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Today's Story by Douglas James Troxell

Domesticated men have this stale energy about them like they’ve lost something—something primitive and basic.

A Flame Extinguished

Jack Fulano raised the Tom Collins to his lips and emptied the glass, but he did not swallow—not yet. He rolled the liquid over different parts of his tongue, trying to taste each ingredient separately—the gin, the lemon juice, the club soda—but it all tasted flavorless. He glanced toward the entrance of the bar—still no one—and waited to swallow because he knew that once he did, he would have to decide whether to order another drink or leave like he should have done a half hour ago. Not that he was in any rush to get home.

It was Friday night so that meant pizza and movie night at the Fulano household. His wife, Laura, ordered the pizza at five sharp whether he was home or not, and his youngest daughter, Taylor, had the privilege of choosing the movie this week so he knew he was in for another helping of an animated Disney flick they had watched a dozen times already. The cold pizza and animated shenanigans could wait.

Biscuit, the burly bar tender, rumbled over on cue, as if he could smell the empty glass.


The question forced Jack’s hand. He swallowed hard and coughed when the liquid descended into his windpipe.

“Uh—I don’t know. I don’t wanna get too sloshed before my client shows up.”

“How late is he?”

“Fashionably,” Jack said. Then added, “Forty minutes.”

Biscuit raised another drink from behind the bar and set it in front of Jack.

“Fifteen minutes is fashionable. Forty means he ain’t comin’.”

Biscuit whisked the empty glass away and waddled to the other end of the bar, leaving Jack with one less decision and another drink to kill. He couldn’t help feeling a bit insulted—not that Biscuit assumed his client wasn’t coming (he probably wasn’t) but that he assumed he wanted another Tom Collins.

When he first started courting potential clients at the Wingate Hotel bar over a decade ago, he remembered ordering all kinds of exotic cocktails. He’d ask the client to name a drink he’d always wanted to try, and he’d order two of whatever it was. Jack couldn’t remember when or why he had stopped the practice. He’d become more conservative in his old age, and Biscuit kept the bar at a sultry 75 degrees year-round to encourage his patrons to drink more. Toms were light and refreshing and it was easy to get clients buzzed without them realizing how much they had drunk. At this point in his career Jack had spent so much time at the bar with Tom that they tasted like water.

Jack threw one last glance toward the entrance, but his eyes never made it to the door. They were caught by the girl—woman—perched on the stool next to him. He had no idea when she had sat down. She certainly wasn’t there when Biscuit had delivered the last Tom Collins. She looked young—much younger than him at least. Since she was in a bar, he assumed she had to be at least 21 but she was probably closer to 25 or 26. Jack had trouble diagnosing the age of anyone under 30 anymore. Her hair was dyed black, the kind of black you feel after passing out from drinking too much. She was thin—too thin—the way twenty-somethings look before they put on their adult mass. A single diamond stud pierced her left nostril, a piercing that made her seem exotic and placed the girl firmly in a generation outside his own. Her striped blouse, buttoned low enough to reveal the curve of her small breasts, and black skirt made it unclear whether she was dressed for work or play.

“Hello,” she said in a voice that slithered from her lips.

Jack leaned hard to the left side of the stool—away from this intruder—and nearly slipped off but managed to catch his balance and put on a fairly convincing act that he was simply adjusting.

“Hi. Can I—help you with something?”

“I’m here for you,” she said as if the answer was obvious.

Jack’s crimson face betrayed him, and he could have kicked himself for being so naïve. After all, it wasn’t at all without precedent. Clients had, in the past, sent a secretary or underling to blow him off instead of doing it in person.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was just—I was expecting Mr. Carter.”


It wasn’t the formal answer of someone on a business call. The proper response would have been “Excuse me?” or “I’m sorry.” What was too abrupt, too informal.

“I thought you’d be—I was expecting an older gentleman.”

She laughed—her laughter like change ringing inside a piggy bank.

“I don’t know any Mr. Carter,” she said.

She pivoted on her stool to face him. She uncrossed and recrossed her legs, seemingly making it a point to ruffle the bottom of his frayed trousers with her open-toed hells. The move caused her skirt to ride up higher on her thighs, but she made no attempt to cover them.

He tried to laugh as carefree as she had, but the laugh stumbled out of his mouth in more of an awkward grunt.

“I apologize. I’m waiting for someone and I thought maybe you were him—her.”  She moved her right arm and rested it on the bar so it created a bridge between her body and his.

“I saw you sitting over here, and you looked like you could use some company,” she said. “So I thought I’d come over and say—hello.”


