Brie Hero

“The Game”—For Women!

Brie Hero

All the mysteries of seduction and the art of the pickup adapted for the female sex. Want to spend your life carelessly bedhopping? Read on…

Select a target. When out at a club, bar or party, look around for your target. Make sure it’s someone you don’t like. You may be wondering, how do I know if I like him or not, because I am just in the process of looking around at some hot club? Meaning, my gaze is clouded by Axe fumes, my judgement is clouded by novelty shots and many gin-and-tonics, plus it’s probably dark? While these dark and cloudy conditions may mean I am not likely to find someone I do like, how can I be sure I will find someone I do not like? That is an excellent question. Sometimes finding someone you don’t like can be almost as difficult as finding someone you do. Make sure you do it with care. Picture a guy who you do like very much — a guy whose charming, considered and responsible masculinity embodies why you remain hetero, who makes you feel open and expansive, with whom you watch Netflix curled up with your head on his chest while he feeds you cookies and says sarcastic things about the movie — think about that guy, and look for his opposite as hard as you can.
Sleep with him. This is so easy it doesn’t require explanation. If you have selected your target correctly, simply saying “Want to have sex?” will be 100% effective. If you don’t feel like saying that, just mash your face into his face. If you feel pangs and/or qualms about doing so, order another drink. If your pang-qualms persist, repeat.
Don’t let him say anything that might cause you to like him. I hope you selected your target with care: that he has the requisite amount of dime-store clearance gel shellacking smelly, unwashed hair. That he bit you while you made out in the cab; that he said something dick-ish about your apartment, and — at least once — he drunkenly burped in your mouth. But! If, perhaps while you are staring at the ceiling of your darkened bedroom after the conclusion of several seconds of sex, and he opens his mouth: beware. He may say he trains seeing-eye dogs for a living. He may have a funny discussion with you that ranges into why everyone you know is getting married, or may say something insightful and weirdly supportive about your problems at work, or recommend a restaurant you later visit and love. Don’t let it happen. Defenses include making up a weird lie that means he needs to get a cab and leave now.
Don’t compare him to other people (such as the guy you’re trying to get over, who never gels his hair or does horrible biting things, the guy who let you know, post-Netflix/cookie moments, that he’s not looking for anything serious).
Do not let him call you again. Giving a fake number is an amateur move. If you make the mistake of doing so, and he goes, “oh, let me call you and then you’ll have mine,” there are a few ways to play it off. Pretend your phone is silent (angle it away from him hastily). Or, if you’re feeling like a real pro: just stare at him. He sees your phone. He sees it’s not ringing. He goes: “uh…” You continue to stare. Now, at that point, a smart man blushes and runs away. But if you selected your target correctly, we’re not dealing with a smart man. So you may need to explain to him that you have given him a fake number and, thus, your phone is not now ringing when he calls it. Then explain you gave him the fake number because you do not want to see him again. Exhausting.

Better yet is to avoid that amatuer move and just give him your number. Ignore all texts, and if he calls, pick up. Say: “Oh, yeah, you. Can I call you right back? Five minutes.” Hang up before he can assent. Never call him back.

Don’t repeat. Next time you’re a at club, bar or party, don’t bother to look around for targets. You now remember why this is a bad idea.
Get drunk, causing you to forget why this is a bad idea again.


Brie Hero


We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There

Brie Hero

Elisa was not worried about being alone, but she was about the possibility of others seeing her alone. Knowing she was alone. Having to tell them that she was alone.

Outside the windows of her small, clean Southeast Asian hotel room, the neon spaceship spires of Kuala Lumpur were just beginning to etch themselves onto the twilight—great bulbs of white and purple and orange sizzling into contrast—but Elisa was in for the night, hunched over the imitation wood desk, scribbling into her notebook. Tomorrow she was going home.

Here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she was currently on the other side of the planet from everyone she knew. They are so far away, she wrote, I may as well have ceased to exist. Elisa would go back and tell them she had great time on vacation. She was worried that she should be worried that is would be true. She was worried that she should be worried that she had enjoyed her existence-cessation vacation.

Below her windows, below the rim of skyscrapers, the Jalan Alor surged, tucked into a canyon between two larger buildings. An alleyway of street food: Indian, Chinese, Thai, everything—hustlers yelling for you to try their deer burgers and frog porridge; their litchi milkshakes, pots brewing with firey spiced green leaf stews, and old men selling bark-covered durang, an evil green fruit that reeked of marsh gas.

