The Weight Air Will Not Hold
by Erin Cork
Published April 9, 2021
You’re at the Elk’s Club in your hometown at a wedding reception for a couple of old friends from high school. You know you are a hot butch in your Royal Blue suit and two-tone Oxfords. It matters to you. You finally realized when you are comfortable in your own skin, others are at ease with you. A loud cheer erupts as the cover band cranks into a crowd pleaser. The groom slaps you on the back as he wiggles by, hands thrown up in surrender to the mirror ball. You grab the bride and dirty dance her across the floor.
At the bar, nodding your head to the beat, you loosen your tie and breathe in the scent of Jameson’s. The devil on your shoulder whispers, “Come on, just one…” You are tempted but order a club soda.
You hear a laugh, an echo like the whoosh of bat wings off of cavern walls, through calcified formations of the past. You turn toward the resonant sound. She is wearing a little black dress and heels. Leaning over the bar, she plucks a cherry and pops it into her mouth, runs a scarlet fingernail over her lips. She looks like Vegas, and smells like a winning hand.
Her hair is different, shorter, a stylish bob. Your fist tingles. You flex your fingers, and fight the urge to bury your face in it. Instead you run your hand along the back of your buzz cut. She winks at the bartender “Grey Goose and grapefruit.” She tosses a dollar into the tip jar and turns, sips through a tiny straw, leaving lipstick on the end. She stirs the drink, ice clinks, and with that same crooked smile she says, “I remember you.”
You have measured everyone against her. She was Jordache jeans, Love’s Fresh Lemon scent and Stevie Nicks’ hair. She was the shadow in the lava-lamp yellow of her parents’ basement, the indentation, squeak and groan on the vinyl seat of your Impala, and the heat against the cold ribbed-brick wall of the gymnasium. She was the red pen, heart-dotted “i” yearbook inscription.
She was the cheerleading captain dating the star running back. You were a tomboy, the starting point guard, and anchor on the relay team. You were 501s, rugby shirts, and a party girl. You were her secret.
At the kegger on the ridge, she’d sat sideways in the passenger seat of his Camaro that smelled like pine trees and French Fries. You leaned against the door, talking to her, drinking warm beer. She was holding a paper cup of Boones Farm. A Peter Frampton eight track clicked and whirred. She reached out and tugged you towards her by your belt buckle. She pressed her head into your waist, and looked up at you. “I wish you were my boyfriend.”
You wondered, not for the first time what it would be like if you were the guy who gets the girl. You wanted to know what it would feel like for her to unbutton your fly and mark you with her bubblegum lip gloss. You bent down and kissed her. She kissed you back. You bit her lip and slipped your tongue between her teeth. You pulled apart when you heard her boyfriend rattle his keys and clear his throat.
The next day in your bedroom she flipped through your albums and made fun of your rock posters. She put Fleetwood Mac on the turntable and danced. You watched her from the edge of your bed.
You stood up, ran your thumb along her wrist and reeled her into you. She wrapped her arms around you, drew her nails down the back of your neck. Goosebumps rippled across your skin. She bit your shoulder, leaving an aster bruise that you would reach up and press for days. She moaned into your chest. “Pin me to your wall.”
You spun her around, pressing her cheek against Elton John on the closet door. Your teeth caught the chain around her neck that held his class ring. Grinding into her, you heard her breath catch when you twisted her hair away to grip her throat in a hard kiss, your other hand slipping along the top of her underwear.
She slides her drink closer and leans in. “I stalked you on Facebook. I like to live vicariously through your adventures. I like your tattoos.” She sucks the drink through her teeth--that near empty sound. She lifts an eyebrow. “You know a lot of pretty girls.”
Thinking about this a little longer than you want to, you say, “Yeah. Well, it’s social media, curated sunshine and rainbows.” You signal the bartender for another round.
“I heard a rumor that you were engaged?”
You circle the ring stain around your sweating glass on the bar and look at her, “I was. She came to her senses. I get restless and she got tired of trying to hold my attention.”
She watches your hand repeating the same motion over and over. You stop the spin and rub your fingers along the leg of your pants. You don’t admit that you scrolled through all of her photos, shuffled through them like a worn deck of cards. Looking for what, a sign? Maybe an ace, the queen of hearts, a Tarot reading? By the end it felt like 52-card pick up.
