Unlike her peers, she found the way his hair was violently balding attractive. Like a follicular reminder of mortality, and how he refused to shave the rest of it, a charming act of defiance. Or maybe Dee was just drunk.
Routine was setting in. Chats about this or that, then more drinks. She sipped her latest and watched as a duo of gatecrashers took shots at the open bar. “Are you fucking listening?” a fat ginger with dead eyes asked, not unkindly. Ruth worked in communications, so she was always at events like this one. The two had bonded over a mutual disinterest but not altogether distaste for free booze in a hotel’s second best banquet hall.
Never one to be discouraged by a waning audience, Ruth continued her anecdote. She was an objectively impressive vamper, which was probably why she did well in communications—not that Dee knew how well, exactly, as nights like these didn’t often deal in specifics. But from what she had managed to gather, Ruth was pissed about workplace politics and a “jealous old bitch.” Dee’s deep-set eyes flickered between the storyteller and her own, near empty martini glass, olive chunks floating like soggy polar ice caps. Ruth always ordered them extra dirty. It was one of her bits: filthy, she would tell the bartender, leaning forward and showing off her stellar tits. Then she’d take the drink without tipping.
Dee wondered if the balding guy would respond to that sort of thing.
By this point, Ruth had either finished or abandoned her tale, stomping off and leaving Dee free to scan the room for her Nosferatu… No luck. However, the carpet designs were beginning to swirl.
She clawed out the olives from her glass and ate them, but the gin-soaked fruit only made her more nauseous. Where was the bathroom? Washroom, she corrected herself, mimicking her grandmother’s put-on Miss Desert Marigold regality. Dee was definitely drunk.
In the nearest washroom, the sound of piss hitting water harmonized with the indescript jazz playing over the intercom, this ambiance only disturbed by the occasional violent sniff in the neighboring stall. “Think it’s laced?”
“I’m sure that they test it. The guy has like seven drivers: it’s a whole operation.”
“Right. All the Instagram posts are just making me nervous. Did you hear that Danny’s friend overdosed? Their vigil is next week if you want to go together.”
“The gropey one?”
“Shit, I had totally forgotten about that. Nevermind then. Good riddance!”
Dee’s stream drowned out the rest. How much had she drunk? She flushed without investigating the color. Upon exiting the stall, she paused briefly to consider her reflection: brown hair and clear skin, an agreeable nose with a weak chin, but less so if she tilted her head up. It could be worse, or so she’d often say aloud to ugly men to feign humility.
The door to the bathroom swung open, Ruth’s indomitable silhouette occupying the entire frame. She joined Dee’s inspection under the hotel’s fluorescents. “Meet anyone?”
“Not really.” As Dee spoke, a stick of lipgloss entered her periphery and wiggled furiously. Dee ignored the offering, instead making a cup shape with her hand and feeding herself some water from the faucet. Drops slipped through her fingers and pooled at the corners of her mouth. “You?”
Reapplying the gloss on her own lips, Ruth listed prospects of both sexes, a nice ass or great nose; she was a woman of options. Dee always admired how Ruth talked, as though she were in a movie, descriptors mandatory and adverbs galore. And she mostly pulled it off. Of course, that’d probably render Dee a supporting character, but there was a kind of comfort in allowing someone else to drive the plot.
One of the stalls behind them opened to reveal three grinning MacBeth witches, mostly nostrils and jaw. Dee returned a vacant smirk. She felt less wobbly now, the tap water’s metallic replacing the metallic of Tanqueray. She wished Ruth luck and left her with the witches.
This time, when she walked through the hallways of this pseudo-luxury national chain, the carpet’s swooping, pan-European designs stood mercifully still, allowing her to ponder the difference between hotel and motel, and whether it was as serious a distinction as boat and ship. Right before she reached the doors of the banquet hall hosting the event, Dee saw him.
Fidgeting in his pockets for something, his scalp glistened in the light of the tacky chandeliers. He was wearing brown loafers and navy slacks. He looked awful. Nonetheless desire stirred, bubbling in Dee’s gut before traveling up and getting caught in her throat like an Adam’s apple.
