by Jordan Nishkian
The woman who calls herself Bridgette straddles the green vinyl barstool next to you despite her short pleather skirt. You shoot your glance back from her drunken thighs and turn away from her in a futile attempt to deafen the noise of her words. Her Central Valley accent melds with the crescendo of ice the bartender is shimmying into a steel shaker. The sounds of this beach town dive bar five hours before New Year’s swallow up your eardrums the way Jane used to take her medication; all at once and with way too much water.
Bridgette takes the near-empty glass of bourbon out of your hand and replaces it with something magenta. You don’t bother to ask. You came here to be lonely before the rush of midnight countdowns. She came here to chat.
“Mikey made a drink for me because I come in so much,” she says while casting a sticky wink to the back of the bartender’s shaved head. “It’s called a Dirty Hibiscus.”
You stare a while into the booze and sugar trap you’re holding. It smells like the three-dollar shampoo you used when you washed Jane’s hair in the kitchen sink last October.
“Wanna know why it’s called that?” she asks as she slides off her seat and onto her worn-down heels.
You feel like you don’t, but she’s already turning around and lifting up the bottom of her white tank top. A chain of three pink psoriasis-shaped flowers stretched across her lower back.
Your lips curl under themselves as you manage to squeeze out a “Cool.”
She flashes an ineffective smile at you before mounting her stool again. “They’re hibiscus flowers. I got them because they symbolize the perfect woman.”
“Wikipedia tell you that?”
“Yeah,” she laughs while smearing mascara across her temple with the back of her hand. “The internet!”
You stare down at your cloudy reflection in the peeling lacquer of the counter. Jane would keep an oxidized mirror on her coffee table next to books about pin-up girls, poetry, and ancient architecture. Whenever you went over to her port-side loft, she’d ask you how you were feeling that day, ready to remedy a headache with peppermint and a “fine” day with a rocks glass of Four Roses. But seeing her and her loose red curls was enough. Seeing you was enough for her too—especially on evenings spent on her denim loveseat—but every so often she’d kick her legs off of yours and launch herself up to powder her nose. She would always come back to you a few minutes later, sometimes talking about why being born during a solar eclipse was the cause of her life’s chaos and other times about why you can’t have time travel without considering both time and space. “Just because you go back in time doesn’t mean you’ll end up in the right location,” she would explain. “You have to consider the earth’s rotation and revolution and things like that or else you could end up in the middle of the Indian Ocean.”
“Or even Mars, possibly,” you murmur, picking at the top layer of a soggy coaster.
“What was that?” Bridgette asks. She must have pulled her stool closer to you because now one of her bony, rough-capped knees is brushing against the grain of your pant leg. The Dirty Hibiscus is still in your hand.
You pull your leg away from hers and say, “Don’t worry about it.”
A group of college kids in party hats and black and gold sequins piled in through the door, causing the bar’s leftover Christmas garlands to flutter. There’s an argument kindling at a table between two guys in flip-flops. You watch a spray of saliva fly out of the bearded one’s mouth and into the complimentary bowl of wholesale trail mix while the lights on the faux Christmas tree in the corner changed from blue to purple. One of Bridgette’s press-on nails traces the ink near the crook of your right arm. “I like this.”
You look down at your rose and banner tattoo. The crimson needed reworking over the scar her cigarette left on you after you both fell asleep on her patio swing. You told her that you liked that she had left her mark on you, but every time she saw it—at dinner, in the bathtub, in photographs—she looked like she could cry. After five months and a few too many beers, you jaywalked her across the street to the nearest tattoo shop. The ink was your compromise; you even let her pick it out from a flash sheet. She called you crazy and tried to hide her beaming, freckled cheeks behind her hands, but you knew it was the nicest thing you had ever done.
Bridgette’s dollar store nail digs into your flesh a little harder and scratches at the banner. “Who’s Jane?” she asks between her sharp gum-smacking and her quiet vodka belches. Through the mirror behind the bottles, you watch Bridgette lean more and more into you.
You think of angel-face Jane with the history degree and the scabbed-up nose.
“She was a beautiful and delightfully chaotic mess.”
Bridgette pushes a streak of greasy blonde hair out of her face as a grin stretches out of her rubbed-off lipstick. “Like me,” she says.
You study her face for the first time and watch one overdone eye begin to blink out of sync with the other.
“Sure,” you reply before sliding her lukewarm drink back to her.
She is struggling with getting the last strand of hair out of the corner of her mouth the same way all twelve people in the bar are fighting the sawdust out of their shoes. Mikey pulls the plug on the neon bar sign that won’t stop flickering.
“You don’t want this?” she asks as she picks up the glass.
“I’m good,” you answer and stand up from your stool, fishing for the folded-up twenty in your front pocket.
“Suit yourself,” she says and reaches over the bar for a handful of ice cubes.
About the Writer
Jordan Nishkian (she/her) is an Armenian-Portuguese writer based in California. Her prose and poetry explore themes of duality and have been featured in national and international publications. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Mythos literary magazine and author of Kindred, a novella.