Saturday, October 15, 2022

New Short Story: "Try Again"


Try Again

by Brian Greene


Claire was Chris’s new roommate. Chris was after me to try dating her.

Chris and I had been friends for about 12 years by then. We were both veterans of working in the book business. In years past, we’d hustled in various indie book shops, ultimately in management capacities, in the major Northeastern city where we lived. Now, with all the mom and pop stores long gone, I was an Assistant Manager at a downtown Barnes & Noble and Chris had an office job with B&N, serving as an assistant to a group of buyers.

I’d never met Claire, and when Chris described her look to me, I swore to him I’d never seen her. Or I had and she hadn’t made an impression. He said she knew who I was and that she was interested in me.

“She thinks you’re hot. And she likes power pop and bourbon. You two’re probably soul mates. What’re you waiting for?”

I wasn’t all that eager to date then. I’d been divorced for around four months, after a two-year separation. Sure, that’s enough time to be ready. But getting over a broken marriage (we’d been wedded for 14 years) is a process of grieving, at least it was for me. The decision to split was mutual and I knew it was the right move for both my ex and me, but there was still a lot of pain to absorb, along with regret and guilt. There were certain albums I loved that I could never listen to anymore, because they were ones she and I especially liked to hear while together. I still couldn’t look at pictures of her pregnant with our daughter without breaking down and sobbing.

But I knew I needed to try. I forced myself to get on two dating apps and had been on a handful of dates that were pleasant enough but that didn’t lead to anything lasting. I still had my profiles up, but I rarely took the time to swipe, look at my likes, or respond to any messages I got.

One Saturday night, I went to bed before 8:00 because there was nothing in particular that I wanted to do and I was tired of my own thoughts. I’d dropped my daughter with my ex earlier that afternoon and wouldn’t see her again until Wednesday evening. I was off from work both Saturday and Sunday. When I woke up that Sunday, I knew something needed to change. I was fully rested and slurping my second cup of coffee by 5:30 a.m. At around 9:00, I called Chris.

“Is your roomy still up for meeting me? I might have time for that today.”

“She’s asleep. Like I was before your call. Like any sane person is this time on a Sunday. I’ll give her your number and tell her to call you later.”

The call came at around 11:20.

“Hey hottie!”

Her voice was loud and scratchy.

“I hafta work from noon to six. I sell overpriced shoes at a ridiculous store in a crappy strip mall. Why don’t you come over at 7? I have the first two Big Star albums on vinyl, the original Ardent ones. They were my dad’s. You hafta bring over some bourbon and some kinda mixer.”

Chris sent me a text that read, “I’ll find something to do tonight to give you two the pad to yourselves. Don’t fall in love too hard.”

Claire stands around 5’8 (one inch taller than me) and is fair-skinned and willowy. That night, her peroxide blond hair was cut short in a pixie style, and she wore barrettes on either side of her head. She had on oversized, horn-rimmed glasses. When she smiled widely, as she did the second I walked into the apartment, I noticed she was missing a tooth, about two spaces to the left of her front teeth. At 42 (making her six years my junior), she looked like an overaged indie girl, possibly a future bag lady. I thought she was the cutest thing I’d seen in a long while.

I can’t clearly recall what Claire and I talked about during the initial part of my visit. We drank glasses of the Wild Turkey and Schweppe’s ginger ale I brought over as Big Star’s #1 Record spun on their turntable. I know I said something about a few of the songs on that album being too sappy for me while I loved most of it, and her telling me about an experience she and two friends recently had panhandling in front of a train station.

By the time the second side of the album was on, Claire and I were sprawled across their ratty, thrift shop-purchased living room sofa. The skin on her forearms was coarse and scaly, qualities I’d never come across before on a human. I remember thinking Crocodile Girl and picturing her as a half-human/half-reptile being in some kind of fantasy movie.

As Chris Bell cried/sang “Try Again,” I swirled my tongue around the gap in Claire’s mouth where her missing tooth should’ve been.

Later, we were naked and Claire got up to replay #1 Record. She put her scaly arms back around my neck and sighed deeply. After Bell sang the words, “I feel like I’m dying” on the album’s opener, Claire asked me, “What do you think the afterlife is?”

“Hmm. I don’t have any particular religious beliefs. If you’d asked me before my daughter was born, I would’ve said there won’t be one and that’s how it should be. We’ll just die and that’s that, we won’t go anywhere else and we won’t know or feel anything. But now I want an afterlife. I need there to be one. I’ve seen my daughter suffer. That changed me. I need to be with her in a place where she can’t be hurt anymore.”

Alex Chilton sang, “It gets so hard in times like now to hold on,” and I asked Claire for her take on what happens after we die.

“Do you know about this guy John Lilly? No? Oh, wow. You should. He was a doctor and scientist who did all these far-out experiments with consciousness expansion. Like with dolphins and isolation tanks, sometimes while tripping on Special K. That movie Altered States with William Hurt? That’s based on him. Anyway, I read this interview with him from really late in his life where the interviewer asked him what he thought the afterlife would be. He said he had no idea but he hoped he would be reincarnated with five other people in the brain of a sperm whale. I could go for something like that.”

We were quiet for a stretch. Then, when “Watch the Sunrise” played this time through the album, I cried. I didn’t know if it was about my ex-wife, my daughter, or what.

Through my tears I said to Claire, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what this is. I’m having a great time with you.”

Alex Chilton sang the words, “It’s okay to look outside/your love, it will abide” and Crocodile Girl pulled me closer to her.








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