Three days ago she had been waiting for a riverboat in Melaka with Evamarie, a stout blond hippy from Rotterdam she had met on the bus. Melaka, her Lonely Planet guidebook had told her, has a reputation for being haunted. An old pirate town, with Dutch windmills and canals. Melaka was hallucinatory with crimson-colored brick colonial buildings from the English, Portuguese, the Dutch—layers of conquest going back to the fifteen hundreds. The equatorial sun beat down on cruising rickshaws shellacked with layers of hysterical artificial flowers. Evamarie and Elisa were going to tour the canals.

Evamarie asked Elisa if she had a boyfriend, and Elisa said she did. Evamarie turned to her in surprise. They both were traveling through the wilderness solo. If Elisa had a boyfriend, Evamarie seemed to be wondering, what was she doing out here alone? Transposed onto the concrete banks of this outpost, a million miles away, alone? Elisa stretched her legs out in front of her, shaded her eyes against the slap of the sunlight, and thought about the boy she had left behind, Max, and struggled to answer why. She told Evamarie he hadn’t come with her because he didn’t have any money, and she hadn’t wanted to loan it to him.

A few days before Elisa left Brooklyn for Malaysia the cops brought Max to her door. She had gone after work to a bar in Greenpoint called the Black Rabbit with her friend Kevin, and they had drank there for almost five hours. Elisa kept expecting Max to get in touch, because they had plans to meet later on that night. She got mad. Finally, on the bus ride home, she got mad enough to drunkenly phone him, confronting him about how flakey he is, and how much it sucks. He did his song and dance, and finally snapped at Elisa: “I’ll come over there right now! I do crazy stuff all the time, shit, I’ll come over there right now!” She hung up and promptly ran home, got in bed with all her clothes on, and passed out, tears of anger drying on her cheeks.

She was awakened some time later by Michael, her shy Craigslist-located roommate. “Elisa? Are you asleep?” Michael asked timidly from her doorway. “The cops are here to see you…” The cops had brought Max to her door because he had been standing in the lobby of Elisa’s building, her old shitbox building on Beverley Road in Flatbush, where fat dudes wearing red dealt crack. He had been standing there for 45 minutes, calling her over and over again, while her phone lit up vainly, on silent, and she slumbered, aggrieved.

So the cops assumed he was some white boy up to no good, and were going to take him away unless someone vouched for him, agreed that she was his girlfriend and that he was there to see her. Once Elisa said it was true and they let him go, he came into her room, angry and shaken. He had about a half pound of weed on him. He deals weed. He is an on-and-off heroin addict. He’s been to jail before, and he didn’t want to go back, especially carrying that kind of weight.

The cops were right, Elisa thought with a shiver. He’s exactly what they thought he was—some white boy up to no good. I just also happen to be his girlfriend.

Max sat on Elisa’s rumpled, unmade bed and rubbed the salty sweat from his face with his palms. “I don’t want to get too fortuneteller on you,” he said, finally. “But you’re constantly in some amount of pain, aren’t you?”

Elisa started crying, and said that she was.

After Melaka she saw the Batu Caves. She climbed 272 steps on cut into a mountain, speckled with white Macaque monkeys, one of which ripped a little girl’s souvenirs out of her hands and hopped to the top of a post, cackling and tearing pink plastic apart. Hindu holy men, scowling, tiger-striped and shirtless, glowered behind gaudy god-covered pillars. Fires burned in gold dishes, surrounded by browning flowers. Wild jungle fowl squawked in the cave. Holes in the ceiling, hundreds of feet from the cave floor, shone spotlights down at her and the other pilgrims. A cathedral made by the wear of water, tiny drops of water that ceaselessly had molded the vast space into existence with nothing but gravity and patience.

Looking at the landscape from the mouth of the cave, scanning the endless jungle scarred by otherworldly formations of menacing gray limestone, she thought how strange it was that the Hindus felt the need to make their gods in gilt, in electric green, with spinning bouquets of arms and blood-colored tongues. Elisa didn’t know anything about religion, but she wondered what significance electricity and neon held within it.

She wrote in her notebook: is the brightness a way to show that what the people who made the neon lack in permanence, in patience, they make up for in vitality, in imagination, in immolation?

Elisa felt ignorant making guesses like these, and bought a honey and ivory-colored god draped in fake gold chains to take home with her.

On the bus back from Melaka, only pop music was okay to listen to on her iPod. Watching the jungle along the highway grow darker out the window, listening to the other riders chat in Malay, and seeing the moment the rice paddies finally disappeared into a sea of rural blackness, songs with depth only scared her. Beyoncé, or whatever else was newest, was all that could make it feel safe. She imagined her cessation taking hold slowly, edging nearer and nearer to blackness, with a numbing song in her ears.

Elisa had been with Max for a long time, nearly a year, but he never let her meet his friends. He always talked about one friend, his best friend, Joe. Once, when Elisa was worried she might be pregnant with Max’s baby, he joked that if it was a boy they would name it Joe, after this friend. If it was a girl, Max said, they would name her Beverley MasterCard.

“And… Quintus. If it’s a hermaphrodite.”

Max loved Joe. Joe was a super hipster. Joe worked for the guerilla concert promoter Todd P., and was profiled in New York Magazine. Joe’s mom was an artist, and she employed Elisa’s best friend’s performance art collective’s leader as her assistant. This has nothing to do with how Elisa and Max knew each other. They met randomly, in a bar that had a sign on the ceiling written in backwards script: We’re all here because we’re not all there.

Joe asked Elisa’s friend’s performance art collective to perform at his new pop-up gallery space, old delis on 42nd Street that had been gutted and abandoned. Elisa went to the performance with her friend Ryan, after calling Max, trying to entice him to his own best friend’s party, and receiving no answer. When she got there, Joe had hung posters for Max’s band on the wall, and she recognized Joe instantly, from Internet stalking. But he didn’t know her, and she worried he thought she was insane to stare.

She was staring. She was hungry, staring at him. Hungry for an extra helping of Max. The sickest thing about their relationship—and designating any part of their relationship “the sickest thing” was like trying to determine the sickest thing about someone’s fatal cancer—was that she craved his world. His city, his friends: anything he touched had the possibility of still retaining some spilled grains of his essence, some lingering after-kick of him she might be able to suck up. Her heroin, her crack.

Late in the night she finally approached Joe, wasted by then on too many little cups of vodka and orange juice. “Hey, are you Joe?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Hey, I’m Elisa. I go out with Max?”

“Oh, that’s hard.”

As she remembered it later, after sobering up, he didn’t miss a beat: “Oh, that’s hard.” First she laughed when he said it, feeling validation for her suffering at Max’s hands, felt good hearing that others, his friends, had suffered too from his chaos, his lies, his addiction. Then, in the hangover morning, she thought… who am I in this guy’s eyes? Joe’s? Is this why Max doesn’t want me to meet his friends? So I can’t see the harsh reality of how he really treats me, refracted through an outside observer? And also, she thought… they had been together almost a year, and he had never mentioned her to his best friend? No glimmer of recognition had flicked across Joe’s unfairly handsome face when she said her name.

She thought for hours about what Joe said. Then, sick and disgusted with herself, she scrawled in her diary: “All the worst of what you’re reading into the tealeaves of Joe’s offhand, random comment, whether or not it is tinged on his part with some of the same hurt I feel at Max’s lies, should be assumed. It’s all true. True as hell. Max is the worst, and I don’t know anything about him, to the extent I think I do, anyway. But he says it all the time: we see the world in the same way. Any time I think I’m fully normal, like I’ll fit in: a part of my soul is Max.”

It’s so hot in Malaysia. Elisa thought walking in the air was like walking in water. The Malay word for “water” is “air.” Before Elisa learned that she wondered why the city was full of signs with arrows, saying “air.” The sweat pours off her constantly, like condensation. Like dew.

To get to Melaka, she had caught a bus at the Puduraya bus station in Kuala Lumpur. She felt like she was taking her life in her hands in that swarm of grime and hordes. People rushed by, hustling, pickpocketing, and catching buses for the short drive to Singapore or Penang or Georgetown, or steeling themselves for the longer haul to Bangkok or cities in Cambodia or Vietnam.

Elisa read an English language newspaper while she waited. A story buried in the back pages was about a Chinese woman, a prizewinning scientist who was about to be executed for having drugs found in her luggage. The story dared to suggest that the drugs might have been slipped in her bag without her knowledge. It didn’t matter—her execution date was set. Another story said a little Muslim child bride had run away from her abusive older husband, and had been found at one of the temples near the Batu Caves.

