Fiction: The Benchwarmer
By Phoenix DeSimone
I was holding tight to the bottle of Jack Daniels when I knocked on her door. It was starting to turn cold, and I was getting a little tired of waiting, but I knew she was in there. I knew she was in there because there was jazz coming from inside. It was more like jazz mixed with hip-hop, something I would be told months later the cool kids were calling “lo-fi.” I screwed the cap off the Jack, took a sip and closed my eyes – thinking of Lilly. Oh Lilly, Oh Lilly. She had one of those bodies that you could only dream of. The kind that I used to see on covers of Sports Illustrated or Playboy. I mean, hell, I was intoxicated most of the time I saw her, and that probably had something to do with it, but she made me feel good, so that had to be worth something. The music died down and I decided to knock again. I tried my best to strike that delicate balance between being loud and not sounding like the police. The door swung open and there stood Lilly, hair pulled behind her ears in a messy bun and a shirt four sizes too big. This is how she always looked when she was at home. She was a painter, and claimed it was so paint wouldn’t mess up her clothes, but I believe it had much more to do with the fact that she never did laundry.
“Nick, how are you honey?”
She placed a kiss on my cheek, pulled me into the
apartment, and wrapped her arms around me. I could smell the wine on her breath when she kissed the other cheek. She released me and took the Jack from my hands, taking a long sip.
“I have something to tell you,” I said.
“Can it possibly wait?” She asked handing the bottle back. “I got – Wait. What. Why?”
“Because I have someone I want you to meet.”
Lilly pulled me into her living room. A man was sitting on her couch, sipping a glass of wine. He was leaned far back, legs spread wide, so that it was hard to look at him without noticing his crotch. He was dressed in a suit and tie – the last type of human I’d ever thought I’d see at Lilly’s place.
“Nick, this is John Withers.”
“Nice to meet ya,” I said taking a seat on the rocking
chair Lilly kept at a 45-degree angle.
“Nick. John is a publisher. A book publisher.”
I took a sip of Jack and nodded my head. I wasn’t all that jealous – I knew that Lilly saw other guys, but it was weird to see one of them in person.
“And John, Nick is a writer.”
“Are you now?” He asked swinging one leg over the other as if to hide something. “Written anything I would have read?”
I took another sip.
“That’s actually what I had to tell you, Lilly.”
“Tell me,” she said biting her lip with excitement.
“My story, ‘The Devil Also Wears Lipstick’ got published today.”
“Really? The one about the lonely, needy, and unwanted boy?”
“Hey. I didn’t get that from it. And I wrote it.”
“Whatever,” Lilly said hopping up from her seat and rushing over to me. She planted a kiss on my forehead, and I saw John pull the leg that was over the other closer to his stomach.
“Salut,” John said refilling his wine. “What in?”
“Adam’s Online Lit.”
“Never heard of it.”
“That does’t matter,” Lilly said walking off to the
She returned with three glasses, took the bottle of Jack from me, poured an equal amount in each, and handed them out.
“That would be why I’m here, lady.”
I pulled a bag of weed out of my back pocket and showed it off. John smirked in my direction as we all clanked glasses, and I got Lilly to bring me some rolling papers.
It took me longer than most to roll a joint. I was told as a child by some doctor that I had horrible small-muscle control. He claimed this explained why I had shitty handwriting, and although some might have considered that an impediment, it did get the teachers to take it easy on me with those cursive practice exercises. John started talking to me about writing. And suddenly, despite the way it had felt when I walked in, I started to think that he might not be that bad of a guy. Lilly was inching over closer to John the more and more he spoke about this writer and that book, but I was sure I’d win by the end of the night – I was the big writer on top, ‘till tomorrow anyway. I ran my tongue across the rolling paper and sealed it shut. I lit the joint, and took some long inhales before passing it John’s way. I picked up the glass of Jack and finished it.
“Who were your influences, Nick?”
“I’m my own influence,” I said refilling my glass.
John coughed a few times and Lilly giggled as he passed her the joint.
“That doesn’t make much sense.”
“Every writer I’ve met say they write like someone. You know, the writers that make up their oeuvre. It make them the writer they are. Or something like that. And yet here you are. Published and saying you write like ‘you.’”
Well You wouldn’t. You publish. I write.
Lilly giggled again and passed me back the joint.
