I’m a pretty big fan of house music. As mainstream as they are (or used to be, at least), Paul Oakenfold and Robert Miles are particular favorites of mine. There’s a trance-like focus that their music draws me into, and whether I’m editing a manuscript or drinking with my friends, house music fits just about any situation I find myself in. Admittedly, I haven’t really kept up with the state of the genre, as the most recent songs I listen to regularly are from the early 2000s. I guess when the genre became irrelevant to most people, they just stopped making them like they used to. Even so, you’ll typically hear it at clubs or big house parties– or at least, that was my assumption until tonight. Instead of a trance beat worming into my brain and putting my drunk self into hypnosis, the shrill voice of Ed fucking Sheeran is chipping away at my sanity while I tighten my grip on an empty shot glass. Thomas is macking on some girl he just ran into, and Iggy is trying to keep some other lady from hitting on him. The most I can do to cope with the situation is to drown out the music and figure out where my mood went sour, that way I can find a way out of it.
Let’s start from the top, I think to myself.
When Thomas called me up and said that he wanted to get piss-drunk with me, I was already convinced enough to go clubbing as he suggested. Knowing – or at least assuming – the kind of music they play at clubs, I figured it’d be a nice experience even if it’d be full of people. Flashing lights, audial hypnosis, and a numb, drunken body was something that I could never turn down. The only problem was that it was a Thursday night, and Thomas didn’t have anyone else to go with. As he said, two people isn't enough for clubbing, so I’d better have a plus one.
“Better yet, make it a plus two!” he said through the phone.
“Don’t worry, I know a couple,” I replied.
The couple in question was, in fact, a couple. Ignatius and Jeremy, or as I call them, Iggy and Jay.
“Jeremy has work tomorrow,” Iggy said when I called him, “But if he’s okay with it, I’ll tag along.”
“Still no luck finding a job?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’m just living the NEET life.”
“Well, good, because I really need someone else to-”
“Don’t you have work, Dan?” he interrupted.
“Yeah, no, um…” I looked over at my desk, which held up stacks of marked papers at least an inch high. I was almost done reviewing them, but knowing Iggy, “almost” wouldn’t be enough.
“I just got done reviewing that lady’s manuscript, actually,” I said, “Thomas called me up and asked me if I wanted to drink, so I figured I might as well celebrate.”
“That story about the bitch with Stockholm Syndrome?” Iggy asked.
“Yeah…” I could feel my face hardening as I continued, “Another book romanticizing an abusive relationship.”
“And it’s written by a woman!” Iggy laughed. I bit my lip, trying my hardest to ignore his point. Apparently I ended up being silent for a bit too long, evident by the serious tone in his voice as he spoke again.
“I’ll talk to Jay,” he said, “He should be okay with it, but I wanna play it safe.”
As it turned out, Jay was okay with it. Thomas picked up Iggy and me, apparently unconcerned that I had only brought one other person, and drove us to the parking garage down the street from the club. Conversation struck as the three of us started walking.
“You brought your money for the entrance fee, right?” I asked Iggy.
“Nah, dude, don’t worry about it!” Thomas spoke first, “I’ve got it all covered, I’ll spot you guys!”
“You sure?” I asked Thomas.
“It’s no problem, man, I already make plenty through my side job,” he replied.
Thomas’s “side job” in question was drug dealing. I didn’t mind Thomas paying in drug money as much as I minded the idea of myself leeching off of someone else. I knew for a fact, though, that Iggy wouldn’t accept drug money.
“What’s your side job?” Iggy asked.
“It’s that guitar thing, right?” I jumped in before Thomas had a chance to tell the truth.
“Uh…” Thomas paused, looking at me for a second before continuing, “Yeah, I’ve actually been playing for people at parties and shit. Had a good gig last night, so I wanted to celebrate.”
When in doubt, Thomas and I often referred to his drug trade as playing guitar. From what he was saying, it sounded like he’d sold a pretty big batch of weed.
“You’re the guy who brings his guitar to house parties?” Iggy joked.
“Yeah, I always make sure to wear my fedora,” Thomas chuckled, rubbing the unkempt stubble beneath his chin, “Gotta keep the neckbeard up, too.”
