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Short Story
1606 words
SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Those Lonely, Lonely Nights

by Ben Leib

“So, do you like meth?” she asked me. She pivoted sideways on her barstool so that her legs were straddling my knee. She was pretty. Or, she was pretty enough for me to start up a conversation with her. Also I was lonely. Also I was drunk.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I like smoking crystal,” she said. “I love it.”

“Can I buy you a round?” I asked her.

“Ooh, a sugar daddy, huh?” she put a hand on my knee, looked me in the eyes, and smiled. “I’d love a vodka tonic.”

Keith owned the Rush Inn. He was a good guy. He was good enough to overlook suspicions concerning the fake ID that I was using to drink there. The Rush itself was the kind of place where, if you sat on the wrong barstool at, say, six in the afternoon, someone might saunter in at six-thirty and let you know that he’d like you to move out of his seat. It was late Tuesday night, and the bar was dead when I started up a conversation with the girl who espoused her love for methamphetamines.

I got Keith’s attention. “Vodka tonic for the lady,” I told him. “Jim Beam and a Bud bottle for me.”

Keith was also my neighbor. He owned the house next door to the house in which I rented a room. I don’t know if that’s relevant to the night’s events other than for the fact that I didn’t want to get on his bad side, and the fact that he got to see the worst of my drunken proclivities, for we often arrived at our respective homes at the same early hour of the morning.

With our drinks in front of us, I asked the woman, “So, do you have any?”

“Any what?”

“Crystal? You want to party?”

“I don’t have any, and my friend won’t talk to me anymore,” she explained. “He won’t answer my phone calls and shit.”

“Your friend?” I asked.

“I owe him money.”

“Ahhh,” I said.

“Do you have anybody we could call?” she asked.

“Not this late.”

“Do you have any cash?”

“A little,” I told her, “not much.”

We chatted and sipped our drinks, and I bought another round. We were both drunk, and I suspected that it hadn’t been so difficult for her to acquire her regimen of speed that night. We shared stories about rehab, for as it turned out she had, only months before, run from a court-mandated treatment center. And it hadn’t been so long since I’d done something similar.

“That’s all bullshit,” she said. “Everyone there, they’re all full of shit. A bunch of self-righteous liars. They think they’re all good, that they’re being honest with themselves and helping everybody. The truth is, everyone there wants to keep doing whatever was causing all their problems in the first place. They all wish they were loaded.”

“I know what you’re saying,” I told her. “Have you ever heard of this thing called shotgun therapy?”

“No, what’s that?”

“It’s where, when you get into trouble or something, they hold a meeting and sit you in the middle of a circle. Then everyone sits in chairs around you, and they just fucking yell at you. They tell you what a worthless lying asshole you are. They pick apart all your flaws and shit, and then they scream them back at you. I guess it’s supposed to break you down or some shit. You know? Break you down so they can build you up.”

“That’s brutal,” she said. “I’d flip out. I wouldn’t be able to sit there and take it. I’d fucking bail the moment they tried that shit.”

“People respond in two ways,” I explained, “they either recognized the truth to what everyone was saying and they got really sad. They really recognized what piles of crap they were. Either that or they recognized the truth and got furious at everyone for saying it out loud.”

I bolted my shot of Jim Beam and felt satisfied with the warmth it left inside me. The girl finished her cocktails almost as soon as Keith placed them in front of her. It never took more than a sip or two from the little bar straw before nothing but ice remained. She didn’t drink daintily either. She sucked at those undersized straws with an effort that made the veins on her neck visible. I ordered her a third cocktail and myself another shot. Keith delivered the drinks with a subtle shake of the head. It was disapproval. Does he know this girl? I asked myself, Is this a warning or a judgment?

We toasted and she drained her vodka tonic.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” she said.

“You got a car?” I asked.


“Want to give me a ride to my place? I’ve got some bourbon lying around. We could have a few more drinks.”

“Sure,” she said.

Without a moment’s hesitation, she stood up and headed through the bar to the back parking lot. Because I didn’t have time to finish my beer, I snatched the bottle off the bar and smuggled it out the backdoor.

She was parked across the street. When she noticed that I’d snuck my beer out of the bar, she told me, “Just bring it into the car with you,” but I refused. I upended the bottle, draining it.

Almost the moment it was back at my side, Keith appeared at the backdoor. “Hey,” he shouted, “no beverages allowed outside.”

I was standing with the car between us and the bottle was hidden.

“I put it in the recycling bin,” I hollered back.

Keith threw his hands into the air, said something that I couldn’t hear, and sauntered back inside.

