Johnny America


Honky Tonk Sue


Pe­ter and Ly­dia were a hap­py cou­ple. But now and then they felt that they’d been left be­hind by their cir­cle, who’d moved from Long Is­land to near­by Brook­lyn and hip­ster havens along the Hud­son Riv­er. The feel­ing was es­pe­cial­ly pal­pa­ble on Sun­day morn­ings, the two lay­ing in bed, scrolling through their so­cial me­dia feeds, and re­view­ing the Sat­ur­day nights their friends had spent at chic eater­ies and un­der­ground dance par­ties. Some­times, they’d even joke about it — their “same old, same old” com­pared to the ad­ven­tures they saw on In­sta­gram; and that went dou­ble when it came to @HonkyTonkSue. 

@HonkyTonkSue’s pro­file had been rec­om­mend­ed to both Ly­dia and Pe­ter, “based on likes.” It was due, no doubt, to all of the dou­ble-tap­ping they did on their friends’ pho­tos. A sal­vaged oak cre­den­za? Tap tap. Cool ter­rar­i­um! Tap tap. Nei­ther was in the habit of keep­ing up with strangers — even celebri­ties — but some­thing about this Bush­wick-liv­ing, ur­ban cow­girl com­pelled Pe­ter and Ly­dia to break their own rules. They had nev­er spo­ken a word to her, and yet Ly­dia and Pe­ter knew every­thing about @HonkyTonkSue’s life. 

They knew about her ob­ses­sion with cor­ta­dos, Span­ish cof­fees which were in­vari­ably adorned with heart-shaped foam art. They knew about her pen­chant for yo­ga, which she prac­ticed in her bed­room, framed by a mo­sa­ic of Willy Nel­son al­bum cov­ers. And they knew about her re­cent rager at a chalet-themed bar, where she’d struck a re­gal pose in a nov­el­ty-sized rock­ing chair. 

“@HonkyTonkSue,” she’d writ­ten, “has found her throne.” 

Lat­er, Pe­ter would say he’d dis­cov­ered the place by chance. That he’d gone to Bed-Stuy to hang with an old high school pal, who’d can­celled at the last minute. He couldn’t have known that an aim­less stroll would lead him to the same sceney wa­ter­ing hole @HonkyTonkSue had vis­it­ed, on­ly days ear­li­er. How­ev­er, stand­ing be­low the thatched wood eaves of a bar that looked re­mark­ably like a ski lodge, hap­pen­stance nev­er crossed his mind. In truth, Pe­ter sensed the uni­verse had, in some in­ex­plic­a­ble way, drawn him here — and that this was all part of a cos­mic plan which was on­ly slow­ly, mys­te­ri­ous­ly, re­veal­ing itself. 

Step­ping in­side, Pe­ter clocked the time-worn an­i­mal heads mount­ed on the wall, the mixol­o­gist sport­ing a lush sleeve of tat­toos, the three Swedish women in match­ing, cham­bray one­sies. It was, he couldn’t help but think, like the set de­sign of a dream. Or some­one else’s life. But re­mem­ber­ing ex­act­ly which cock­tail @HonkyTonkSue had or­dered when she came last, Pe­ter si­dled up to the bar and put in for a Ver­mont Week­end. He drank it slow­ly, then very quick­ly, then ate the leafy sprig, placed as dec­o­ra­tion, in his bur­nished cop­per mug. 

Some­time af­ter mid­night, Pe­ter ar­rived home and slipped in­to bed. Rolling over, Ly­dia asked him how his night had been. But Pe­ter said noth­ing. He on­ly slid his hands un­der Lydia’s heather gray ther­mal and gen­tly cupped her breasts. 

Pe­ter,” she gig­gled, a bit surprised. 

“I love you. I love you, Ly­dia,” he whis­pered, and pressed his mouth to hers, Peter’s breath rich with bour­bon and pine needles. 

The fol­low­ing week­end, Pe­ter drove back to Brook­lyn, this time with his wife. They start­ed their day at a sun­lit café, where a crop-topped barista served them their first cor­ta­dos. Pe­ter watched Ly­dia, sip­ping her cof­fee as if it were a witch’s brew and she a sto­ry­book princess un­sure if the in­tend­ed spell would take. There was a preg­nant pause — Ly­dia fi­nal­ly re­turn­ing the ce­ram­ic mug to her saucer. 

“So?” Pe­ter inquired.

Lydia’s eyes tracked up to his.

“Wow. This is like… wow, “she said, her top lip dust­ed with flecks of cin­na­mon. Their next stop was a Miche­lin-starred tast­ing room fa­mous for char­cu­terie boards. On the ride over, Pe­ter showed Ly­dia where he’d found it — among the many table­top pics in @HonkeyTonkSue’s In­sta­gram gallery. An open tin of pork ter­rine, a ma­son jar of pick­led veg­gies, a flour-splashed baguette were in sharp fo­cus. Peek­ing in­to frame, a glass of lager caught @HonkyTonkSue’s re­flec­tion — her hair wrapped in a gar­land of red­dish plaits. Pe­ter no­ticed Lydia’s hand drift up to her own pony­tail and ex­am­ine it in the rearview. “Huh,” he could’ve sworn he heard her say, be­fore they parked and ven­tured in­to the mod­ern-in­dus­tri­al lunch spot.

