ASHY EYES • by Leonard Owens III

Mary liked the song. It was slow and brooding, like something Clapton might’ve done in the sixties, before cocaine became his master.

Outside the hip little bar, people were sipping wine under big umbrellas even though it was dark out. Inside, there was no haze of cigarette smoke, and Mary didn’t like that. She had seen all the old Bogart movies where the bars billowed with gray clouds.

Mary sat at a table near the small stage, alone, drinking. Nothing girly for her: tall glass of scotch, no ice. She fidgeted with her black, curly hair, but made sure not to touch the green bandana she had very carefully woven in to make her hair look messy. Before leaving the house that night, she’d looked in the mirror. Low-cut black shirt, skin-tight jeans, a touch of eyeliner, a dab of lip gloss, and cowgirl boots from a trendy thrift store where the clothes cost more than new ones. The word that came to mind when she looked at herself was “compromise,” but she wasn’t sure anymore what she had changed for.

Her purse, from the same trendy thrift store, had a cell phone in it, turned off.

Not silent or vibrate, but off.

She looked around, all those punks and preps and princesses with their phones, chatting and texting endlessly, looking like masturbating monkeys. If she were onstage, she would tally up the people on their phones and call them out between songs: “There are currently 27 disrespectful assholes on the phone. This next one is called ‘Digital Communication is Overrated.’”

She was there to meet someone, but found something else in the music.

The band was new. The Layovers. Three guys: drums, bass, and lead guitar. No keyboards. No synthesizers. Just music, the way it used to be. It was obvious they would never make it big. They were too good. You could just tell. To these guys, music would remain love and never transform into business.

She liked that.

Songs had gloomy titles, like “She Fucked Me and Dumped Me (I Hope Your Cat Dies)”. She related to every lyric.

The words separated something inside Mary, made her split.

The drummer wore dark sunglasses, despite being indoors. His flannel shirt was too big, his hair was too long, he had holes in his jeans. In other words, he was sexy as hell and all the little girlies wanted to ride his drumstick.

The bassist was more unassuming. He looked like a quiet guy who only spoke questions that had no answers, like if God is real or does love really last. He kept his eyes closed as he played, only moving his right foot to the rhythm he produced. Mary decided he was stoic and would make a great father someday.

Mary was most intrigued by the lead guitarist who pushed words from his thick lips.

He sang like he was broken.

None of him fit right. He was not attractive in a classic sense. If, on the street, he crossed her path, she wouldn’t look twice. But onstage, guitar in hand, microphone pressed to his mouth, he was beautiful. He didn’t waste money on razors. She imagined what his scruff would feel like rubbing between her thighs. She liked blue eyes. His were dark brown, almost black, like they had been burnt down in a blazing fire leaving only smoky remains. In his eyes there was nothing to see.

She liked that.

She liked it a lot.

His black shirt was just black. No band name or pop culture reference. His jeans were faded. Not like the ones you buy at the mall for a hundred dollars, but like the kind you’ve had since you were twelve and they’ve become your favorite pair, faded due to the natural process of being worn 7,468 times. Not typical for Mary’s taste in men, but she found herself liking his style anyway.

Mary had finished her scotch, but couldn’t get up.

He was too important.

She wondered about things while his voice filled her mind, while riffs flowed from his guitar. Wondered what his lips tasted like or if his mother beat him as a child. If she would talk more or he would talk more or if they would finish each others’ sentences. If he would let Mary just be Mary, and nothing more. If they fucked, would it be a fantasy or a collage of previous bad sexual experiences. She wondered why she was even thinking of him at all. He seemed nothing like the men who had come before.

Most of all, she wondered if she could love him.

Mary didn’t believe in love at first sight. Thought it was fairytale bullshit. Yet it was clear, she already knew. She knew she could love him, did love him. Knew that she would do anything for him. Wash the dishes every night. Carry his dirty clothes to the laundromat alone. Turn a blind eye if he cheated. She could do those things.

Without realizing it, she was smiling. Then she realized he was looking at her with the same kind of smile.

A man wearing slacks came with two drinks: a tall scotch, no ice and a vodka cranberry, no lime. He sat beside Mary, leaned over, and kissed her on the cheek.

