On the Way to LA

“You’re movin?” asked the girl sitting on the stool next to me.

“Goin to LA,” I said and then watched her recoil like I had spit in her face.

“LA! Why the fuck you want to live there?”

She was tall and sexy with long black hair and jet coal eyes, I’d been trying to get with this girl for years. But every time we met and I looked her way she’d avoid my eyes. The few times I’d actually made the effort and said something she’d answer terse, or act like she was too busy or too damn good to speak to me. Then word got around that I was leaving town, and last night she called me on the phone and asked what I was doing – I never even gave this girl my phone number – and just like that she told me to pick her up tomorrow night at the bar were she worked. And so here we were, only we hadn’t gotten very far.

“I need a change of scenery,” I mumbled.

“But it’s so ugly down there.”

“Yeah, hate to leave all this beauty,” I said and pointed across the dingy barroom at a couple of hookers hanging by the front door. An old drunk sitting next to us laughed and snorted at the same time, a noise that wasn’t too easy on the ears. A large woman at the other end of the bar fell off backwards and landed on the floor with a thud.

“Don’t judge San Francisco by this shithole,” she said, more to me then to the old drunk who was so interested in our conversation he was practically leaning over her to get a better purchase on our words.

“Ya mind?” I said and gave the drunk a little push.

“Hey, she my bartender,” he said and looked at the girl with sad wet eyes. “She take care of me.”

“Danny, it’s alright,” the girl cooed. “We’re just talkin, you never mind now, okay?”

The old drunk got down off his stool and stood weaving back and forth for a few seconds before he grabbed the edge of the bar and leaned toward me. “Go fuck yourself,” he said, then he smiled, adjusted the belt around his waist and shuffled off toward the darkness where the bathrooms were.

“Sorry bout that,” said the girl. “Danny is actually a nice guy if ya get to know him.”

“Sure, I can believe that,” I said.

“He’s just stuck drinking himself to death in this shitty neighborhood bar.”

“It’s good to have a hobby,” I said and rolled my eyes.

“We all got something,” she said with a giggle.

“Okay, so if ya don’t mind me asking. You haven’t had a drink in ten years but ya work in a bar. How come?”

“Girl’s gotta have a job,” she said as the bartender appeared and looked at our glasses of soda water sitting untouched on the bar. “Need a freshen up?” he said and managed to sound sarcastic just asking.

“You wanna get outta here?” I asked the girl, waving the bartender away.

“So why you moving to LA?” she said like she hadn’t heard me.

“Just feels like nothing’s going on here. Everyone’s talking about what they’re gonna do. But no one’s doin shit. Like everyone’s gotta a bunch a dreams but they’re sleepwalking through life.”

The large woman at the other end of the bar was having more trouble staying on her stool, but this time she’d slid forward onto the floor and was caught underneath the lip of the bar. Screaming she was stuck, she reached a hand out and waved for help. The girl looked down at the woman but didn’t move, like this was just normal to her. When the bartender reached over and grabbed the woman’s hand to pull her up, the girl turned her head back towards me. “I was going to be a dancer once,” she said and then she smiled like she was remembering a secret.

“I was gonna be a failure, but I decided against it,” I responded.

“What, there’s no failures in LA?”

“Well, maybe not til I get there.”

“When I got outta high school I was gonna go to art school and study painting, but instead I ended up majoring in drama at City College and then I realized I wanted to perform modern dance interpretations of life from a jazz perspective.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” I told her and then looked up as two plainclothes cops came in the bar and sat down below the TV on the wall. When I looked back over at the girl she was playing with her hair, twisting a strand around her finger and then letting it go. When she raised her head, our eyes met and then I got weird and glanced at the ball game playing on the television.

“Why are you always staring at me?” she said and then smiled, letting go of another bit of hair wrapped around her finger.

“I stare at you?”

“Yeah, whenever you’re around I look up and you’re staring at me.”

“I’m attracted to you,” I answered with a shrug of my shoulders.

“Attracted to me? You don’t even know me.”

“I guess I mean attracted to how you look.”

