She came to the bar a lot, usually alone. She was post-college aged, dark hair, dark eyes, very good posture, she radiated awkwardness. She had a sort of uniform, tight high waisted black jeans, cropped blouses which were often striped, and a black beret.
The bar was called Harry’s. I came there to people watch. It was a little Lower East Side place, not a dive exactly, just a sort of local bar that somehow survived the various waves of trend and gentrification.
It was a good place to catch bits of characters. Regulars, couples, tourists, artists, drunks, weirdos. The girl in the beret nursed a glass of wine and read.
She fended off pickup artists, curious strangers, and horny regulars pretty easily. She just didn’t engage; she just read her book. Guys often made that hard. If spoken to, she said, “sorry, I’m reading.” After that, she ignored them.
It was the kind of place where if a guy didn’t take the hint, Eddie, the bartender, would tell them to back off. Maybe that’s why she came there.
I would certainly be categorized as “horny regular,” but I left her alone. One day when she wasn’t there, I asked for the dirt, and Eddie told me her name was Marie. She moved to the city from Florida. She was in publishing and hoping to move to Paris. It seemed just as clichéd as the rest of us.
One night it was more crowded than usual, and the only seat was next to Marie, who always sat at the bar at the stool next to the far wall.
The crowd was younger than usual, a group doing a bar crawl or something. They were loud and douchey. Eddie seemed both happy for the business and on the edge of kicking them out.
Marie read, as usual. She positioned her softcover book so that the title was not visible. I wondered if that was to stop people from coming over and using it as a conversation starter.
Eddie got me a beer and a shot of bourbon, by default. We nodded at each other as we looked at the little sea of red-faced bros and basic girls. It was a depressing reminder of the reality of contemporary America.
Still, I studied them. There wasn’t much else to do. The guys were loud, yelling into each other’s faces about some sports thing. They cheered each other on to do shots. The women in the group mostly rolled their eyes at their compatriots. There was flirting, bursts of laughter, belching. It felt like I was watching a nature documentary on the mating habits of some lost tribe.
When two guys started getting into an argument, I caught Eddie’s eye again. He was a veteran bartender. He knew the deal. He kept an eye on them.
From the corner of my eye, I saw that Marie was annoyed by the noise and commotion. She broke her normal isolation and met my eyes a few times in commiseration.
When the fight eventually broke out, I picked up my drink and stood up just in time to miss getting drenched as two pitchers of beer spilled across the bar, and a bunch of glasses broke. Marie wasn’t as lucky, and her book got soaked.
Big Steve, the doorman, rushed in, Eddie jumped from behind the bar, and even the barback got into the fray. I wondered if I should do something too, but within a minute or two, the crowd was being pushed out of place. A few minutes later, the cops came.
Eddie laughed it off. He was ringing up their drinks and charging their cards as the cops took a report—just another night at Harry’s.
After the bar was wiped off, Eddie offered Marie and me a free round, as well as the few other regulars who stuck around.
We all toasted each other. I smiled at Marie.
“I’m Bill,” I said, trying not to spook her.
“Marie,” she said, in a soft voice, no real accent.
I didn’t want to bother her, but it seemed like if there was any time to strike up a conversation, it was then, when all of us regulars were alone and feeling comradery.
“Are you a writer?” she said as I was trying to figure out how to approach her.
“Um, yeah. Well, I still have a day job, but I’m trying,” I said, looking down at
She gave me a half-smile and a nod.
“That was pretty exciting, huh?” she said, motioning to where the fight was.
I laughed, “I guess so, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen an actual fistfight. Those kids were all shit talk and pushing,” I said with a shrug.
“Used to be there was at least one good fistfight a night and four on Friday,” chimed Eddie, as he washed a glass.
Marie smiled a little brighter.
“I guess no matter how civilized we get, we still always kind of want to see a little blood,” I said, sipping my beer.
“Sure, that’s what football and boxing are supposed to do. Sate our bloodlust,” Marie said, sipping her wine.
We all had a little laugh at that. Marie and I still sat on stools next to each other. She swiveled a little around, looking more engaged than I’d ever seen there. As she twisted in the stool, her knee hit my leg. She did it again. I looked up at her.
She was more cute than pretty. With the beret, she was trying hard for that Amélie look, and she came close. Her outfit made her look a little ridiculous, but she had a gravitational pull of mysterious sexuality. Her tight black jeans with her thick thighs and butt, then the striped blouse that showed a thin line of her belly and just the slightest suggestion of the swell of her small chest. As her knee hit mine again, her eyes narrowed on me.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to do.
She leaned forward and took my notebook and pen. She opened to a blank page. She touched the paper thoughtfully, finger making a little circle, she wrote something in a quick script, a few lines, then she closed the book, got up then with a start, and headed to the back, to the restrooms.
I opened the notebook slowly and found the page.
“I live very close by. Are you still up for a fight? You could hit me. I would like that.”
Eddie caught my eye. I’m sure he’d seen what happened, but not what she wrote. I closed the notebook. He gave me a big smile. He probably thought I got her number. I was still trying to figure out what I got.
When she got back, I put a $20 on the bar and got my coat. She very casually got her things, throwing her beer-soaked book in the trash, and walked to the front door. I saw that it was a Proust novel in the original French.
I followed her into the cool evening air. She walked briskly, not looking back at me. We crossed the street and went down a block, made a right, until we got to one of the larger brownstones. She walked up the stairs, and I followed her. I was a little freaked out, not having any communication with her since I read her note. She unlocked the door, and I held it for me.
