ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998.


"The Best Part of Us" by Harvey Sutlive


It was a hot afternoon, for the mountains, and the AC blew full-blast in the Fast Bar in Marais.

Tina smoothed Claire's job application on the top of the bar. "Print in Ink," she said.

"Fuck," said Claire.

"You used pencil," said Tina.

"I'll trace over it," said Claire. She was a pretty girl, in her mid-twenties, with circles under her eyes from worry.

"OK," said Tina. She chewed her lip and drank some beer.

The Fast Bar was a big room, with a stamped tin ceiling, and a front wall of plate glass. The actual bar was in back, by the kitchen – tables and chairs filled the space towards the door.

Claire's aunt Angela returned from the bathroom and sat at the bar – she wore a cotton blouse and a pearl choker necklace, with khaki work pants, and too much makeup.

"Thanks for these beers Angela," said Claire.

"You're welcome," said Angela. She finished her own beer and held up three fingers – the bartender poured everybody more beers.

"I'm excited about this job," said Claire. "I've got some money, but I need more." She drank half her beer.

Tina picked up the application and tilted it to the light. She was older than Claire, and taller, with a model's body almost, and a puffy, childish face. In Florida when she was younger she was in the sex trade; then she ran a register in a grocery store for several years; after that she moved to the mountains in North Carolina.

"Bring me a hamburger," Angela told the bartender.

"You didn't list work experience," said Tina.

"True," said Claire. She took another hit on her glass of beer.

"I don't think we can trace over this," said Tina. She took a long pull on her glass of beer. She checked the back of the application.

"What job is it anyway?"

"It's a cleaning position," said Claire.

The bartender brought Angela's hamburger – Tina and Claire watched that – Angela took a big bite. They all drank more beer.

"You want a hamburger?" Tina asked Claire. She had money in her pocket, from selling her TV and coffee table on Craigslist.

"No I'll eat these chips," said Claire. A plate of potato chips the size of a car hubcap was on the bar beside the beers.

"Cleaning position," said Angela, with food in her mouth. "That's a sorry job." She chewed into her hamburger again.

"Look at Angela, she eats like a dog," said Claire. She was flushing a little. "Angela raised dogs, that's why she eats like a dog."

"My husband raised bird dogs, a long time ago," grunted Angela.

"Truman did raise bird dogs," Claire told Tina. "After he came out of the army."

"Mind your own business," said Angela.

"Angela everybody knows Truman..."

"You must be stupid," said Angela.

"I got good grades in school," said Claire rapidly. "You never can focus on the positive, the best part of us, it's always..."

"The best part of you, ran down your daddy's leg," said Angela. "When they made you."

"I do breathing exercises every day Angela, to be able to..."

"Whore," said Angela.

“Anyway, the cleaning position," Claire told Tina. "I could get that, even without references." Her face was really red. "I'm reliable, they'll sense it – I'm not worried. ” She was breathing from her diaphragm – her ribcage was rising and falling. She drank more beer and leaned sideways into Tina – that made her feel better. “I'm already relaxing right now," she said. "Feel my neck muscles Tina."

“Christ,” said Tina and she pushed Claire away.

Claire leaned into her anyway. “My mother used say Straighten up Claire, she said that all the time. But I was just relaxed."

"Get off me," said Tina.

Angela finished her hamburger and pushed back her plate. She looked at the bartender and flickered her eyebrows, which were black with liner.

"Bring us a pitcher," she said.

“We'll get a new application," said Tina almost tenderly. "I’ll fill it out with a pen. You can put me as a reference."

"OK," said Claire. The bartender, a skinny kid with chewed fingernails, brought a pitcher of beer, and Angela poured everybody a glass.

"Thank you Angela," said Claire. She drank from her glass and put it down carelessly– beer splashed on the bar. The skinny bartender mopped it without thinking.

Angela frowned at Claire and grabbed all the potato chips and stuffed some in her mouth.

Claire's head tipped in Tina's direction, but she pitched her voice at her aunt. "Angela and Truman married when he... got out of the army."

"Two fucking months after he got out of the army," said Angela. She sucked down her beer and poured another one.

"They built their chicken houses, but that was after they –quit raising dogs," said Claire. She was watching Angela's face.

"There's no money in bird dogs," said Angela. She licked a potato chip off her palm.

"Truman's a nice person," said Claire.