“So then, you just wanna be with me cause I look good, not because you like me.”

“I have moments of being shallow,” I said and picked up my glass from the bar. The condensation that had formed on the bottom fell in drops onto my lap and down the front of my shirt as I raised the glass to my lips.

“I want somebody to love me for me,” the girl said and continued to twirl hair around her finger.

“We’re talking about love now?”

“Actually, we’re still talking bout you moving to LA.”

“Oh,” I said and thought about the email I’d gotten from Karl, dude, heard you are moving to LA for greener writing pastures?! Visions of Disneyland and Skid Row collided in my mind and I had the sudden urge to live under a palm tree. “Sunsets through LA smog are beautiful,” I absentmindedly said and tried to smile.

“Since when do you look at sunsets?”

“How you know I don’t?”

“Stare at em like they’re pretty girls?”

“Yeah, something like that. Already told you I was shallow.”

“Wanna get outta here?” the girl asked.

“I just don’t want to have any regrets,” I said, ignoring her offer to leave. “If I don’t go and try to make it as a writer, get work and learn to be a teacher, focus on what I want. Then I’ll always wonder if I could have and someday I’ll regret not trying.”

“Life is full of regrets.”

“Only if you let it be,” I said and stood up. “Let’s get outta here.”

“You hungry?” said the girl, but she wasn’t moving and I just stood there without answering. Down the bar one of the plainclothes cops looked my way and I thought I saw recognition in his glare.

“I could be,” I said. “But I don’t want to eat in this neighborhood. There’s nothing but fast food, bad Chinese and greasy Tandoori joints and right now I’m not in the mood for any of that shit.”

“Aren’t you a vegetarian?”

One of the cops got up from his stool and walked towards me. I looked at him as he approached and dreaded whatever it was that he wanted.

“You Sean Murphy?” he asked.

“Sean who?” I said as I pulled my jacket on.

“Nah, you’re not Murphy. Sorry. Must be the bad light in here.”

“That’s alright,” I said and put my hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Ya wanna go eat or what?”

“I want a hot dog,” she said. “But you probably don’t eat hot dogs.”

The cop had gone back to his end of the bar and was now talking with his partner, pointing my way and shaking his head. I got this creepy feeling running down my neck, and I felt my muscles tense up. “We should go,” I mumbled as I tried to look inconspicuous.

“I took ballet for six years when I was young,” the girl said as she slipped into her black leather jacket. “Thought I wanted to be a ballerina but all I did was become bulimic and learn to hate the color pink.”

“That why you eat hot dogs?”

“Hot dogs aren’t pink.”

“Show me a pirouette then,” I said and smirked as I walked towards the front door. A tall blonde hooker with long false eyelashes looked past me, smiled and shouted, “Work it honey, work it.” And I turned around to see the girl in the middle of the bar up on her toes, her arms stretched out, slowly spinning.

The room, suddenly quiet, the only sound the baseball announcer’s voice from the TV. I glanced over at the two cops and saw they were looking at me. Everyone else was watching the girl.

“Hey Murphy,” said the other cop.

“I already told your partner I ain’t Murphy,” I said and moved toward the girl. She had stopped spinning and was standing twirling hair around her finger staring at the floor.

“Come on, I think we should go,” I whispered and tugged at her sleeve.

Outside the fog was thick and coming down the street. I shivered and buttoned my coat. The girl slipped her arm around mine and we started walking.

“I’m gonna miss you,” she said.

“Why you gonna miss me?” I asked.

“Because when I look up there ain’t gonna be no one staring at me.”

“You could come to LA.”

“You could not move.”

“You could be a ballerina.”

“You could fuck me before you go.”

I held her hand as we turned the corner and headed down the hill toward Market Street. A crackhead in a wheelchair lit his pipe and took a hit as we passed. I looked over at the girl but she was staring off seemingly lost in thought. Above us the streetlights glowed yellow in the mist and I stopped walking and pulled her to me and we kissed as I thought about sunsets and ballerinas and all the times I never did what I wanted to do.

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