It Won’t Happen Again
by Scott Hefflon
illustration by Tom Powers
“It won’t happen again.”
“What?” she said, still walking toward the cab stand with me.
“It won’t happen again,” I repeated.
“I heard you. I meant, ‘What won’t?'”
“Tonight. My hitting on you. I’m sorry. I can’t say I didn’t mean it, because I did. But it won’t happen again.”
“It’s OK,” she said, “It’s just that…”
“TAXI!” I yelled.
As the cab pulled up, she smiled at me.
“See you later,” she said, getting in.
“See you later,” I replied.
The walk home felt like dragging overstuffed luggage through a crowded airport, being jostled at every turn by some unapologetic jerk. I have no idea why they call it blue balls. As if anyone really wants to verify the color. They should call it the icy hand of incompetence and incompleteness firmly gripping your testicles. I guess blue balls is shorter.
Taunted by my conscience and a cackling bunch of mean-spirited memories, I trudged homeward through the drizzle.
“Walking her home in the rain is the only way you’re going to get her wet,” a demon sneered from behind my right ear.
Man, it’s bad enough to be rejected and have to pretend it doesn’t bother you, but to be tormented by the ghosts of failures past is enough to push a man over the edge.
- Shit, I always do this. I always try for the ones I can’t get and don’t even notice the ones who wish I’d talk to ’em.
“Ya don’t notice them ’cause they aren’t there, hot shot. Perhaps you’re reminiscing fondly on the days when you used to actually ‘get some.’ Allow me to remind you that you’re flashing back over years and editing out all the tedium. The whole reel only takes a few minutes, doesn’t it? You could relive every conquest you’ve ever had and we’d only be halfway home. That’s where we come in. We fill the rest of the walk with lousy memories of fuck-ups you’d rather not think about. We’ve got ourselves a captive audience here ’cause you’ve got nowhere else to go.”
Sometimes I hate myself for being so fucking right. Occasionally, it’d be nice to discover I’d thought less of myself than necessary, instead of always the other way around.
“Just for sadism’s sake, why don’t you tell us about her?” There was more than a hint of a sneer in that patronization, but hell, if you can’t tell yourself, who else is going to listen?
- She’s just a girl. I know I’ve said that before and ended up watering down my drink with tears of self-pity, but that’s really all she is. I’ve developed a tendency to be interested in almost any female who doesn’t jump out of a moving vehicle or walk into traffic to get away from me. I see preferring my company to the risk of pain and injury as some semblance of attraction. Or weakness. Either way, it gives me something to latch onto like kitty-cat to a dangling shoelace.
“Save the cute metaphors for the girls,” something snarled and tweaked my earlobe sharply.
“Ow! Quit it!” I snapped, then looked quickly around to see if anyone heard me. Pretending to be nutty used to get me chicks, but actually talking to self-created demons perched on your shoulders during increasingly frequent bouts of drunken self-loathing I’ve found is usually a turn-off. Unless they’re as nuts as you are. And I like to stay out of arms-reach of those women. The scars are still healing, the Polaroids and correspondence have all been deeply archived, and most of the restraining orders have since lapsed.
- Really, she’s just a girl. A sweet, not bitter, unpolluted human – in body and mind and soul and spirit. She hasn’t been spattered with the filth of raw depravity, nor has she been electroshocked by thrill-seeking so many times she’s desensitized her impulses.
“And you have?” Again there was the sneer in the question, like a cattle prod on the exposed ego.
To an extent, yeah. I mean, ehe Marquis de Sade would certainly consider me a spineless pussy for folding my cards when I’d barely begun the game, but we all choose how far we’re willing to go. And since I’ll never meet the man and have to avert my eyes, I can live with that. I don’t live by the running tally anymore. It’s not about waging war simply to have war stories to tell when I’m old, drunk in a bar, or both. I’ve shifted the drive for ever-increasing conquests over to my work, thus purifying my approach to women so that it’s nothing more than what it’s supposed to be – the desire to interact with your fellow human on an intimate level.
“And get laid. Don’t forget you want to get laid.” There was laughter ringing in my ears. It’s hard to find a sympathetic audience.
“You’re talking drivel here. You have no point of reference so you’re buying into the fairy tale romance fed to you by cosmetic and clothing manufacturers. ‘It’s not that you’re a loser, you just need to smell better.’ ‘The reason women laugh at you is not because you’re a pathetic worm, it’s because you dress badly.’ It’s a sales pitch, numbskull! If you’re resolute in redefining your dating motives and parameters, you have to start with a foundation based on truth. There I can’t help you. But I can sure as shit tell you when you take a wrong turn.” Again there was the laughter. For a moment or so I thought I was actually going to learn something by listening to myself.
“Tell us more about the girl, starry-eyed boy.” This time, there was only a faint snicker.
- What can I say? She makes me feel good. She listens to what I say and she thinks there are often things of value mixed in with all the rest of the jumble. She’s complimented me repeatedly saying she likes to spend time with me and that she always finds my perspective refreshing, but somehow I can’t translate that to…
“Sex. You can say it, sex. You want to have sex with her, yet she sees your relationship as buddy-buddy or brotherly.”
“Women are great at that by their very nature. And men are lousy at it by theirs.” Another voice piped in, “You could try getting her drunk.”
“He just did,” another snapped, “Where’ve you been? Not only did the situation not work out, it had hints of being a cheap ploy. And our boy here chickened out and refused to pursue any inkling of hesitation in her voice.”
- I never sleep with people I’ve known for a while for the first time when they’re drunk, or we’re both drunk. At least I try not to. It’s too easy to write-off the experience as a mistake. The only mistake is usually letting it go so long that the only way the two people feel they can cross that previously-uncrossed line is to get shitfaced and do it in a moment of sloppy bliss. That moment is probably the first time they’ve been truly honest with each other in some time, yet most people shrivel back in fear of the step they’ve taken. The act is null and void and rendered meaningless if one or both decide that it was a mistake, that it never should’ve happened. And where can you go from there? That drives even more of a wedge between the two people who finally got it on, but now they’re afraid to admit that they liked it. At least one of them wants to pretend the coupling never happened and go back to the way things were before. But that can’t happen. It’s even worse now. One person took the step and backed off, and the other finally got to the next level, only to discover that there’s no hope of ever achieving that level again, much less setting up camp there. It’s an embarrassment to one and an insult to the other, and neither can look the other in the eye, but for different reasons. The spark has been doused and the remaining scenes are bound to get ugly.
“So what are you going to do?” someone finally asked
- The only thing I can do – keep chipping away. Either I’ll give up, which is probably the wisest choice, but who ever said the heart had wisdom? Or I’ll finally get what I think I want and what I’ve wanted all this time. In all actuality, I doubt it’s worth all the work, but I’d feel like a coward and a weakling if I didn’t give it my best shot. And if I do finally get it and it’s nothing special, I’m sure I’ll still be overwhelmed by delusional warm, glowing feelings because of the simple fact that I’m finally gettin’ paid.
And shit, I’ll still have you guys tearing at me every step of the way, before, during, and after the fact.
“You can count on it.”