Salvatore Gugliotta received a B.A. in English from Coastal Carolina University in 2008. From there he moved to South
Korea to teach English for a year. After strolling around Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand he returned to
the United States in 2009 to attend graduate school for English education. He currently lives in Southern New Jersey
where he writes, teaches, and ekes out a happy living. He has just completed his second unpublished novel that he
hopes doesn't get as dusty as the first.
Three Magic Words
"Eat my shit," I slightly slurred to her.
"I see you've been keeping well," she said rolling her eyes as she sat down next to me.
"Just eat my shit," I said gulping down the last sips of my drink. "Hey, Barry, one more," I yelled.
"That should do you real good," she said.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I asked her.
She took a sip of her wine, gently hanging her pinky out as she lightly held the stem of her glass. I hated that grip of hers. She
didn't hold it that way naturally. She always imagined herself to be a wine connoisseur. She thought knowledge of wine would
bring about some kind of grace and ladylike elegance out of her. But, she never strayed further than a $6.00 bottle of whatever
was on sale. She dragged me once to a wine tasting in Napa Valley when we were on vacation. She watched the man who was
leading the tour as he showed us how to taste the wine. She stared at his hands and copied the motion perfectly. "This is how
you're supposed to hold your glass," she'd tell everyone at our small parties. I'd be surprised if three people in the room cared.
"I'm meeting someone," she said.
"No, I mean why are you sitting next to me?"
"Jesus, Sam. Can I not sit next to you? We were together for 4 years," she said, holding up four fingers to remind me how
many four is.
I pretended to count them slowly, pointing to each of her fingers mockingly. There was a large gap between each finger sticking
up. In that gap was a lot of dead time that if I pictured it spatially in accordance with the rest of my life, was a pretty long time.
If I pictured all of the bike rides through spring mountain trails, the camp trips (especially the one where the bear ate her only
pair of shoes as they were laid out to dry), the weekend trips (including the spontaneous one to Bali), the first time we went to
her parents' ranch upstate, the blizzard when we stayed inside and drank seven bottles of wine, the walks, the long talks
through the night, the way she judged my manners and inadequacies, the time she threw a small brick through my windshield,
the fights, the never-ending fights, it became a lot of things crammed into the space between those fingers. I stopped mocking
her before I counted the third finger and went back to my drink.
"Real funny, Sam," she said sipping her wine with that disastrous grip of hers. I couldn't not look at it. I wanted to be angry and
the easiest way to get to that point was to stare at her fingers when she picked up her glass. It represented, to me, everything
that was wrong with her, everything I despised and severely loathed her for.
"The way you hold a glass doesn't constitute knowledge of something, you know that," I said without looking at her.
"What are you talking about?"
"If you know something, you know it. You are that thing. The thing is you. But you never got that. You just played a game of
impressions. And the killer, you played it with me."
"I can't get into this now. I won't. I'm meeting someone here tonight and we're going to go out and have a nice time," she said
sipping her wine.
"Eat my shit," I told her politely.
I toasted my drink in the air towards her and moved to the other end of the bar. It was just that easy to get away from her
now. Not then. If I'd have walked out of a fight to clear my head or stayed silent it would have caused the superficial hatred she
had for me to come raging out of the veins in her face and attack with her mouth.
I say superficial because it wasn't real, it wasn't from her. It was from everybody else around her, the television and those
terrible dramas they play on cable television, the newspaper and their banal advice columnists, and my mother and the things
she put into Jen's head. Those were all the places where she got her ideas about relationships. The straight and narrow
politically correct version of how to live a life with somebody else. If I came home late from work and didn't do it correctly, there
was a fight. If I left a ring with a drink on our secondhand twelve dollar coffee table, there was a fight. If I farted in bed, she'd
pretend it was disgusting, roll her eyes, and there was a fight. A real knock 'em down fight.
In the first two years, I'd try to laugh those things off. I'd try in vain to get her to see that a ring on a coffee table shouldn't
have any kind of effect on the direction of our lives. I cancelled the cable and threw the television out the window so she'd be
forced to use herself to formulate substance in her soul. But, like magic there would be a new television complete with cable
access by the time I got home from work the next day. The next succession of two years was just me trying to make a rusted,
engineless, tireless, car roll down to the end of the street and disappear into a beautiful sunset on the horizon. I got the
disappearing part down at least.
