Home > stories > Drunk, Polite, Lazy, Scared – short story by Ethan Crane

Drunk, Polite, Lazy, Scared – short story by Ethan Crane

[first published in Aesthetica magazine Feb 2007]
[listen to an audio version on MacGuffin]

A boy meets a girl at a party. He is not timid, but like all boys, timid or otherwise, he doesn’t find the seduction of girls an easy task. He has slept with a number of girls before, but that’s not what he wants now. He wants a girlfriend. But if the girls at the party are not what he considers girlfriend material then he’ll settle just for sex, if he can get it. There’ll be plenty of parties and plenty of opportunities to meet the right girl.

The girl wants a boyfriend. Some of her friends have boyfriends, some of them don’t, and the ones with boyfriends are no happier than the ones without – but at least, she thinks, everyone looks up to them. And anyway this girl isn’t going to settle for just any boy as a boyfriend. He needs to be a boy who will treat her well. The girl is not a prude, she’s not waiting around for the perfect boy before she’ll sleep with anyone – that moment has long passed. She doesn’t consider random sex with a boy to be a shameful thing, not if you’re just testing him out, working out if he’s one of the nice ones.

The girl and the boy leave the party together. They are both drunk. The boy makes witty comments easily now, he no longer has to think about every line he says to her. She is not the girl of his dreams, but she’s a girl, and right now he wants to get laid.

The girl thinks the boy is most likely not the kind of man she has been looking for. But she’s not absolutely sure, and being drunk makes her certainty less relevant. Maybe his constant attempts to be witty are just nervousness. She knows how nervous boys get. She thinks she might be better able to tell in the morning.

In the late morning when the girl wakes, she knows for sure he is not the man of her dreams. But she likes him well enough and does not want to hurt his feelings. In the bedroom of the boy’s shared house they have sex again, and it is much more enjoyable sex than the night before.

The boy also knows she is not the girl he is looking for, but he likes her and does not want to hurt her feelings. He wonders if they can have sex just a few more times like they had that morning. But right now he just wants her to leave, because now he is not drunk he is finding it difficult to think of things to say to her once again. She makes no immediate move to leave, so he cooks her breakfast. After they have eaten she gathers her things and makes to go. The boy knows he cannot simply make his suggestion about having sex a few more times. He asks her if she’d like to meet the following weekend.

The girl does not really want to meet. But to say no would seem rude after a pleasant morning. She says yes, but decides she will phone him later in the week to decline the invitation.

On Monday the girl sees her friends at college and finds that she has gained new status due to her weekend conquest. She discovers that this boy is much admired by one of her friends, and as a result he goes up in her own estimation. When asked if she is going to see him again she delights her friends by telling them the boy has asked her out. She says nothing about the phone call she is still going to make.

As the weekend approaches the girl finds she has no better plans for going out, and she does not make the phone call. On the appointed evening, she waits for the boy outside the ticket barrier of the station, picking at magazines in the newsagents. When the boy arrives, without a word he hands her a bunch of flowers. He knows from experience how awkward the first words of a first date can be, and thought flowers would overcome this.

The boy takes her to an inexpensive restaurant. He has decided to act as though he is interested in a relationship with the girl, and then after sex has occurred two or maybe three more times he will apologise and declare things are not working out between them. He’ll say they are not really the same kind of people, which is at least partially true. But he does not want to appear calculating, and has resolved not to sleep with her on this occasion, but on their next date.

The restaurant meal they eat is not particularly good, but their conversation never lags. The girl has decided that she will exaggerate the offence in her reaction when the boy tries to sleep with her at the end of the evening, and then not return his calls. With neither of them pressurized by the potential of sex they have a good time together. Outside the restaurant the boy kisses the girl on the cheek and makes to go. The girl is so surprised she accepts his subsequent invitation, to a party for his birthday the following week.

At the birthday party, in the boy’s house, the girl talks to her accompanying friends for most of the night, and hardly sees the boy. She enjoys mixing cocktails with her friends in the kitchen, but is too loud in her delight – she is irritated that the boy pays her little attention, in the main because it makes her stories to her friends about how much this boy likes her seem like exaggerations. By the end of the night the girl and the boy are both quite drunk and have had a number of dabs of MDMA powder. The girl has long forgotten her irritation, and as first light seeps into the house they sleep together beneath a pile of coats. The sex is very good, mostly due to the MDMA.

When a friend phones the next day and asks the girl if her and the boy are now seeing each other she denies it, but the melodramatic manner in which she says so implies she might mean the opposite.