They were still married. There was satisfaction in seeing his thinning gray mane. The paunch in the middle, squeezed too tight in the polo shirt as he posed next to a Corvette at a classic car show. You lingered over the pictures of her in sport bras and running shorts, flashing medals and crossing the finish line of one charity 5K or another. They didn’t have any kids. You guessed this wasn’t a choice. She’d told you that she wanted babies. Eventually, you hid her because of all the passionate MAGA posts. In this moment though, you can’t look away. You tip the bartender and push the drink towards her.
After that first time, you both figured out the mechanics of pleasure just fine. She’d straddle you and you’d push her down onto the floor, the bed or backseat, driving your hand or head between her legs. Afterwards, she’d cry. “I can’t keep doing this…”
After the homecoming game, she shivered in your car under his letterman jacket. Bob Seger was on the radio. The October wind parted the bare limbs of the trees and rattled the steamed windows. You smoothed strands of her hair behind her ear and pulled her into you. Gray-white light gripped the mountains and pressed down on the bruised-bottom storm cloud about to drop six inches of snow on your valley town. Her mascara ran and her shoulders shook as she leaned into you. “I’m not gay, you know.”
She was a two-sided coin that you wanted to flip. You wanted to believe that you’d be enough, that she loved you in a way that made her unable to leave you. But she stopped lifting her skirt, stopped arching her back and stopped meeting you at your locker. She didn’t want to run to Dairy Queen or Sugar Shack. She avoided you in the hallways and didn’t return your calls. You’d see her there, his arm around her like a harness.
After graduation, they married and moved to a place where corn was big. You went to the city, went through girls who laughed like her, smelled like her, looked like her but were never her. She was the tunnel into an identity you would chip away at for years until you broke through.
Now you’re still in the city. You still date, not as much. You tried to settle down a couple of times. But you are drawn to women who look up at you with lipstick smeared across their mouth, women who want no more or less of what you are capable of giving.
You don’t admire a woman in pieces but in patterns. The sway in her hips, her head thrown back in a laugh, the curves and lines under her clothes, the catch in her throat just before she cries, her sidelong hungry stare. Skin that smells like fig or apricot. A wicked sense of humor and a degree in something you can’t pronounce--and high-heeled boots. You are drawn to all of it. You are addicted to the intensity of the moment, the thing that time cannot sustain, the weight air will not hold. You trace it back to her like your hand along their backsides.
In the telling and retelling of your past, tongue tracing the lines of a lover, or drunken shouts across a parking lot, or howling at the moon from your bedroom window at 4 AM, and countless hours on a therapist’s couch trying to figure out what was wrong with you—she is the watershed moment.
You don’t denounce your stories. You revisit them like an elephant returning to a desert pool. The facts are the same but the textures change when you reflect on who you are now. You have to record the messiness, the shifting-self. You have to say it out loud, the memory of where you have been and how you got here, to acceptance.
You dress how you want to. Cut your hair the way you want. In a way that is true to your swagger. You no longer hear the jeering taunts and name-calling, or a girlfriend asking you to change just a little. “Are you going to wear that shirt?” You don’t succumb. You’ve stopped fighting this battle with yourself. You are a woman with big dick energy and you own it.
It all begins and ends with her. When you are lost, this is your way home. She is the snow-capped peak in the distant blue horizon, the fixed point in a spinning world.
She is still standing next to you at the bar, her breath brushing your skin. The band is playing another familiar tune. Your former classmates are shuffle dancing, bent into each other shouting out lyrics into their fists. She swirls her drink. “I still think about you.”
It’s your hand to play. There’s a trick to it. You can go all in or fold and cash in your chips. Behind her, you see him approaching and can almost hear the rattle of keys. You touch the phantom mark on your shoulder and the nipple of lime wedge in your sparkling water. You push it under, into the snapping bubbles and raise your glass to her, tip it back and swallow. Set it down and walk away, daring yourself to not look back.
Erin Cork resides in Missoula, MT where she writes and hikes the local trails with her two rescue mutts in the mornings and works the swing shift as a train dispatcher. Her latest work is featured or upcoming in Hobart, Bending Genres, Rejection Letters and X-R-A-Y Lit among others. She was a finalist in the Glimmer Train Emerging Fiction Writers contest. She is currently editing her first novel and working on a memoir.