Literary Orphans

Bridget Barrister
by Elizabeth Jennings

1477474_509425549164659_1001315010_nBridget Barrister is here. The dress she is wearing is black, backless and asymmetrical, held together with a glittering labyrinth of zips and ribbons. It looks as though one wrong move would send the little scrap of fabric fluttering to the gritty nightclub floor. Bridget shifts her weight to her left high-heeled pump and the dress remains intact. Bridget twists around to place her empty glass on the bar behind her and the dress remains intact. It glitters spitefully in the alternating pink and green lights declaring, “BUD” and “WEISER.” She flips a strand of dark-blonde hair over her shoulder, letting out a quaint little laugh that she’s practiced in the mirror countless times before. Just looking at her, it’s obvious she rehearsed. The guy standing opposite her doesn’t seem to notice or care as he places his hand on her forearm. He grins stupidly at Bridget. Yes, Bridget Barrister is here, of all places, on your birthday. You take a shot of tequila.

Bridget does not know you are here, skulking at a dark corner table just beyond the reach of the dancing colored lights. She is too busy reapplying her lip-gloss and adjusting her hot pink bra strap so that – any moment now – it will slip slowly down her shoulder as if by accident. You wipe your mouth with the back of your sleeve. The guy extends a hand to Bridget, hoping to lead her into the throngs of sweating, sparkling bodies crushing against one another. The floor is lit with black light, slick with beer. Your friends are in there somewhere, grinding their crotches up against each other, up against complete strangers, up against innocent, by-standing support beams. You have slipped away unnoticed. Across the room, Bridget tilts her head down like the demure angel she’s not. You head for the opposite end of the bar. She takes his hand. The bra strap falls.

The alcohol is hot in your stomach. You watch the guy walking away, disappearing into the crowd with Bridget. He is tall and his white dress shirt, un-tucked, is glowing purple across his shoulders. You know him, you’re sure of it, though his name escapes you. You’ve seen him. It’s hard to say where, but you’ve got that nagging itch of uncertain familiarity. Bridget, on the other hand, you have known for years. Balancing on a barstool, you pull the decorative fruit-kebab out of your drink and bite into an orange wedge. It’s pink and sticky with flavored syrup. You spit the seeds into your cocktail napkin. With the tips of your fingers, you slide the empty glass a little further away from you along the bar. That’s the last thing you need – someone, someone like Bridget Barrister just for example, approaching while there is a drink in your hand that looks like it stepped out of the Malibu Barbie Dream House. As if she hadn’t done enough damage already.

A t-shirt that smells like beer appears at your side. “There you are!” it says.

Hey, you say.

The person inside the beer t-shirt is Nate. “Where have you been?” he asks, giving you a supportive nudge on the shoulder. “You’re missing your own party!”

Oh hey, no biggie, you tell him. Just doing some refueling for the dance par tay happening all up in here. You make a feeble attempt at a whoop whoop with an accompanying fist-pumping gesture.

“ Are you okay?” he asks. His t-shirt has sweat stains under the arms, but because he is your best friend, you don’t mention it. You smile sleepily at his sweaty armpits for a moment before realizing you have yet to answer his question. You’re not sure how to answer his question.

Whoop whoop?

Nate laughs and gestures toward the dance floor, where your friends are probably waiting. Okay, you think. We’ve got this. You do have friends, after all. Friends who are not Bridget Barrister, who is obviously not your friend. Anymore. If she ever was. Obviously. Nate leads you back towards the pulse of hip-hop music. There are faces there that you know: Luke, Caroline, Phoebe. Others, too – acquaintances, roommates, and significant others, all of whom acknowledge that it is your birthday, and most of whom offer to buy you drinks. Take that, Bridget Barrister.