Our bodies connected for a moment. She looked cartoonish with her hat and her somewhat dramatic eye makeup. Her eyes were wide and longing. She looked young and excited, like she was on an adventure. I was game to be an adventure.
We went down the hall, and she hurried up a flight of stairs. I followed her, all the time my eyes on her ass, up to one, two, then at the third she turned and went to a door. She unlocked three locks and waited for me to enter.
Inside the dark apartment, I waited as she re-locked the door, adding a chain. She turned and leaned against the closed door, and I stepped forward, closing in on her. She let out a little gasp, and the air that exited her body was like some power that went right into my veins.
I thought about grabbing her by the neck, but drew back at the last moment and just grabbed the top of her shirt in my fist, pushing her back against the door.
Her eyes dilated. Her mouth went slack. It was almost too easy.
She reached up and switched the hall light on. It was a bare bulb that illuminated the familiar flaking multilayered white walls of an old New York apartment.
I still held her shirt, pushing her against the door. I reached up and turned the light back off. In a moment, my eyes adjusted to the dark. There was light coming from the windows behind us.
I grabbed her and pulled her away from the door. I walked a little way down her front hall and pushed her against the wall. She was pliable in my hands. I slammed her against the wall, and she gasped again. My other hand came up, and I slapped her across the face, not hard, but solidly. Then I held her face in my hand.
Her eyes flashed with fear and something else, something like ecstasy. I slapped her again, and again, then I held her face, two of my fingers smearing her dark red lipstick a little and then pushing into her mouth.
She took my fingers and sucked them greedily.
I felt myself groan at the warm wetness of her mouth. I pressed myself against her and let the hand holding her shirt move down to find the swell of her breast.
I relished the electricity of unexpected intimacy. To roughly feel up someone you’ve coveted for months. I felt like a thief in a most delicious way. I grabbed at her small breasts greedily. I slipped my hand under her cropped shirt and pulled up her bra, and reveled in the softness of her skin, the heat of her, the feel of her nipple between my finger.
With my other hand, I pulled my fingers from her mouth and grabbed her by the hair. She let out a little yelp. Her beret almost came off, but I fixed it. I wanted her in that stupid hat. I wanted to rough her up in that hat, like a Godard film, like Anna Karina with that eye makeup and that open-mouthed look of wantonness.
I stepped back for a moment and looked at her. Without my hands on her, she shriveled, her eyes full of fear, looking, even more, the ingenue.
I smiled at her. I felt strong and wild and scary. It felt wonderful.
I rushed forward, startling her, and grabbed her hair again. I pulled her from the wall and walked farther into her apartment. We left our coats and things in a pile by the door. She followed my direction, and we walked into the main room of what turned out to be a decent-sized studio.
A bed, a desk, a little kitchen, no television, it all made sense.
The only place to sit was a bed, so I pushed her onto it. She looked up at me, beret crooked, lipstick smudged, eyes unfocused. I slapped her again. She was drunk on being hit.
I stood in front of her as she swayed a bit. There was a commotion as I pulled at her blouse over her head, messing up her hair. I fixed her beret again and then undid her bra.
She sat there, topless, and I watched some shyness creep in on her. I slapped her again, trying to force it away, trying to keep her stupid and ecstatic.
When her shoulders folded in a bit and her arms moved to cover her breasts, I pulled them away.
She had a thickness to her, somewhat broad shoulders, a slight chubbiness, with small breasts that gave her a boyishness. Yet her breasts were tipped in large, very round, quite puffy coral-colored areolas and large nipples.
I felt myself sigh as I looked at her. This stranger now naked for me. In her dark quaint apartment, with a messily made bed and piles of books in every corner. Bottles of red wine on the windowsills and vibrator on her bedside table. It felt like she let me page through her diary.
I pushed her down on the bed and straddled her. I took each of her fat nipples in my mouth. Her skin tasted salty, and she smelled faintly of Chanel. It was intoxicating.
She laid back and spread her arms out, eyes closed, beret still on.
I kissed up to her neck, and I heard her gasp again. I loved it when they were predictable. A nibbled on her ear, down to her nape, teeth on her shoulder.
When my hands moved to the top button of her jeans, she snapped out of her daze, and her eyes met mine.
“Are we just smacking you around tonight?” I said with a smile, moving my hands away.
She seemed to be thinking about it. I stood up, and she sat up.
“That’s fine. We can play this however we want,” I said.
She looked down.
“I guess I was hoping you would be an asshole. It’s easier when they don’t ask. When they just take it,” she said very carefully, no longer meeting my eyes.
“Hm. I’d like to take it. I just need to know it’s okay. I’m not saying I’m not a total asshole. I’m just not that kind of an asshole,” I said with a laugh.
She didn’t laugh.
“Come on, kiddo, you’re brave enough to move to the big city, adventurous enough to get to Paris, you can be bold enough to ask for what you want,” I said, reaching down and grabbing her legs, squeezing her thighs.
She looked a little angry. I was glad.
I saw words formulating in her head, almost reaching her lips.
“I want you to take it. Wear a condom. They’re on the nightstand. I’ll say red if I need you to stop,” she said in a low sober voice.
“Choke me. I’m not fragile,” she said.
Her voice cracked a little.
I didn’t reply. I just unbuttoned her jeans.