Justin Beck felt reinvigorated. Money in the pocket, an entire night free, downtown, nothing to do but walk around looking at the tall buildings and going into bars and getting drunk and perhaps picking up hot chicks. To be young and twenty-one! There was nothing better, he thought. No, now was his time. They’d always told him that high school would be the best time of his life, but they lied. High school didn’t have twenty-somethings sloshed out of their minds ready to take off any piece of clothing for a heart-faced heart-throb with dark eyes and wavy hair. The acne was gone, the awkward social graces much improved, the setting vastly improved, and he had an apartment within walking distance. The women problem in high school had been less a profusion of frigid bitches and more a profusion of parents, strict enough to not allow girls over. Tonight was the night, damn it, there wasn’t anything going to get in his way.
Downtown lights gave the right cast to everything. Pink, purple, vast swathes of yellows and blues turned every new face into strange and fascinating alien patterns. The crowds that drifted and bubbled around the nightclubs were every shade and hue making everybody seem some species of space alien, richly exotic and highly erotic. His eyes kept to the women, all kinds of women. Tall beauties with dark hair and fabulous makeup, short blondes with fancy clothes. Punk chicks with piercing and short hair, paintbrush mohawks sticking up here and there ready to have his hands run over them. Goth girls with pale skin and shiny leather clothes; beautiful black and white territory to conquest. Scene chicks and hipsters with fancy clothes barely concealing smooth hips with sharp hipbones that took on whatever colored light they were under. They were all his. He wanted to try every flavor. There was not a single neck he disapproved of, not a single breast or butt he didn’t admire. He liked their waists, their thin shoulders. He liked their hair: Whether thin, thick, dreaded, crimped, curled, braided, short, long-- his hands desired them, his nose longed to smell the shampoo or body sweat or sweet perfume. Fish in the sea, fish in the sea and he’d cast his net as wide as possible.
Justin only diverted his eyes from the women when he walked by the clubs and bars. He was looking for something in particular, but he didn’t know what. He knew that he didn’t want to walk into just any bar. He wanted a place that wasn’t crowded, but not dead, a place that wasn’t too loud, where the ladies could hear him speak, that people his age would go into, where there would be women, but not too many guys, yet not a place were there would just be women. He didn’t think he’d be humiliated if he walked into a ladies club, but it would be a waste of time. So, he carefully scrutinized each neon electric light sign filtering the golden red glows through his eyes and turning each emblazoned character around in his brain. His steps became oddly purposeful as his shoes flashed in among the dazzling lights. He weaved in and out of the crowded sidewalks needling his way slowly by each establishment. Club Michigan? Too fancy. Tucco’s Bar? Too crowded. Mark’s Place? Too low brow. The places blurred in the neon and he began to wonder if he would be stopped because the menu simply had too many choices that were almost right, but not quite right: The agony of fine dining.
But finally, after a rush passed a club that was all blue and silver lights and an intimidating line of people in yellow and red masks, he saw the perfect place nestled in a corner away from the street. South City Bar. A nice soft yellow sign with a taxi cab on it suggested it might be for older patrons, but the bouncer, the ID checker, he was Justin’s age and that was great because if this muscularly guy with the popped collar and dress pants was Justin’s age then those in the bar must be near his age as well. The upper-crust jossers, the men in the relaxed suits with the frosted silver hair and the desperate thirty and forty year-olds that they went after would never respect a kid asking to see their IDs.
The exchange was pleasant enough. The bouncer asked to see card, Justin showed him it, and then was informed that the special was two dollars off on account of it being a full moon. Justin thought of making a joke about this, found he wasn’t able to come up with anything clever in time and so thanked the bouncer and went in.
Neon reflected off the back mirror produced by a line of slowly changing colored lights that distorted the dim bar lights with deep blues and purples and an occasional flash of red from cigarette cherries. He had picked well, the bar had plenty of patrons, all in their twenties, but it wasn’t crowded and it wasn’t incredibly loud. The bartender was a cute girl in a tight black shirt and jeans, the clientele didn’t look rowdy, and there were several seats at the bar that were open.