And that’s when Jack realized what was happening—he was being hit on. It had been so long he hadn’t even recognized it—like an old friend passed on the street whose name doesn’t materialize until a block later. He suddenly relaxed, regaining control of the room as the business arena melted away and the bar resettled in around him. The entire situation was so comical—this young girl taking time out of her day to make an advance on a man nearly twice her age—he couldn’t help but laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

Jack shrugged and laughed and shook his head and doing all three simultaneously made him look like he had lost control of his body, but he didn’t care. The best part was that he used to have such a keen sense for this sort of thing. Back in his prime he used to be able to smell the desperation on girls in a crowded bar, zero in on the girls with daddy issues, with chips on their shoulders, with self-esteem issues and inferiority complexes. He used to cut through the crowd and close in like a heat-seeking missile—and he always hit his target.

“I’m Genesis,” she said, smiling.

Genesis. He had never met a Genesis before. The name could have been fake, but he doubted it; she looked like a Genesis.

As amusing as the entire scenario was, he decided to put an end to the charade before it went any further. He deliberately raised his left hand and rested it on his chin, making certain his wedding ring was in full view. He assumed that would be the end of it, maybe even illicit an apology or an offer to buy him a drink (which he would gracefully turn down). If nothing else the ordeal would make for an amusing story for his wife when he finally got home.

Genesis stared directly at the ring—she stared right at it—then raised her eyes back to his and her smile widened. They contained not even a hint of shame.

“Do you have a name?” she asked.


“Are you going to tell me your name or do I have to guess?”


“Hi Jack.”

She leaned forward, and, as she did, the gap on her blouse widened, revealing a glimpse of her bra strap.

The young woman was attractive—there was no doubt about that—but it was strange how, for Jack, there was nothing sexual about the encounter. It was more confusing than anything else. The strangest part of the entire ordeal was how much Jack didn’t want this girl. She certainly oozed sexuality and possessed all the pleasures that youth flaunts so carelessly, but there was something missing—not in her but in him. Ten years ago he would have pounced on this girl like a lion hunting a gazelle on the Serengeti, but that desire—that flame—no longer burned deep inside.

In his youth that flame had raged and burned until it felt like it would totally consume him. He was its slave, the fleshy vehicle whose only mission was to satisfy its desires. The more he fed it, the more it raged and craved more sacrifices of flesh and satin bed sheets in strange bedrooms. But at some point over the years, filled with marriage and work and raising children, that flame had been extinguished, and Jack missed that feeling, the feeling of wanting and longing and needing.

“So who was this Mr. Carter you were waiting for?” she asked, determined to carry through with the ritual.

He decided he would play along long enough to be polite. Besides enjoying the ego boost, talking to a beautiful woman who was not his wife elicited at least sparks of excitement—like safely watching a caged jungle cat at the zoo.

“A client—at least someone I was hoping would become a client.”

“And he no-showed?”

“It would appear so.”

He didn’t mention this was his third no-show of the week. He was starting to lose clients to some of the younger reps who were willing to pull out all the stops with rounds of golf and dinners at fancy restaurants. He remembered what it was like first starting out, hungry for clients, willing to do anything to hear them say yes.

Now he was too tired for all that.

“Oh well,” she said. “You win some, you lose some. Maybe I can be your consolation prize.”

Another carefree laugh filled the inches between them, but this time Jack was surprised to realize the laughter was his own. Back in his prime he could picture himself using such a cheesy line—something so bad the target couldn’t help but giggle.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Does that matter?”

“I’m just curious.”

“Attraction is attraction. Why label it with a number?”

“Attraction may not care about numbers but the law certainly does.”

“If you must know, I am twenty-four. Perfectly legal.”

Twenty-four. There was a certain sensuality to the number. She was new but not naïve. She had no doubt screwed other men before but did not yet possess the ingrained bitterness and desperation that plagues unmarried women in their late twenties. No, this girl—woman—could have any man she wanted in the bar or anywhere else for that matter. But she had chosen him.

Two older men in much more expensive suits than Jack’s shot curious glances over at the pair as they passed. Jack suddenly realized he was leaning toward Genesis, nearly hanging off the edge of his bar stool, and quickly leaned back and sat up erect.

“And what do you do, Genesis?” Jack asked.

“Does it matter? I certainly don’t care what you do. Why bother with all that ritualistic courting bullshit? Let’s just skip to the part where I ask you to my room for a drink?”

