Gary V. Powell is a master of storytelling sleight-of-hand. Here, four (or maybe three) guys walk into a bar…
Dave is neck deep in his career, has kids in school, and is going through a divorce.
Derek’s never been married but wants to be. As for kids, he always grins and says he has none of whom he’s aware. Sometimes Eddie shows, sometimes not. He’s single and says he likes it that way. He attributes his unreliability to ADHD, which goes untreated now that he’s off his dad’s health insurance. I’m older than the other guys and happily married to a younger woman. That’s how I describe myself—semi-retired and happily married.
Wednesday evenings, we play tennis at the club. If Eddie shows, we play doubles. If not, we play Australian, rotating through two against one, and bitch about Eddie not showing. Mostly, we play to work up a sweat, so we can justify drinking afterwards. We take turns choosing where we go.
Dave is broke, due to his divorce, so he always picks that dive Jay’s at the Lake. Jay’s features Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap, and you can get a pitcher for five bucks. If Eddie shows, we order four pitchers, one a piece for Eddie and me and two for Derek—a former lineman at Appalachian, he weighs in at well over three hundred pounds and says he wouldn’t mind losing a few. If Eddie doesn’t show, we start with three pitchers, one for me and two for Derek. Dave doesn’t drink anymore, other than Dr. Pepper, which they serve at Jay’s.
Derek prefers Hooters. He likes their wings and what he calls the ambience. If Eddie shows, I go in with Derek and Eddie for pitchers of beer and wings. Dave drinks sweet tea because Hooters doesn’t serve Dr. Pepper. He says he can’t afford to come in on the wings, but usually ends up eating ours, anyway. If Eddie doesn’t show, I split the wings with Derek, but order wine, even though their only choices are “red,” “white,” and “pink.”
If Eddie shows, nine times out of ten, he takes us to the Vivid Gentleman’s Club at Exit 36 off of the interstate. Eddie sits at the stage, goes for lap dances, and leaves big tips. He prefers small-breasted women to large-breasted women because large-breasted women scare him and remind him of his mother. Derek pays Dave’s cover because Dave is broke and Derek owns a plastics extrusion business and makes big bucks. The one time out of ten Eddie doesn’t take us to Vivid we go to Akiko Sushi, where the sushi is mediocre at best.
If it’s my night to pick, I make the guys accompany me to the wine bar at the mall, because now that I’m getting older beer gives me the bloat and a headache next morning. They don’t serve Dr. Pepper but the owner knows us well enough he allows Dave to bring in his own, so long as we sit outside and don’t make a big deal of it. If Eddie shows, we have a round of Port to top off the evening, except for Dave. If Eddie doesn’t show, I buy a bottle of jammy Cabernet and Derek buys a bottle of crisp, clean un-oaked Chardonnay.
It doesn’t matter where we go the conversation turns to women.
Dave claims he’s done with women. After fifteen years of marriage, Trish moved into a furnished apartment, leaving him with the kids and the mortgage. Trish has asked their daughter Haley if Daddy ever touches her private places. She’s told his son Zach to make a video if Daddy breaks anything.
Derek says Trish is, was, and always will be a bitch.
I tell Dave that people go crazy when they get divorced, like when they fall in love.
If Eddie shows, he says the waitress has a nice ass. If Eddie doesn’t show, Derek says he thinks he’s falling hard for his new girlfriend Ivana.
Dave says Derek is always falling for someone. He says that Derek has fallen hard for three different women in the last year and maybe it’s time he realizes that the hole in his heart can’t be filled by a woman. Dave and I have talked about Derek’s insecurity, likely due to his being overweight.
Derek says very fucking funny—what hole? He says every day he and Ivana discover something new in common. Derek says Ivana likes to cook, play tennis, and travel. If Eddie shows, he says none of that shit matters—what matters is if she’s good in the sack. Derek says it’s none of Eddie’s damn business what Ivana is like in bed. If Eddie doesn’t show, I say I’m happy for Derek and hope things work out well with him and Ivana. Dave says he hopes things works out, too, but he wishes Derek would keep his expectations low, for his own sake—he doesn’t have to fall in love with every woman he sleeps with.
Derek says Ivana is special and, seriously, what hole?
I say Dave didn’t mean anything.
Dave says he’s sorry—he didn’t mean anything about the hole in Derek’s heart and wishes he could take back what he said.
Dave says that when his kids were just babies and he and Trish were drinking, they sometimes slept with other people. It didn’t mean anything because they always came home together. Everyone in their crowd understood that just because you got your rocks off with someone else’s spouse, it didn’t mean you loved them or that you and your spouse were having troubles.
I say sleeping with other people while you’re married is hardly ever good for the marriage. I say that maybe Dave and Trish would still be together if they hadn’t slept around.
Derek says fuckinay.
If Eddie shows, he says he’s not in it for the relationship, only the sex. He says the problem is that most of the time he has to act like he’s in it for the relationship in order to get the sex. Then when the women figure out he’s in it only for the sex, they get pissed off. He says there are a few women who are in it only for the sex, too, but those women scare even him more than large-breasted women. If Eddie doesn’t show, Dave says that saying he and Trish would still be together if they’d hadn’t slept around is like saying they’d still be together if they hadn’t drunk together, but that’s bullshit because drinking was what brought them together to begin with.
