Boats

by Mary Miller

The bar in our parking lot had karaoke every night of the week.

The men leaned in, touching our hips, our legs. Because we weren’t beautiful, a drink or two paid for the right, but we didn’t think of it this way—we liked men and we liked drinks. Where was the negative? We tossed our hair and told them not to fall in love with us. We always warned them right away, when they thought they might, when we thought it might be different this time.

We usually started out in a booth, flipping through the big book of songs, before moving to the bar. In a booth, we looked like we wanted to be alone. This was important, for them to see that we could be alone, that we liked being alone.

At the bar, men leaned over us to get drinks, holding out their money. All we had to do was turn a few inches to our left or right.

Other men sent us messages on OkCupid, Plentoffish, our phones always beeping. We passed them back and forth, looking at their pictures. Were they too old? Too bald? Were the pictures taken ten years and forty pounds ago? We would be disappointed but said we were hopeful—there were so many and all we needed was one. The odds were in our favor.

The men asked us for coffee, dinner, drinks. Coffee turned into drinks. Dinner turned into drinking until we were hungry enough to eat but we were never hungry. Men didn’t like hungry women, or they only liked hungry women when they were skinny, in which case it was charming, quirky even. We began to drink more and more. We don’t drink that much, we told each other, our eyes all squinty, and the other confirmed it: we have never been drinkers. We don’t even have addictive personalities. If only we were drinkers, if only the problem were so obvious.

The ones we liked best would only see us late at night, safe inside our apartments—one wrong word and they could put on their pants and go home. They would turn us over and think of the woman they loved, who was not us, who would never be us. But one day we refused. Look us in the eye, we said, and they looked at us. We really were beautiful. They touched our hair and it was soft; they touched our cheeks with the backs of their fingers.

Some of them had dogs. Most had kids, ex-wives. They had a hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt and prison records, personalized license plates. They lived on organic farms, in cabins at the lake. Their interests were many and varied and they, like us, had six things they couldn’t live without. They, like us, had already filled their boats with the people they would save.

Mary Miller is the author of a story collection, Big World, and two chapbooks of flash fiction, Less Shiny and They Could No Longer Contain Themselves: a collection of five flash chapbooks. Her work has appeared in journals such as Ninth Letter, McSweeney’s Quarterly, Mississippi Review, and Oxford American.

How do you know when a piece of compressed fiction is ‘done’? It’s difficult for me to describe how I know when a piece of compressed fiction is done. If it’s working, the last line ties everything together; it feels surprising yet inevitable. It’s got to hit just the right note and it’s hard to say what that is—like most things, it’s easier to say what it’s not, or when it’s not working. With this piece, I surprised myself with the last line. I have no idea where it came from, but it made me see everything that came before it differently, which was exciting.

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