Then a few days later Elisa waited in a smaller, rural bus station in Melaka, waiting for the 2:20 back to Puduraya. While she waited there, she ate a fish paste cake, a local delicacy. It came in a plastic wrapper like a Twinkie. Then she bought a fake Gucci watch and sunglasses, which didn’t break so much as quickly disintegrated, like a plant decomposing in time-lapse footage, as soon as she turned away from the stand.

The Wine Assault

Brie Hero

The two of us joined the others at Tandem at approximately 11PM on a damp, mid-March Saturday. The wind blowing down Troutman Street was wet and still cold. We had numbed the long subway ride—we came from South Brooklyn via the G train, switching to the L at Metropolitan—with a Coke bottle filled three-quarters with Jim Beam. The remaining quarter of cola was allowed to remain. We were looking for Sherrie.

The backroom of Tandem was being zealously pumped opaque by a fulblast fog machine when we got there, the fog scatter-shot through with poison green, pencil-thin laser beams. A birthday party for a stranger was in swing. The birthday girl was drunk and friendly and introduced herself. She wore vintage-style lingerie made out of a sort of worn, faintly-snagged white satin. I say “vintage-style” but it may have been real vintage, because otherwise I don’t know why she would have worn that size—it bagged around her body, like a diaper worn with a romper-top. She danced with a lurch, tottering on her heels, but above her gaping white top the birthday stranger’s lips, painted pin-up red, wore an enviable grin. She didn’t give a fuck. ’Cause it was her birthday.

She had a balloon drop planned for midnight, and as our group danced in the blanketing fog, spangled with lasers, we were suddenly buffeted by falling balloons like a kind of extraterrestrial weather event. Pink rain on Venus. They were filled with air, not helium, as I guess all balloons used for balloon drops must not be, and so they quickly began to pop under the feet of the dancers, adding their offbeat, machine-gun percussion to the DJ’s blaring flow.

Our plan was never to stay at Tandem; crashing this party was our point of assembly. Once everyone arrived, got their buzz started and popped a few balloons, Sherrie led the group out the door and down the maze of Brooklyn blocks towards another party, this one hosted by the Inca Fetish.

Sherrie bounded ahead of us down the block. She was dressed in another white vintage piece, but a better and more flattering one than the unfortunately Gandhi-esque lingerie. She wore a crisp, hospital-white jumpsuit, translucent on her small frame. She wore it with Raggedy Ann pincurls twisted on her head. The white glowed faintly, reflecting back the blank glare of the streetlights.

Sherrie was the leader of a difficult to define arts’ collective—she wouldn’t like to say they did performance art, but its best stunts did fit in with what I know about the early days of performance art, the funny satire that skewered art world snobbery instead of perpetuating it. Like Joseph Beuys going around a gallery explaining the pictures to his dead hare. Something like comedy.

Her collective was mostly female (some of its members were in our group that night) and, as she explained, she thought of Inca Fetish as “the boys club to her girls club.” She had been playing some kind of art world flirtation game with them, some kind of collaboration mating dance, and this appearance at their party was expected, she conveyed in as many words, to seal the deal on making some concerted happenings.

The Inca Fetish who greeted us, about 10 to 15 boys, were all bearded, skinny, in their twenties, with a kind of hard, punk attitude. Despite currents of macho spurting through the air, they were dressed in women’s clothes. It’s unsettling to see wirey chest hair sprouting from a tight, lacey bodice. To see a dude’s junk making an bulging through a pleated skirt. There was something about their badly done, not purely buffoonish drag, that seemed sinister. An insult to women. A comment on women’s clothes, bodies and what those add up to. They were questioning whether there is more to women than the sum of parts.

Also we learned the dress-clad collective was on acid. Communally. Looking around the disarrayed loft where the party was being held, you could almost see the mass of their swirling hallucinations projected on the walls. They ushered us into the kitchen; the main table was an empty coffin up on sawhorses.

We sat in the dark main room and they showed us videos they had made. It smelled like smoke. I remember a few women lying sprawled back in dark messy corners. A flock of wheelchairs—rickety, rusting, some missing wheels—was their seating. Nonsense images flickered on the screen. I sat in a wheelchair, drinking a 40 ounce of malt liquor we had picked up at the store.

Sherrie flitted in between the bearded, tripping men in drag, but she wasn’t making any progress. She was thinking, clearly, no great collaborations of art are going to be hammered out tonight. So she rallied our group, pointing towards the exits. And it was then, in the hallway, that the party got truly weird.