We got to the line just as the sun had fallen, and of course it was longer than the wait to Hell. The three of us kept up the conversation, but whenever the dynamic shifted to just Thomas and Iggy, I’d take the time to absorb my surroundings. A hotel building stood across the street, with more than a few couples going in and out every half-minute or so. I didn’t get the full picture until I noticed the same woman go in three times, each with a different man.
“Jesus Christ,” I muttered as I turned back to the line ahead of us.
“You good?” Thomas asked. I waved my hand and said I was fine. Iggy kept his eyes on me, and I could tell that he knew something was wrong. I expected him to say something, but he didn’t pry.
Once we got to the front, we came face-to-face with a bouncer at least three times my own size. A tattoo of a crowned snake coiled twice around his arm, and just in case no-one would get the allusion, the name “Minos” was inscribed above the snake’s crown. Myself being five-foot-five and made of skin and bones, I was used to the average high schooler dwarfing me in size. This guy, on the other hand, had enough rippling muscles to put me in a state of unease. I felt Iggy put his hand on my shoulder as Thomas pulled out his wallet. With Iggy being over six feet, and Thomas at five-eleven, I figured Iggy didn’t want the bouncer to lose track of me. We flashed our IDs, Thomas forked over the cash, and the bouncer waved us in. I took a deep breath, preparing for the half-conscious reverie that only a combination of booze and house music could drag me into.
And then I heard Lil Nas X.
It wasn’t good. Of course it wasn’t fucking good. All I could do was swallow the disappointed sigh that was crawling into my throat. Thankfully, Iggy had my opinion covered already.
“What the Hell is this music?” he said aloud. I took the opportunity to let my sigh come out, and Thomas just shrugged.
“I know it’s not good, but trust me, the drinks here are fucking great,” Thomas said.
God, I hope so, I thought to myself. I didn’t want my best friend’s money to be wasted on piss-flavored booze and shitty Soundcloud rappers. We approached the bar where two bartenders were active: one man and one woman. The male bartender was at one end of the bar, chatting it up with a woman who seemed to have come alone. The female bartender, meanwhile, kept winking at the guys sitting along the bar. As soon as I noticed her low-cut top, my eyes dashed to the wall of bottles behind her.
Don’t look like a creep, I told myself, Just get a drink and wait for some good music to come on.
She approached us, and just as the words “hey, handsome” shot from her mouth, my eyes glazed over. I reminded myself that she was just a bartender playing up her “assets” for the sake of extra tips. I didn’t even need to look down the bar to tell that her male companion was doing the same. My fingers trembled against my will as I had trouble figuring out where to look. My eyes twitched, unsure of whether they should land on her eyes, the wall of bottles behind her, or somewhere else entirely. Afraid of stopping my eyes on anything, I forced my gaze onto the table and ordered a shot of vodka. I waited for the drink to come into view. The glint of the shot glass flashed into my vision, and I immediately grabbed it. Just as quickly, I turned away from the bar and shoved the liquid down my throat. Thomas was next to me, sliding bills onto the counter for each drink that the three of us had just ordered.
“Do you think this DJ takes requests?” I shouted over the noise as Thomas ordered tequila for the three of us. Jesus, he really meant it when he said he wanted to get piss-drunk.
“I don’t know, man,” Thomas yelled back.
“Well I imagine he does, if they’re gonna play this noise!” I called to him. He laughed – probably more of a pity-laugh than a genuine one – and slid one shot to me and another to Iggy.
“Look, I don’t give a shit, what’s important is that we’re here, we’re together…” Thomas lifted up his own glass and screamed, “...And we’re gonna get fucking wasted!”
Iggy just chuckled as his glass touched Thomas’s. I tried my best to not space out as my own glass clinked against the other two. We tapped our glasses against the table, then splashed the tequila through our gullets. As always, a spot of numbness rose from my feet, through my body, and up to my scalp. I swung my head back and forth to shake off the buzz, then let out a guttural moan to numb the burning in my throat.
“Damn, that hits hard,” I grunted. Iggy just laughed at me.
“A little lightweight, aren’t you?” he said as he reached out to ruffle my hair. As embarrassing as it should have been in such a populated spot, I didn’t care. Somehow, the warmth of his touch was enough to melt everything else away from my senses. For the brief moment that he comforted me, I was pulled into a warm, black expanse with streaks of neon auras caressing my skin.
