Third Prize winner, Canadian Authors–Metro Vancouver 2017 Story Contest

Reception by Matthew Bin

It was eight-forty. Too early to go. You had to stay at a wedding till nine, nine-thirty, or people would think you’re weird.

Mark tipped back his bottle and found it was empty. Well, he could walk home from here, it was only fifteen minutes away. He’d get his car tomorrow. He walked up to the bar and waved his bottle to order another Molson Stock Ale, then turned to scan the crowd.

Stupid work weddings. This wasn’t even the first wedding for Carl, the chief foreman, but he invited the whole plant to the wedding along with about two hundred of his closest friends. Mark didn’t know anyone except the people who came from work. The crew from his shift weren’t hanging around together the way he hoped they would. That was the best strategy at a wedding; you go in as a team, hang out as a team. But those guys all brought wives and girlfriends and such.

So they were dancing, some of them—losers—and some of them took off to other tables. Mark had sat alone at his table for a few minutes before taking up a position leaning against a pillar, near the bar.

He resumed his post, drank his beer, scanned the crowd for girls in tight dresses. Over two hundred people at this wedding, and no one under the age of fifty. Except—

There was Kelly.

She had a pale blue dress on that washed out in the light. Her hair was done up, the way girls did at weddings, piled up on top of their skulls, little wisps flying off in every direction. She was laughing and breathing hard.

Kelly had been at Dustin Cabinetry for three months. She was twenty-one. Mark hadn’t asked her, but he got a look at her union file, as shop steward. He had chatted with her a couple of times, but you couldn’t say much, as a guy more than twice her age. Too easy for people to think you’re a weird old man.

But now he could actually observe her. The dress was one of those things with embroidery and whatnot all over it. And she filled it out pretty good. She wasn’t one of those stick-like girls. She had some meat on her bones.

Mark took another pull from his beer. It was already almost gone, but he didn’t care, he was watching Kelly.

And Andrew.

Andrew was one of the guys from the shop floor. He’d seen the two of them talking at lunch hour a couple of times, but then any guy would go up to the girl with the big cans and make small talk.

This wasn’t small talk. Andrew put one hand on her waist, the other into her hand, their fingers lacing together.

The guy’s suit didn’t even fit. Mark only wore a suit for weddings and funerals, but your suit had to fit. You had to know how to tie a tie. Guys like Andrew didn’t know things like that.

Andrew leaned in to listen to what Kelly was saying, then threw his head back and laughed at whatever she was saying. She laughed too, the flesh above her neckline jiggling with every breath.

Dresses like Kelly’s—Mark didn’t know much about women’s fashion but he could appreciate what she was wearing. It clung tightly her body, and somehow anticipated every move. The dress seemed designed to suggest that if Kelly took a slightly longer step, or bent over just a couple more degrees, that she’d reveal… well, everything. Everything you wanted to know.

So you looked at girls in dresses. How could you not? Even if Kelly was hooking up with Andrew now, there was nothing wrong with looking at her.

What Mark had never understood is why girls like Kelly went for guys like Andrew. Those guys were morons. They were lazy in the shop, and usually after a year or two went on somewhere else where it was “easier”, like anything was easier than making the same cabinets over and over again.

So they came in straight out of school or maybe from some other factory, and they had all these ideas about what they were supposed to do and what everyone else was supposed to do and after a few months they realized they were idiots and moved on.

But meanwhile, they hit on nice, friendly girls like Kelly. Did they know her? No. Did they care about her? No. They were like dogs looking for the cheapest and easiest piece of meat, and of course the company receptionist was the place they all started.

And that was the problem. Kelly was nice, seemed like a smart girl. She was careful to show some respect for Mark, because she knew he was one of the senior guys around the place. She insisted that he use the microwave before her the other week, even though he tried to do the gentlemanly thing and let her go first. He didn’t even heat his soup up all the way, because he didn’t want to stir it and put it back in when she was standing there waiting.

But she was there with that lame-ass Andrew. Why did she bother with him?

Now his hand was snaking around her again, and his hand—well, it was supposed to be on her hip, but it was nowhere in sight, so it was probably on her ass. Her big, soft ass. She was a curvy girl, no doubt about it. She looked the other way and laughed. Surely she didn’t want to be there.

Mark finished his beer, pried himself away from the post, stalked up to the bar. There was a lineup now, three guys ahead of him. It was always guys in lineups at wedding bars; why was that? Were girls in dresses too good to stand in line?

Two guys in a row, two Heinekens, please. Who the hell drank Heineken? Were they all fags from art school? Seriously, drink a real beer.

