A Flavor More Exquisite

Craig Fishbane             

            Brandon knew that he would meet someone like her when he came to Bangkok. He’d joked about it with friends back home, asking the travel agent if there were discount packages for this kind of tourism. Even though he had read the guidebooks with a blend of earnestness and irony, nothing had prepared him for the sight of this teenager in high heels and a halter-top.
            The bargirl waved to him from the entrance of a neon-lit alley, summoning Brandon to join her with the enthusiasm of the homecoming queen. She kept waving until Brandon took a step towards the cacophony of street vendors and strip clubs. He walked with both hands in his pockets, his eyes darting from one flickering sign to the next as the bargirl covered her mouth and giggled.
            Her giggling reminded Brandon of Kimberly. It had been two decades since graduation and he still remembered how she cloaked her smile with slender fingers the day she sat in front of him during algebra. As the teacher droned about unknown variables, Brandon watched her running a pencil down raven locks, tracing a feathered path to a tanned neckline. All Brandon could do was stare at the fabric of Kimberly’s starched white blouse and search for something to say: a mordant greeting, a playful quip—anything to puncture the awful silence.
            The bargirl had a way with banter, chatting with Brandon like an old friend at a class reunion. She almost had him convinced that he was not just another customer at the marketplace. When she brushed her hand against his thigh and whispered a sly suggestion about happy hour, it did not sound like a sales pitch. Her voice made the transaction seem as innocent as stealing kisses in homeroom. Somewhere in those soft syllables, Brandon could hear an offer to replace the bitter taste of missed opportunity with a flavor more exquisite.
            She caressed raven locks with polished nails the way Kimberly did that morning after math class. Brandon had come into study hall and saw her reading the homework assignment at the front table. She was working on the solution to the first problem, sweeping long bangs from lightly shadowed eyelids, when she looked up from the textbook to notice him.
            Brandon nearly tripped over her pink knapsack when he rushed away, pretending not to hear the muffled laughter as he clambered into an empty seat in back of the room and waited. He had waited all this time to take these hands into his own, to embrace these narrow hips, to stroke the gooseflesh of an exposed midriff. He tipped the bouncer at the suggested rate and the bargirl led him through a strobe-lit crowd toward the stairwell on the far side of the dance floor. They went up one flight to the private room where Brandon would stand under a quivering ceiling fan and negotiate a price and drop to his knees and pray for her to release him from twenty years of waiting.