I tell Dave I wouldn’t recommend either him or Trish taking up drinking again.
Derek says fuckinay.
I say I’m lucky to have found the right woman. My first wife was a decent and kind woman, but the longer we were together the less we had in common. After a while, all we had in common were our kids. My current wife, Cheryl, is perfect for me. She gives me room to be myself and I give her what she needs—stability and respectability.
Derek says he’s heard that Cheryl and I were getting it on before I left my first wife, Linda.
An affair, Dave says, they had an affair. He says Cheryl was married, too, to a doctor who got busted for dealing prescription drugs on the side—he also played tennis and hit a vicious lefty serve.
If Eddie shows, he says he draws the line at married women. He says that even if they say they don’t want to get serious, they want to get serious. If Eddie doesn’t show, I admit that Cheryl and I were sleeping together before she broke off with Todd and I broke off with Linda. I go on to explain how our marriages were already over by then, anyway. I explain that what Cheryl and I had was special. We were crazy in love.
Dave says everyone thinks that what they have is special.
Derek says that’s exactly what he’s been trying to tell us about Ivana and him—they’re crazy in love.
If Eddie shows, he wants to know what’s the kinkiest thing we’ve ever done with a woman. Derek says he met a woman in New York who liked to be tied up and tickled. After she came, she’d do anything you asked. I say that all sex is natural and that what goes on in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom. Dave says that back in the day he met a couple of women who were into strap-ons and pegging, but pegging didn’t work for him, not that he’s admitting he ever tried that particular route.
If Eddie doesn’t show, I say I never cheated on my first wife before I met Cheryl, and I’ve never cheated on Cheryl in the ten years we’ve been together. I say I’m not the cheating type—Cheryl and I met and fell in love at first sight, and it’s been great ever since.
Dave says it probably didn’t hurt that she was younger and prettier than my first wife or that I was making a lot of money in those days.
Derek says who knows what attracts a man to a woman. Pheromones—he doesn’t think so, even though scientists say it comes down to that. What counts is what a couple shares in common.
Dave says that’s what he means—things turned to shit for Trish and him the minute they stopped swinging and drinking. That’s what they had in common, and when they gave that up, there was nothing left.
I say the age difference between Cheryl and me was more of an obstacle than an attraction.
If Eddie’s there, he says the kinkiest thing he ever did was sumo wrestle a woman. This girl Lynn, a graduate student at Duke, dressed them both in thongs and they wrestled, belly to belly on the floor.
If Eddie isn’t there, Dave says he can see how the age difference might have been an obstacle for Cheryl, but not for me.
Derek says fuckinay.
I say I’m not getting any younger, and I ask Dave how he thinks it makes me feel that someday I might not be able to make love to my wife even though she’s still young enough to want to, or that I might get sick and she’d have to take care of me—my kids from my first marriage won’t even talk to me much less take care of me.
Derek says he’s never thought of it that way.
Dave says it comes with the territory—I need to deal with it.
If Eddie shows, he says if I need help taking care of my wife I should let him know—he’d be happy to loan me his dick. If Eddie doesn’t show, Dave asks if he’s told us about Trish’s Pinterest page.
Derek says no but he’d like to see.
I say I don’t know what Pinterest is.
Dave explains that Pinterest is like Facebook, only different. Trish has pinned hundreds of posters about guys who abuse their wives to her page. She doesn’t come right and say he abused her physically and verbally, but anyone seeing the page would draw that conclusion. He uses his cell phone to conjure the page. Every poster suggests Trish has been abused by a narcissistic jerk, no doubt her husband, Dave.
I say something to the effect that Trish put a lot of energy into that page.
Derek says if it’s true Dave is a narcissistic asshole who beat his wife he deserves whatever he gets.
If Eddie shows, he says that Pinterest page means that Trish is so over you, Dave— there’s no salvaging the marriage. If Eddie doesn’t show, Dave admits he may have said some of those things, but claims he never hit Trish.
I say it’s probably time to call it a night.
Derek says Trish deserves to roast in hell if she’s making that shit up.
Dave says he’s so upset he can’t sleep—he’s performing poorly at work and believes he’s at risk of losing his job. He’s lost all his tennis matches this season.
If Eddie shows, he says he’s never hit a woman, but he’s been with more than a few women who enjoyed rough sex. Whether or not Eddie shows, Dave swears to fucking God he never hit Trish.
I say fellas it’s been great and I’ll see you same time next week.
Derek says maybe we should get another fourth because Eddie’s so damn unreliable.
Dave and I agree—maybe it’s time to look for another fourth.
Gary V. Powell is a stay-at-home dad to a thirteen year-old son. His stories and flash fiction have appeared most recently at Bartleby Snopes, Carvezine, Thrice Fiction, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Best New Writing 2015. In addition to winning the 2015 Gover Prize for short-short fiction, his work has placed in other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest (2013), and the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014).