We’re Not In Love, by Will Tinkham
by Benjamin Imamovic
Corky already feels as if he’s running—running in place is still running. A job going nowhere. Running around with Hattie. Their true love: quarreling, the thrill of creating and salting each other’s wounds. Running each other down. Corky buys himself another beer, another drink for Hattie, watches a couple stumble away from the pool tables, weaving in unison as if joined at the hip. Reaching the bar, the guy pulls out a wad of bills, speaks out loud and cocky: “Say, Mr. Bartender, coupla sweet, fine tequilas.”
The bartender sizes them up, apparently deciding whether or not to show them the door. “Lime and salt?” he asks.
“Damn straight, man,” the guy says, laughing. “The sweetest damn tequila…” he murmurs, reaching for the women’s arm as she wavers.
The bartender sets out two shots of tequila and limes and salt. The guy throws some money on the bar, slips a sliver of lime between the woman’s lips. He bends toward her, lays a long wet kiss on her neck as she arches her head back, biting lightly on the thin slice of lime between her lips. She wobbles slightly as he gropes for the salt, sprinkling the same spot on her neck, setting the shaker down and sucking hickey-like the salt from her skin. She leans into him as he reaches for the shot and he throws back the tequila in one long swallow. Moving his mouth to hers, biting the lime between her teeth, he slowly sucks out the juice.
Corky turns to Hattie, raises his eyebrows.
“They’re doin’ it wrong,” Hattie mutters, both hands gripping her drink. She gives a furtive glance toward the couple. “Should be lime, tequila and then salt…”
“Is there really a wrong way?” Corky wonders aloud and turns back as the couple caps off their kiss; with some flair the guy slips the lime from his mouth. A fine spray dances on Corky’s cheek. Tequila? Lime? Corky wonders. Saliva? Sweat?
The woman grips the shaker, makes a circle with her tongue on the guy’s neck, fills in the circle with a wet kiss, dusts the kiss with salt and sucks it away. Teetering as she reaches for the tequila, she tilts back her head, slowly swallowing the shot. Corky watches the rippling of her throat; her hand rests against his forearm as she reaches out for balance. Setting the glass on the bar—it rattles onto its side—and pushing off Corky’s arm, she lunges into the guy and sucks the lime from his mouth.
Corky raises his eyes toward the bartender, the bartender rolls his. Corky looks back, witnesses the end of their flavorsome kiss; the woman staggers back against him, a vague smile on her face.
“Wanna give her a try, man?” the guy says to Corky. “Sweetest little shot you’ll ever taste, man…”
“I think I’ll have to pass,” Corky answers with a laugh and Hattie raps him on the arm. “What?! I said I’d pass,” he mutters, turning to her and rubbing his bicep.
“Only ‘cause I’m here.” Hattie runs her finger around the wet ring left by her glass next to coaster she doesn’t use.
“How the hell can you say that?”
“A couple more sweet ones, man,” the guy says, pointing at the shot glasses.
“That’s okay, I think you two have had plenty,” the bartender says and pulls back his shoulders, stretching the Lyle’s Bar t-shirt logo menacingly across his chest. Corky thinks the guy might make trouble but the guy just laughs and throws his arm around the woman. She clutches his chest and—in mutual stagger—they make for the door.
Corky finishes his beer, orders another and a drink for Hattie. He sips from the new beer. “I can’t believe you think I’d make a spectacle of myself like that right here in Lyle’s.” He picks at the label of his beer, can’t believe he is running right into another fight. Another fight in this marathon called love.
“How ‘bout that slut you were runnin’ around with last month? I bet you made quite a spectacle of yourself with her!” Hattie says way too loud, actually spitting out spectacle. She pulls her straw from her drink, tries to snap it in two, it merely stretches and curls clumsily.
Corky shushes her. “Now who’s making a spectacle?” He slugs from his beer, wonders why this keeps happening. He’s told himself: never bring that one up, yet she brings it up and he runs right into it. A little mistake, a small wound she loves to pour salt into—and somehow he seems to love the pain.
“We used to make a spec’acle of ourselves…” Hattie takes a long swallow from her drink. “Back when we first met. Smoochin’ on the bus and goddamn holdin’ hands and shit…”
Wasn’t all that long ago, Corky thinks. Not long ago and now I wanna run…
“S’pose they’re in love?” Hattie says into her drink.
“The goddamn couple suckin’ tequila off each other!”
“Yea, sure…” Corky drinks from his beer. “They’re drunk, we’re drunk, they’re in love, we’re in Lyle’s…”
Hattie punches his arm.
“Jesus! That hurt…” Corky mutters, rubs his arm and she hits him again.
“You’re such an ash-hole!” Hattie slurs, again too loud.
“An ash-hole?” Corky laughs. “What the hell’s an ash-hole?” His laugh is phony. “A fire pit? A grave for an urn?” He wonders why he keeps at her, always taking the shot—and never having the sense to run away from the fight.
“You bastard,” she mutters, slugging him weakly. She finishes off her drink, drops the glass down, ice spewing over the edge of the bar, the glass following and shattering at the bartender’s feet. “We’re not in love,” Hattie announces.
“That’s a shame,” the bartender mutters. “Think you two can find the door?”
Corky nods and throws a couple dollars down as a tip. “Come on, Hat,” he says, sliding off his stool. “We got a spectacle to make.”
Hattie mutters something unintelligible and throws her arms around his neck. They stagger back a couple steps. “Okay, then,” Corky laughs, “we can dance…” They stumble toward the door in a clumsy waltz-tango, draw a smattering of applause. He tells himself never to bring this up again, but he knows she will.
“Cork!” Hattie yells as they reach the door. “Cork, we’re not in love…” she says more softly. “What are they like? What do people in love do?”
Corky pauses thoughtfully, pushes open the door, says: “They shoot tequila, don’t they?” but doesn’t laugh. Hattie gives him a look like she doesn’t know who he is but elbows him in the ribs just the same.
Will Tinkham has been published most recently in Wilderness House Literary Review, Shaking Like a Mountain, and Talkin’ Blues (2010 B.J. Rolfzen Award). Other publications include now-defunct literary journals Lake Street Review and MSS, as well as an anthology, Stiller’s Pond (New Rivers Press).