light.

My mind drifts to Gary. How long has he been married? 15? 20 years? How could his wife have stood it for so long? I mean, I don’t know the whole story, but if his behavior is any indication of their home life, my guess is that she’s probably not a very happy woman. He’s clearly a sad, wretched man. My heart drops a little at this discovery.

At least I’ve got James, I think. He’s a decent guy. Nice enough. Hardworking. Wants the best for everyone. True, our sex life has dwindled over the 6 years we’ve been living together, but that happens to all couples, right? I mean, he works during the day and I work nights, so finding the time and energy to get all hyped-up and hot and horny isn’t high on either of our priority lists.

I feel a sort of heaviness wash over me. A thick ball presses into my throat as I think back to the first sweet months of our relationship. How we couldn’t get enough of each other. How our sex was like this fantastic erotic playground. The light tickle on the back of my fingers while barely touching the hairs on his cheek. His front teeth slowly biting down on my nipple until a sharp, painful rush of heat rolled over my breasts. The electric current pulsing through the tips of our tongues when we lingered in a kiss.

The heaviness gives way to a sort of hollowness. A black void opens in my chest that travels down to my belly—and then shifts to my genitals. When was the last time I had my pussy touched? Or even looked at, for that matter…

The thick ball in my throat rises. My face flushes. My forehead feels tight. An internal pressure builds to where I can no longer control the tears swelling in my eyes.

“It’s just been a long night,” I lie to myself. The tears back down for a moment, though my fingers start to tremble. For in that black void sits a burning, unavoidable truth.

I’ve had enough. And not just tonight. With everything. My life feels somehow…empty. My days consist of cleaning the house and catching up on sleep. My nights consist of emotionally managing men with a painfully unquenchable thirst.

And me? What about my thirst? What about my…what? What is this…hunger? I feel like one of those people who hasn’t eaten in so long that she has forgotten what hunger feels like.

I glance up and catch a masculine-looking shadow not twenty feet away from me. My defenses instantly snap into place, like a puffer fish flaring her blades. Who is he? How long has he been there? Has he been watching me this whole time?

I check my watch. 4:30. I’ve been here for half an hour already. Was he waiting for me to exit the bar? It’s not like someone to be hanging around alone this time of the night. There’s nothing else in this area but a bridal shop and a cemetery down the road.

I start walking. Quickly. My body is buzzing and I am holding my breath as I rush down the street. My feet scrape carelessly along the sidewalk, leaving a jagged, scratching sound in their wake. Behind me beats the brisk, steady rhythm of heel to cement. I fly past the bridal shop to my right (how many times had I gazed longingly at its offerings of layered, white organza) and head towards the cemetery. Normally I hate walking through here, but the groundskeeper lives on the other side and if I can make it to his place in time, hopefully it will deter my shadow.

I race to the iron gate, affixed between two, six-foot high, rectangular columns of cement. I curse under my breath to find it closed. I locate the latch and use all my strength (what little is left) to lift it up. It’s not locked, thank God. But I have lost precious seconds and I nearly freeze in horror to see my pursuer only three long strides away from me. I slip inside the gate, but as I try to close the door, he catches it in time and swings it open, sending me nearly flat on my back. I regain my footing and turn to run, but I don’t make it more than four steps before one arm grips around my waist and another wraps around my shoulder to cover my mouth. We stand there suspended in the moment for what could have been between thirty seconds and three hours. I feel my pelvis press firmly into the hard angles of his hips. His belly is methodically breathing into my spine, while I struggle to manage the chaotic symphony of my rasping chest. My mouth is slightly agape. I can taste the salty, acidic wetness of his palm. The hot moisture of his breath tickles my left ear and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Eventually, my rigidity gives way. I melt into the warmth of his body in surrender. I know I am outmatched. He feels this shift in me.

“Good girl,” he whispers.

He guides us towards a mausoleum about forty feet ahead of us. We turn into the tomb and he presses me face-first into the corner made by the entrance and the left wall. The heady scent of wet limestone and stale mushrooms nearly asphyxiates me. He spins me around and we are, for the first time, face to face. Though it’s dark outside, the glow from the streetlamp creates enough light for me to make out his features.

I instantly recognize him. He started coming around the bar a few months ago. Early 40’s. Dark hair. Fairly good-looking, if it weren’t for the fact that the right side of his mouth was totally paralyzed—though that never really bothered me. He always sat at the left edge of the bar, where the wood started to curve away from the main stretch. He never talked to anyone. Never drew attention to himself. I didn’t ask for his name and never thought much about him, except for the curious fact that the only thing he drank was soda water with lime—an odd choice for a hardcore dive bar.

“I know you know me,” he says, as if he can read my thoughts through the changing expressions of my face. “And I know how miserable you are. I know you want more, so much more.”

