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by Michele Christopher
Inspired by another FTTW writer, I decided to shake off some of my old, dusty fiction, clean it up a bit and hang it out to dry here.
There were only so many small bars in the area, only so many places that would keep serving you gin and tonics even though you were so drunk you couldn’t tell a cigarette from a tampon and tried to smoke the latter. So Pearl often ended up Stickman’s Bar & Grill, also known as Sticky’s - which had more to do with the condition of the floor and seats than the owner’s nickname.
Sticky was good to Pearl in all the ways she needed. He kept her glass filled, didn’t ask prying questions and discreetly called the right people to pick her up whenever she passed out in one of the famously sticky booths. There were no press at Sticky’s. No gossip columnists hanging around, waiting for a good story. They were all at the big, trendy places, the ones that changed names and themes so often that it wasn’t unusual to see a starlet type woman emerge from her limo decked out for Disco Revival Night at Xanadu to embarrassingly discover that it’s Bang Your Head Night at Hardcore’s.
Pearl had been there, done that, had the permanent bags under her eyes to prove it. Over the past year, as things with her and Chaz descended to some unknown level of hell, she quietly slid away from that crowd. They were so self-involved they barely noticed she stopped hanging out with them and Pearl only knew what was going on in the lives of her former friends from reading Page Six.
On this particular Friday, Pearl found herself once again perched on a sticky barstool, watching a hockey game and staring into her sixth gin and tonic. As always, her eyes drifted from her drink to the mirror behind the bar. She stared herself down again, noting with bemusement that the gradual progression from black hair to blonde had finally stripped her of the last thing of her former life she had clung to. Gone was the porcelain skin, replaced by hundreds of dollars worth of bottled tan. Gone was the glittering smile, which fled town along with the sparkle in her eyes - right around the same time Chaz asked for a divorce. And gone was the bird-like demeanor that once defined her - the delicate steps, the gentle chirping of her sweet voice, the flighty way in which she danced around the house while cleaning or taking care of their charges. She had become a buzzard, all sharp-beaked and cackling. No, what had Chaz called her just yesterday? A hag. She chuckled out loud. The irony of him calling her a hag was completely lost in Chaz’s simple mind.
Pearl took another sip of her drink and looked back toward the bar wall. Mirror, mirror.....No, she wouldn’t go there.
"Are you still hung up on that ‘fairest of all’ crap?"
She hadn’t realized she said the words out loud. She turned slowly, even though she recognized the voice and knew who was standing behind her.
"Chaz. How nice to see you."
Pearl slid off her stool.
"Where are you going?"
Pearl grabbed Sticky by the arm and swung him around to meet her. She launched into an awkward waltz, dragging the barkeep across the floor with her as she sang.
Someday my Prince will come
Chaz came up behind them, grabbed Pearl by her waist and dragged her back to the bar. The foosball players applauded and Pearl tried to curtsy while her husband pushed her onto the bar stool.
"Is this a regular thing, Pearl? You come in here, get drunk, tell a few good stories about our marriage?"
Chaz sat next to his wife. "Sticky, could I get a Guinness, please? Pint?"
He moved his stool closer to Pearl’s so he could talk without having to raise his voice above the clacking of the foosball table and the dance hall techno coming from the jukebox.
"Pearl, I want to apologize. I want to come back."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, each sipping their drink and thinking of what to say next. Pearl wanted to tell Chaz to leave her alone and never come back, but as soon as she opened her mouth to say as much, she shut it again, not sure if that’s what she wanted at all.
Chaz had come to Sticky’s with a prepared speech, but found himself unable to recite it. He was going to beg her forgiveness, promise to make things good again, sweep Pearl off her feet with words of romance and love. But as he watched his wife lift her drink to her mouth and miss, the gin and tonic dribbling down her chin and neck, he remembered why he slept with Gretel in the first place.
"I’ll tell you why I slept with Gretel."
The foosball players stopped mid-play. Sticky, who had been washing glasses, paused and turned his head slowly toward the prince and princess. Even the jukebox stopped on its own volition. Every other patron turned their head toward the couple, their mouths agape and their eyes wide in fear.
"I....what?" Pearl’s voice was shrill and loud. Somewhere, a glass burst.
"You let yourself go, Pearl. What happened to the beautiful princess I found in the crystal coffin? What happened to your ebony hair and fair skin and slim figure?"
The anger that soared through Pearl’s blood could not be contained. She reached for an empty beer bottle and hurled it at Chaz’s head. In her drunken state, her aim was way off and the bottled sailed over Chaz, smashing against the wall in a clatter of broken glass and splintered wood. The patrons gasped in unison, mouths hanging open, eyes wide, like badly drawn cartoons.
“I let myself go? I. Let. Myself. GO?” Pearl’s voice had almost reached dog whistle levels. “I spend all those years cooking for eight of you, cleaning up after eight of you, doing your laundry and making you fresh pies and shining your shoes and cleaning your filthy work clothes with absolutely no time left for myself and you have the nerve to say I let myself go? Where was the time for me, Prince Charming? When did I have time to exercise or get some sleep? WHEN??” She was screaming now and one of the foosball players ran out the door, knowing that the gossip columnists gathered next door at Xanadu would pay him handsomely for the tip off that there was a royal fight going on in Sticky’s.
The door burst open just as the fight was going into fever pitch. The foosball player breathlessly led the charge of celebrity gossipers into the bar, pointing at Pearl and Chaz, who were all red faced and gritted teeth.
"You owed us, Pearl. If it weren’t for me and those incontinent midgets, you’d still be passed out in a glass box!"
Bulbs flashed. Camcorders whirred.
"You bastard. You misogynist, sexist, ungrateful bastard. Why don’t you go back to that little piggie Gretel? How can you yell at me for being out of shape when you fucked that cow? What does she have that I don’t???"
The crowd that had gathered in and outside of Sticky’s held their collective breath. All you could hear was the scritching of a pencil on pad as the Page Six columnist recorded every word.
Pearl eyed a broken beer bottle on the bar and grabbed it. She menaced her husband for a few minutes, waving the bottle around like a ninja showing off his nunchucks. She charged across the room towards Chaz, arm outstretched, jagged bottle pointing towards the prince’s stomach.
A reporter snapped a picture and the flash went off, temporarily blinding Pearl. Her lunge towards her husband’s mid section struck only air and she flew off balance, landing on the parquet floor. The bottle skidded across the bar and stopped at the prince's feet. He kicked it aside and bent down to help his wife to her feet. They stared at each other for a few minutes before heading back to the bar counter.
The gossipers, realizing their story deadline was approaching, ran out of the bar. The royal spectacle had ended. Bar chatter started up again as if it never stopped, people picking up conversations where they left off before the fracas began.
Chaz pulled a stool out for Pearl and she sat down, picking up her warm gin and tonic. Chaz asked Sticky for a shot of Jack and then changed his mind and asked for the whole bottle, which he began to gulp down in earnest. The couple sat in thick silence for a while, rehashing in their minds what just happened. Above them, Channel Five News flashed a breaking news report on the screen - Royal Couple in Bar Brawl, Film at 11!
Chaz raised his bottle to Pearl and she responded by lifting her glass towards him.
"To Happily Ever After."