The leader of the Inca Fetish, who had introduced himself earlier as Jacob, followed us out into the hall. He pushed Sherrie back. He held her pinioned against the wall. He was brandishing a cheap bottle of wine. He gripped its neck, cocking his arm back behind his head. Before anyone could react, he tipped the bottle over her head. An ocean of red booze flooded down. It covered her face, making her gasp. It drenched her white jumpsuit, rendering it see-through. Then he smashed the bottle at her feet. He yelled, “It’s art!” He disappeared into his room.

Minutes later we were outside in the cold night, trying desperately to get Sherrie into a cab. The wind was blowing even colder. It was 2AM. Sherrie shivered, huddled with us under the streetlights. Her sodden jumpsuit no longer reflecting the streetlight glow.

Watching It in Reverse

Brie Hero

She asked him at dinner: “What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen out there?”

He opened his mouth and then shut it again, unable to decide. It wasn’t that he couldn’t decide on what story to tell her—the one yesterday, he had known when he saw the hand prints. But he couldn’t decide on the best way to tell it. Start with how he found her body? He opened his mouth to start there, then shut it. Start with what he saw on the roof, where she jumped?

So instead he told her the story about the guy who got hit in the eye with a baseball. He knew as he spoke, as he uttered the phrase, “I mean, by the time we got there, he didn’t even look human anymore,” that this was not good first date conversation. Probably he would never see her again. He didn’t care about seeing her again, necessarily. She had asked. She had asked for the craziest. But he did care about getting to touch her, sleep with her, and he flinched, thinking this talk was probably going to hurt that too. He kept going though, and instead of becoming disgusted, she leaned forward and opened her mouth.

After he finished the story by wondering aloud whether the guy’s tear duct could have possibly been going off after the eyeball broke like a raw viscous egg all over the shards of the shattered occipital bone, or whether what had looked like tears running down the man’s face must have been just some other fluid from inside the eye, he couldn’t stop himself. He told her the story he originally intended, about the jumper and the hand prints.

The jumper lived in Park Slope, where this girl had told him she lived, so he started there. The jumper had paid a lot for one of those apartments in the fancy developments in the north, one of those shiny towers that beckoned Manhattanites with ads showing pools, craft beers, bicycles, and models in the grips of lulling, newlywed love. She had jumped from the tiny ledge that was the true top of the building, a little outcropping of vents and wiring boxes perching high above the sculpted roof deck.

She fell 26 stories and hit a fire escape on the way down, severing her body in two, roughly along the waistline. He had accessed the fire escape through the window of a young couple. His partner waited behind him, in what the couple were decorating to be the baby’s room, with the gurney and the body bag. He had plucked up her legs and her lower body and lifted them easily in through the window. There were bruises, cuts, and scrapes on them, and the legs were turning white. But otherwise, they still looked like legs, still wearing green running shorts. Blood leaked onto the new, baby-blue carpet. Down on the street, where the cops pushed back a crowd of gawkers, they picked up her head, shoulders, and the majority of her torso.

Then the cops went up to the roof, to check out where she jumped from, put it in their report, and he went too. He wanted a cigarette anyway, and the street was still full. He followed the cops as they tried to climb up, up to the ledge. First they hauled their heavy bodies up a rusty metal ladder, stepping on each other’s fingers, leaving them all rubbing strained muscles and scratched palms. Then they picked their way over a series of awkwardly spaced, knee-high green boxes. One cop used a piece of scrap metal to hoist up a strand of barbed wire so they could all slip underneath. He saw wisps of the woman’s hair on the barbed wire. Blood drying on top of one of the green boxes from a cut she must had received.

He imagined her climbing this way. He felt sick as it occurred to him that it had been hard for her to make this climb. He thinks about the feeling of the skin on her legs. They continued onto the ledge itself, which had a dirty Plexiglas rim above its low cement wall. On the rim are her palm prints. The jumper. He could read them as plainly as the path of one person, headed one direction, in freshly fallen snow.

On the far right are both palms. They start low, streak upwards, fumble, and then climb again six inches to the left. Then one flaps out to the side, but then finally they both grab the top of the Plexiglas, and with one final toe-print, a few feet to the left of the final set of hand-prints, she kicks over.

As he stood with the cops, all of them panting from the difficulty of the climb, he felt how hard she worked on dying.  He thought about all his convulsing, gasping patients, all the ones who worked so fucking hard on staying alive.

“It was like watching it in reverse,” the girl said.

“WHAT?” he shouted, not sure who is speaking. “Sorry. Sorry I shouted.”

