THE STRIP: Another night in a bar. One of many. Not the last. Not nearly. She’s drunk, lost. Not as young as she wants to be, never as pretty as she’d hoped. How long now? Hours? Years? A whole life. Lonely. Someone thinks she’s funny, approaches her on a dare. Through the alcoholic mist she understands what’s happening but desire is on its knees. “Please,” it begs. He takes a picture of the two of them with his camera phone and smiles to his friends.
“Are you happy?” she whispers in his ear.
The smile fades, he turns to the bar. “What?”
“Do you like who you’re with?” she says, slurring slightly, hair falling in her eyes.
He almost laughs, then stops. “I’m married,” he replies.
She laughs. “That’s not what I asked.”
She puts a cigarette between her lips and lights it, blows a cloud of smoke above her head. She looks at him until he begins to turn away. She shakes her head. “Your teeth are so white.” He turns back to her. “Like bone,” she continues. “I cut myself once. It was just that color. Clean.”
For a moment they look at each other. There is no one else. She puts a hand on his as it rests on the bar. Her hand is warm and damp. Music pumps from speakers in the ceiling, dull and relentless. “God, I would love to go home with you,” she says.
His friends cannot hear the conversation, but out of the corner of his eye he can see them laughing. One of them, someone he barely knows, raises a mock toast. He ignores his friends and turns to the woman.
“What are you drinking?” he asks her.
“Jack and Coke.”
He motions to the bartender and orders a drink for the woman. He puts his money on the bar. The woman nods but does not say thank you.
“I have to go,” he says.
“I know you do, honey.”
She takes another drag on her cigarette and sways a little on her stool as she watches him walk away. In the mirror behind the bar she sees the laughter and back slaps. But he does not laugh. Not even a smile. Once she sees him look at her, just a glance, and then turn away. “It’s something,” she murmurs. For tonight, it’s enough.
RIP James Brown.