Up until that point Jack had felt in control of the situation, but her frankness caught him off guard. He flailed to regain control by telling himself this was nothing more than a shock and awe tactic to knock him off balance. He knew he had an easy out and he took it.

“I’m married,” he said. He held up his wedding ring as proof.

She didn’t even glance at it.

“I don’t know what that has to do with anything. All I did was ask you up for a drink. So…?”

She uncrossed her legs again. Jack waited for the recrossing, but it never happened. He struggled to maintain eye contact, lost the battle, and glanced down  into her lap where his weakness was rewarded with a glimpse of a tiny triangle of baby blue lace between her thighs.

Jack searched for the answer to the proposal at the bottom of his glass but found nothing but an avalanche of ice. Genesis waved Biscuit down with nothing more than a raised index finger—as if he had been watching her the entire time. She paid both their tabs—hers and Jack’s—and left Biscuit a more-than-generous tip. The bartender collected the money without ever raising his eyes to Jack’s.

In his mind Jack left the bar and traveled across space and time to his home. Laura sat on the loveseat holding a paper plate containing two discarded pizza crusts. Their favorite pizza place, Salvatore’s Pizzeria, had the perfect blend of cheese and sauce, but they always burnt the crusts. His three girls lay sprawled on the carpet with a basket of popcorn while computer-generated cartoon characters danced across the screen of their flatscreen television.

He meant to tell Genesis about all this—Laura and his girls and the pizza and movie—but the only thing he heard himself say was, Why not?

As they passed through the lobby on their way to the elevators, Jack glanced toward the lobby exit and thought how easy it would be to simply divert his trajectory and walk right out the doors. Still, he couldn’t lie to himself and say he wasn’t curious just how far he would allow himself to go. He knew nothing would come of his excursion upstairs—he could walk out anytime he wanted—but he so badly wanted that flame to be lit, to feel the rush of visiting a strange bedroom with a strange girl. It was something he hadn’t felt in a long time, and, for whatever reason, he needed to.

Although he had been meeting potential clients in the bar for over a decade, Jack had never seen the inside of one of the hotel’s rooms. It looked pretty much how he expected: peeling wallpaper and uninspired pictures of sailboats and a giant king-sized bed in the center of the room. He expected to find Genesis’s belongings scattered all over the room—colorful bras and lace panties and black stockings—but the room was completely barren except for a single suitcase resting on top of the dresser. The only other items in the room that didn’t come standard were a cheap bottle of scotch in the mini-fridge and two glasses that looked like they had been stolen from the bar.

Genesis poured two glasses of scotch and sat on the bed, inviting Jack to join her.
He did as she commanded. He kept waiting to feel that rush—that feeling of tasting forbidden fruit—but no matter how hard he tried he could not rekindle the flame residing deep inside. He had no intentions of doing anything lascivious; he just wanted to feel the heat of that flame rekindled—if even for a few seconds.

But the flame remained unlit.

They sat on the edge of the bed and drank what tasted more like rubbing alcohol than scotch. Jack occupied the extreme edge of the bed while Genesis sat with one leg tucked beneath her and the other dangling off the bed, her skirt bunched high on her upper thigh—and climbing.

“Are you a prostitute?” he blurted out. “Because I don’t have much money.”

It had crossed his mind at the bar, but he never thought it would cross his lips in such an abrupt way. He expected a slap across the face and directions out the door, but the expression on Genesis’ face remained unchanged.

“Don’t insult yourself,” she said.

She finished her scotch in a single long swig and reached across him to set her glass down on the dresser. As she did so her breasts brushed against his chest and her scent, a strange mixture of vanilla and almond, invaded his nostrils. When she resettled on the bed, she sat right next to him, her finger running laps up and down his spine.

Jack knew that the time to escape was upon him, but he couldn’t leave without her answering one question first.

“Why me? There were other men in that bar—younger men. So why me?”

“It’s so sad,” she said. “You act like you’re dead, but I bet you’re barely forty.”

She was right. Jack had just turned forty three months earlier, but he felt like he had been trapped in his forties for much longer. He couldn’t remember not being forty.

“My job has me traveling pretty much year round,” Genesis continued, “and everywhere I go I find men like you. Domesticated men have this stale energy about them like they’ve lost something—something primitive and basic.”

“Hey, no one is domesticated here. I just—”

“When was the last time you had sex?” she asked nonchalantly.


“Do you have sex every Saturday?”

“No,” he said. Then added, “Every other Saturday.”

She shook her head. “See? How can you chain something as wild and primitive as sex to a schedule?”

