“The Roxanne Aesthetic”—A Short Story
Thanks to all the dope people reading these stories. Ending this “trilogy” of romantic-ish fiction pieces (started with “19 (Modern Love)” and followed up with “33 and 1/3”) with this follow-up. Maybe I’ll get back to this in the future, but a special project awaits. Stay tuned, and enjoy.
The morning before I was supposed to meet Allie, I called up my cousin Essex. Fletch was way too cuffed up to give me style advice, and he just wouldn’t care how I dressed for shit like that. Essex, on the other hand…
“What’s her favorite movie? Or song?” He gets involved. Very involved.
“It’s our first date, Essex. I haven’t asked her basic questions like that.”
“But she’s a journalist. You’re supposed to prod her about culture.”
“I’m not gonna bug her about work. She doesn’t bug me about my job.” I placed my phone on my bed and looked at myself in the mirror. Tie? No tie? “Should I wear a tie?”
“What’s her aesthetic like?”
“Why does that matter?” Stupid question to ask.
“Why wouldn’t it matter? The aesthetic is everything. How else would you know whether she cares or not about how you dress? Is she fancy? Wears lots of jewelry? Or bummy? Like cool with you wearing sweats and dunks? Come on, you called for help.”
I was really regretting that. “She was comfortable. Not too much to distract from her.” That record store encounter was forming an image in my head. Autumn. Neutral tones. Nothing bright. “I think she’s the kind of girl that you could chill in a dive bar talking shit while the Police are playing.”
“Like kinda hipster, but not really annoying like real hipsters?”
“Yeah. I don’t see her as annoying, but annoyed. Agitated’s a better word.”
“Why do that to yourself? Didn’t She-who-must-not-be-named have a stick up her ass all the time?”
“Grace?” I guess she deserved to be on Voldemort status. “I think there’s a soul there. Depth. Like she’s beautiful, and she looks like she cares about beauty and having her own style. Just not to the point where you can really consider her shallow. I could see substance in her eyes, if that makes sense.”
“Hopefully in a non-mucusey way.”
“No, you fuck. There’s depth. We’d been texting for maybe a week or two now?” Maybe three: I always lose track of time.
“Alright. Seems like she’d be fine with whatever. What did you have in mind?”
“Slacks. Zip-up hoodie. Maybe sneakers? I think about a tie.”
“Eh. It’s a first date with a girl who writes about reality TV and dive bars, probably. And you fucking work in advertising. Why not just be chill about this?” Essex paused a bit. I peeped a fly entering my room. “Why are you even calling?”
“I — I don’t know,” I started chasing after the pest, then gave up and plopped on my bed. “It’s been a while. A long while. And you’re the romantic here, man. Meeting random girls on subways and shit.”
“Don’t judge my greatness, cousin.”
“Yeah, your great hopelessness. How is it with that train station girl… Lorimer?”
“No. Delancey.” I heard a door slam on his end of the line. “And I really don’t know. She’s scary.”
“In what way?”
“I mean, have you seen that girl on the news?” I had: almost six feet tall, with a glare like Megan Fox and a mean figure. She had nice freckles though, but I think Essex was more intimidated by her being some startup founder. “She doesn’t need me. And she’s supposed to be gone to San Francisco in like a few days.”
“Don’t stress it, Ess. As you like to say, no woman’s out of reach. And maybe she likes you enough to let things work out when she moves.”
“Emphasis on enough.” I fell back and laid out on my bed. I hated seeing my cousin feel hopeless about love, but I knew bad luck had to be more of a universal issue than just in the Thornton family. Between his mom and my dad’s rocky marriages, it was easy to hope things would get better in time. Not really with the parents, but you know, Essex, me, whatever other siblings we had.
“I think you’ll be fine,” Essex finally said. “Sooner or later. And after a few more bumps in the road.”
Until then, there was the sick enjoyment in the failings and triumphs in getting there.
It was supposed to rain heavily in the lower half of Manhattan. Monsoon shit. But by the time I got to Astor Place, the storms had passed and the color was washed out of the entire area and the vibrancy was deep within the city puddles, drains and sewers. I dodged the liquid minefields and trotted through St. Marks Place. Kids rocking gauges or crowding by the Barcade, cigarettes in hand. Girls by the tattoo parlors that also sold glass pipes and one hitters. Fake foodies over by the fake Pomme Frites at one end of the block or the Papaya King on the other end. It was easy to fit in at a place where everyone there never fit in.
I found a place with a beat-up door and a barely legible sign, and jogged inside. The smell of whisky wafted around. People were all over the bar, screaming at the Yankees to drive a damn run in. A few mingled around the lone pool table, a single light revealing the cloudy air. I stepped through and scouted. Heavy set guy with a bowl cut and a Jeremy Shockey jersey circa 2006. Two black guys off in the corner: one way too happy to down a Corona, the other looking both ways before rolling a joint underneath the bar. The bartender herself was a little thicker than she wanted to admit, in a denim jacket as pale as her skin. She fumbled with an iPod, trying to place the perfect song for herself.
No one was really listening anyway. She pressed play, and a guitar riff with a reggae vibe blasted over well-worn speakers. It wasn’t the worst thing, but once the bassline for that Police song came in, you could tell they probably needed to be replaced.
That Police song. Like Essex and I talked about. I turned to the door, and as soon as Sting wailed “Roooox-anne”, she stepped in. Graphite pencil skirt hugged her enough to sketch the lace design on her tights. Leather jacket with a plaid shirt underneath that hung below the waist a bit. She clutched a purse in one hand, the dim lights giving just enough of an extra glow to her skin and glare to the lenses of her glasses. Hair, black, shoulder-length, cut like from a razor hung straight like drapes around her neck.
She wore her smile like it was her finest accessory: not often, but when visible, made your heart quicken and your hands start to break a sweat. Which I was doing right now. Fuck.
That smile turned to a laugh. “You good, homie?”
I snapped out of it as the chorus kicked in. “Um,” I coughed, “Yeah. Just been waiting on your ass so long, I didn’t think you were coming.” That was a lie.
Allie apologized, and I clarified, “I’m fucking with you, just got in a couple of minutes ago. Was looking for a decent place to sit.”
She punched my shoulder and greeted me with a hug. Whatever perfume she wore was one that I could get used to. “There’s a spot opening up at the bar.” Sure enough, the bases loaded opportunity for the Yankees was for naught, and the patrons filed out to curse outside and smoke their Marlboros. The black guys followed behind, lighter and rolled up J in hand.
I laughed, “That’s a spot alright.” She tugged my hand and led me to the bar. I thought aloud to the music, eyes closed tight. “I loved you since I knew youuu…”
“Did you just say something?” She caught me in the moment, playful glare upwards to my now-reddened and embarrassed face.
“Nah.” I laughed, as she squinted and let it slide.
Some part of me wasn’t so quick to take me off the hook. I didn’t know what it was, but I brushed it off. Probably just a flesh wound of fleeting attraction.