He went straight to the bar and asked for a white russian. It was the only drink he could remember off the top of his head because of a movie he’d recently seen. He then tried to make small talk to the bartender.
“Do they always have drinks two dollars off when it’s a full moon?”
“How long has that been going on?”
Seeing she clearly wasn’t interested in him, he began to survey the bar patrons. A cute black chick in the back was giggling with her friends, but as cute as her beaded hair made her she wasn’t worth the trouble. Her friends defensively glared at any guy who walked by the table and Justin could see the scenario completely without even starting it. He’d walk up and while the cute chick wouldn’t say a thing and might even be flattered, the friends would shut him down possibly politely but coldly or maybe even with a fuck off or two. Another girl, a redhead with an astonishingly pale complexion looked the opposite of the other girl in almost everyway. Holding a sour expression up to the light, she was berating a guy who could only be her boyfriend. There would be no luck there, unless she dumped him right then and was feeling particularly vengeful and Justin did not think he wanted to get involved with a chick who would sleep with a guy simply to get back at her boyfriend. That’d be trouble, neon Day-Glo trouble.
He sipped his white russian and casually surveyed the other side of the room. Two women on this side. A tanned girl with dyed-blonde hair drinking high balls with two guys. Justin couldn’t make out their relationship to her. Were they all friends? Was one her boyfriend? He watched them change colors as they shifted about in the bar’s strange misbalanced light and as they went from red to blue to yellow to gold, he saw their relationship change as if in response to the kaleidoscope. First one was her boyfriend, then the other, then one was her brother, then her cousin, then they were all just friends, then friends with benefits. Bewildered and put off, he looked at the last woman.
She was his age and alone at the end of the bar. A blonde with large curls, she shifted colors like everything else in the bar. He thought she might have dyed her hair, but the dark shadows under her hair could be the light. She stirred her drink with no real interest, but she did not seem sad or depressed or even bored. Was she waiting for somebody or was she truly alone?
Shrugging, he stood. It took more time to get the courage up to talk to her than he would have believed. The high school self still held some power and he had to break it to pieces before the bravado he had felt out on the street came back. Look at her! He told himself. Her breasts, her hips, her butt. Her waist! Why wouldn’t you talk to her? If you walk out that door you’ll regret it. Finish the russian and see if she wants one. She won’t think you’re a creep because what woman goes to a bar alone except one who is looking for somebody?
Justin downed the russian, killing it in one blow. He then walked over, but unsteadily because he couldn’t decided whether a swagger would be appealing or not. Pulling out the barstool next to her, he sat down. She turned a surprisingly expressive face his way and he nearly botched his first sentence under her blue-green eyes.
“Hi,” he said. “I couldn’t help but see you’re here alone and I thought you could use some company.”
She smiled at him but said nothing. The blue-green of her eyes had become nearly gray as her expression shifted from surprise to-- to what? Mirth? Amusement? Had he made a fool of himself? Oh course, it was that damn first line. He should have used something corny or humorous. A pick up line, not something like that.
“What I mean is, did it hurt when you fell out of…”
No, you couldn’t pick up a girl like that. He stuttered to a stop. The light had changed again. Now she was bathed in red light. Her grin reflected the entire bar back in pearl white hues and colored highlights. She thought the was a fool.
“You’re very pretty and I thought you could use some company,” he said. There was more but it never came out. He shrugged and fidgeted and finally took to staring helplessly at her.
She patted him on the shoulder sympathetically and then with her hands made an intricate flashy highly structured display.
The woman was deaf.
And what a sigh of relief that brought to him. He hadn’t made a fool of himself. It didn’t matter what line he used because she couldn’t hear him anyway. Smiling, he did the only thing he could think of to do. He pointed at her and smiled.
She smiled back and producing a pen wrote on one of the cocktail napkins that punctuated the bar like red origami peacocks. She passed it to him as if they were in one of those hated high school classes. He read it.