When his hand pulled away from my head, I was sent back into the crushing white noise of the club. A sea of faces bobbed ahead of me, moving to the “music” and making sounds with their mouths. I turned to face Iggy, who just looked back at me with a warm smile. I then turned to Thomas, who seemed to have his eyes on something behind me. He looked at me as soon as he noticed that my eyes were on him, then he patted me on the shoulder.
“I’m doing this for you, Dan,” Thomas said, “You gotta put yourself out there more.”
All I could do was laugh and shift my weight from one foot to the other.
“No, I’m serious,” he continued, “You’re always complaining about being alone and shit, we both know it. You gotta step out of your comfort zone, man, this’ll fix that.”
I nodded. He was right, but…
“But in a place like this?” I asked him, “You’re out of your mind, man.”
“Nah, man,” Thomas looked to his side at a group of girls who seemed to all be college-aged. He looked back to me and said, “There’s your opportunity.”
I laughed out loud, as did Iggy.
“Jesus, Tom, those girls have to be at least four years younger than I am,” I told him, “No way I’m interested in that.”
“Uh-huh, how do you think they got in if they’re not 21?” he shot back.
“Fake IDs, probably,” I said with a wave of my hand, “Besides, you know how clubs don’t care about how young the ladies are when they walk in.”
“Thomas,” Iggy chimed, “Do you have any idea how retarded the average college girl is?”
I bit my tongue, holding back a retort against Iggy’s comment. I didn’t want to fight a two-front war of words here. Besides, as much as I hated it, I knew Iggy wasn’t wrong, either.
“Good!” Thomas yelled, “That should make things even easier!”
“I have standards, Tom,” I replied.
“Fine, fine,” Thomas said as he took a step away from the bar, “Watch and take notes.”
And away he went, turning to the group of girls and tapping on on her shoulder. I rolled my eyes and turned back to the bar, not wanting anything to do with Thomas’s methodology.
“Oh my Lord,” Iggy said as he leaned against the bar table, “He’s really gonna go for that?”
“That’s Thomas,” I sighed, “He’ll put his dick into anything that’d get it wet.”
“Can he even hold up a relationship?” Iggy asked.
“They usually last a month.” I griped, “He’ll start cheating a week in, then break it off after two or three more. And that’s always fun to hear about. ‘Dan, Dan, I had another breakup! Dan, Dan, I couldn’t keep it in my pants! Woe unto me, I’m constantly drowning in pussy!’”
Iggy erupted with laughter. I couldn’t help but chuckle along with him after realizing the humor in what I’d just said.
“Hey, thanks for coming to this,” I said to him once the laughter died, “It would have been a nightmare if-”
“Hey, excuse me!” A woman’s voice rang out. Not realizing that I’d lost track of my surroundings, it took me a few seconds to see a curly-haired woman who had stepped up next to Iggy.
“You know, I really like your hair,” she said to him. With the rise and fall of his sighing chest, I could tell that he wasn’t too pleased by such an approach.
“Thanks,” he said. She laughed, swaying backwards and almost falling down.
“You know, I uh…” she stood still for a moment, then a stream of laughter tumbled from her mouth. Iggy and I looked at each other as the moment passed by awkwardly.
“You know, I saw you from over there,” she didn’t bother gesturing towards any location as she continued, “I just thought, like, ‘Wow!’ You know?”
I’d seen Iggy in this situation plenty of times before, and at this point I figured I didn’t need to bother paying attention. Iggy gave a one-syllable response, and I glanced over to Thomas to see what he was up to. It was clear that he had the attention of most of the girls, which didn’t surprise me all that much. The interest of one girl in particular was made obvious once he put his arm around her and she didn’t seem to even think of pulling away. My eyes were stuck to the scene at this point.
What the fuck are you doing? I shouted mentally, You’ve barely met this guy and he’s right up on you, why the fuck aren’t you pulling away?>
By some Christmas-level miracle, none of her friends seemed to have the same concerns or apprehensions that were setting off countless alarms in my own head. After an exchange of words, nods, and glances, Thomas dragged the girl towards me and Iggy. I could still hear the curly-haired girl blabbing to Iggy, who did his absolute best to seem as uninterested as possible.
