He looks up at me over his beer and asks if I know where he can get a woman—for money, he clarifies. He seems embarrassed to ask. He says this is always the awkward part—finding a woman. I tell him I’m not sure where he can get a woman for money in this town. I tell him he can pay me if he wants, and I’ll be his woman. I’m not what he usually goes for. I ask him what he goes for. Just someone to talk to, he says, a woman, though. His lips are thin and unnatural looking. His father burned them off with an iron, he tells me. He asks if I mind his burned lips. Just someone where I don’t need to worry that they’re mine. I don’t like feeling jealous, and I don’t like to be alone at the end of the night. And so I tell him to stay with me at my place. I take his hand. I tell him he doesn’t have a choice now. I tell him I won’t run off if he pays me; he smiles and shakes my hand.

He drinks fast. I try to keep up, but I am getting too drunk, so I lay off. The more he drinks, the more money he gives me—mostly small bills. I take them. I put them in my pocket. He keeps telling me to buy something nice. He says that I am the nicest thing he has bought in a long time. I tell him that I am a person and he can’t buy me. But he keeps saying he bought me fair and square—the same way he buys a plane ticket online, the same way he buys his cowboy boots.

Some of my friends from school see me sitting next to him and they come over. They try to get me out of there because they want to protect me. I tell them to go, but they linger in the corner of the bar like a smell; and when we leave, they begin to trail us. They keep their distance and maybe they think I can’t see them, but I can. I see them skulking in my periphery, haunting me like snakes.

He talks about money mostly. He has a lot of money, he says. A single man doesn’t need much. He eats, he drinks, he fucks—lots of guys go broke doing those things, but he has cheap taste. I don’t say anything. He’s told me several times how he isn’t paying me to talk.

At every bar he sees the ghosts of past lives—women who look like other women, drinks that remind him of other drinks, bartenders whose names he swears he knows but doesn’t. He seems to know this town. I ask him if he comes here often, and he tells me to shut my mouth. He orders me special drinks—drinks he can connect to his personal history. I drink them all.

He takes me to the ATM and asks me how much I want. A thousand, I say. He tries to withdraw five thousand, but the ATM limit is $400. I tell him I’ll settle for that. He tells me I’m a good one. He tells me I’m worth five thousand dollars, and he’ll pay me the rest later. I see my friends fading through the night, then, drifting past the windows outside the bodega. I see them in the shadows. I see them behind every streetlight. He takes my chin in his hands and kisses me with his scarred lips and they feel like the skin of a finger, like a clenched fist. We get into his car because he wants to see some water. He says he knows a place. He hands me an unopened 750 of whiskey in a plastic bottle. He tells me to drink. I crack it open. It’s bad stuff. He drinks some. And the road is the spine of a black bull and the night is where it throws you.

Down by the river, the water sounds like wind. He tells me there is a waterfall nearby, and that’s the sound I’m hearing. He says he used to come here as a boy. I think of water hammering rock. I think of water beating down on my head until I have holes, perfect round holes like on those rocks. The water is so loud that I don’t hear anything. It doesn’t take long. He’s usually more of a giver, he says, but tonight he’s tired. I tell him I don’t mind. He keeps talking about my body, about how pretty I am and how smart. My friends never tell me things like that. And when I sit up, my friends are there. I can see them in the darkness—smiling behind the rocks, laughing at me. Their hearts cowardly, their love like mayflies, born in the water.

Kaj Tanaka

Kaj Tanaka

Kaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, The Master’s Review, NANO Fiction and Midwestern Gothic. He is the nonfiction editor of BULL Magazine
Kaj Tanaka

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