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Three Things


Last night I went to a bar at the end of a block in downtown Fargo. I drank a diesel pint and listened to a pair of women talk feminism over post-work margaritas. The skinny one got suddenly animated; she made a fist, then made an uppercut, grabbing onto her bicep with the cupped fingers of her other hand. “This will be our new salute,” she declared. “The new feminist salute.”

You weren’t around to do it, so I went over instead. “Ladies. Excuse me, but I’m just wondering. How is that a feminist salute?”

Neon glow from an off-brand beer sign had tinted our skins to shades of jaundice. The jukebox played something angry, with a baseline you could feel in your teeth. Glassware clinked and pool balls clicked and drunks told jokes too loudly, and alls that was missing was the cigarette smoke, and the legal right to breath it in bars.

“It’s like, famous,” Skinny Girl shouted at me. “A pose on a poster. That chick. What was her name? Wore a bandana or something?”

The friend snapped her fingers. “Rosie.”

“Yeah! Rosie! Rosie the Riveter. Haven’t you ever seen that poster?” Skinny made the uppercut thrust-and-grab again. “Feminism! And…and…factory work!”

“Yeah, Rosie worked in a factory!”

I raised my own arm slowly. “Rosie the Riveter pulled her sleeve back. Like this, see? To show the muscle?”


“You, you’re just doing a Fuck You, grabbing your arm like that.”

Another blink from Skinny. “Shit, is that true? I don’t think that’s true.”

“Damn it,” said the friend, taking a stymied glug of margarita. “Now we’re gonna have to come up with something else.”

“Jesus. Thanks a lot.”


“Yeah. We don’t need your misogyny over here.”

I returned to my side of the bar, reminded (not for the first time) that even though you not being here is the most ridiculous thing in the world, the world will always throw out stiff competition for the title.


Later on that night, post-suffragettes, the bartender came my way. She had short dark hair in that coffee bean shade you used to like in chicks and a small silver eyebrow ring, which you never liked in anyone. I gave her the smile she was looking for and threw down some crumpled paper money—too many pieces for my bill, and looking far too close to how I felt.

She nodded at my tattoos. “Nice ink, Mr. Misogynist.”

“Thanks, Rosie.”

“Get it done local?”


“Are you local yourself?”

“Uh uh.”

“What brings you to Fargo?”

“Nothing important.”

She changed tactics. Brought me another diesel and then started in with the brewery trivia, and the fancy pours, a few pops of good old-fashioned lean-n-cleavage. She told me how to make something ridiculous involving Tabasco sauce and Sambuca. I told her about that drink we invented the night the Red Sox won the pennant. She poured out two, one for her, one for me, and said “on the house, for Boston.”

And when the jukebox switched to something electronica-infused and I said it sounded like the soundtrack of a Nintendo dungeon, she fell just the tiniest bit in love with me. Not marry-me love, or the rescue-me fairytale stuff. Just the kind of head-over-heels you sometimes get in dark bars.

It’s like I said before, about all that competition.


When the time came my bartender friend rang an antique farmbell for Last Call. She gave me a plate of pretzels to chew while she pried a drunk from the toilets. I helped with the sweeping, the wipe-downs, the locking of all doors, and she led me to a back staircase that led to an apartment above the bar. I made sure to keep your epitaph hidden when the clothes started coming off. It’s across my back, inked above the vertebra that paralyzes you if it breaks.

“Not tired?” the bartender asked, later on when we were done.

“No. Not really. Is that a fire escape out your window?”

“It is.”

“Does it reach up to the roof?”

“It does. But it’ll be freezing up there. Like, really fucking cold.”

She wasn’t lying. The winds dug into my nostrils, into my cheeks and ear canals. It got into my lungs and in through the sinuses to the very back portions of my eyes. I wore long underwear but had forgotten my hat in the bedroom. The bartender had a hood lined in fur.

“This used to be a lake,” she said, pointing out past the city lights to the tabletop darkness of the prairie. “That’s why it’s so flat. This whole state is all just the bottom of some prehistoric dinosaur lake.”

“Is that true?”

“No, I’m lying to you. I like to take strange bar guys to my roof and lie to them about topography.”

“That’s cool. I really dig being lied to on a topographic level.”

She took a flask from her pocket, and a pair of shot glasses that clicked together like marbles. I took mine slowly (straight-up Jack Daniels) and then took something from my own pocket. The cheap plastic of the kitchen baggie crackled as I scooped up the contents.

“Dude, is that cocaine, or…” The bartender’s eyes widened. She took a few steps backwards, for privacy’s sake. I didn’t need that much. One quick flick of the wrist and everything was gone, swept away to the prairie in filmy scatters of gray.

“Who was that?” she whispered, but did not press for an answer.

When they gave me my portion of ashes I cut up a map of the United States, put all fifty pieces into that Red Sox hat you always wore in summer. I picked three times. Your favorite number. North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Georgia. I like to think my ashes used to be your hands. Most people have hands like dead spiders, but not you. You, you had a pianist’s hands. Or maybe a strangler’s. You should have worn more rings in your time.

My hands are ugly, too big and too hairy, but the bartender held them on the roof last night. She led me back inside and made us bagels, bacon, coffee with just sugar, because her month-old milk had gone to chunks in the fridge. She smiled when I kissed her goodbye and said “it’s too bad we can’t do this again” and I smiled too, and I meant it. It’s not everyday you find a girl who won’t flinch when you toss human remains off her roof.

Pennsylvania, you’re up next.

Georgia, you’re on deck.

I’ll hit up every bar in both states.

I’ll find two more strangers who don’t mind taking stranger-me to bed. Pretty or sideshow; sparkling or strung-out; dumb/funny/female/male I don’t care. When we’re done I’ll do just what I did last night; I’ll climb to the top of something handy and throw out the remaining pieces of you. Some people might say it’s a ridiculous way to conduct any kind of a funeral. But you, you always spent your time fucking strangers in bars.

You’d probably say, “this is perfect.”


MK Laughln’s publishing credits include short stories in Dirty Napkin Magazine, Red Weather Literary Magazine, Queer Ramblings Magazine, Farmhouse Magazine, and the collections A Flash of Red, Vera Icon, and Funeral Pants. This past summer, she left her teaching position in the English Department at Westfield State University to enter a PhD program at North Dakota State University.


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