She stared at him, and he realized he had been shouting since he started telling the story. He looked around the restaurant. No one was looking at him, but maybe they weren’t looking on purpose.

“Sorry,” he mumbles. No one says anything for a minute. “Yeah, it was like . . . in reverse,” he says finally, not sure what they’re talking about.

“Like watching a movie in reverse? I mean, rewind?”

It was kind of like watching a movie in reverse. Like watching the movie of staying alive in reverse. He didn’t know the movie could run that way. That was kind of what it was like. Sure. That was one way to tell it.

Outside the restaurant he slowly, deliberately led her away from the crowds. She knew what was about to happen and started babbling, trying to stall. She was mid-sentence when he put his palm to her cheek, turned her face towards him, and kissed her. She didn’t kiss back, but didn’t tear her face away either. Her lips went limp against his. Her dark hair blew against both their faces in the breeze off the water.

She walked away first, headed back towards the corner, and he followed. He gave her directions to walk home and watched her go, the halogen glaze from the streetlights etching a million spiderweb-fine shadows along her long white limbs.

The Bentley Hotel (#1): Right For It

Brie Hero

The bar at the Bentley is quiet, almost empty, and fogged with alcohol in the eyes of nearly everyone who can see it. It sounds much better than it is, the Bentley. Situated on the painfully east East Side—York Avenue—it is upscale, but not fashionable. Not chic.

The roof bar is glassed-in, and provides luxuriant views of Long Island City, in Queens, and the hazy New York night sky, a heavy sweater of clouds covering up the sweet glimmer of stars.

A woman sits at the bar. She is shredding the receipt the bartender brought her when she settled up her tab. She has just ordered another drink, and reopened her tab.

Her friend was in the bathroom, and rejoins her. “You doing okay?” her friend asks.

She does not answer.

“Heather? You doing good?”

“I’m fine,” Heather snaps. “It didn’t even bother me. You know that.”

“Okay,” the friend, Paula, says. She is tall, pretty, with black hair lashed in a knot on the back of her head, emphasizing her childlike brown eyes. She wears a jade-colored cocktail dress. Heather wears a dark red one.

“I didn’t even care when he said that!” Heather yells. She looks around her in a panic as Paula puts her hand on her shoulder. “Where the fuck are we anyway? What are we doing here?”

“This is where they stuck us,” Paula said. “No idea why.” Her eyes are glassy. Resigned.

An Asian man with a bald dome and slimy smile steps out of the elevator. He strides across room. He comes up to Heather. “They told me at the front desk,” he says. “That you were here.”

“Oh yeah?” Heather asks. She uses one fist to prop up her head. Her nails are painted black.

“I’m a huge fan. I’m Steve.” He sticks out his hand into space in the area of her midsection. He wiggles his fingers.

She takes it in her small hand, her black-lacquered fingers not quite wrapping around. She holds it.

Steve’s face turns red from this, turns red from the collar up in a shocking wave. Paula watches the blood light him up. Heather doesn’t notice.

“Huge, huge,” he says. “Huge  fan.”

“That’s really great,” she says, her voice plaintive like a little girl. “I’m glad, Steve.”

The stand like that, staring, and the music gets louder in their silence. Something sad. A woman’s voice singing in another language. The bartender, who is washing glasses at the little sink, is the only one in the room who understands the language. He knows the woman is singing about the sea.

Heather drops Steve’s hand in a flutter, jerking her hands up to her blond, messy hair.  “Great to meet you.”

“Let me buy you a drink,” he says.


“And you?” he asks Paula. “What’s your name?”

“Paula Vermiglio,” she says. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, dear. Seeing the two of you standing there I’d say you were a pair of stars. What do you do, Paula?”

“I work for the government.”

“Great, great. And what will you ladies have?”

“Water,” Paula says, popping out her Blackberry.

Heather’s mind swims. Her mouth comes open, shuts, the whole vast variety of what she wants crowding each other, until she blurts: “. . . a drink!”

It’s been a long day.

He gets her a vodka tonic with a splash of lime, and they trek from the bar to a back booth, Heather hauling along Paula, who does not want to go. Heather also totes her previous drink, a vodka martini. Arriving, she slumps into the leather of the booth, or is it pleather, it seems so succulent, she wants to bite it.

“I was in town for a thing,” she informs Steve. “I live . . . in town . . . in California.”