I stand there, fascinated, vacillating between repulsion and unspeakable attraction. Who is this guy to chase me down in a fucking graveyard just to tell me about my life? What had I ever done to him? What did he want from me? And why was I all of a sudden hungering for him to pull me deeper inside him? A magnetic current swirls up from my feet, my legs, between my thighs, to my chest and washes over my face. Despite the darkness, I was positive he could see the reddening in my cheeks. Something in me hated him for that, for feeling me so deeply without asking my permission. And yet…another part of me, some part that had been dry and hidden for so long, wanted him to feel me even more.

He looks at my face for quite some time. I’m not sure if he’s contemplating what to do with me or if he is just curious. His gaze is intense, but I stay with him. I’m still a little on high alert, but I also don’t want to miss a drop of his exquisite attention. He traces his finger over the arch of my brow, down my cheek and along the edge of my jaw. I gasp a little when he strokes the gash on my throat, but it’s more in anticipation than in pain. He furrows his brow a little and peers into my eyes, as if asking for permission. I nod my head once and he brings his mouth down to my neck. He draws the tip of his tongue along the wound. A prickly, stinging sensation stretches over me, but I surrender to his touch.

“Mmm,” he murmurs, as if he has just eaten something delicious. “I want to taste all of you.” He bends his misshapen mouth to mine and the cool, freshness of his kiss is irresistible. Like cold lemon-water in the middle of a desert. I reach my tongue deeper into his mouth. I want all of me inside of him. I want him to consume me…and at the same time, I want to consume him. To suck him deep into me. To envelope his flesh with mine.

He pulls away a bit and the hand near my face glides down my chest, over my abdomen and to the top of my pants. He unbuttons my black jeans and slips his hand down the front. His first two fingers curl in and slowly slide into me. Once he’s inside, I become keenly aware of the thick, heavy wetness dripping from between my legs. My walls ache and pulse around his fingers. He pushes them in a little deeper. A low groan escapes my throat. He holds me here, suspended in the chasm between my wanting and my satisfaction. In this space I would normally rush to have him fuck me hard, but this time, there is something so different, so expansive happening within me that I don’t dare move a muscle.

Unhurried, he pulls out of me and I can feel almost every ridge and crease of his dry, cracked fingers. He brings his forefinger towards his face. He brushes it against his mouth and then in one single move, he places it on his tongue, wraps his lips around it and pulls it out, sucking up all the juice. He then takes his middle finger and brings it near my mouth. I lick my lips and open them wider. He slides his finger in my mouth and a rush of sweet, salty warmth cascades over my tongue. He draws his finger out and I linger in the moment with my eyes shut.

I open my eyes to find his devilish, lopsided smile reflecting back at me.

“So?” he asks.

“Yes,” I whisper.

“Yes?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

I blink in confusion. No? He’s telling me no? No what? Why is he here if not to fuck me? I want him. He clearly wants me. What’s wrong? Did I do something wrong?

Again, reading the emotional storm through my silent expressions, he softly laughs and says, “This is how I always want to remember you. Hungry. Open. Vulnerable. Consumed by desire. I want every moment of your life to be this electric. This…alive.”

And as quickly as he came upon me, he makes his escape into the breaking dawn. I remain glued to the mausoleum wall. The coldness of the stone is no match for the heat coursing through my body. My brain can’t make sense of what just happened. I begin shaking. What…was…that? Should I go after him? Should I go home? How can I go back home? Is it possible to go back? Do I want to go back?

My thoughts collide until I can think no more. I stand stunned. Frozen. Then, in my mental blankness, I suddenly recall a line from years ago (tenth grade English?) that brings everything into perfect focus:

What’s done cannot be undone.

The truth of who I am is so undeniable that I have no choice but to follow the path that has opened before me. No, I will not be meeting JB at the bar at 4:30. No, I will not be returning home to James. No, I will not be confined by the walls of this town. And no, I will not be running away from my hunger anymore.

My body starts to float back down to the earth. A few more minutes pass. My cells settle into my skin. My feet feel firm and connected to the ground beneath me. I peel myself away from the wall, head out of the tomb and walk towards the cemetery gates. I exit the iron door, still standing agape from the struggle earlier (a moment that seems like a lifetime ago), and I stand silently on the street. I inhale deeply, as if I can finally breathe for the first time in my life. I feel awake. The virgin morning is crisp and clear. And even though I don’t know exactly what the future looks like, I do know that everything feels exactly right.

As I turn towards the open road, I catch a final glimpse of my little bar on the edge of town—the only town I have ever known. And the last thing I recall is the single streetlamp, now no longer flickering, but burning brightly against the white hot glow of the rising sun.