“Sorry I’m late. Shit, this band sucks. Let’s finish these drinks and go, huh?”

Mary looked at the man.

“I think we should stay.”

Then she looked back to the stage, but his eyes were gone, gazing somewhere else, not at her anymore.

Mary stopped smiling.

“You’re right; maybe we should go.”

Leonard Owens III is a student at Daytona State College in Florida who plans to obtain a PhD in English one day. He has only been writing for a few years (but as a former actor he loves the autonomy of it) and has only just begun to wade his way into the world of publishing.

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  • A difficult one to comment on. The prose is excellent, though I felt it went into too much detail in places. The characterisation is also excellent, especially considering the writer is male.

    My main problem was the gratuitous use of expletives and crude metaphors. They felt a bit forced, as if included to shock.

    I also felt the author was putting too many of his college pet peeves into this piece.

    When all’s said and done though, the atmosphere and characterisation in this piece will stay with me for some time.

  • Gail V

    Great story. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • SarahT

    This piece felt like a bit of a roller coaster ride. The music was old fashioned, slow and mellow, somewhat enjoyable, and yet the title of the song… just didn’t mesh.

    The characterization of Mary was great…here’s a woman that is willing to do anything for a man, any man…. and it’s all because she doesn’t know who she is, she’s got no goals or dreams of her own, no backbone.

    The thing is, I think most women are or have been that way at some point.

    Mary, I forbid you to date for 2 years. Get yourself an apartment and a job, and figure out who YOU are, before worrying about dating…. and if the guy you met is your husband, well… doubt that will last…

    Great job Leonard!

  • Helen Francesca

    I quite liked this atmospheric story. I thought it was written by a woman until the line about the drumstick and I thought that only an ageing hipster would write those words. As for Leonard in slacks, I was rather disappointed that Mr Boring got the girl . How could she ?

  • Gretchen Bassier

    Great descriptions, everything flowed, good reveal of Mary’s significant other at the end. I really enjoyed this one.

  • Rob

    Very interestingly written. Just a moment in her mind.

  • I didn’t expect this to end the way it did, and I like that because it all fit together well for me. A fine piece of writing, I think.

  • Paul Friesen

    an excellent read

  • Jennifer Ripley

    Very nice though I felt some of the lines were a bit stilted. The “wondering what it was like to love him” came off as slightly dramatic but then it’s her thought process so I guess I can’t fault it for wandering where it did.

    Otherwise I thought it well-crafted and smooth. My only other quibble is petty but it threw me out of the story. As a former bartender I can tell you one wouldn’t drink straight Scotch out of a “tall” glass. Tall glasses are for gin and tonics or Long Island Ice Teas and such. They hold lots of booze, is my point. To fill one with Scotch (and no ice) would not only be expensive, well… it just wouldn’t happen. (Plus Scotch is nasty). She should drink it neat (no ice, short glass) and the realism would improve to 100% instead of chucking me out. I say this because if you take this story elsewhere or expand it, being accurate in even the little details is a plus.

    Good job.

  • Joanne

    I’m just going to say, I agree with all of the above.

  • vondrakker

    Good one Leonard.
    5 stars

    loved the closing hook

  • Leonard Owens

    Hey, I’m Lenny, and I wrote this piece. I want to thank everyone who took the time to read it, and especially those of you who left comments on it. It’s a wonderful thing to see what complete strangers think of my work, and, in this case at least, most people seem to like it.

    This was the first short story I ever wrote, about three years ago now, so it’s sort of special to have it published. Thanks EDF for accepting it!

    @ Helen — What makes you think I’m the boring dude in the slacks? Can’t I be the sexy one on stage? What gives? By the way, I’m a blue jeans guy (but, truth be told, when I do drink, it’s Vodka Cranberry, no lime, so you were right in a sense, but had the wrong detail — I hate slacks!).

    Again, thank you all very much for reading my stuff. It means a ton.

  • I couldn’t figure out how old Mary was. It’s such an old fashioned name, I should know, I’m lumbered with it. I don’t know any Mary’s under 50 but the one in the story came accross as being much younger. She soulds more like Courtney or a Britney Also the overuse of the name in the first paragraphs jarrred a bit. Just a thought from another Mary