“Do you? I guess all you girls live out there. Out where it’s warm, huh? You too, Paula?”

Paula glances up from her phone. In the dark the glowing white screen shines on her face like a crystalline halo. “I live in Decatur, Illinois,” she says, as if she doesn’t quite believe it herself. She crosses her legs, swinging one unfashionably muscular thigh over the other, locking her feet at the ankles, leading Steve’s gaze to her gold stiletto sandals, which gather her unpainted toes in line, like crisp baguettes arrayed in a baker’s basket. “What do you do, Steve?” Paula asks. “Do you work in the hotel?”

“No, no.” He is taken aback. “I’m here on business. I stay here all the time on business. They all know me here, I stay here so much, that’s why they let me know when someone interesting’s in the bar.”

Heather slumps her head to the side and sees the wash of tiny electric lights that make up the fringe of the island, the highrises, the tiny planes flitting between them like moths. She feels sore and numb, all at once, uncomfortable in her tight, rare-steak colored dress. She thinks her hair smells funny, like melting plastic.

She slides her head further down, onto the thick hide of the booth. Paula reaches out as if to grab her, but is distracted by the angry vibration of her phone receiving a message, a bee sting to her upper arm, under which the silk purse holding the phone is jammed.

Heather can still feel the little man from this morning on her. She smashes her face into the booth’s hide as she thinks, I can’t smell him exactly, but he’s in my mouth. Polluted.  Heather slides her head into Steve’s lap. He looks down at her, her huge fan.

“Businessman, huh?” she hears her friend ask, faintly.

“Yeah,” Steve says, hopelessly. Steve registers Paula hasn’t noticed Heather’s head in his lap yet. Steve can guess Paula’s the kind of good friend who would make Heather move her head. Steve doesn’t want Paula to know. Heather simply watches Steve’s erection swell inside his black slacks in her peripheral vision, uninterested. “And you work for the government?” Steve blurts. “I guess ‘the government’ covers a lot of ground. You want to narrow that down for me, baby?”

Paula’s mouth twitches in a smile, the corners of her lips folding back gently, condescendingly. The bartender has turned off the music. “Nope.”

“Ha, you want me to guess?” Steve asks. “Is that it?”

Paula’s eyes leap up from her phone. “Heather! Where did you go?” She grabs Heather’s arm and pulls her upright. “Are you okay?”

Heather doesn’t answer and Steve crosses his legs. “Stay with us, baby,” he mutters, half tender and half dirty-talking.

“Mmm . . .” Heather says, grabbing a sweaty glass of water, Paula’s, and bringing it jerkily to her lips.

As she slurps, the bartender gives up a small amount of ground and puts on more music. He isn’t getting out of here immediately, much as he’d like to pretend. No more jazz or foreign languages. This empty late night, for him, calls for the Stones. The opening drum beat of Beggars Banquet blares out into the glassed-in, dark-carpeted acoustics. “Sympathy for the Devil.”

“I was in town for an audition,” Heather tells Steve when she puts down her cup.

“Oh yeah? Stars like you still gotta audition?”

She shrugs. “That’s right, baby—”

Her mouth is still open to say more but Steve cuts her off, cracking up.

“Hey! How does”—he keeps laughing—“how does—someone like you . . . audition . . . for one of those things?”

There is silence and his laughter dies into it. Heather looks at him, blinking. She grabs for the half-empty water glass. Paula grimaces at Steve, who still hasn’t lost his smile.

“You know . . .” Heather says. “You just fuck on camera, or whatever. Whatever they want you to do. To audition. So they can decide if you’re right for it.”

The bartender is suddenly standing by their booth. “Ladies,” he says. “Gentleman.”

“I didn’t get it,” Heather says, loud and uninterrupted. “I didn’t get the movie. They said I would, but I didn’t get it.”

“Ladies and their gentleman. Steve-o. I’m sorry to say it,” the bartender tries again.

“You trying to close up?” Paula asks.

“It looks that way. It looks like I’m trying to.”

“Hey, man,” Steve says. It’s not clear how he feels about Heather’s last remark, but he looks like someone whose belly is just starting to cramp, like someone who’s just starting to think he’s got food poisoning. Steve looks like someone on an airplane who suddenly thought, hey—did I leave the oven on? But Steve is not a quitter. “Hey man, it’s early.”

“Early?” asks the bartender. Track #2 has just come on. Now there’s singing about no expectations. About no one passing through here again. “Unfortunately, sir, it’s not early.”

