Thursday, June 23, 2022


    I am surrounded by a mosaic of cancerous smoked and fading neon. Dry liquor and spilt ale sticks to the bottom of my boots as I wade through a sea of subculture. The bar serves as a gathering hall for the fashionably bizarre and the chronically lonely. Tribes of self-proclaimed outcasts proudly display their ceremonial garb. I brush up against leather clad alienation and vinyl draped despair. Their hair is tinted in colors that do not exist in nature and metal rings are hooked into orifices both visible and concealed. I flag down a waitress and order some overpriced bourbon that is served to me in short, ornate goblet. I drink it quickly, letting the harsh burn in my throat and the warming pulse rippling through my body exist simultaneously. Moments later a cigar is wedged between my fingers and a tarnished silver lighter waits eagerly to ignite it. My hand is illuminated by fiery ember as I add to the noxious haze in the air.

    The motley misfits make brief eye contact with me as they pass. I am not one of them. My clothing lacks distinction: my attitude is devoid of premeditation. I know their secrets, and I’ve seen their rituals. But whether it be by design or a result of my own inadequacies, I am no more connected to them than to anyone else. The room is stalked by hunters, driven by lust and sport. They frantically gyrate to the loud, obscure rhythms emanating from overhead speakers. An orgy of guitars, drum machines, keyboards, and manic vocals are filtered through a mixing board to produce the soundtrack to the nightly mating dance. The predators bounce and sway to electronic ballads of pain, excess, perversion, and madness as they search for a body to press up against and devour. I do not participate. I try and tell myself that it is because I am better than those who thrive on sexual conquests and confuse satisfaction with purpose. But I know this to be false. The ugly truth is that I secretly admire the seducers who quench their desires with such comfort and ease. I would surely be one of them if I had the skills and the proper bait to catch someone.

    Much to my surprise, a scarlet clad woman moves toward me. Her synthetic dress is the color of Spanish roses. It tightly clings to her shape, as if trying to permeate her skin. She runs a hand through long, glossy, dark hair as she lights up a clove cigarette that smells of cherries and death. She tells me that I stand out from the crowd, and I cannot resist the urge to laugh at the irony. While those around me attempt to draw attention by embracing obscurity, I have become unique by being mundane. After we exchange arbitrary compliments, I’m quick to dip into the wealth of knowledge I’ve accumulated from years of travel in bohemian circles. I speak of underground music and independent film. I quote from out-of-print books with cult followings and reference small press magazines. I spout off new age philosophy and metaphysical wisdom, hoping something I say will lend substance to the illusion of sexual worthiness that I’m trying to project. Her mouth curls into a mischievous grin as she shifts about in her crimson gown. She commands me to buy her a drink, and I ardently comply. A brief trip to the bar yields an azure concoction in a shallow martini glass for the lady and a shot of single malt courage for me.

    My cigar shakes loose chalky cylinder and heat grazes my knuckles. My admirer in red plucks the nub out of my hand and takes a final puff, slow and indulgent, before tossing it to the ground and grinding it dead with the heel of her thigh-high boot. The cerulean elixir stains her lips as she sips it down. I continue my hypocritical banter, but her wanting gaze silences me. She takes a calculated step forward, inviting me to close the distance. I gladly do so, tasting of her tongue and stroking my fingers across her silky garb.

    Awareness that this woman will bring me no contentment is inescapable. I need her to be a harbinger of meaning and direction—perhaps she needs the same of me. But only mirages manifest in this oasis of nothingness. We are all just damaged souls searching for someone to repair us. My instincts tell me such people do not exist, and if they do, they must certainly be wise enough to forsake such dens of hallow pleasures. And yet I proceed, driven by uncaged primal urges that can only be appeased through carnal release. Our passionate caresses intensify as we playfully grasp at moist, exposed flesh. Periodically, I break away to consume large quantities of alcohol which I desperately need in order to maintain my artificially created aura of confidence.

    Unfortunately, I realize the folly of this strategy far too late to prevent my inevitable downfall. The booze hits my system with merciless ferocity. Hot, sticky sweat rolls down my face and the room seems to twist and bend about at sharp angles. My would-be lover gets me some water and speaks words that become gibberish in my mind. I mutter an incoherent response, and even in my heavily inebriated state I can see her interest in me is waning. But I have more immediate problems as reality launches into full spin and my stomach gurgles in objection to the unnatural motion. I awkwardly excuse myself and dash toward the restroom.

    The bar’s facilities are as repulsive as they are non-functional. The olive-green paint is cracking and flaking off the walls. Graffiti covers what smooth surfaces remain. Crass jokes and crude pictures of sex organs overlap in a montage of drunken expression. The sinks are missing chips of porcelain and are all left running. Most of them have soggy wads of paper towels collecting inside, filtering tainted water through obstructed drains. I race to a toilet with no working pipes. Once a useful sanitation device, it has now simply become a receptacle for piss and shit. Regurgitated poison begins to escape out of me before my knees hit the busted floor tiles. I am vaguely aware of shadowy forms glancing at me as I purge the evening’s debauchery from my system. They make no effort to hide their judgement and mockery. Doing my best to ignore the foul residue that stings my esophagus like acid, I force myself into a wobbly standing position. The water I splash on my face almost evaporates on contact and does little to quell the raw heat throbbing inside my temples.

    Staggering back toward the dance floor, wading through the chaos and vice, I search for the object of my erection. But even against the backdrop of blaring music and strobing lights, it takes mere moments to spot her kissing someone else. There is no anger—just an overwhelming sense of disappointment, mainly in myself. The swelling self-pity combined with my physical discomfort proves too much to bear. I unapologetically slice through the crowd and exit the bar without looking back.

    The steamy interior dissolves into a narrow alley and a cloudy night sky. Crisp, cool air rushes at me, providing a temporary respite from my misery. In the distance, towers of glass and steel illuminate the city and make the dirty patch of ground on which I stand feel fruitless and insignificant. Their inhabitants are busy divvying up the world, and all I can do is obsess upon a little viper’s nest and ponder why I’ll be returning tomorrow to begin the game again.

Originally from Chicago, Ben Siegan had the good fortune of being influenced by the expansive literary and theater culture the city provided. While his career is that of a tasting room supervisor at a local winery, he has always dedicated his limited free time to the craft of writing. Siegan’s works have included collections of poetry, prose, material for the stage, and even a full-length rock opera. Now having settled in Virginia for the last decade, it is his hope to continue increasing efforts toward professional writing aspirations.