By J. M. Lee
The woman behind the bar could be twenty, or could be forty. The light never catches her, so the shadows never fall in the wrinkles on her face; her dreadlocks are rolled like long, dark cigars sprouting from her head. Her smoky aviator glasses hide her eyes, red rims painting an illusion of makeup on her sallow features. The smoke from her cigarette seeps from her disinterested mouth, dirty nails tapping against the counter as she watches you. She is beautiful, behind it all, probably.
She knows what you want. It changes every day, but she always knows. Today, it is a cut of Vietnam, a slab of the wet marsh aged back to 1967, salty with rain and tears, blood leaking across the broken porcelain and peppered with gunfire and helicopter wings. Yesterday, it was your ex-girlfriend, spicy and bitter but juicy and wet enough to stave off the burning of the peppers, and you sucked up as much as possible, as quickly as possible, trying to avoid the flames for as long as you could until there was no more, not even a single rice noodle, and no amount of water could quench the heat. The day before, it was the bar fight that left you in the hospital, sour and jealous in so many little pieces that rolled between your gums like teeth knocked loose, stale bread soaked in oil that expanded inside your mouth until you gagged, but you wanted more.
On bad days, it's bitter spite after you were evicted, a sort of culinary roulette: there may be bones in there that could pierce your lungs, but you gulp down every bite and wait for the jagged twinge. On good days it's your daughter's first birthday, sweet and frosted and perfect and innocent. On days when you stumble in depressed, it's losing your virginity in one short, bland, tasteless spoonful. On days when you enter with a bounce in your step, it's the lemon zest of your first summer in Europe, your sophomore year of college, when everything was right with the world and your appetite would never wane.
You clear your plate, and she takes it away. Her shirt rides up her back as she turns, moving like a cobra. You slide down a bill – just a couple years off your life, and a couple minutes for gratuity – and away you are.
All Rights reserved to J.M. Lee