“Samantha” in tight print.
“Justin” he wrote back.
Samantha nodded and then spelled it out with her hands. He watched the fingers move in a graceful flow, changing colors as they went. Flashes of white, blue, green, gray, white again, red, gold, purple, blue, and more blue. She ended with two fingers pointing straight ahead and he nearly applauded. It was like watching a spell being cast.
“Wow,” he said, suddenly filled with energy. “I have never seen anybody do something like that. You know I’ve never…” he paused but then continued on, because it didn’t really matter what he said, did it? “I’ve never met a deaf person before, but the, the, the sign language you did there is very, very pretty. Like you? Do you think you’re pretty, because I do. Man, I’m glad you can’t hear this.”
She watched his lips, but apparently didn’t gain any understanding from it, because she would do this adorable little thing were she would tilt her head as he’d seen cats and dogs do sometimes when people talked at them. Not to say she was animal like, he thought. No, he’d never say that. She’s enchanting. Wondrous.
Samantha responded in more graceful motions. To Justin it looked as if her hands had become Fourth of July sparklers moving in loops, leaving fiery afterimages. She ended it with a point directly at his chest and he wondered if he had just been asked a question.
“I have no idea what you are saying,” he said, giggling a little. “But you’re really not saying anything are you. I mean you’re not speaking anything. I mean… maybe I don’t know what I mean.”
She pushed the pen and napkin back at him and then pointed at it and then to him several times. Looking uncertain he took the pen and wrote “What do you want me to say?”
Samantha took the napkin and wrote back “Whatever you want.”
He laughed and then quickly covered his mouth. He’d always been embarrassed about his laugh. In middle school, he had spent hours trying to prefect his laugh, making sure that it would sound right, because if it didn’t sound right the other kids would laugh at him and the only sound he had feared more than his own laugher was theirs.
She looked amused and so he lowered his hand. What was laughter to her, anyway? He thought. She’d never heard it.
He took the pen and wrote:
“The Prince doth protest the rent, unless it be Heaven sent, not Heaven sent, but President, with power that Congress lent.”
She read it and wrote: “It ends same.” She pointed to each word. Justin noticed that her nails were unpainted, appearing pink in the bar’s light.
“Yeah,” he said. “It rhymes. Rent, sent, sent, dent, lent. See?”
She shook her head and made a gesture that could only mean No. It looked like a trap snapping shut, a denial of action.
This was a problem. How could he explain rhyme to her? Rhyming was a hearing-thing. To understand it fully you had to be able to hear. And she couldn’t hear? Justin suddenly felt stupid, as if he’d done something wrong. The colors were brighter now and he cursed himself for finishing that white russian so fast. A clear head. That’s what he needed. They were clicking really well and if he had a clear head he could seal the deal or at least get the deal to come up.
He shrugged at her. He had to change the subject. Remembering a few tricks he’d learned from the internet during a period of deep boredom in his life, he took the pen and balanced it on his finger. She looked at him quizzically. The pen went into the air, but he caught it. It went around his fingers in a dazzling arch spewing the colors of the bar back in all directions. The pen became a multifaceted thing, both distorting the light and reflecting it. Bright blues mostly, he was amazed at his own adeptness. His own dexterity astounded him.
Justin dropped the pen and started back badly startled.
He was right in thinking she’d never heard laughter. Unlike him there had never been a time where she had sat and figured out what her voice sounded like. She did what came naturally and laughed without any regard to what others might think.
It was a mad sound. The laugh of a braying donkey or insane children. It was full and strong and deep. The bar rang with it and he found the dim bar colors graying as he tried to comprehend what he was hearing. Laughter? No! Madness! It took him right back to high school and then to middle school as he attempted some salvaging of the situation. He could not. He shuddered back and fled into the night even before her expression changed from happy laughter to concerned shock.
He left without paying his tab and she sat there for a few minutes more, deeply hurt, until not being able to take the bartender’s questioning looks, paid and left.