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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by June M. Castle

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Peter O'Donnell's desk was cold against his cheek as he slowly woke. He rubbed his face and raked through his hair. The screen saver on his computer was bright, stinging his sleepy eyes. Checking his watch he realized it was almost mid-night. He shook the computer mouse, waking it up as well. He hadn't gotten very far; there was no way he could go home now. He tried to push the thought of Shannon, warm and tranquil in their bed, out of his mind.

He had to have something down on paper, "concrete," as his boss said, by the opening of business. The solution had eluded him into the night and finally into his slumber. The pressure to perform had burned him out; he felt he had no inspiration... nothing. Writing had become a "sentence" and this office, his prison cell.

He returned to his desk with a vile cup of coffee from the vending machine. It would have to do. Peter sat on his desk, rested his feet on the chair, and lit a cigarette. He took a deep drag, put his head back and looked at the stars out his window. They just looked like an extension of the city lights. Once, he and Shannon had built their future looking at these very same stars.

Oh... they had talked for hours on end in those days. On steamy summer nights, the fire escape would be the setting. They would lie on pillows looking up at the sky, the hash they smoked as sweet as the cheap wine. She loved apple wine, and he loved her.

He thought about those years now long past as he stood up, and moved over to the window. Putting both hands and his forehead against the cold surface, he stared down at the street. Tiny little lights of red and white flashed below him. His thoughts wandered to '79, when just five blocks from here he had arrived. He remembered how exciting it all was. He was fresh out of Yale, and ready to climb the ladder. The pride of being a rat in the New York race made it all the more exciting.

His first night in the city, he went out walking on the streets; absorbing the vibrations, and watching people, but not too closely. He'd been warned they smelled the fear of "newcomers". They were all so different from one another and yet they seemed to gel, not like the cookie-cutter community he was used to at Yale. A little bit of the entire earth ended up here. Smells grabbed him from everywhere: the venders with hotdogs, pretzels, or knishes, and the restaurants... every type of food was right here and ready to be indulged in. Taxis and limousines whizzed by, horns blared, and people hurried. The smells swirling around him made his stomach rumble. He hadn't eaten since he'd gotten off the train.

The variety of culinary possibilities had mesmerized him until he noticed a blinking green shamrock. McKee's Pub, 'Ah, a little piece of home,' he thought. There had been a pub he and his friends used to hang out in next to the college. This one was just like it, too. The whole décor, including a print of "A Mother's Letter" was there. The place was packed, but he managed to find a spot at the bar. The stout bartender handed him a menu and asked, "What'll ya be havin' there lad?"

"I'll take a Black and Tan," he said loudly over the traditional Irish music coming from the jukebox. He surveyed the crowd; it seemed like they were mostly his age, just like in New Haven. 'This place is pretty cool' he thought as he checked out the small pub menu. After he ordered a burger, he sat back content with his new surroundings. There were many attractive women for him to choose from, but his eyes settled on the one opposite him at the other end of the bar. Her long auburn curls framed her delicate face perfectly. He stared at her, trying to catch her eye. She seemed to be working on something. There were papers sprawled out in front of her and she appeared to be studying them. Now and then she talked to the bartender, and Peter figured she must be the bookkeeper here. He watched her intently as he ate.

The night wore on, he lost interest in his mystery woman and the drinks took over. He began talking to the people around him, and somehow she slipped away when he wasn't looking. The pub became more crowded; people were laughing and bumping into one another. The old jukebox now blasted popular disco and a crowd created a dance floor. Dizzy, he danced with whatever woman was next to him. The dance floor was tightly packed, and he felt the women's bodies rub against him; their perfume intoxicated him further. The base was loud and it went right through him. He moved to it as if he were in a dream.

Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" filled the air, and Peter's partner started grinding her hips to the seductive beat. She reached over, unbuttoning his shirt, one at a time. Slowly she moved, putting her hands on his chest then, pulling his shirt open. Others on the makeshift dance floor noticed and began to watch while still swaying to the music. Peter took his shirt off, tossed it to the floor, and began to grind his hips. They urged him on by clearing a circle around him. He responded. His mind was soft and cloudy; the music moved his body as if he had no control. Women "cat-called" as he unbuckled his belt, and men faded back in the crowd. He was down to his boxers when someone slid a chair to the center of the circle. He stepped up on it awkwardly, but regained his balance, and continued in splendor.

He slid his thumb under the band on the top of his boxer shorts, and pulled them down just enough to reveal some hair. The women went wild with this movement: he did it again. He closed his eyes, rolled his head back and drank in the warmth of their wanting. He felt one grab onto his crotch. For a moment in his drunken state, he forgot where he was and thought about sex... then instantly he remembered. His eyes flew open and he looked down. It was HER. The red-haired beauty. Her sparkling eyes met his, and while holding onto him firmly she said, "You'll be gettin' down from there now won'cha laddie!" His only reply was to slowly get off the chair, and she held tight until he was on the floor. She let go, looked him straight in the eye and said, " I don't know what ya think yer doin' here, but we don't run that kind of place, now you'll be puttin' yer clothes back on." Her Irish accent curled off her tongue, intriguing him, easing his embarrassment. He stared at her through his stupor.

He caught his breath and tried to sound sober, "Yes, I'm sorry, I... I guess I got carried away." He looked down to find his clothes, and the crowd swelled back around them as if it had never happened. Oblivious, a couple was dancing on his rumpled pants! He managed to retrieve them, got himself put back together, and turned to ask her name, but she was gone. He made his way back to the bar through the herd.

He ordered another draft and when the bartender delivered it, he asked, "Who was that woman with the red hair over here before?"

"That would be me daughter, Shannon." The old man nodded and smirked, "She's a hot pepper, isn't she?"

"Yes sir she is, I'm sorry for any trouble I caused you and you daughter here tonight." He put his hand out to invite a shake. "My name is Peter, and I hope to be welcome in the future."

With a fat hand Mr. McKee squeezed hard. Peter thought he heard his bones crunching together, but he held tough. "Well Pater, as long as you'll be waerin' clothes... yer welcome," the old man winked, let go and they both laughed.

That was so long ago, but it still made him chuckle, and turn bright red even though he was in his desolate office. Feeling lighter, he returned to his desk. He shut down his computer... her silky smooth skin called him.

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