Tina finished her beer and poured another one. "Yeah he's quiet, but he's really nice. I like him," she said. She drank some beer. Often when she was broke, Tina biked out of Marais, to Truman and Angela's farm, and worked in their chicken houses. Claire did that too. They alternated shifts.

"He's a little remote, but he's a sweet, nice person," said Claire.

"Another pitcher, for these two sluts," Angela told the bartender. Her features were blurred from her heavy makeup. She put money on the bar and left for the bathroom.

"You'd be remote too, if you married Angela," hissed Claire, after Angela was a certain distance away.

"God," said Tina.

The bartender showed up with a new pitcher of beer. Tina and Claire filled their glasses.

"She made Truman build those chicken houses," said Claire.

"Why does he stay with her?"

"He loves her," said Claire. "They were living together before he went in the army."

She chugged half her beer. "When I was seventeen — I was fucking guys for money," said Tina. Beer was soaking her brain pretty thoroughly.

"Ouch," said Claire. She'd heard this before, but never in public.

"I liked the money don't get me wrong," said Tina.

Two cute skinny girls and their soft-faced boyfriends, students from the college in Marais probably, entered the Fast Bar – they showed id's and ordered beer. The bartender accepted their id's, and they grinned happily. By accident one girl bumped Tina – that made Tina nudge Claire.

"Hello," said Claire cheerfully.

"But that life hurt me," blurted Tina, "I would never advise anybody to..." Claire put her arm around Tina and kissed her cheek. She looked around the Fast Bar. A friend of hers, James Bone, who was in real estate in Marais – he was in a booth by the front door with his wife – she taught math, in middle school – she noticed Claire and tossed back her hair.

"I'm going to the bathroom," said Tina. She stood, but tangled her leg in her stool, and pitched sideways against the students – they surrounded her and steadied her.

"I'll go too," said Claire.

A dozen business cards, more than that, lay spilled on the floor in the bathroom hallway, as if someone had been sick and vomited them up. Tina scuffed to the women’s bathroom.

The men’s bathroom was open so Claire used that and returned to the bar – she was talking to the students when Tina got back.

"Where's Angela," Tina asked her. The skinny bartender was in the kitchen, at a prep table, chopping mushrooms – a waitress was talking to him and laughing – she needed braces.

"I just go with the wind, I guess," Claire was telling the students – she was explaining her last relationship. "I pushed against him and kissed him, and he was sort of shocked – he said, What are you doing, this evening? He just choked that out."

"What'd you say?" asked one cute skinny girl.

"Falling in love with you," bragged Claire.

"Cool!" said the girl.

"I don't see Angela," said Tina.

Claire glanced toward the front door – James Bone's wife caught that and smiled and looked straight back at James.

"When I was a kid I had freckles, but they went away," she told the students. "It must be hormones."

"I've got to decide – where I fit in," Tina said loudly. "What's my place. That's hard." The students’ eyes flickered in her direction.

"My nickname was Speckled Baby, because of my freckles," said Claire. She giggled.

"The mountains," said Tina. "Christ!"

"In the mountains, there you feel free," said a boy student. He was getting interested in Claire. "That's from The..."

"We should get out of here," said Tina.

Claire checked the cash Angela left on the bar. "There's plenty to pay the bill," she said.

"OK," said Tina. "Two more beers,” she told the bartender.

Claire swiveled her body towards the students. "Have you guys noticed, you've got this face? And it's pasted, on your skull..." The students were paying close attention. "...and your eyes, are in your face?"

The students started talking rapidly to Claire and to each other.

"My aunt's this damaged person," announced Claire. She leaned towards Tina. "The army messed up Truman. Mother and Daddy say he was in jail for a year. He wasn't the same after he came out. His company commander wrote his parents."

"We can give you guys a ride home," said the boy who was interested in Claire.

"Angela married him anyway – she promised she would. He couldn't even..." said Claire.

"I've got a Four Runner," said one of the girls.

"You can drive us?" said Tina.

"Sure," the students chorused. This was interesting for them.

"We'll buy you a twelvepack, at the beer store," said Tina graciously. She still had her TV and coffee table money. The students had cheerful looks on their faces.

"Yay!" said Claire. She rolled her job application in a thin tube.

"Plus a twelvepack, for you and me," said Tina. She dug Claire in the ribs — Claire tooted a salute, through the tube that was her application.


Harvey Sutlive lives outside Athens, GA. His Marais stories have appeared frequently in Offcourse, most recently in Issue #39, "The Christmas Party".

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