That one night that was like all the other nights.

by Jamie Sughroue Brown

My iPhone screen illuminates, vibrating on the bar. 

It amuses me to no end to see my comrades seated upon the neighboring stools grasp anxiously at their phones, parallel companions to their beers. 

I can almost read the thoughts accompanying their body language. 

‘Oh god, yesssss, finally... wait, is it mine?'

Sally, to my right, exudes a palpable desperate hope as she snatches her phone up needlessly. Like mine, her iPhone is laying screen up. If she'd received a call or a text, she'd have seen it. 

She side-eyes me, knowing I've witnessed her silent shame. I nod back at her in solidarity. 

I mean, I'm not judging her. I've been there. 

If it's face up, it's reality-time - so, I'll put my phone screen down just to give myself that fleeting burst of false hope every time I feel the pulse or hear the familiar chirp of a text. 

We're a pathetic mammal, humans. The tricks we try to play on ourselves are utterly nonsensical. A beaver is just trying to survive out there in the wild -- not building a false dam to fuck with himself in some way.

Such a welcome pain, that leap your heart makes in your chest when the beating muscle contracts and the adrenaline surges in response to a stimuli. 

Smart phones have made masochists of us all.

I maintain that my dating life/relationships would last longer if instantaneous communication didn't exist. A single drunken text can have an immediate effect. 

If the carrier pigeon died from dehydration or the pony express rider was shot by a rogue bandit needing said pony to travel to his next pilfering locale, that letter sealed with a red lipstick'd kiss never made it to Freddie in Floria. 

Unfortunately, our digital indiscretions almost always reach their destinations.

Trixie takes a curious, discreet peek at the message on the screen from her vantage point across from me at the bar. I scowl at her and grumble about having no privacy these days. 

Hacking out a laugh, disguising it as a cough, I hear a “bullshit” in there somewhere as she pounds on her chest. 

She pulls the Pabst out of my koozie and replaces it with a fresh one from the cooler. 

The familiar hiss of the carbonation hitting the air cues my salivation glands and my mouth waters. I take a swallow.

“Darlin, did I ever tell you about my cousin Sylvie? She's the one that lives up in Arkansas.”

I mull this over and can't come up with anything. I'm DYING to read my text message, but I know better than to give her anything less than my full attention. Not only will I be minus a beer, but she'll start the whole goddamn story all over again. 

“Nope. You sure haven't.” Safest reply I have in my arsenal. As with the audacity to interrupt, if I tell her I have heard it before, she'll just tell me again anyway as though I'd never spoken.

“Well, that Sylvie, she ain't on the Facebook or the other internets. She does have a cellular telephone, but I'll be damned if she'll do anything but call people on it. She's a right smart girl, about your age - 31, right?” Trixie looks at me expectantly, and I nod my acquiescence. 

“She don't got no college degree, but she's right smart. She's learned a lot from the life God's given her so far.” Trixie looks up as a new patron ‘clears their throat' near the cash register, waving a five in the air. She hustles over to serve them.

She returns, and leaning on her elbow, face flush with mine, elucidates her exact point. 

“Listen here. We're getting busy, so I need to wrap this up. You're a smart girl. Sylvie's a smart girl. We all come from different places in this world, and we may do all kinds of things in a different way to get to the same place. We need to be touched, we need to be loved, we need to feel valued. But there's some people out there that will take advantage of you, of your kindness, of your good heart. Make good decisions. Remember that when you finally read that text message that's been putting ants in your pants.”

She nods at me once, then bustles away to feed some dollars in to the jukebox. Before long I hear the expected, 'Hello. I'm Johnny Cash.'

I stuff a wad of ones into the tip jar and saunter out the back door to the patio, befuddled. 

I pull the American Spirits out of my bag and light up before I slide onto the chilly plastic seat in the dark corner. It's strangely empty on the patio tonight. Still early, I rationalize.

Propping my feet up on the shitty table holding my beer, I gaze up at the wooden trellis, spying the bright full moon peeking behind a particularly full cloud. 

“Can I bum one of those?” 

Thank god he's asking politely and not robbing me, because I'll be damned if this dude didn't stealthily walk next to my chair with me completely oblivious.

“Sure, no problem. Need a light, too?” I'm feeling generous, and pull out a cigarette for him. I can't see his face worth shit.

“That's a lass.” He grabs my hand as I light him up, cig dangling from his lips. 

The spark of flame allows our eyes to meet, pupils dilating reflexively. 

Mouth curving into a smile, he tightens his grip. “Have a care not to set me afire.” 

I note the beard, the full-on smile and can't filter my response. “You too, love.”

This garners a guffaw, and he lets loose of my hand. “Sit down and talk at me awhile.” He pats the chair I've abandoned and pulls one over for himself. 

“I'd love to,” I respond. “I just need to take care of one quick thing.”

I pull my phone out of my back pocket - and without reading the content, just whom it was sent from, I hastily type out my reply: ‘I'm not drunk enough.' 

I press and hold the power button, turning the goddamn thing off.

“So.” I turn my chair, making eye contact in the dim light. “I'm Maggie.”