Finally, Mark’s turn. The tip jar was stuffed pretty full with loonies and toonies. The bartender had put the first bill in, a ten, and no one else had. What, people were going to throw ten bucks in there for opening a couple of beers? These guys.

“Stock Ale,” Mark said. His voice was too loud, maybe. “Please,” he added a little softer.

He collected his beer and felt in his pocket; no change left to tip with. He turned away from the bartender quickly, as though something had caught his attention.

And something did: Kelly.

She was looking straight at him, her eyes wide.

Andrew was still there beside her, leaning in on the other side of her face to say something in her ear. And Kelly was looking over at Mark instead, pleading for him to help her out.

She looked away, turned to face Andrew, who was now directly in front of her. He was smiling… Mark knew that smile, knew what he had been saying to Kelly. Not the words, of course, but the thing. The content.

Mark took a pull from his beer and strode over to the pair of them. “Hey, guys,” he said. He had to raise his voice significantly to be heard over the music—did every DJ in the world have to play Bob Seger at full volume? Did anyone really like that stupid song, or were they just used to hearing it at weddings? Mark never danced at weddings, or anywhere else, but if he did, he’d sit down whenever this piece of garbage started up.

“Hey, Mark,” Andrew said, smiling too widely, turning to face him too abruptly. His hand fell from Kelly’s body and landed at his side.

“Enjoying this thing?” Mark said. He was enjoying Andrew’s discomfort. It was like when you walked up behind them on the line and they had their phone out and had to put it away in their coveralls real quick. You pretended you didn’t see it and they pretended they hadn’t been caught, but they had been caught, and that meant something.

“Do you guys even know anyone else here?” Kelly asked. “Other than from work.”

“Nobody,” Mark said.

Smart girl. She had just brought him into the conversation, and it was no longer just her and Andrew.

“So you need a drink or anything?” Mark asked.

“I’m okay.” Why the hell did Andrew think he was asking him?

“Hey, can you get me a red wine?” Kelly said, turning towards Andrew. She patted his chest with one hand and somehow got close to him without pressing her body against him. Was that just another trick of the dress, or was she just the kind of woman who could pull a move like that off?

“Red wine,” Andrew said.

“Yes.”

He looked down at her—his nanosecond glance down the top of her dress was not lost on Mark—then turned and walked unsteadily away. Kelly watched him leave, then turned to Mark again.

“He’s drunk already.”

“Idiot.”

“He had like two bottles of wine himself at dinner.”

Mark had been at the other table, with older guys and their wives. He didn’t even like wine, so he was still pretty sober. “What a loser,” he said.

“I gotta get outta here before he comes back,” she said. She gave his hand a little squeeze. “Thanks,” she said.

Mark’s hand felt like it suddenly swelled up to about three times its normal size, and the nerve endings in his skin burst open, singing. “No problem,” he said.

She turned and walked towards the door. Not knowing what else to do, Mark followed her.

Outside, the cool air smacked him in the face, and he took a deep breath. There was a tinge of tobacco in the air—smokers were huddled just off to the side of the door, around a couple of benches—but he couldn’t see Kelly.

Wait—there. She was on the other side of the curved driveway, facing him, waiting for him.

Even in the cold dark night, he could see her better here than inside. Her pale thighs, the lacy hem of the dress, her light-coloured shoes, white or beige, thin straps wrapping her feet, her nails painted some dark hue. You couldn’t make out colours here, but you could see that she had everything together.

And the dress pulling at her waist, tugging at her hips, the little belly that Mark never knew she had. And her eyes, her eyes on him. Awaiting him.

He stepped off the sidewalk, only a few paces from where she stood. He had rescued her, and now—

“I don’t think you can bring your beer out here,” she said.

“I can—” He took a look at the bottle, judged how much was left. He swallowed the rest of it in a single gulp and smiled at her. “Problem solved.”

She grinned and looked away.

Kelly had said—what? Let’s get out of here? That was, like, a universal signal, wasn’t it? The undeniable language of you saved me and now you get your reward.

He could already imagine searching for the zipper at the back of the dress, or maybe under her armpit, finding it, pulling it down to reveal—

“My Uber’s here,” she said, pointing at an approaching Toyota Camry. “Thanks for waiting with me.”

“No problem,” Mark said.

“See you Monday.”

Kelly got in the back of the car, and even through the side window Mark could see how her face lit up as she spoke with the driver. She didn’t look out at him, didn’t wave.

She was gone.

Mark tossed his beer bottle in the bushes and turned back towards the door. He’d go in, have one more, and then make his exit too.

One more glance: the Camry’s brake lights flashed and dimmed again, and then it turned onto the road and disappeared.

 

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