Stick­er shock set in at once. The prices on the menu promised to oblit­er­ate Pe­ter and Lydia’s house­hold bud­get. On any oth­er day, it might’ve in­spired a re­treat. But af­ter their first round of drinks, those thoughts grew dim. Af­ter their sec­ond, Pe­ter and Ly­dia or­dered freely. With every cheese plate, every ar­ti­sanal beer pair­ing, the two be­came loos­er, re­lax­ing in­to them­selves. By round three, Pe­ter felt Lydia’s foot slide up his leg. Af­fec­tion­ate­ly, he rubbed her an­kle, as­sum­ing it was accidental. 

“Fuck me,” Ly­dia mouthed across the table. 

“What?” Pe­ter asked, lean­ing forward.

“Take me to the bath­room. And fuck me, Peter.” 

Ly­dia lev­eled her gaze at him. 

Pe­ter cleared this throat. 

Briefly, he thought of their bags, sit­ting un­at­tend­ed at the ta­ble. He won­dered whether they might be stolen by a drifter whose un­ruly beard and thread­bare clothes helped him cam­ou­flage amid the fash­ion­ably-un­kempt clien­tele. There would be cred­it cards to can­cel, in­sur­ance ID cards to re­place. But, again, Pe­ter pushed doubts and prac­ti­cal­i­ties from his mind. 

In min­utes, he stood in a can­dle-lit stall, arched over Ly­dia as she guid­ed him in­side of her. He closed his eyes — en­veloped by the scent of smoke and beach wood. With a sud­den rush of adren­a­line, Pe­ter felt him­self disappear. 

In the months that passed, Ly­dia and Pe­ter turned @HonkyTonkSue’s In­sta­gram ac­count in­to their per­son­al To-Do List. They caught live shows at The Jalopy The­atre, where her fa­vorite blue­grass bands were reg­u­lars. They bought sea mon­keys, @HonkyTonkSue’s pets of choice, nam­ing each mi­cro­scop­ic brine shrimp. And they shopped re­li­gious­ly at @HonkyTonkSue’s go-to thrift shops. 

Pe­ter opt­ed to shave less, cul­ti­vat­ing a beard like the men @HonkyTonkSue leaned against in snap­shots. Ly­dia dyed her auburn hair red, stack­ing her braids on top of her head. And they read each other’s tarot as @HonkyTonkSue and her on- again, off-again bestie, Za­zoe, did when their re­la­tion­ship was copacetic. 

Pe­ter and Ly­dia dec­o­rat­ed their text mes­sages with her sig­na­ture smi­leys and peach emo­jis. They fol­lowed her fam­i­ly recipes. And they went on road trips to @HonkyTonkSue’s most beloved bed and break­fast, where they ex­plored each other’s bod­ies more open­ly than ever before. 

In this 20-something’s so­cial me­dia pro­file, Ly­dia and Pe­ter had stum­bled on some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary, a man­u­al for liv­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of life. So what hap­pened next land­ed an es­pe­cial­ly stag­ger­ing blow to them both. 

It was a Sun­day, and Pe­ter and Ly­dia were at home, nurs­ing hang­overs be­hind their re­cent­ly in­stalled black­out cur­tains. While Ly­dia groped for the co­conut wa­ter on her night­stand — a morn­ing-af­ter rem­e­dy cour­tesy of @HonkyTonkSue — Pe­ter opened his In­sta­gram app to find out what their coun­try-lov­ing muse had done, last night. On­ly in­stead of a pho­to, Pe­ter no­ticed @HonkyTonkSue had shared an In­sta­gram Sto­ry, a short video which would re­main live for less than 24 hours. 

This, @HonkyTonkSue ex­plained, would be her last post for the fore­see­able fu­ture. She’d been hurt by some­one close to her – he knew who he was– and she was tak­ing time off to heal. Ly­dia dropped her drink and flipped over to look at Peter’s screen. @HonkyTonkSue wrapped up her mono­logue with a soul­ful farewell, a thank you to all of her loy­al fol­low­ers for their pa­tience dur­ing this up­com­ing hiatus. 

Pe­ter switched off his phone. The thought had nev­er oc­curred to him, her leav­ing them. Had he known, had he and Ly­dia pon­dered the pos­si­bil­i­ty, they would sure­ly have ra­tioned out her rec­om­men­da­tions. But they had burned through @HonkeyTonkSue’s ac­count, eat­en all she’d eat­en, par­tied every­where she’d par­tied. Now, the pair was liv­ing post to post. 

“Maybe she’ll be back to­mor­row,” Pe­ter said. 

“For sure,” said Lydia. 

“She’ll get over it.” 

“To­tal­ly,” Pe­ter agreed.

“To­tal­ly,” Ly­dia echoed. 

For the rest of the day, they re­mained in bed, hold­ing each oth­er and re- watch­ing @HonkyTonkSue’s video. They an­a­lyzed and dis­cussed it. They con­soled them­selves, nev­er both­er­ing to part the cur­tains, un­til the In­sta­gram Sto­ry was gone, van­ished for­ev­er in­to the ether of the Internet. 

Filed under Fiction on February 22nd, 2019

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