Michelle's hair spills over the toilet in a rat's nest of sticky tangles. She is vomiting. The cloistered sound is guttural, palpable, revolting. The substance she throws up reeks of liquor, pretzels, and cheese, resembling, as it floats, an island of sloppy dip, with chunks of carrot and olive in a jalapeno paste. Her face is puffy. She can feel the weight of it, as if the putrefied water were pulling her down. She yanks the flush handle; muck swirls round and round... then finally sinks—a greenish-yellowish backwash gurgling into the bowl. She groans, hoists her head. The night before, by all accounts, was excessive: drank too much, smoked too much, snorted too much coke, laughed too much at jokes that were not funny.

"Christ."

She slumps back onto her haunches, bra like a bridle. Both breasts limply loll, as she sets them loose. The left bears three small bruises—inflicted by? His name escapes her. She regards them with derision, then rolls her bloodshot eyes... inhales once... coughs... produces a clot of phlegm... spits it out with a plop... then, once again, flushes... feeling a little better. 

"I did not play the whore. I got drunk on my ass, I danced, did a strip, peeled off plenty o' paws, but I did not play the whore."

Using the toilet seat for leverage, she struggles to her feet.

"And that's the truth."

She catches sight of her reflection in the medicine chest mirror.

"Good God!"

She scowls.

"Though I sure do look the part. Michelle? You there?"

She taps the glass.

"You under all that goop?"

She reaches for a washcloth, soaks it in hot water, molds it to her face, then breathes its cleansing steam—the heat somewhat relieving her corpselike pallor. She wets the cloth, re-applies it, allows it cling.

"Now what?"

Her question puffs a pocket in the skintight terrycloth. Underneath, her false face melts (or so she intends). She wipes away the streaks of yesterday's rouge and mascara.

"There. Look almost human. Bad, but normal."

She turns her head reprovingly, side to side.

"A shame that 'normal' looks so unattractive."

She leans to tug at eyes whose lids are a pair of gory sickles, raw inside, irises enflamed with angry little veins...

...pacified by a soothing application of... left... right... Visine, as Gillian tilts back her head to let the drops eradicate redness. Morgan lies asleep in the adjoining room. She had suggested that he share her bed, enticing him—with a look—to break their long-drawn abstinence. Seldom had that look been unsuccessful.

What's wrong with me? When I'm with Michael, sex is easy. When I'm with Morgan, sex is... damn near impossible. I'm somehow overwhelmed by his childish, morbid need. "We're one," he used to whisper, as if sex were metaphysical. Mutual gratification is all it is, in truth. With Michael, I can fuck, not intermingle souls. Sometimes I wish Morgan would get himself—idolize one of his weekend floozies, and let me in peace.

Gillian rolls on deodorant. The toothpaste tube is spent; she brushes with water only... too hard; she spits a trace of blood, then rinses it away.

On the other hand, Morgan loves me; Michael does not. Sex is best with a loved one; right? Not always. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. Why should I be faithful to someone who's never unpacked his bags? Breathe the word "commitment," Morgan runs for the hills. He's the one, not I, who insisted on options staying open. Well, open they shall stay; he can leave, or lump, the consequences.

Gillian dresses. The bedroom blinds are drawn. The room is dusky (despite it being past noon, and flash-cube bright outside). Silently, she exits into the living room... squats beside the sofa... watches as her live-in lover sleeps.

My sweet, sweet friend... Okay, I'll break the news to Michael—yes, "Michael"; you guessed correctly—tell him that it's over, that he and I are through... because you and I are... 

She looks away... at the walls... at the muted, shade-drawn windows.

... what? Getting married? Formalizing a contract that neither party signed? Legalizing what heretofore has been nobody else's business? Pledging our allegiance now that one has proved disloyal? I, admittedly, lied to evade your wretched soul-gazing... your juvenile expectation of everlasting trust. "Remember trust? That's when one person makes a promise to another person and keeps it."

Gillian's gaze returns to Morgan's unresponsive brow—her tentative remorse foreshadowing...

Morgan flinches. The gaze that greets his own belongs to Michelle. 

"Sorry. Did I spook you?"

"When did you sit down?"

"I've been here ages. Were you meditating?"

"Just thinking."

"About?"

"This place, I guess."

"You hate it, don't you?"

"No. I rather like it—getting paid for playing a silly game; watching beautiful women take off their clothes."

"Your tips are lousy."

"True."

"And who'd call  babes who strip for bucks 'beautiful women'?"

Morgan levels a flirtatious look at Michelle's uncertain features.

"I would."

"Ha! You must be blind. Check out my complexion. See these scars and craters? Call this moonscape beautiful? 'Pizza-face,' is what they called me in high school."

"Beauty is..."

"As beauty does? I undress for money. Cut the bullshit, Morgan. I came here to talk."

Startled, Morgan tries to match Michelle's candor.

"I hardly know you."

"That's because you're too stuck-up to take an interest. Oh, you're smart; that's obvious enough, what with your fancy vocabulary and the way you examine us as if we're bugs. But when it comes to really knowing, you're pretty dumb. Take me, for instance. I've been making eyes at you for weeks." She leans across the table. "Do you like me, Morgan?"

He blushes.

"Sure. Of all the dancers here, I'd say you're my favorite."

"Do you love me, Morgan?" Unprepared for this, Morgan goes mum. "Could you love me, Morgan?"

Cornered, he feels flustered. Once before, when she showed up on his doorstep, he felt much the same.

"What can I say? I... hardly know you. Do you love me?"

His question is facetious; Michelle replies in earnest.

"I could." Morgan, taken aback, turns a deeper red. Michelle takes hold of his hands—which flinch, but do not recoil. "You want to pull away, don't you, Morgan? You've done that from the start. Maybe it's because of her, your lady? I can love you better. I can love in ways you can't imagine. And, believe me Morgan, I can love true-blue."

Everybody's working for the weelend

The music shouts an uncouth interruption.

Everybody wants a little romance

Michelle still holds his hands.

"Meet me after work tonight. Will you, Morgan?"

Everybody's goin' off the deep end

"I can't."

"Please? I'm begging you."

Everybody needs a second chance

Her fingers squeeze, imploringly.

Morgan, seized by a telltale pulse that electrifies his crotch, finds himself, with a nod, accepting her invitation.

Chris calls out from the bar.

"Let's shake it."

Michelle complies.

 

 

"HALF HOUR...

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