The girl is invited to the wedding of a cousin. It is a big wedding, and she is asked to bring a partner. This is the first time a wedding invitation has asked her to bring a partner, and she likes the feeling of adult status. She asks the boy to come with her, making the occasion sound casual, and not showing him the formal wedding invitation with their names written side-by-side in calligraphic type. She regrets talking about the boy to her cousin. The boy dresses too smartly, and the seating plan sits him with the girl’s parents at dinner. Just after the dancing begins, they have sex in the disabled toilet.

The wedding is a setback for the boy’s intention to end the relationship. He realises that this is what he will be doing now, ending a relationship rather than just telling a girl he does not want to see her any more. When he thinks about the girl, he recognises that he takes pleasure in her company, although there is no part of him which thinks he loves her. He does, however, like the sex, and the prospect of regular sex in the future. He concludes that it will make little difference whether he ends the relationship now or at some point in the near future, after more sex. He will still have to upset the girl at some point, and does not relish the idea.

When the girl thinks about the boy, she recognises that she takes pleasure in his company, although there is no part of her which thinks she loves him. But he treats her well, with far more respect than she expected when she first met him. She judges that, at the moment, nights spent with the boy are more enjoyable than recent nights with her friends, which seem to mostly consist of friends without boyfriends lamenting the fact, or the friends with boyfriends complaining about them. She decides to carry on seeing the boy until this balance of enjoyment tips in the other direction. She does not expect this to take long.

The following year the boy and girl go on holiday together. They spend much of their time sitting in beachfront restaurants, drinking cocktails and not talking much. They do not have sex nearly as much as they used to. Because of the reduction in their conversation the boy’s embraces suggesting sex appear to the girl cold and lacking in seduction, and although she enjoys the sex when it takes place, resents this lack of respect towards her. One night after an expensive meal for which the boy insists on paying, she rebuffs his advances. On the day before the holiday ends they have their first argument that entirely lacks humour.

Back home the girl thinks about ending the relationship. She imagines the feeling of being single again, and it scares her.

The boy thinks about ending the relationship and tries to imagine himself chatting up a new girl after so long of not doing so, and the idea scares him.

Three years later one of the girl’s best friends announces she is getting married. The girl recounts this to the boy over breakfast in the flat they rent together. She does not intend the story of her friend’s marriage to sound like a challenge, but in the customary atmosphere of low-level tension in their household that is the impression her words make. The boy picks an argument on a subject that is nothing to do with the friend’s wedding and leaves for work without saying goodbye.

That day, sitting on a bench eating the lunch the girl made for him, the boy gazes around him at the women he finds more attractive than the girl. He considers his chances of marrying one of these women, and finds it impossible to picture the circumstances under which this might happen. It seems likely to him that his chances of future happiness are greater if he stays with the girl.

The following weekend, to the girl’s horror, the boy presents her with a small velvet box containing a diamond ring, and asks her to marry him. The girl cannot answer, and dashes from their flat without a word. She drives to her mother’s house, seeking comfort. But as soon as she tells her mother that the boy has asked her to marry him, her mother translates the girl’s upset as a commonplace fear of marriage and commitment, and counsels her with a story of how she felt the same way before her marriage to the girl’s father. The girl’s mother goes on to compliment her on what a good partner the boy makes, and the more compliments that the girl is paid, the more awkward she feels about announcing that she does not love the boy and does not want to marry him. Her mother’s detailing of the boy’s qualities cause the girl to doubt her own judgement. And she begins to wonder if perhaps the boy is the best match in marriage she is going to make. Eventually the girl pretends to her mother that her tears are indeed due to a fear of marriage, and she feels considerable relief that she has avoided causing a huge upset in the direction of her life.

Her mother instils her with a burgeoning excitement as she sets in motion plans for the big day. The girl thinks with pleasure the circumstances of announcing the news to her friends. At the same time she mentally rehearses a scenario where she runs out of the church on the wedding day.

The wedding day is set. On the morning, dressing in his morning suit, the boy feels a hollow in the base of his stomach that he puts down to a nervousness at being the day’s centre of attention. The complexity and expense of the wedding arrangements have forestalled him from thinking too much about the circumstances of the engagement.

In her mother’s house, fitting herself into a white dress, the girl feels a hollow in the base of her stomach that she puts down to a nervousness that the day will not proceed according to her detailed plans. The pleasure she has derived from the increased closeness with her mother and bridesmaids during the organisation of the day has prevented the girl from thinking much about the state of her and the boy’s relationship.

At midday, a vicar asks the boy and girl to declare their love for one another, and they become man and wife.

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