Having felt she had used up all her lines for this act, she halted before reaching the entryway. She shifted her weight to her heels, lowering her eyelids and looking him dead-on. This quiet performance eventually traveled the feet necessary for him to sense her presence, ditch his pant quest and, at last, meet her gaze.
She willed her blood to rush anywhere but her cheeks. He was not so lucky; flushing deeply beneath his attempts at facial hair, thin wisps which framed his round, pale face.
Brown on brown, neither looked away. Dee was surprised by the apparent gaul of this guy—a trait he hadn’t initially looked like he possessed. Contradictions excited her. The carpet patterns were swirling again. She stifled a burp inside her mouth, hot air rising past her tonsils with nowhere to go. Nobody around them interrupted this show-down, thank God, and once his red complexion returned to pink and the brown in his eyes started to twinkle hazel, Dee sauntered over—hips jutted forward like a sexy plywood plank.
They didn’t talk long, or at least Dee couldn’t remember much of the conversation’s content. He worked somewhere, did something, lived someplace. “Can’t complain, can’t complain,” he cooed. She repeated this phrasing aloud, sipping a fresh martini he had materialised for her. She swayed a little, so he placed his hand on her lower back to steady her. How fresh, her grandmother might’ve said. She could feel his balmy palm through the nylon of the forty-buck black dress she had ordered online, criss-cross-apple-sauce on her bed, immediately after another one of these mixers where none of the men had flirted with her.
Somebody was tapping their finger on a mic inside the hall—which now felt very far away across a sea of haircuts and mid-shelf perfumes—when the newly intertwined pair excused themselves to a nearby utility closet.
Behind closed doors, his hands, still damp, cupped her breasts and, sooner than she would have predicted, were inside her. He kissed her, ferocious pecks, opening his eyes between each. It was unnerving but sort of hot. Dee enjoyed the ugly bits of sex, when she felt more parts, aching with pleasure detached from her inhospitable psyche, than whole. And sooner than she’d have predicted, she came.
He smirked and it was only then, under the exposed bulb of this closet and the completion of desire that the scale of his ugliness came into focus. Dee winced involuntarily, passing it off as a moan before jerking him off rigorously. She soon became very aware of the way her biceps flexed between strokes, accented by his anxious whimpers, and she felt what she imagined people meant when they said things like “being present” or, at least, a peaceful absence of thought, like a great field or empty parking lot. Idle hands are the Devil’s tools, Miss Desert Marigold all but whispered in her ear. A few minutes later, he tilted his hips and finished on the floor. Dee considered the irony of dirtying a room dedicated to cleaning supplies… Ruth would probably have a joke for that.
They exchanged numbers. After all, it could’ve been worse. Not to mention clandestine, unprecious fucks were becoming increasingly endangered in this climate. She shrugged when he asked her if they should rejoin the fold. He tucked in his shirt and ran his fingers through his thinning hair, fingertips no doubt tickling his scalp on their way out.
Back in the mixer, they waded through young professionals in opposite directions, mutually thrilled by their shared secret. Dee joined Ruth at the bar, where she was ordering a drink which, if her narrowing eyes were any indicator, would likely be her last. Dee was momentarily tempted to spill her guts, but ultimately thought better of it. She had already made up her mind about how to feel about the encounter and needn’t risk her version of events getting spoiled by a misplaced glance or offhand remark. She hated mirrors.
The guy at the mic was still yammering on when Dee noticed the witches were beside them, sipping red cocktails and not bothering to whisper. “The one in the penny loafers?”
“The balding dude. Leilani said that he totally misread the situation after he asked her for a cigarette at Mia and Sam’s housewarming. When they went outside, he was all over her. Apparently he backed off and was super apologetic, but it was very awkward. When Danny found out, he cut him out and everything. Though, it’s weird because they still all go to the same bars.”
“Then who was the guy who overdosed on fentanyl?”
“I must’ve gotten them mixed up. All finance douches look the same—Hey, is your friend alright?” One of them began to tap Ruth on the shoulder, but it was too late. Dee’s hand was already fastened over her mouth. Vomit shot through her fingers like a hose, and the last thing she would remember from this night would be the screams of cokeheads and bits of olive scattered across the black bar, no longer melting ice caps but the final, green vestiges of life after the apocalypse.