No Stranger
James Seamarsh

In a neighborhood tavern, God plays bartender and Man meets the Mother of the Universe.

MOTU: I am used to feeling dizzy. I leave my eyes closed. I feel alone, lost, floating, caught in the eddies. Most days I am sick to my stomach, not because I ate something, or didn’t eat something, but because I am afraid of what happens next.

GOD: I’m all ears. What’ll ya have?

MAN: Give me a beer.

The door to the tavern squeaks. I blink at the piercing light of a low winter sun as the door swings open. A young man steps in. The door snaps closed behind him, leaving the brightness outside. My eyes readjust to the dark.

“Mornin’ Doug,” the young man says to the bartender.

The bartender, his back to the newcomer stops wiping the counter, lifts his head, and looks into the mirror that covers the wall.

“Mornin’ Joe,” the bartender says, tossing the words at Joe’s reflection with a twitch of his head.

Joe sees me in the corner. He nods. I look him over - clean, straight hair, earring, nice torso, long arms, big hands, worn out jeans, hole in the knee. I imagine slipping my hand into the hole, feeling the young skin over his bony knee. I look up to his face. I wonder what he sees - an old lady, his mother, a lady of the night. He turns his head away and walks to the bar.

“Steamed milk, large, and make it hot,” he says. “It’s cold out there.”

“You got it.”

Joe puts his leg up on the small ledge that surrounds the bar and looks over his shoulder at me. My eyes fall to his knee, poking through, white skin stretched smooth. I see him watch me as my eyes climb his leg to the taut material over his ass. I stare long enough that I know he knows. I close my eyes and open them, now staring at his eyes. He doesn’t look away. Then does. Slowly.

“Honey?” Doug asks.

“No thanks.”

Joe puts his finger through the mug handle, swings his knee out, and takes four steps over to my table.

“Mind if I join you?” he asks, putting his drink down with a clunk.

I flick my chin towards a free chair. Joe spins the chair backwards, straddles the seat, and sits down facing me.

“Prima Dona,” I mumble.

“You new around here?” he asks.


He waits, but when I don’t say anything more, he says, “Sorry, my mistake. Just thought you were interested.”

He stands back up. I watch his hips as they rise off the seat, the wrinkles in his jeans pointing to his crotch.

“You some kinda pervert?” he says, answering his own question with a sneer on his face.

“Yeah,” I say.

My eyes jump to his face to catch his reaction. I am not disappointed. His face tightens, scrunching his eyebrows together, as if he’d drunk a shot of vinegar.

“Shit,” he says, then turns and walks away.

“Who’s the broad?” he asks Doug, jabbing his thumb in my direction.

“THAT is Mrs. Drew,” Doug says, giving me a sideways glance. He looks from Joe back to me, then calls out to me, “Give the kid a break. He doesn’t know.”

“Know what?” Joe asks.

“You’ll have ta ask her,” Doug says. “It’s okay, she won’t bite,” then letting a smile crawl out his mouth, “‘less you like that sorta thing.”

Joe’s eyes shift from Doug, to me, then back to Doug.

“Go ahead,” Doug says. “You’re old enough.”

Joe stares at the bartender, who stares back. Joe walks to my table; slowly this time; no swagger, no hop. I lift my brow and tilt my head towards the chair. He turns the chair face-forward. His eyes watch me for any sudden movement.

“Closer,” I say, as he sits down. “Come closer.”

Joe looks back at Doug, who smiles and shoos him towards me.

I drop my voice to a whisper. “I ain’t gonna hurchya.”

Joe leans to hear me, then slides the chair closer. I wait until he settles into his seat.

“How old ARE ya?” I ask, knowing that he is young, but unable to tell how young. Joe straightens, pulls back his shoulders, turns one side of his face to me and leans closer.

“Twenty-four,” he answers, then facing me head on, says, “How old are YOU?” He punctuates his question by poking his head at mine.

I pull back. A wave of adrenaline washes through my body. “Cocky son-of-a-bitch,” I say to myself. I take a breath, exhale, saying, “It’s not polite to ask a lady’s age.”

He opens his mouth to say something, then closes it.

“I’m 48. But I lie about my age.”

He looks me up and down. “You don’t look 48,” he says, as if there is some training, some disciplined dojo practice that dictates his response.

“I told ya,” I snort, “I lie about my age.”

I watch as questions seem to come and go from his face. I wait until his expression falls quiet. “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?” I ask.

Joe’s eyebrows wrinkle together. He looks around for Doug, but the bartender is gone. He looks back at me.

“Whadya mean?” he asks.

“I want ta tell ya something’, but I don’t want ta shock ya,” I say. “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to ya?”

I let him look into my eyes. He finds what he needs to begin.

He tells me the story of his life; not the whole story, just the hard parts, the hidden parts, his secret scars. As he goes deeper, he starts to lie, hiding the ugly truth, his part in the story, what he did.

“Don’t lie to me, boy,” I scold.

And he tells me everything. When he falls silent, he drops his head, ashamed.

I wait. When he lifts his eyes to mine, I say, “I’ve heard worse.” He looks down, again. I say, “When ya gonna forgive yerself?”

I watch as his face hardens. He looks up at me, but his eyes have narrowed, grown colder, more distant. He pulls back. “Fuckin’ preacher,” he says, standing up.

“Sidown,” I say. “Doug, bring me a steamed milk.”

Doug, mug in hand, is already walking over. He sets the mug on the table. “Listen to her story, kid,” he says. “It’s a good story.” Joe shifts his weight away from Doug. “Don’t take it so personal. She don’t really give a shit ‘boutchya,” Doug says. He puts his hand on Joe’s shoulder. Joe looks at Doug, begins to relax. “Listen,” Doug whispers, and guides him back down into his chair. Joe sits, then looks at me.

I say, “I’m 48, but I lie about my age. I’m really ten thousand years old. Of course, you don’t believe me, but that doesn’t matter.”

Joe squirms, looks around for Doug, but he is gone again.

I continue, “I don’t know if I was born or created, but I know I’m here for a reason. You’re part of that reason, right now, here.”

I look the kid in the eyes. He lets me in, lets me share my soul. The pretense falls from his face until only the truth remains. Relief rolls down his cheek. My hand reaches under the table, my fingers find the hole and slide into his jeans.

“What the fuck!” He jumps to his feet. “Fuckin’ pervert!” He looks around, sees Doug at the bar. “Whata bitch,” he yells.

The bartender laughs. “She gotcha, kid! She gotcha!”

Mouth dropped open, he gives Doug the finger. “Fuck you!” He stumbles for the door, opens it. There is a flash of light, then the door squeaks and snaps shut.

I blink, turn and smile at Doug. He raises a glass. I raise my milk, take a swig, close my eyes, and swallow.

MOTU: I am used to feeling dizzy. I leave my eyes closed. I feel alone, lost, floating, caught in the eddies. Most days I am sick to my stomach, not because I ate something, or didn’t eat something, but because I am afraid of what happens next.

GOD: I’m all ears. What’ll ya have?

MAN: Give me a beer.