The music reviewer only notices how dirty his glasses are when he wipes sweat from his eyes; presumed cigarette haze proves to be his own filmy grease. Suddenly and especially bright are the neon beer signs and the lipstick on his friend’s girlfriend, with whom he has just been abandoned. He dreads small talk with someone who’d wear such slick wax near her teeth. He replaces the glasses. Not a perfect cleaning job, though he can see the grain of the wood paneling, the individual trails of cigarette smoke, the time. 11:43.
“So what do you review?” the girlfriend asks. Before he answers she laughs, the kind of gaping bark that reveals teeth and tongue and how wide her mouth can be. A laugh revealing practiced flirtatiousness, simultaneously demonstrative of her mouth’s beauty (fair to moderate) and service capacity (considerable). “I mean,” she says, “who have you reviewed. Recently.”
The laugh, he realizes, is rote. Developed while flirting but unlikely flirtatious in this instance. She’s in the same predicament he is, missing their link, her boyfriend. Abandoned to polite struggle. He suspects flirtation is her survival tactic. He is not interested in her in the least though like anyone he much prefers even mild flirtation to being politely suffered. “Probably no one you’d know,” he says.
“Probably,” she says, “but try me.”
He lists some names. As a test he includes Skull Contagion, the name of the band he has come to review. He and her boyfriend are friends with its members, so if she fails to recognize the name and, by extension, the test, a great deal will be revealed.
She fails instantly. “I have no idea,” she says, leaning toward her plastic cup, sipping something clear from it. Then she makes sudden and startling eye contact. “But aren’t you kind of a biased reviewer if you’re friends with Skull’s singer?”
So she just wasn’t listening. An imperfect test, he thinks irritably. “I’m friends with the whole band,” he says.
“How morally bankrupt of you,” she says.
“Skull’s a good band. I know that for sure, even if they’re my friends.”
“I stand corrected. How judicious of you.”
“Why, what do you do?” he asks.
“I’m a writer,” she says. She pulls the straws into her mouth and finishes the drink. A writer. Like that isn’t exactly what he is, but with the dubious non-specificity of the total hack. He wonders whether he should persecute her with questions or leave her alone. “Oh yeah?” he hears himself say incredulously, even though he hadn’t quite decided on persecution yet. “What do you write?”
Her hand and its empty cup drop from the airspace between them. Her face doesn’t change but its intent does; he will not be treated to anymore demonstrative laughs. Even her polite non-flirting was better than the desultory tone with which she says, “I write about exactly the same thing you do.”
“What, about music?” he says.
“No,” she says. “Not about music. Just about the couple of things I know for sure.”
Allegra Frazier’s work has appeared in Story, theNewerYork, Carrier Pigeon, and elsewhere. She is the winner of Bayou Magazine‘s 2013 flash fiction contest. She lives in Tucson. You can visit her there or at www.allegramfrazier.com.