The Northville Review
an online literary journal
Girls at the Bar

Roxane Gay

Before they venture out for the evening, they get ready together, standing in cramped bathrooms thick with the smell of burnt hair, deodorant, hand soap and lipstick. They wear silky thong panties and short denim skirts with frayed hems. They wear skimpy tank tops—the kind with the thin shoulder straps and open backs revealing their fancy bras. The polish on their toenails is chipping and cheap braids of gold circle their ankles. They coat their cleavage with perfume and glitter body spray and just before walking out the front door, they take a quick peek into their bedrooms to make sure they can bring someone home. They hide dirty underwear and scarves and flip flops and mascara tubes and paper plates beneath their beds. They wink at their reflections in the pane of glass next to the front door. They pile into cars, more bodies in the backseat than seat belts, their heavy purses shoved against the rear window. They roll the windows down and stick their heads out, their faces pressed into the wind. They turn the radio all the way up and they sing loudly, lustily. At the bar, they move in a pack, their bodies always touching. They find a table close enough to the bar they can shout drink orders over the music and the laughing and the men jostling for their attention. They sit around the table, the ugliest girl in the center, holding court. They complain about their jobs—they are in real estate; they are lawyers and doctors, an investment banker, a vulcanologist, a graduate student, a waitress. Their table quickly fills with empty glass bottles and shot glasses with just a trace of liquor pooling at the bottom. The peeled labels are pasted to their foreheads, wrinkling as they dry. They drink shots and straddle each other, thighs spread wide. They make out with each other, enjoying the taste of strawberry lip-gloss and tequila. When their favorite songs are played, they let loose a high-pitched shriek and exclaim, “That’s my song.” They bounce to the center of the bar, close their eyes and start dancing, first shaking their shoulders, then waists, finally hips. They jump on empty tables and throw their hands in the air, first left then right and laugh when a bouncer tosses them over his shoulder and sets them roughly on the floor. When a guy sends them a drink they look in his direction and conduct a quick assessment—looks, clothes, jewelry. They talk loudly, as if they’re the only ones in the room. No one minds. There is something to be said for the spectacle of it all. They take pictures of themselves with their faces pressed together, using their phones held high, at the most flattering angle. They go to the bathroom where they apply fresh coats of lipstick and leave stall doors open as they hover over wet toilet seats to piss. When the bartender shouts, “Last call,” they shout back in singsong voices, “For alcohol.” Originality is not among their virtues. They down the last drinks of the night and make eye contact with dirty-looking boys who wear hemp bracelets, white t-shirts and Levi jeans. They kiss each other’s cheeks, wiping lipstick prints away with their thumbs. They stumble to unfamiliar cars holding their heels in one hand, their clutches in the other. They bring home their bad boys and they fuck on top of their bedspreads. They fall asleep, their mouths dry and sour, their makeup smeared beautifully. When they wake, their heads aching and foggy, they groan at the stranger lying next to them, naked, his (or her, once in a while) head buried in a pillow, one arm hanging over the edge of the bed. They lie on their backs and stare at the ceiling. They smile.

About the author

Roxane Gay's writing appears or is forthcoming in Mid-American Review, Rick Magazine (formerly The Mississippi Review Online), Cream City Review, Annalemma, McSweeney's (online), and others. She is the co-editor of PANK and can be found at Her first collection, Ayiti, will be released in 2011.