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After Hours

I used to go to clubs with a girl whose father hanged himself on her thirteenth birthday. I liked to go out with her because she would get just as fucked up as I would. We weren’t proud of it. We weren’t ashamed, either. It was just the way we were.

She liked to drink the clear stuff and I, the brown. She thought clear liquors made a cleaner pass through her liver. I suppose I never minded mudding up my insides. I was in love with a man I couldn’t have. I was in deeper than you can imagine. I liked this girl because no matter how low I sank, she was always lower. I think she thought the same of me.

This girl was beautiful. On the dance floor, men reached for her. Any part of her would do. We shooed them away. We moved around the dance floor to feel like we were going somewhere. It felt like swimming. The lights were like looking up from the bottom of a pool at night. It never felt like there was enough air.

Back at her house, we watched cooking shows and ate pizza. She had her clothes strewn about her floor and hanging on her closet doors. The blue light of the TV and her neon clothes burned away something nasty in me. Some lady told me how to make cake. I wanted to be filled back up. Cake might do.

She showed me the tree in her backyard from her bedroom window. I saw the crooked branches, and knew.

It looks like a beautiful place to die, I said.

Sure, she said, but not a beautiful place to live.

She squeezed my hand like she wanted something from me. But who was I to tell her to stop punishing herself?

The man I loved was in me too. We were sick with want.

In her bed, I watched the lightning flicker against her bedroom walls. She slept soundly with her father’s ghost creeping about the yard. I was haunted too, but by someone living. We had no words for what we were feeling. I slept well in her bed. But what does it matter? It wasn’t sleep we were looking for.

Heather De Bel is an adjunct. She’s a former nanny, coffee server, tutor and assistant to a raw vegan influencer, though Heather’s diet preferences change regularly. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two cats. Her story in Contrary, “After Hours,” was selected by Wigleaf as one of the top stories of 2020.