The Look – A Short Story by Heather Nolan

Heather Nolan is a 23-year-old musician, photographer, writer, and otherwise dreamer. She has been publishing poetry and fiction for 10 years.

Nolan currently resides in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador.

The Look
by Heather Nolan

He rolled up his tee-shirt sleeve and pointed to a spiderweb that straddled his shoulder. He said he had a tattoo for every person he’d ever murdered, and we didn’t know like that, and if we had any tattoos he’d kill us on the spot because we were posers stealing his way, and he was a real gangster, and do you know what the word gangster means you punks. Have you ever watched someone die. Do you really want to start something because I could beat you to a pulp.

He had thrown his jacket in the gutter and there was sweat pouring down his face and across the muscles of his bare arms even though it was a cold night. I had remembered that Sara was the last person I texted, and that she would still be inside the bar only ten feet away, waiting for Chris. I pocket-dialed her on purpose, waiting for her to pick up the phone; register what was going on. Hear the man’s threats. I gave Mac what he would later describe as a punch in the ribs to stop him from provoking the man.

Sara and Chris came running out of the bar, and I saw Sara sprinting down the street towards a police car, saw it peel out of the parking lot and head towards the man who was bent double collecting his leather jacket from the gutter. Chris came rolling up his shirt sleeves. The man backed off when he saw the car approach, but that didn’t stop him from hollering after us. I’ll find every one of you. I’ll kill you all. You remember my name. I’m a murderer.

Was there a look? Did he have the look?

I played the reel of memory over in my head again but I didn’t remember a look. I don’t remember a look, I said.

What I remember is the sweat that was pouring down his bare arms and it was minus five degrees. I remember thinking cocaine. I remember imagining it gunking up in his pores with all the sweat like corn starch. I remember thinking of Nancy Drew novels and she would find a clever solution and I pressed the button on my phone in my jacket pocket and tried to imagine exactly what it would look like; where each coloured square of light would be on the illuminated screen. I remember pushing my thumbprint into the touchscreen and waiting for the muffled ring. I remember growing wide-eyed when it came: I couldn’t believe it had worked. I couldn’t believe that the sweaty man hadn’t flinched at the sound.

I heard Sara’s voice coming from my pocket, tiny and muffled. I remember waiting for her to realize what was happening. She had to realize what was happening. I waited for her to hear the man, yelling now. I remember the sound of the bar door banging open below us.

Did he have the look.

I remember trying to pull Mac away. I remember wanting to give in, let the sweaty guy think he was a big shot. Mac wasn’t thinking like that. Mac was thinking this is a man that needs to be kicked down a notch. Mac was thinking here’s a guy who is all talk.

I didn’t know what Mac was thinking but he was standing very stiff and his arms were poised out from his sides and his head was cocked and he looked like a swan in defence mode. He said you don’t know anything about me. He said it very calm and straight and it sounded like it could have been a threat if he had wanted it to be. He said it like a realization, like there was a lot of weight behind the words and it had just hit him square between the shoulders and he was still reeling from it. I’m not a good person.

They say there’s a look. When someone’s capable of killing. They say you can see it in their eyes.

I was tugging on the corner of Mac’s jacket and I didn’t know a thing about him, either. Sara had been whispering all night that he was a touring musician as though there was something implied in those words. Maybe if I had been sober, the words would have caught differently as they flowed across my consciousness. But that night I was distracted by everything and I couldn’t pay attention to any one thing or person for more than a quick burst before I had to move.

He had kissed me on the steps and I was thinking about the long walk home and how I had a hat in my bag that I should put on because it was a chilly night and he said you seem distracted.

He was a musician and he was from Fredericton or Alberta somewhere, that’s all I knew.

Baby I’ve been in the north for so long and it’s been cold and lonely. It would be an awfully long walk and I was coming down with something. I was sure to get sick. I should have saved some money for a cab. Oh baby, you won’t let me be lonely tonight, will you?

Mac was kissing my neck and I was watching a man stumble down the hill ahead. He was coming right for us. I’m going home, I said, freeing myself from his grasp. He said I’ll walk you. I said you don’t know what that means. I don’t live around here.

I wasn’t sure what brought the man over to us. I guess he was just looking for a fight. As I walked home alone, it’s him I was thinking of. You remember my name, bitch. You ask any cop around. I am a real gangster. Nodding his head furiously like he was scared of the word himself.

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