Never break up with a woman at Christmastime

by Brian Clarey

“So what’s the story, bub?”

“Whaddaya mean, Shirleen?” I say. “You’re the one who called me.”

“True, true,” she says, sliding onto the barstool next to me, “but I hadn’t heard from you in a while. Figured something’s gotta be up with you.”

She gestures to the barmaid.

“Let me get a cool one over here, darlin’,” she says. “On this guy.”

She gets her bottle, spins on her stool to face me.

“So what’s the deal, fella?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m kind of phasing you out.”

“Phasing me out?” she says, giving me a little dose of the stinkeye. “Your pretty little wife have anything to do with that?”

“No,” I say. “She’s got nothing to do with this. It’s more about me. I’m trying to get a little more serious.”


“Yeah. You know’… as a journalist and all.”

“Oh man,” she says, and slips one of my smokes out of the packet, lights it with her eye lasers like she always does. She sucks it down in a single pull. “I should’ve seen this coming.”

“Yeah,” I say, and gesture to the bartender for another beer. “I knew it would only be a matter of time. It was great in the beginning – I know it was great. But’… you know’….” I take a drink and pull a smoke. Green Shirleen lights it for me with something of a sad-puppy look in her laser-shooting eyes.

“Oh come on,” I say. “You knew the deal. You knew you were a device from the beginning. How long can something like that last? I mean’… this made-up superhero business? I don’t even know if people like superheroes anymore.”

“Aw hell,” she says. “That’s a load of pure stank. We’re big-time! Little movie called Superman Returns? Ever heard of it? Hell, we’re even on network TV these days! You seen that one show? With the badass cheerleader and all?”

“Not even my kids were interested in that movie,” I say. “And that show is called ‘Heroes.’ And by the time network television gets their hands on something it’s already dead.”

She considers this a moment, rolls her fingertips on the bar hard enough to leave little dents in the surface of the wood. She looks to the barmaid and orders another.

“So this is it, huh?”

“I’m afraid so,” I say. “But hey’… I may trot you out again if’… you know’… you become’… relevant again.”

“‘Relevant,’ huh?”

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s only a matter of time before the whole costumed crimefighting thing looks fresh again. Give it a year or two.”

“A year or two?”

“Yeah,” I say, and finish my beer, wave for another round.

“I’ll get these,” I say. “We’ll sit and drink them, have a couple smokes, and then we’ll go our separate ways.”

She just looks at me.

I fumble for my beer.

“We’re cool,” I say. “Right?”

She leans back in her chair, crosses those arms roped with thick, feminine muscle over the shiny purple breastplate she wears. She shakes her head slowly, loosing a strand of her long, red hair from her shellacked up-do, each follicle strong enough to hold a full-grown man as he rappels the side of a modest cliff.

“Well ain’t you something,” she says. “Ain’t you just Mr. Frickin’ Big Man, Mr. Seerious Journalist. Mr. I’m So Cool I Can Just Walk Away From the Fruits of My Own Mind.”

She leans over to me. Close. Her breath smells like pine cleaner.

“Well let me tell you something,” she says. She’s squeezing her beer bottle, making the fingers of her opera glove go shiny. “Forget the fact that I’ve saved your ass more’n once, when you came to the table with nothing much else to write about. Fact is, you can no more ditch me than you can ditch your own ears. You made me. You created me out of thin air. Fact is, buckaroo, that I’ll always exist somewhere in that twisted little psyche of yours. You can try all you want, but sooner or later I’ll show up in one of these here columns or in some other kind of story.

“I may even show up in your dreams,” she whispers.

With that she drains the last of her beer, looks me square in the eye and crushes her empty bottle in her hands, cupping and squeezing the broken shards like a snowball until vapor rises from between her mitts.

When she eases her hands apart there’s a tiny green gem in her palm formed from the fused glass of the bottle. She pulls a twist-tie from a container on her utility belt and fashions a small hook. She hands the thing to me.

“Hang this on your Christmas tree, fella,” she says, standing from her seat and making for the door.

She turns to me in the frame.

“And never try to break up with a girl right before Christmas,” she says. “It’s tacky.”

And she’s up, up and away.

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