Monster in the Bottle by Lisa Fox

Fiction

Your tension releases like a breaking dam as you wrap warm, beefy hands around my long neck. Days spent toiling on engines and mufflers have left your palms rough, dark lines tattooed into the cracks of your skin. My perspiration seeps into you, cooling and calming you as you drink me in.

You’re a hard-working man, and you deserve me.

We meet at the same place, every weekday, at 4:15. The wife thinks you work until six, but that’s our secret. You stroll in, all gasoline and aftershave, your faded blue workman’s shirt stretched taut across your firm chest; a shock of jet black hair grazes your forehead as you nod to the late-afternoon crowd.

Most are dressed like you, though some wear suits with loosened ties. You’re all different, but the same – here to blunt a gnawing beast that erodes your soul.

In our stolen hours, you take me in like a lover, savoring my sweet taste as I wash over your tongue.

I fill you. I complete you. I nourish you like no other can.

You often ask, how did I get here? You never imagined a lower-middle-class suburban life, stuck in a ramshackle rental with mismatched furniture and leaky plumbing. You never dreamed about eating lukewarm dinners on store brand paper plates day-in, day-out: hot dogs, soggy pasta, meatloaf on a good day. And you never thought you’d be stuck with a woman whose idea of glamour is a pair of clean sweatpants. Sex with the wife is a thirty-second fuck on a Saturday night, lights off so you won’t have to gag at the cellulite dripping from her thighs, or endure her sad-puppy look when you finish before she does. And the nagging: Where’s your paycheck, Ted? You never spend time with your daughter,

Ted. Don’t you find me attractive, Ted?

But I’m here to remind you of who you truly are.

I’m your way out. With me, your laughter flows. Your speech loosens, the knots in your shoulders unravel. Our sweet interludes keep you alive from the moment we touch until the time comes for you to stagger away from the life you want, back to the one you’ve got.

*

On a rainy Sunday in June, I saw your daughter for the first time. The kid was cuter than I’d imagined. Mousy brown locks hung to her shoulders; fallen raindrops hovered like dew on her thin strands of hair. Her wide blue eyes took in the wood paneling, the asbestos tile, and the men hovering by the pool table. She sneezed, her nose offended by the stale air – a mix of smoke and beer and desperation.

You lifted your kid and placed her on the bar stool. The barmaid snapped her gum as she approached you. The girl stared at the woman’s teased blond hair and false eyelashes as if in the presence of a goddess, not a servant.

“The usual,” you said. “And a Shirley Temple for her.”

The barmaid leaned in and smiled at your girl. “You don’t look no twenty-one to me, darlin’.”

Your jaw tensed, a hint of red flashing on your cheeks. You needed me.

“But I’d bet you’re about seven.” The barmaid laughed. “We’ll make an exception this time. What’s your name, sugar?”

Head down, your kid stared silently at her grungy pink sneakers.

“Sadie. Say hello.”

Sadie shook her head. “Mama doesn’t know we’re here.”

Sad Sadie. Real buzzkill of a kid, Ted.

“Hmm.” The barmaid raised her eyebrows and pulled her lips back tightly as she prepared the drinks, eyes on your daughter.

“We were at the park – a Daddy and Me day, right Sadie?” Your voice cracked. “But the rain…”

Sadie stared ahead as the barmaid placed the soda on a napkin. “Just for you. With,” she winked, “an extra cherry. You let me know if you need anything else.”

Sadie pursed her lips around the straw and sipped.

Glowering at you, the barmaid slammed a bottle against the counter with a bang so jarring I felt its vibration everywhere.

You grasped my body with a violent squeeze, imbibing like a man lost and forgotten in the desert.

“Another.”

You wiped your sleeve across moist lips. Calm washed over you like a warm bath; you took me again, and again, and again. The barmaid clucked in disapproval, the desperate men in the corner leered with jealousy. Sadie slurped, a storm raged outside, and the only thing that mattered was that you were whole again.

You hopped off the stool and grasped the edge of the bar. Your eyes were soft, their glassy sheen reflecting your adoration of me. Of who we were together.

“Gotta take a piss,” you mumbled.

Sadie sat quietly, nibbling on fingernails that she’d already bitten down to the quick. She glanced in my direction with wide, empty eyes. A slow well of tears gathered across her bottom lashes. If she weren’t such a spoil-sport, I might have felt sorry for her.

One of the regulars approached the kid from his perch at the corner of the bar. His fat gut hung over his belt, stretching his faded red flannel shirt. I knew him well.

“Now aren’t you a pretty little thing?” he said, hovering. “You know, you’d be even prettier if you smiled.”

He tickled Sadie’s neck, grazing thick fingers over her skin. She shrunk like a crab retreating into its shell.

Hands on hips, the barmaid stomped over, glaring.

“I ain’t done nothin’.” He shrugged, backing away.

The barmaid took Sadie’s hand. “We’re gonna go call your mama now,” she said. Sadie nodded, wiping her eyes and sniffling as she slid down from the seat.

They’d left me alone, waiting for you.

Things were exactly as you’d want them to be, exactly as they were meant.

You deserved me.

You belonged to me.

And in the end, I was all that mattered.

 

Biography
Lisa Fox is a pharmaceutical market researcher by day and writer by night. Her short fiction has appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and at UbiquitousBooks.com. Lisa resides in northern New Jersey with her husband, two sons, and oversized dog and relishes the chaos of everyday suburbia.

Image: Adam Jaime