“Oh shit!” Thomas said as he saw the woman practically clinging onto Iggy, “See, this guy gets it!”
Iggy tilted his head to one side and narrowed his eyes for the universal look that said “really, dude?” Thomas didn’t seem to notice, as he was already ordering more drinks.
“Six Bacardi shots!” he shouted, “Three for us and three for the ladies!”
“Nuh-uh, not happening,” Iggy snapped back, “This lady’s already drunk enough, she doesn’t need any more.”
“Ooh, what a gentleman!” the curly-haired woman flirted through a giggle, “You know, it’s good to have a man look out for his woman!”
“No, that’s not what’s happening,” Iggy spoke with a firmer tone, “Listen, I already have a boyfriend at home. What I’m trying to do is…”
I tuned out the conversation, but could tell that the mention of a boyfriend didn’t seem to deter her. She was set on walking out of this club with a partner, even if it would be a one-night stand. Speaking of which…
I turned to Thomas and saw that he and his “partner” had already downed their Bacardi and were mashing their lips together. My eyes, full of disgust, fell to the four shots in front of me. Two for me and Iggy, and two for… our ladies? I scoffed. That would just make two for me and two for Iggy. He never had the interest in women, and I never had the luck. I held one shot in each hand, threw it into my throat, and did the same with the other.
And that brings me to now.
The Bacardis haven’t hit me just yet, but God, I want them to.
I tune my brain back in to the music, and hear that Ed Sheeran’s voice is still rambling on. I don’t see any chances of Thomas letting go of the girl next to him, and Iggy’s would-be seductress is not letting him out of her grip.
My hand tightens around the shot glass. This situation is nothing new. Like every party Thomas ever dragged me to, he’s decided to pull some bint from the dance floor and make his move. Like every bar Iggy took me to, a woman is making her own moves on him with each flirt landing on deaf ears.
I let out yet another sigh and let my eyes sink into one of the shot glasses. I can just barely see the ocean of faces and voices reflected through its glint. They all sway back and forth, peering into each others’ eyes and flapping their lips at each others’ faces. They dance, they sing, and no matter how awkward their movements are, their faces have big white grins plastered onto them.
This place isn't safe.
I push myself away from the bar and look over at Iggy. It’s obvious from his face that he’s at his wit’s end and can’t do anything to squirm away from that woman and her curly hair. He looks back at me with something of a guilty look on his face.
“Hey Dan,” he says, “I should probably just keep her at bay.”
I nod and look back at my shot glass.
“Dan…” Iggy pauses for a few seconds and then continues, “I don’t like having to say it, but Thomas is right about you getting out of your comfort zone.”
“This far out of it, though?” I snap immediately, “This fucking far out of it? Do you really think this is the right type of ‘outside-your-comfort’ zone for someone like me? I mean, fucking hell…”
I feel my voice falter. No, it’s not worth complaining over. I already complain about this every time I go to any sort of party, and it never changes the situation. I’d be wasting air at this point.
“I get it,” Iggy’s voice is gentle, in spite of the nagging curl-hair beside him.
“Listen, I’ll be right here if you need me,” Iggy continues, “But you should try talking to someone new. Maybe you won’t regret it.”
I loosen my grip on the glass, trying to emulate Iggy’s 180 turn from annoyance to passivity. The alcohol is working its way through my veins now. I can feel myself swimming through honey as my body sways back and forth.
Control, control… I steer my emotion towards that of confidence. If either one of my friends can pull someone without even trying, then so could I.
“All right,” I say as I push myself away from the bar. My body lists to one side, so I pull it back to its center. I chuckle.
“I’m doing this,” I tell Iggy, “I’m getting with someone tonight!”
“You be careful,” he responds. I nod and walk along the bar. I keep my eyes ahead of me as if I have a destination in mind, but I'm sure to glance at the bar’s patrons every second or so. Most of their faces are plastic, painted over with makeup. Most other faces are covered with metal hooks and loops, all pushed through the same spots on their faces for the sake of individuality. Half of the women look like clones of each other, as do half of the men. It’s as if someone took models from magazine covers and photocopied them over and over. I tune into their chatter as I pass by, hoping to pick up on something I could chime in on, or even relate to.
“...she’s such a Virgo...” “...so many stress issues...” “...they literally stood up...”