I threw the bottle into the bushes behind me.

“You ready to go?” the girl asked me.


“Take Front Street,” I told her, “over to Soquel, go over the river and we’ll cut through that little one-way section on Riverside.”

The directions were pretty simple, so I was surprised when we flew past my street on Soquel.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Just for a little drive,” she said.

I eyed her, looking for some hint as to what she might be considering.

“Are we going to your house?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“You live this far out of town? And you drove to the Rush Inn for a drink?”

“We’re going to my house next,” she said.

“So what’s first?”

“I want you to meet my friend.”

We drove Soquel until it forked off, and then we continued onto Capitola. The commercial district tapered off abruptly as the road forked. Capitola was tree-lined, it was suburban residential, mostly low rent. We passed the high school, and a little Mexican market, and I knew the labyrinthine neighborhoods hidden just beyond the fences and the trees that walled in Capitola Road. We hadn’t left civilization altogether. Nevertheless, it was dawning on me that we were traveling farther from any place I knew, traveling farther from my home.

“I don’t want to meet your friend,” I said. “Don’t you owe him money?” I asked. “I don’t want to meet anybody you owe money to.”

“You have your own money,” she said. “You still have twenty or forty dollars in your wallet. Your money is your money. You can buy whatever you want.”

“I don’t think so. It sounds like this dude doesn’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to meet him.”

I looked at this stranger who was driving me away from what was familiar and comfortable, and she looked mad. Her skin was pale. I’d noticed the pocked complexion in the barroom, but those marks of her indulgence seemed all the more profound in the glow of passing streetlights.

She started getting upset. “We’re almost fucking there,” she said, “and I’m not turning around now.” She turned her head away from the road and looked me square in the eyes. “What kind of man are you anyways?” she asked.

I wondered about that question. I knew what she was doing, sure—baiting me into proving my manhood somehow, proving to her that I was not a coward. But I was a coward. I was terrified—not just then but in almost all my sober moments.

“C’mon,” I said, “we can go back to my house and drink whiskey instead.”

“We’ll go back to your place once we’ve picked something up,” she said. “Then we’ll have a real good time.”

“I really don’t have that much money.”

“I saw at least another twenty in your wallet.”

“It doesn’t mean that I can afford to spend it.”

“You’d have spent it on drinks if we hadn’t left the bar.”

We were miles out of town. We’d crossed Forty-First Avenue where things got to be more commercial again for just a block or so, passed the DMV, and were back into the neighborhoods—lower rent, fewer trees, no fence to provide privacy and isolation from passing traffic. We were five, six miles from my house now, I estimated.

“Turn around,” I insisted. “I need to go home.”

“No, we’re almost there.” She pressed on the gas.

“I’m not fucking joking. I don’t want to go.”

“We’ll you can fuck yourself then, because that’s where I’m going, and you’re in my car.”

“I’m fucking done,” I said. “Pull the fucking car over. Let me out. I’m done. I’m going home.”

The car was speeding along well over the limit and when she slammed on the brake we fishtailed to the side of the road—not even to the side, really, but just to the rightmost edge of the lane. We were the only car out there. I exhaled. I realized I’d been sweating.

“Thank you,” I said, and then added, “I’m sorry.” I didn’t really understand why I’d said it, other than that I knew I was letting her down, and it was something I was used to saying when I let people down.

I’d unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the door, and was about to step out when she screamed, “Fuck you! You’re coming with me,” and slammed her foot on the accelerator.

I had a moment to reflect, though there wasn’t much use for thought with all that liquor dampening synaptic operations. So it was more likely a fight or flight response that impelled me to fling open the door and take the dive just before the car really got some momentum. I didn’t even try to land on my feet—the mechanics of propelling myself from the seat prevented it, and I’d already allowed the car to pick up too much speed.

I skidded on my side into the curb.

It was a hard fall into the gutter, but I sprung up quick and took a moment to watch the car speed off. It skidded to a standstill a block up and the passenger side door swung open violently. Then the car accelerated again, and the door slammed closed fully. I dusted myself off, looked to the left and the right, making sure there were no eyewitnesses to my drunken daredevilry, turned back toward town, and began the hike home.

She must have flipped a bitch somewhere up Capitola Road, and I saw her speed by me on the opposite side of the road. She rolled down the window as the car approached. “Enjoy the walk, asshole!”

I put my head down and started putting one foot in front of the other, cursing my weakness.


SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Ben Leib

spent twelve years as a waiter, a student (both undergraduate and graduate), and an alcoholic intravenous drug user. He now happily works at sea five weeks out of every ten. You can check out his publication history at

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury