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Barstool Man

When you got your sights set on revenge,

make sure your resolve can commit.

Barstool Man by Jennifer Wortman




He’d sat on the same barstool every night since she first saw him there. Why? Did he crave a set place in this shaky world? Tonight, she’d shake him, but first, a drink. A few nights ago—her first time in this bar in two decades—she’d asked for a whiskey sour.

The bartender had said, “None of that here. We’re just a regular bar.” 

She’d forgotten that “a regular bar” meant something different in Mellsburg, Ohio than it did in bigger, better places. Better places that turned out to be just as bad as this bar or worse.
           
The hunting knife weighed heavy in her pants. She’d almost brought her dad’s revolver, but when nervous or angry—and she would be both—she lost control, and she didn’t want to ruin her life by going trigger-happy. She just wanted to scare him, hurt him a little. Maybe it was too late. Maybe her life had already been ruined all those years back by the barstool man.
           
He didn’t recognize her, not tonight or the nights before. The rapist’s luxury: being someone to watch out for but not someone who keeps watch. His linebacker’s heft had gone mushy and wide, and his round cheeks had caved into long jowls. Still, she’d known him instantly. She’d once told a therapist she’d blacked out during the worst of it, so it was like it never happened.

“But it did happen,” the therapist had said. “Your mind left, but your body knows.”
           
After drinks two and three, it was time.
           
She went to the ladies’ room. The lipstick was crucial. That night years ago, he’d praised her lips, saying they looked “French.” She’d worn a shade much like this one: a mix of red wine, dried blood, and ground-in dirt—the color of stains that don’t come out.
           
The fourth drink wasn’t part of the plan, but neither were drinks two or three. After the fifth, she slammed the empty glass on the bar and approached him.

Her dad had a shirt that read, “They must think I’m a mushroom, because they keep me in the dark and feed me bullshit.” The barstool man looked like the cartoon mushroom on that shirt.

Still, her heart slammed against her ribs. “Hi,” she said.
           
He turned to her. Those shimmering green eyes. They’d be beautiful if they weren’t half dead.

Fucking jock. Maybe those eyes had drawn her to him that night. There she’d been, invited to a jock party for the first time and excited despite herself, drinking a lot because she was nervous. There he’d been, in his orange Mellsburg Tigers jersey.

Stupid girl. Maybe it was those eyes she followed into the bathroom after he said, “Hold on, I gotta take a leak,” and motioned for her to come in so they could keep talking.

Survivor’s conventional wisdom told her it wasn’t her fault. She didn’t believe it. Even though she’d said, “No!” when he pinned her down. Even though she didn’t struggle because she couldn’t, stuck under the fallen building of him and his rubble. There was no food or water there, no air, just his face, yammering about his girlfriend, the back of his mullet swinging at her eyes. “I don’t want your body,” he said, implanting himself in her. “I want you.” Then things went dark.
           
When she staggered back to the party and told an older girl what had happened, the girl rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, Bobby. He always attacks girls in bathrooms. You have to lock the door.” Until her therapist, that girl was the last person she’d told.
           
“Hi there,” the barstool man said. “What can I do you for?”
           
“I’ve been watching you. Every night this week. Finally got the courage to come say hello.”
           
“Liquid courage?”
           
“The only kind there is.” Funny how he didn’t even blink at her fuck-me eyes, like he just expected women to want his fat ass. She nodded toward the bathroom. “Maybe we could get a little privacy.”
           
“No such thing around here, sugar,” he said and followed her.
           
There was barely room for them both in that stall. He smelled of Budweiser, but also sweet, a little powdery, like he’d been caring for babies. His breath scraped hot against her head. A puff of chest hair pushed beyond the neck of his shirt. His flesh flushed pink. 

She felt the blood drain from her face and limbs. She reached down, as if for him, and brought the blade to his throat.
           
Oh, how deftly he swatted it away and into the toilet with a splash. Oh, the light-speed in which her hands were forced behind her back.
           
For the second time in her life, everything went black.




Jennifer Wortman’s work appears in a variety of journals, including PANK, North American Review, Confrontation, Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. She is a fiction editor for Colorado Review and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. This is her first attempt at noir. She likes it, maybe a little too much.