Bach, a Beard, Two Women

An excerpt from Greg Gerke’s Especially the Bad Things

This story is excerpted from
Greg Gerke’s Especially the Bad Things,
available now from Splice.

With laptop atop lap, he stared at a picture of his friend’s bearded, grinning face. In the corner of the screen an open chat window lit up and a woman messaged, Hey, hey you. The window beneath this window had an email from a woman he thought he could love, and playing through the laptop’s speakers was Bach for Relaxation. But there was no relaxation with his body’s brain stunned by all the connections.

His bearded friend being a new friend who lived a few states away, he told the bearded friend he liked him and liked being a new friend to him and was glad they were friends, though he couldn’t yet tell him about the women he desired or his Bach-love because maybe his new friend would think he was gay to love a dead German dude and he didn’t want to offend his bearded friend or Bach — as Bach could have been gay despite the twenty children. He himself was not gay and he assumed his new bearded friend wasn’t despite the beard, though if he was gay they could freely talk about Bach and Bach-love.

The woman he chatted with lived on the other coast and she was a nice woman. They’d met at a Mexican restaurant and drank to forget, then drank more to remember. He’d actually brought up the chat window before he opened the email from the woman he thought he could love, but the chat woman hadn’t responded to his initial prods, so he opened the romantic email because he had some old love in him and he needed to get rid of it, and he’d just told another friend last week that if the internet was good for anything it was getting rid of old love. He turned up the Bach, a solemn guitar piece reminding him of the other coast and romantic emails, but not chat windows. And just as the old love appeared in hand, it disintegrated like snow. Guitar steady, love going — the woman in the chat window said, Hey, I thought you wanted to chat with me. Uh-oh, he said, because without the old love he doubted any other love and clicked to close the chat window, leaving only a picture of a bearded man and, behind that, half a romantic email full of the beginnings and endings of sentences. Though the email glowed ghostly, he again confronted that bearded face and relaxed before it because this face wanted nothing or little from him and how delicious a concept, how unlike his every experience of love. He wanted nothing of the face, let alone the beard, all 30,784 black hairs, and with an Ouija-like determination his mouse snapped shut the email and left Bach and beard.

He zoomed in on the beard and saw platonic love possibilities built on beard hair, built on the grown cheeks of a man looking up and away, out of photograph, out of view, out of desire, and what better? Be it Bach, be it wonder — the beard was there to stay. Always on laptop, though located a few states away, in bed or sopping cereal milk, it grew but didn’t harbor. No psychology, no clean living, but sprouting always, and finally he extinguished Bach to be with beard. Beard, strange and new. He laid back with laptop atop lap, one window open, one program running.

About Greg Gerke

Greg Gerke is an essayist and writer of short fiction, based in New York. His work has appeared in 3AM Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. His collection of stories, Especially the Bad Things, and a collection of essays, See What I See, are both available from Splice.