You spin around dramatically, arms flailing, head bobbling, just to prove what a good time you’re having on your birthday. Your friends are hip bumping, and chest bumping, and fist bumping, and it seems as though you’re putting on a pretty good performance. In fact, it seems as though you might be having real, genuine fun. As if by magic, your favorite song comes on. It is loud and bass-heavy and for a moment you think to yourself, yeah. Yeah, it’s my motherfucking birthday. This time, the whoop whoop that escapes your lips is an unbridled cry of enthusiasm. And then, just then, the sea of bodies parts in just the right way, and she is there. Of course. Bridget is there, twirling under the arm of some guy. It isn’t the same guy as before. The humidity on the dance floor could rival a tropical rainforest, but her hair is still shiny and perfect. The tall guy from earlier is nowhere to be seen. He was probably too quiet or too nice. Bridget wouldn’t want that. Bridget Barrister always gets what she wants. She’s facing away from you now and part of you wishes she would just turn around already. You want her to make eye contact, to share in your discomfort. Would she feel uncomfortable? Doesn’t she know she is intruding on your party? You could walk up and say something to her, walk right up and tap her on the shoulder just like that. She’d turn around and blink at you with her heavily mascara-laden lashes like she didn’t have a clue what was going on here. She’d know it was your birthday, but she’d pretend she didn’t. You’d tell her she had to leave, that this was your party and she was ruining it. Her glossy lower lip would start to shake. Her eyes would well up with big, fake tears and then everybody would be looking at you. The music would stop thumping and the bodies would stop grinding and everyone would just look at you, as if you were the bad guy. Instead, you head back to the bar. Instead, you take a shot of tequila.

In third grade, Bridget Barrister came to your birthday party. You wore your favorite t-shirt, the one with the giraffe on it. Bridget’s hair was carefully arranged into a ponytail on the very top of her head, and she was wearing a dress even though the party was at Adventure Quest. It might have had a pink ribbon in it, her hair, but you aren’t totally sure, but it doesn’t really matter. Little drops of condensation are springing up on your rum and coke, which is suddenly now half empty. You press the side of the glass to your forehead. The point is that she knows that today is your birthday. If she were considerate, she wouldn’t be here. In third grade, Bridget Barrister tried to get up to the biggest slide in Adventure Quest. Except that the only way to get to the biggest slide was climbing up the rope ladder. Bridget got her little eight-year-old foot stuck in the rope ladder halfway up, and Jordy Pinkett was down below calling, “I see London, I see France,” and who helped her? You did. You helped Bridget Barrister get up to the big slide.

A guy comes up and takes the barstool beside you. It’s the tall guy in the white dress shirt, Bridget’s tall guy. You exchange uncomfortable glances indicating that gray area of acquaintance in which a greeting may or may not be appropriate. The latter, you decide. You pretend to have been looking at an invisible something just behind his head. He nods at you and says, “Hey.”

You glare back at him, cradling your glass. You’re in no mood to deal with his shenanigans, which is exactly what you tell him.

He cocks his head a bit and looks at you, feigning ignorance. Bridget sent him over here probably, just to mess with you, just to prove that Bridget Barrister always gets what she wants. The guy clears his throat and looks down at his shoes, which you notice are actually touching the floor, whereas yours are perched on the rung of your stool because you can’t reach. Well, you’ll show her. You drain your glass and slam it back down on the bar, the ice cubes clattering together. You glance around the club to see if she’s looking, to see if she’s noticed that you’ve foiled her plan. You stand up to wave the bartender over.

“ Don’t you think you should slow down?” the bartender asks. He has a beer belly and a big black moustache that is frustratingly ironic.

Listen, you say. It’s my birthday.

“ What?” he asks.

My birthday, you say.

“ Why were they what?”

Birthday, you say. Birthday!

“ Birdie? Oh, birthday! ” he says. Finally. One would think you were speaking a different language. He still has not asked you what you want to drink, but it no longer seems worth it.

You start pushing your way back to the dance floor. In your time spent at the bar, it has only gotten more crowded. What time is it now? You haven’t a clue. Bodies jostle together, blocking your path, which is just typical. You stick your elbows out, for crowd control and for balance. As you get closer to the dance floor it is sweatier, stickier, sluttier; you find it difficult to navigate. It irks you that there are only these two places to go. Someone has generously relieved you of your car keys. You know, so that you can have fun. Enjoy yourself. Go crazy. If you had any, now would be a good time to take up smoking cigarettes, because then there would at least be a third location available to you. As it stands, the smoke only stings your eyes and makes you cough.

You did smoke a cigarette one time, though. One time, when you were fifteen. One time, with Bridget Barrister. Your backpack was heavy with textbooks, forcing you to lean forward as you trudged across the back field. She called out to you from the bleachers, just like that, as if puberty hadn’t made a mockery of you and a deity of her. Bridget Barrister, who skipped class to tan her long slender legs on the track field. Bridget Barrister, who had scarcely spoken to you since your fifth grade graduation, the day you tripped over your shoelaces on stage. She was beckoning you over. She had swiped the cigarettes from her stepmother’s purse but hadn’t had the guts to try them. You helped her light hers, even though you barely knew how to do it yourself, because you wanted to seem cool. Because back then it was desperately important that Bridget Barrister think you were cool. Which is stupid. You know better now. Now you don’t give a damn what Bridget Barrister thinks of you.