“What time is it?” Heather asks.

“2:30 a.m.,” he says. “That’s when the hotel bar closes.”

“Hon . . .” Heather moans. “Don’t make us go down to those fucking rooms. Please, hon.”

The bartender laughs. Something about her moaning and the word fucking jogged his memory. “Shit! I knew you looked familiar! Heather Ford?”

Heather nods, pleased.

“Ok. We gotta do a shot.” He spins and goes back to the bar while Steve whoops and slaps the table, happily back in man-world. No longer worried by black nail polish, gold sandals, and unpleasant buzzkill images of pornographic auditions.

Paula takes out her Blackberry yet again. There’s another email from her husband that she deletes without reading.

The bartender practically sprints back with a tray filled with what look like oozing silver thimbles, the rings of condensation on the tray shining in the pink accent lighting of the bar like peppermint frosting. “Pátron, pátron,” he sings. “Pátron for Heather Ford and her friends. For Steve. You a friend of Heather Ford, man?” the bartender jokes to his business traveler regular, handing out the shots.

“Good friend, good friend,” Steve takes the shot. “New friend.”

Heather moves to take the shot, pressing her front into Steve. His entire body becomes stiff with the touch of her ballooning silicone breasts, the suddenly enveloping cloud of her blond, roughly textured hair (it smells like burning), the tightening and arching of her stomach muscles, all of which he has spent so long imagining, and the other, sweatier smells of her armpits and thighs, that he never imagined before.

She clenches the shot and downs it.

Two hours later Paula is standing outside and smoking with Ronaldo, the bartender, in the little unprotected area beyond the glasshouse of the rooftop bar. They huddle in front of a door, normally locked, that leads to the beginning of the fire escape.  Paula is now beyond caring that inside her friend lies sprawled on Steve’s lap, that Heather is by now too numb to feel the timid, sneaky encroachment of his hands on the topography of her torso. Paula isn’t drunk, but something inside of her is shutting down. She can feel it.

“Why you keep getting so many emails?” Ronaldo asks her when her phone buzzes again. “Texts? What’s going on with that phone?”

“I just got back,” she says. “Back in the country.”

“Oh yeah? Where were you?”

“Iraq,” she says, offhandedly.

“No shit!” Ronaldo says. “You Army?”

“Yup.” She doesn’t look at the latest message. A voicemail. Deletes it. Paula wishes there was a way to make her husband think she had never come back at all. To make him think she had died over there.

“That explains why you’re so built. You got muscles, girl.”

“Yeah,” she says quietly, sitting down on the steps behind them that lead back inside.

“Looks good on you.”

She gently puts the phone back in her green silk purse. Carefully, she takes the room key out of the purse. She takes out the credit card, the driver’s license. The military ID. Paula places the fingers of her left hand around her ring finger and tugs. Off come a diamond and a plain gold band. She puts these in the purse and zips it closed.

Ronaldo watches as she teeters back to her feet in her gold, knife-heeled sandals. Watches, stunned, as she cocks her arm back and pitches. The green purse goes sailing far out into the gray, smoggy night, arcing nearly across York Avenue before it plunges earthward and out of sight.

“Fuck!” Ronaldo yells. “You could hurt somebody! You could really get me in trouble!”

Paula silently looks at the empty space in the air where the purse was and imagines she really did die over there. Imagines she never came back at all.

That she was set free.

Inside, Steve’s got a firm grasp on Heather’s left breast and his hand is clutching the flesh of her inner right thigh. She babbles, semi-coherent, and he tries to keep her talking, keep her oblivious to what he can’t believe he’s doing. Finally, he risks bringing her attention to it. He wants to get this moving. He bends down towards her face and places a kiss on her parted lips.

She twists her face away. “Ew!” she screams. “PAULA!!” She rears up out of his lap, nearly breaking his wrist on the hand that had snuck up her tight dress. “Get the fuck off me, you fucking creep! You fucking ugly piece of shit!” Heather grabs her bag and runs, ripping off her shoes so she can go faster, runs out of the bar. She slips in the hallway and kneels, her stomach churning. She vomits, but springs back up again, wiping her mouth, the rugburn already making beads of blood stand on her knees. She mashes the elevator buttons but can’t wait. She runs down the bare neon-lit stairs and falls again, landing hard on the cement.

But she gets up again, and keeps running away, a horse broke out of its harness, a tiger escaped from the zoo. She keeps running down as long as there’s stairs, unstoppable.