My optimism is quickly sapped, and by the time I’m at the end of the bar, I only have the energy left to give an exasperated sigh. I catch my face in my palm as my head falls towards the floor. I close my eyes and grumble slightly before picking my head back up. I look back at the bar, then she catches my eye.
Straight, jet-black hair past her shoulders. A black hoodie with a picture of a white origami unicorn on the back. The title “Blade Runner” sits above the image. She has grey cargo pants covering her legs, capped off by the white trainers on her feet. Looking at her face, it seems that she forgoed the decision to wear any makeup. Her eyes stare coldly at the table resting in front of her. A glass of something clear – either vodka or water – sits in her hand. Judging by her stature, she seems to be at least half a foot taller than I am.
Don’t stare, dumbass! I scream to myself, tearing my eyes away from her, You’ll look like a creep. Don’t be a creep. Don’t make her call you a creep.
All right then, genius, how do we approach? a voice calls out to me from within.
Hell if I know, I respond.
Well, don’t linger, the voice calls back, Lingering leads to creeping.
Yeah, he’s right.
I close my throat, holding my breath to still my heart. When did it start punching against my ribcage so hard? When did my throat get this dry? Damn, I can’t even swallow. I try to close my throat a few times, but my gullet barely even manages to contract. Am I sweating? I must be sweating since I’m so nervous. Sweating’s going to make me smell bad, which really isn’t going to make a good impression. I ball my hand up to feel my palm. Yeah, it’s sweating. I probably smell horrible.
Oh shit, how long have I been standing here? How long have I been looking? Has she noticed? Does she realize I’m a creep yet?
Just talk to her, you fucking idiot! The voice screams at me.
All right! Jesus! If it’ll make you shut up... I snap back as I tighten my fist. I dig my nails into my palms and bite down on my tongue as I make the approach. I’m already right next to her before I realize it. A second passes. Two seconds pass. Three seconds, then four more. Ten seconds total.
“So...” I clear my throat to get her attention, “You know, I uh… I don’t really go to places like this.”
“Don’t you?” she gives a monotonous reply.
“Yeah, no, um...” I say with a knock on the table, “Not my kind of place. Friends dragged me here, actually.”
“Might wanna get back to them,” she says. I force a casual laugh.
A joke, the voice tells me, She’s just telling a joke.
“Well, you know, they’re… preoccupied,” I tell her.
My mind flashes back to the uncountable amount of parties that Thomas dragged me to. Each time, he’d pull some girl into a bedroom with him while leaving me to sit alone on a couch, staring at the ceiling while someone next to me rambles on about their own personal problems.
“You really don’t know the half of it,” I finally reply. I hear her sigh.
“Yeah, and I don’t really care to know. Fuck off,” she hisses, punctuating with a “Creep.”
Creep, I think to myself.
Oh, the voice mutters. That’s all he has to say. “Oh.”
And that’s all I have to think.
Well, I know when I’m not wanted, I think to myself as I pull away from the bar. I shuffle back to my spot, listening again to the thoughtless words people spit back and forth at each other.
“...and these privileged...” “...I deserve...” “...her Gemini energy is so-o...”
Just a bunch of noise playing along with the “music.” I get back to my spot from before. Thomas has his arm around that college girl, and they’re both laughing. Iggy has his phone in his hand, texting Jeremy while the curl-hair clings to his arm. I take my seat and look to the bartender.
“I’d like some absinthe,” I say.
Gynophobia is... Well, I have to be honest, it might be among the more spiteful things I’ve written. Thomas is an altered version of a friend I've known since we were kids, but with an extra touch of douchebaggery. Iggy is based off of a different friend entirely, and as you could probably guess, he's someone that I get pretty jealous of. Dan is – go figure – myself. I know it seems like an egotistical thing to do, but when I wrote the first draft for this story (then titled Перемотка), I wanted it to be something personal; a deluge into my psyche, in one way or another. That version of the story featured Dan alone in his apartment, drunk on his 25th birthday and looking at Iggy as someone that he desperately wanted to be, but could never become. The problem was that, while I meant for there to be an internal conflict in Перемотка, the way I wrote the story made it internal to the point of being invisible. To make it more obvious, I’d have to take the same character out of his comfort zone, so the setting was moved and the title was changed.