I couldn't help but wonder what the guy she was meeting tonight looked like. It's one of those things that no matter how little
you care for the person that you used to date, you have to know your successor. At the very least, what the next in line looks
like. If you still care about her, it will unnerve you to no end if he is a better model than yourself. If you don't care at all, you
simply want to watch her burn in hell.
"Barry, another drink please."
"Sam, no work tomorrow?" he asked me as he made my drink.
"It's Friday, Barry. It's Friday and Jen is over there about to meet some guy for a date. Why she picked here I have no idea. I'd
just like to lube up my joints with my favorite happy sauce and watch the sparks fly."
"I never liked her. She's an evil hell-bitch," he said.
"Let your true feeling shine. How come you didn't tell me she was a hell bitch about four years ago? Maybe I wouldn't be at the
end of your bar contemplating the spaces between her fingers."
"I don't know."
"Here's your drink. How could anyone tell you she was a hell bitch four years ago? You were damn near ass in love with her. I
have to admit though, I liked her back then. She was fun. Especially the nights she made you drink your weight in shots of
"She doesn't know anything about wine," I yelled at him.
"Alright, calm down, calm down."
"Thank you for the drink, I love you, put it on my tab."
I looked around the bar. It was Barry's place, a good friend from college. It used to be his dad's place, but he passed away. It
was a small bar, neat and compact. The walls were decorated sparsely with a few pictures of the city at night and a relic or two
from his father. The stools were kept in good shape, the bar area clean, the windows washed. It was a good place for hard to
find craft beers and it was a good place for cheap under the counter well drinks. It was dimmer than the brightest bar in the city
and brighter than the dimmest bar.
There weren't many empty stools in the place tonight and it didn't feel crowded. I was sipping my drink when the bells on the
door handle began to jingle. I looked over at Jen and she motioned for the guy coming through the door to come over to her.
This was him. He was bald, by choice it looked like. He had on a large blue pea coat. I found this amusing and almost spat out
an ice cube when I noticed. He was about my age it looked like and seemed to be more sober than I was.
I could tell by the slight awkwardness in how they greeted each other that it was their first time meeting. He looked to be too
nice, too well put together, too soft. He would never last four fingers in hell bitch's machine. That space was reserved especially
for me. He would last this date though, and probably a few more. It takes time to find out that what's inside of her is dried out
bare husks of corn, wordless newspapers, television airwaves, the horrors of dating me for four years… nothing. She's empty.
Barry leaned into me.
"Three dates, I give 'em three dates," he said.
"That's what I was thinking."
The bells on the door jingled again. I looked up out of boredom and saw Lily. I was on the verge of being drunk. She was the
last person I wanted to see. Her short black hair down to her shoulders, black plastic framed glasses, spotty freckles
underneath her eyes, she's beautiful. If it wasn't for devil woman I'd probably be married to Lily and out scouring the globe for
Choices. We all get one second to make a choice, even if it takes hours to contemplate. It was either I go to Lily's for a scrabble
and rum or I go to Jen's for wine and four years of the things between her fingers. I picked Jen's and for two years it seemed to
be a good decision.
I tucked my head away and like a good friend, Barry brought me a cup of coffee concealed in a small cup so Lily wouldn't know I
was trying to sober up. At least I didn't look like hell, I thought to myself as I caught my reflection in the mirror. She looked
around for an empty stool and she spotted me. I looked away as if I didn't see her. She came striding over.
"Hey, Sam. It's been a while since I last saw you. How are you doing?" she asked as I offered her the stool next to mine.
"Umm, I'm good, I'm good. How are you?"
"Well, let's see. I took over my Dad's bookstore over on Pattison Avenue. It's small and he almost ran it into the ground, but I
think I can save it with some luck."
Her eyes gleamed when she said it. She could see the old sign overtop the door freshly lacquered with new paint. She could see
the books on the shelves undust themselves and new orders of books bring vibrancy back to the dingy racks. She could see
customers float in and out as she conversed with them about what people were reading these days and what people read in
those days and a plethora of literary guidance in between. What's more, she believed what she said.
"I love your dad's place. He was a funny guy. I always sent my classes over there when they needed books," I said as I sipped
my coffee to discover a jolt of whiskey.
"Coffee?" she asked with a laugh.
"Irish coffee a la Barry."
She laughed and ordered herself a dirty martini.
"Your hair looks good," I said absentmindedly.
