✧ Winner of the 2022 World's Best Short-Short Story Contest ✧
Selected by Robert Olen Butler
The Smell of Muskoka Pomade
When I get to the back of the bar, I find Adrián lost in his phone. I wonder aloud why a drink is not enough to forget; he says with his Spanish lisp that he’s trying. The light on his phone glows brighter and he reads whatever message arrives. I can tell it’s not the message he wants.
He does his best to hide his disappointment, but I take notice of the way his face drops. As the night continues, I feel him slipping further away, away from the table, the booth, and this bar. I wish we had more time—not more time in Paris, but more time to get back to my version of Adrián, the Adrián free of her.
I thought a drink would be good for him. A second, a third. Then, I lost track of Adrián. He disappeared for an hour, ignoring my calls, then tumbled back into the booth with new friends, mumbling half-hearted apologies.
These new friends are obnoxious. Two sit on one side of the booth, waving their hands as they speak, while Adrián, myself, and one other cram together on the opposite side.
Two years earlier in Madrid, Adrián and I lay in bed together. With his head on my chest, warm and the right kind of heavy, I breathed in the smell of his wavy black hair: nothing special, save for the woodsy smell of my Muskoka pomade. He’d asked to borrow it that morning in the hotel, eager to try something new.
Trinquer! Trinquer! A man with a too-thin mustache yells this from across the table. I know what he means, except the glasses are all sucked dry. The man reaches into his pocket and produces a handful of pills. Trinquer, he says again, winking in my direction. I turn to Adrián for some sign that this isn’t where our night is headed; instead, I see his fingers entwined with those of the woman between us. Adrián, myself, and the group of intrusive Parisians each takes a pill and raises it in what I suppose is a bold, subversive take on a toast.
Santé, says the man with the mustache.
We repeat this, all of us, before downing our pills like convalescents.
The night turns red. Adrián and the woman between us slide away from the booth, moving towards the back of the bar. I wait, flirting with the men who remain in broken English and stilted French until, finally, I’m told that he’s gone.
Later, I lie in bed beneath the weight of the mustachioed men. I spoke to one at the bar and then another, unable to tell the difference. When we kiss, their faces change, and I’m sure that I’ve confused them. I say something and I’m laughed at; silly boy, go back to sleep. No one else is here.
With my face pressed against the pillow, I inhale the smell of my Muskoka pomade and dream that Adrián is near.
JACOB ANTHONY MONIZ is a second-year MFA candidate of Creative Writing at Notre Dame with a Minor in Screen Cultures. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Catamaran Literary Reader, Penumbra, Chicago Quarterly Review, and The Ocotillo Review. His short film script “Mother of Mercy” was an official selection for Best Short Screenplay at the 2020 Rome Independent Prisma Awards. “The Pacific End,” a short film based on a novel-in-progress, won Best LGBTQ Short Screenplay at the 2020 New Renaissance Film Festival in Amsterdam. He is the recipient of a grant from the University of Notre Dame, which he used to fund a multimedia arts project titled “Someplace Else,” based
on his family history in São Miguel, Azores.