“Nick here likes to pretend he’s all original. He’s a
modern-age Charles Bukowski and doesn’t like to admit it.”
“Bukowski huh? I used to love his stuff. Before he died anyway. Then the editors started ruining it.”
“Same here,” I said passing the joint back to him.
“You’ll have to let me read your stuff. I think the world might be ready for a modern-age Bukowski.”
“I should be able to sell a short story collection of stuff like that. Or a chapbook. Hell, a something.”
Sell. That word felt good. It felt good to feel like I might make money off something that for so long had been an overbearing disturbance in my life. John grabbed the remote off the table and passed the joint to Lilly.
“I know it’s your big day and all, but you wouldn’t mind if I turned on the game, would ya? I’m a big Broncos fan. Win today and we’re in.”
“Why not, I said as Lilly stood up and returned to me what was left of the joint. She ran her fingers through my hair and walked off.
It was the fourth quarter and the Broncos were down by seven. The announcers mentioned that the backup quarterback had been in since the beginning of the second half, due to the starter getting a concussion, or some other major ailment. They also said that the backup had overthrown six open receivers and didn’t deserve to be playing the game. Lilly returned to the room, John screamed at the screen as the backup threw another incompletion, and I thought about the announcers’ comment. Here was some kid who’d spent the vast majority of his formative years wanting only to be a football player. For reasons unbeknownst to me, he wasn’t good enough to start, but he’d spent his whole life doing what most people wouldn’t – trying – and these announcers had the audacity to say he didn’t “deserve” it. Ouch. I could have drawn some parallels with this backup quarterback and myself, but decided not to. John didn’t seem like the type of guy you could talk to while a football game was ongoing, so I decided against that too. I popped the cap off the Jack and took a long gulp. I passed the bottle in John’s direction and he took it from me without saying a word, eyes glued to the TV.
The fourth quarter continued, and we passed the bottle around like that, again and again. The Broncos were able to cut the lead to four, and the backup had gotten the team into position for a go-ahead touchdown with about a minute-and-a-half left in the game. But on 3rd and 4th, he dropped back, scanned the field and threw an interception. Go figure. John picked up the remote, turned off the TV, and slammed it down onto the coffee table. I could tell that the failing of this 20-something kid hurt him on a personal level. John stood up to go to the bathroom and I could tell by the way that he walked that he was far more fucked up than he was comfortable with. Must have been the weed. I got up and took the spot on the couch next to Lilly. There wasn’t much left in the bottle of Jack now. I took a long swig and offered what was left to her. She shook her head, so I finished it.
“When are you going to celebrate with me?” I asked putting an arm around her shoulders.
“Stop it, Nicky.”
“Fine,” I said removing my arm. “Kick a guy while he’s up.”
Lilly laughed and planted a quick kiss on my lips.
John stumbled into the living room and looked at me the way one probably looks at their pillow right before a nice, long blackout.
“I’ll tell you something, writer boy.”
“I haven’t even read your shit, but–“
“Who says it’s shit?”
“You know what I mean. But I know I’d be willing to publish it if I get to sleep with the beautiful Lilly tonight.”
My father was right: you should never trust ties.
Lilly smiled, squeezed my arm and hopped off the couch. She took John by the hand, led him off to her bedroom and I heard the tumbler lock. I sat there in silence with the lo-fi music, still not quite understanding what it was. I knew I had no right to do anything, so I stood up. I pulled the pack of Camels out of my pocket and headed out the door.
I walked down the stairs and lit the cigarette. The
December wind was starting to pick up and I knew that it was going to be a long, cold, winter. I sat down in my car and turned the ignition over. I let the car idle and ash fall over the leather seats. Lilly probably figured she was doing me a favor. But the sad thing was, I knew something that Lilly didn’t: John Withers was never going to publish any of my stories. He more than likely wasn’t even going to read them. He was going to wake up tomorrow and forget ever meeting me. The problem wasn’t that the writing wouldn’t be good enough, or that he wouldn’t see it way I saw it. The problem was that I was too much the same as the characters I created: lonely, needy, and unwanted.
I put the car into reverse, peeled out of the parking lot, and flicked the Camel out the window.
Phoenix DeSimone is an emerging writer from Virginia, whose work has been published in Rat's Ass Review, Horror Sleaze Trash, Cough Syrup Magazine, Avalon Literary Review, Intrinsick, The Daily Drunk, and Children, Churches and Daddies.