Chad McCaa

Love at a Party

I’m working a thirtieth anniversary party, bartending again. The DJ plays mostly oldies. The Casinos are on.

The anniversary couple wears laurel wreaths on their heads. They dance stiffly inside a flimsy circle of partygoers, smiling at each other. The song changes to “Love is A Drug” and the guests give a collective whoop and slap each other on the backs. Women hang on men and everyone does little dances. On the upward parts of the melody, I think of my empty house.

The party dwindles and I watch faces as people hug each other and make long goodbyes. The variety in faces is enough to keep one occupied for long stretches: the small wrinkles in lips, the determination of eyebrows and the thrill of large teeth, the small freckles on this woman’s forehead and the ring of gold in this one’s eyes, a man with the face of a Franciscan monk, another a gunslinger. Faces contain intimate knowledge, secret hates and loves, if you pay attention. I have known murderers by their face alone. One communicates one’s true self entirely without speaking. No one can lie.

There are still some young people here, twenty couples or so, drinking heavily. I smile and make drinks robotically, counting my movements: arm down to scoop ice, up to pour, insert straw. When people look me in the eye, I show them that this is only a temporary job.

Then, the girl comes.

Will you keep my purse back there? she says. But her face says, won’t you take me forever, bartender? Won’t you take me to your empty house? We can love each other. We can find out what we really are.

Wordlessly, I tell her yes. I tell her that things are changing at this very moment, that something is happening at this party.

She walks away, looking at me over her shoulder. She winks. I can’t help myself. I leap over the bar and run to her. I grab her shoulders and turn her towards me. You know me, I say with every small frantic movement of my eyes, every blood cell in my cheeks. I kiss her.

Suddenly, I’m being grabbed around the collar. I’m punched and kicked. Falling hard on the floor, I look up, see a young man standing over me. His face is futuristic, a space-craft pilot’s face, handsome and dark and bold as bullets.

That’s my fiancée bud, he says. Who the hell are you?

I wipe blood from my lip. I’m the bartender, I say.

Who? he says.

She’s mine, I say, struggling to my feet. She told me. The music has stopped.

You’re crazy, he says, balling his fist. I’ve loved her for years.

It’s a lie, I say. I’m sorry, but I know these things. He sneers and pushes me back to the floor.

You think love ain’t real? he says. Is that it? He punches me again and again.

I don’t speak, but I try to show him, as I feel my teeth crack and my nose break, that I know for sure it is.

Chad McCaa (last names rhymes with "obey") lives in Port Gibson, MS. He studied fiction at The Center For Writers at USM. He has published next to nothing, but stays up late, working on it. Check out "All Day Long Blues," a series of short videos documenting the rural South, forthcoming in November on Youtube and elsewhere. Hopefully.

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