Before you are able to find your way back, Phoebe finds you. She grabs you hard by the arm and starts dragging you back towards a table, reversing all of your hard-earned progress. Phoebe is stronger than she looks.

“ Yo,” she says. “What is your deal?”

You glare meaningfully in Bridget’s direction. No further explanation should be necessary. Phoebe was there. She knows how it was.

Phoebe turns to follow your gaze, lifting her chin to see above the gyrating masses. “What?”

She’s here, you say. You thrust your index finger in Bridget’s direction with the urgency this situation deserves.

Phoebe give you that stare, that almost blank stare that immediately invalidates any argument that you had or were probably about to come up with. Phoebe is an expert at this. “Oh come on,” she says.

You come on, you tell her. It’s my birthday. She shouldn’t be here on my birthday.

“ Don’t be such a baby,” she says. “You’re just drunk.”

1002078_434963676610847_34993445_nYou’re drunk. Wait, damn. You’ve already used that one. You’re going to have to come up with a new tactic. You fold your arms across your chest. I have to go to the bathroom, you tell her.

The mirror is cold against your forehead and clouded with your breath. The air is thick and dank and the single orange light bulb is flickering on the wall. There’s a pair of panties draped over the paper towel dispenser. The paper towels are on the floor. But at least it is quiet. Ish. Quiet-ish. Perhaps you will just stay here until someone tells you it is time to go home. The bar closes at two and it can’t be that long. You have been here for an eternity. A soft moan escapes from the rusty bathroom stall behind you. It is startling enough that your head slips an inch or two down the mirror and you are forced to stumble backward away from the sink. There’s a rustling of denim and a low grunt, and you can feel the adrenaline start to seep into your bloodstream. You hate this shit. You listen hopefully for the low sploosh of a foot falling into the toilet, but it doesn’t come. Instead, a high-pitched giggle and a playful sto-op . Your fists clench. For a moment, you imagine that it is Bridget in the bathroom stall – with the white dress shirt guy, or that other guy, or both. The moans grow shorter and louder and higher and you think to yourself, why? Why should Bridget Barrister be out there enjoying herself, or in here enjoying herself, or anywhere enjoying herself? It is not her birthday. It is your birthday. Something has to be done.

You throw open the bathroom door. It is heavier than anticipated, and for a moment you swing backward with it before marching back into the club. Your fingers come away from the handle sticky. You scan the room and find Bridget leaning against a tall table, surrounded by her followers. Determinedly, you veer in her direction. In front of you, a guy re-pops his salmon collar. He is holding a beer, which looks almost empty but still cold. You grab the glass out of his hand as you pass. Liquid courage. He shouts after you but you are already long gone, moving through the crowd, eyes on your prey. Bridget Barrister is here, and she will feel your wrath. And if she cries? So what. If people stare? So what. You’ll explain it to them, to everyone. You’ll tell them what she did. Bridget turns in your direction – finally! – and her eyes flare with recognition. You’re doing it. You’ll have to get close enough because the music is so loud, but it’s happening. You’re going to show her once and for all. Her expression slowly changes from recognition to confusion. You are shoving members of her posse aside with feverish abandon. There she is, right in front of you. You’re almost there.

You are close enough to smell her perfume when your stomach starts churning. Bridget blinks expectantly, waiting for you to speak. You can’t open your mouth. Your entire speech has transmogrified into a pool of hot, bubbling vomit that burns the back of your throat. Sweat springs up along your hairline as you consider fleeing, but it is too late, far too late, to make it back to the bathroom. On her shoes at least, you think. Aim for her shoes. That way you’ll still get the last word. Sort of. It will have to do. You’re improvising. Bridget Barrister is here, right here, and you’re going to puke on her shoes.

But you don’t puke on her shoes. Instead, you just heave a few times, doubled over, clutching your stomach. A thin line of drool stretches from your bottom lip toward the floor. And Bridget Barrister crouches down beside you and says, “Oh my gosh, here, let me help you.”

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Elizabeth Jennings is an avid reader, tea drinker, and a graduate student in creative writing. Originally from Rochester, New York, she currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts, though she is not likely to be found in one place for any length of time.

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–Art by Bostjan Tacol