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A shot in the head

What bothered her most, and her boyfriend knew it, was the uncontrolled drooling stare of the guy with the hat, who must have been ten years older than she was

It was cold that evening. The autumn afternoon, the pale sunlight had faded into the first night of real winter, but as it was Saturday and the bar was crowded, no one noticed the temperature outside. Until she took off her coat.

She was not a very pretty girl, but it took a while to notice this. Nor was her body very striking, though he, from behind the bar, noticed her physical merits before his girlfriend did, who was serving tables. What everyone did notice, bar owners and customers alike, was a corset, black, low-cut, strapless, over a short red satin skirt. Everyone there had seen ensembles like this in show windows, but always on the inert bodies of mannequins. To go out dressed like this, on just any Saturday, sit down at a table in a bar and order a drink, you had to have something special to flaunt, the barman concluded. Even his girlfriend admitted this, though as she approached to take the order, she could only see the upper body.

The girl was not alone. Across the table was a man, thirty-something, short, an ordinary face, not ugly but far from handsome, neat beard, on his head a snap-brim hat in a checkered gray pattern, which looked silly on him even if it was a fad garment like the corset. He was looking at her as if to eat her, with eyes that from above seemed like those of a bug though perhaps they weren't. Perhaps they were just a little dilated as he studied her, like he had never seen a low-cut corset. This detail was enough to annoy the waitress.

"A beer and a gimlet," she said as she put the tray on the bar. "Guess who is having what..."

"She's not bad," said her boyfriend, beaming.

"From the neck down, OK, but as for the face she's a dog. But Bogart over there doesn't care."

Maybe she was not exactly a dog, but she had a witch face, nose pointed down, chin pointed up, eyes so made up you couldn't tell at a glance their shape or size; bright red lips, puffed up as if she had been hit in the mouth.

But what bothered her most, and her boyfriend knew it, was the uncontrolled drooling stare of the guy with the hat, who must have been ten years older than she was - old enough to keep yourself, and her, under control. Because you just can't go around dressed like the girl who pops out of the cake at a stag party, or play the part of a fat old character actor with a lap dancer. Jesus how awful, she said to herself. How pathetic.

"Excuse me." She had been leaning on the bar when she heard the voice behind her. "The bathroom, please?"

Deformation of character

She turned and saw first that one arm was shorter than the other. Then, that he kept it bent against the body, as if he couldn't straighten it out. Then she saw the hat, the neat beard, the eyes - yes, definitely bug eyes.

"At the back, on the left."

"Thanks." Only then, as he advanced in that direction, she also saw that he had one leg longer, or one hip higher, or one foot shorter than the other, because he swayed to one side at every step, as if condemned for life to dance a grotesque and solitary dance.

Then she closed her eyes. She opened them and turned slowly to the bar. She saw her boyfriend's face, immobile as if flash-frozen. And for him, or for herself, or for all the customers at once, she raised her index finger to her temple, shut her eyes and made the gesture of shooting herself in the head.

When she opened her eyes again, she found that the girl in the corset had seen it all. She looked her up and down, lips in a comic pout, but for all her desperate comic plea the girl couldn't be brought to smile.

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