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Knight in Shining Tie-Dye
by John L. Newman

The smoke from a Lucky Strike curls into the air as I take a great, manly swig of bourbon out of my coffee cup. I’m slumped on a bench out in front of the dorms, muttering to myself, as I sometimes do. It’s a Friday, it’s nine o’clock, and the place is coming alive. The girls stand on the curb waiting for taxis, freezing in their universal tank-top-pleated-skirt ensembles. Not the most practical thing to wear in the midst of an Iowa November, but that’s hardly the point. The guys hang back and watch the herd, smoking cigarettes or chewing great gobs of tobacco, sipping from PBR cans concealed in their coats. I’m in the middle of another hearty pull of whiskey when I hear that bitchy click of stiletto heels come my way.

It’s a shame she missed Heroin Chic by a decade; she could have been a star.
She’s tall, long legs, hair bleached beyond Blonde to Supernova. It’s a shame she missed Heroin Chic by a decade; she could have been a star. She’s wearing the same thing as all the rest of them, but more so. A top cut below sea level; heels you could spear-fish with in a pinch. I see her make-up, and I can’t help but think of war paint. She looks down at me out of the corner of her eye, pulling a cell phone away from her ochre lips.

“Hey, dude,” she says, like she’s being careful not to get too friendly. “Gimme a cigarette.” I stare at her for a minute, trying to blink the blur out of my eyes.

“Nope,” I finally sigh. She blinks once, twice. For a second, I think I broke her. Then she scowls, makes the most petite little grunt I’ve ever heard, and bitch-clicks away. I take another sip.

Maybe a minute later, I realize there’s a shadow looming over me. Oh, goody. She’s back, and she brought a friend. This great blob of a man, with natty dreadlocks and a Phish shirt. He smells like body odor and grease. The guy’s looking down at me with a forced sort of anger, like he wishes he was angrier. Like even he isn’t buying it.

“You got a problem?” he says. Not the most creative opener, but then, why deviate from the classics?

“I’m not sure, friend,” I say, trying to control the slur and muster some dignity. “Do I?” Stock questions deserve stock answers.

“My lady-friend says you were disrespecting her,” he huffs, puffing his chest out. “She just wants a cigarette, man. What’s your problem?”

I had to start chuckling at that, which just makes him angrier. Whatever -- at this point, it’s pretty clear from the melodramatic attempt at self-righteousness that this guy has something to prove, which means violence is probably unavoidable. Might as well make it count along the way, I figure. So I chuckle, as insolently as I can manage.

“What the hell is so funny?” he demands, his face getting red.

“Is this your girlfriend?” I ask, replacing his rage with pure confusion for a minute.

“Huh? No… we‘re just friends.”

“Well,” I lecture, “I don’t think your ‘lady-friend’ is terribly impressed by your little crusade for her honor.” I point to the girl, who’s already sashaying towards some other drunken miscreant, hoping to tempt him out of a smoke. Hippie-Blob is red as a Coke can. No more stage-rage now; just good, pure anger, with an accent of shame. Under normal circumstances, I’d pity this man, but he just had to get so goddamn dramatic about things.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he demands. I drop my cigarette and grind it out with my boot heel before continuing.

“It means,” I sigh theatrically, “that you’re obviously going on this little tirade to gain her favor. Give it a rest, Galahad. It ain‘t working.”

“Hey, man, you got it all wrong,” he protests. Her Big Brave Man is on the defensive, and I have to let out another brassy snigger. “We’re just friends. I just…”

“Fawn over her?” I offer helpfully.

“No, I…”

“Drive her places? Buy her drinks?”

“Shut up!”

“Make weepy little entries in your LiveJournal about how you’re the only one who sees the true depth, the true beauty of her angelic soul?” I’m talking louder and more forcefully now, handing down thunderous condemnation, like some kind of Old Testament prophet.

Other guys in the vicinity turn to watch the confrontation. They hear me mocking him, exposing his romantic pretensions for the world to see. First it’s just glances, maybe a word to a friend in a low voice. Then come the pointing fingers, and finally the snickers of disdain. I’ve made his weakness public; sociology will do the rest.

As that big, sweaty fist takes flight, I’m even smiling.

A minute later, I’m still on the ground, blood burbling out of my nose. My coffee cup is lying in pieces a few feet away. Hippie-Blob and Bitch-Click are long gone. This isn’t exactly my finest moment, but hey, let’s keep some perspective here.

Hippie-Blob has gone off to some club with Bitch-Click, where he’ll spend the night watching the apple of his blood-shot eye dance with frat-boys in Polo shirts, one of whom will spirit her off for a refreshing round of premature ejaculation. Hippie-Blob will try to drown his sorrow in cheap beer, which will only make it seem bigger, more epic, more romantic. He’ll rage and whimper over this nattering harpy, stagger home alone at the end of the night, masturbate half-heartedly, and then cry himself to sleep.

Me, I’m just bleeding. So, as I climb to my feet and wipe at the blood with my sleeve, I decide to call this a moral victory.

John Newman is a literature student living in Rochester, Minnesota. He has been called "the most promising writer of our generation" by this guy he met in a bar once.


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