"Thanks, I cut it last week. Good of you to notice."
"I haven't seen you in here in a while," I said.
"Yeah, I know. I've been busy just getting the bookshop ready. I was thinking of changing the name, maybe to create some
new buzz about the place. What do you think?"
"I think your dad would roll over in his grave, and then probably be happy that the opportunity to change Pappy's finally came."
She laughed. Those eyes. Deep brown and trusting, and honest. All I had to do was walk left down Race St. instead of right. I
could have been staring into those eyes, talking with a woman who had something inside of her.
I saw Jen and the man who came in for his date with her get up to pay the bill.
"Excuse me for one second," I said to Lily. I left my drink to let her know I would be right back and I walked over to Jen.
"Eat my shit," I whispered into her ear.
Fucking asshole, she said with her eyes.
I walked back over to Lily and she had obviously seen Jen.
"Well? No more?" she asked.
"Good thing, bad thing, neutral thing?"
"She's a hell-bitch."
"Oh god, you're a professor and that's the best you can come up with?" she said, laughing.
"Alright, alright. She's a woman forged in a demonic brothel, raised by ravenous wolves and half-hearted demons, devoid of
substance and unparalleled in twenty counties in being devoid of insides, sent to waste four years of my life. But, enough about
me. Great thing, I'd say."
"That's good. It's always better when it's a good thing, even more so when it's a great thing. Barry, another martini."
"What about you? Has time been kind? Life not cruel?"
"I've dated a few guys. Nothing too long. I own a bookstore and I don't think many guys find that appealing."
"Fools, all of them. Including myself," I said offering my glass for a cheers.
She clinked glasses with me and looked down at the ground, cheeks puffed out in a smile she was trying to hold back.
"You never came over that night," she said.
"I'm a fool."
"Don't kill yourself."
"Too late, the rope's around my neck," I joked.
"You couldn't have known you'd waste four years. It's just the way it goes sometimes, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I suppose so."
I took another sip of my Irish coffee a la Barry.
"It's a pretty funny thing isn't it?" I said.
"Love, relationships, marriage, singledom, the whole shebang. We're like a bunch of headless chickens clucking around the barn,
hitting our stumpy necks on the walls. Nobody helps the other, nobody knows the right way – there isn't one anyway, but
that's another story – and the worst part is nobody tells each other to go left on Race St. and you'd probably be pretty damn
happy right now."
"Yeah, all you had to do was come over for scrabble. I had the board laid out. I even had a couple glasses of wine before you
came to ease my nerves."
In an instant the past four years raced by in my head with images of what it would have been like with Lily in place of Jen. I saw
it all laid out in the soft lighting of perfection. There was overseas trips in picturesque locations, food fights in the small kitchen,
autumn walks in the refreshing fall air, conversations over empty coffee cups, visits to her while she worked in the bookstore,
laughs under the bridge, Sundays out on the water, concerts, smiles, time passing gently. I saw it all and I wanted to suddenly
run to Jen and tell her to eat shit one more time.
I looked at Lily and right into her brown eyes, those honest brown eyes. She had depth. She meant what she said and did
nothing because it was told to her by anybody else. She was solid inside, free, beautiful. I sipped my drink and I wondered what
to say next as the images of what life could have been like still lingered.
She sipped her martini and looked around the bar without really looking at anything. She seemed to look past it all. Maybe she
was seeing what I was seeing.
"I'm not damaged or hung up," I said.
"What?" she said, laughing.
"I'm wondering, if you'd like to go find a park bench and have a cup of coffee, glass of wine, a conversation?"
"Not a park bench. How about the roof of Pappy's?"
"Pappy's it is."
"I don't think I'm going to change the name. I've just decided it."
"How come?" I asked.
"It's nice when things have a past. Even though it changes hands, it all moves forward. I feel like Pappy's has to be Pappy's.
Just like we have to be us."
"Time isn't really ever wasted," I said as I motioned to Barry we were leaving.
She laughed at it all as we walked out of the bar. I laughed with her and I thought about the four fingers Jen held up, the same
four fingers that clutched those wine glasses with all the feigned culture they could muster. Substance versus hollowness, a
headless chicken, a hell bitch, Irish coffee a la Barry, a dirty martini… a few seconds of imagination that propel us forward in
hopes that one day we go left on Race St, that one day we find our heads, that one day the space between a couple of fingers
doesn't make us want to say, eat my shit.