“That doesn’t mean anything. We’re just busy—”

“Yes, with children and jobs. I’ve heard all the excuses before.”

She took his glass—which was still half full—and stretched to place it next to hers, but this time she placed her hand on the inside of his thigh for support. He inhaled her scent again and felt his pants tightening. He found himself lost in the mist of this strange woman and no longer felt in control. The jungle cat was out of its cage.

“I can help you recapture that primitiveness,” she whispered into his ear. “Even if it’s just for a few minutes. You can have that back. Sitting alone in a bar avoiding your family is no way to live, Jack.”

That primitiveness. The flame extinguished.

“But I love my family.”

“Really? Then why were you sitting in a bar on a Friday night waiting for a client you knew wasn’t coming?”

Jack wanted this woman—his did—but his base desire to fuck her did nothing to relight the flame. He searched for an answer, flailed for it, but nothing seemed capable of reviving it. If he felt only a flicker of revival he knew he could leave, but there was nothing—nothing. Still, Jack knew he had traveled as close to the edge as he could without falling over. He formed the words in his mind, prepared himself an ejector seat: I’m sorry. I have to go home.

He said the words over and over again in his head knowing that those two sentences would free him. He stored them in the back of his throat for when he needed them.
The words never made it to his lips. Genesis slammed her mouth against Jack’s, blocking them. The kisses were violent and desperate with the weight of a drill press. In a single fluid motion she climbed on top of his lap, straddling him, her skirt rising up to her waist. Her teeth sunk into his neck, sending a shockwave of delicious pain coursing down through his chest and finally settling in his lap.

But still the flame remained extinguished.

I’m sorry. I have to go home.

He screamed the words in his head, but his mouth remained silent. He ordered his hands to throw Genesis to the floor but instead he discovered them tearing the buttons off her blouse. He fell backwards onto the mattress and Genesis crashed over him like a tidal wave engulfing the coast.

I’m sorry. I have to go home.

I’m sorry. I have to go home.

He kept frantically repeating the words in his mind, but he never said them.
He never said them.


Jack slunk through the front door and quietly closed it behind him. An empty pizza box rested on the coffee table and the girls and Laura sat huddled together on the loveseat. Credits rolled across the flatscreen and Jack knew from the song playing he had just missed another showing of Toy Story 3. Laura turned her head and offered Jack a welcome smile.

“You’re late,” she said. “You’ll never guess what happened to Buzz and Woody and the rest of the gang.”

He tried to laugh the way he normally would, but it sounded more like a half chuckle, half whimper—a poor creature that needed to be put down.

“Meeting went late,” he said too quickly. “Just—I couldn’t get out.”

She stood and met him halfway across the living room. He caught himself taking a step back and forced himself to stand his ground. She leaned forward for their usual kiss hello, but she stopped a few inches from his face. She stared at him—just stared—the smile she had worn just a few seconds earlier slowly erasing until it had disappeared completely. Jack did his best not to allow his eyes to betray the truth. Finally she erased the last few inches between them and pressed her lips against his. When she pulled back, her smile had returned.

“I’m glad you’re home,” she said. “Why don’t you go put on comfy clothes and come back down? You can catch the encore presentation.”

He excused himself and retreated to the bathroom to clean up. He usually didn’t shower after work, and he knew it was foolish to do anything he didn’t normally do, but he figured he’d have to chance it. He kept telling himself that Laura would be able to smell his transgression on him—or maybe the perfume—but his wife’s smile revealed no hint of suspicion or anger.

Jack locked himself in the bathroom and turned on the hot water in the shower. He tore off his jacket and counted the buttons on his dress shirt. He turned so his back was to the mirror above the sink, but he knew he’d have to face his reflection sooner or later. He turned slowly and lifted his eyes to meet his own.

And that’s when he saw it.

A huge bruise, a half dollar-sized slab of raw hamburger meat, covered the left side of his neck. It was too bright and covered too much area for anyone to not notice. He realized his girls would ask him how he got it, and he would have to lie to them—and Laura would know it was a lie.

She had seen it down in the living room. Yet she said nothing. And as he stared at the bruise and attempted to piece together a lie simple enough to fool three young girls, Jack realized that perhaps he wasn’t the only one for whom that great inner flame had been extinguished.


Douglas James Troxell lives in Macungie, Pennsylvania with his wife, Cynthia, and their infant son, Owen. His stories have appeared inMobius: The Journal for Social Change, Fiction365, Word Fountain, The Wilkes Review, and The Eunoia Review. Follow his blog at themoderntranscendentalist.wordpress.com.


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