In real life, the girl on the toilet is named KAY. Another girl, Vada, walks in and silently holds a gun to Kay’s head. Without making any demands. She turns to Kay and automatically offers one key to her. Vada takes a look at the key and contemplates whether to kill her or not. Vada pulls the trigger and Kay drops to the ground. She turns to the bathroom door and realizes that there is a key already in the lock. Vada walks towards the bar after exiting the bathroom. And, turns to the bartender and says, “My sex drive is an amphibian. It can go a very long time on water. Or stroll leisurely on land. I wish you could see the radiation beneath your eyelids.” The bartender turns to her and says, “Campari soda isn’t an amphibian, but it will make you drunk enough to feel like you are floating down the Mississippi.” 

Vada twirls her fingers in her air and says, “Two of those please.”

The bartender responds, “I am sorry we ran out of Campari.”

“Why did you suggest it then?”

“Because Campari and amphibian share so many vowels and consonants and I wouldn’t want to deprive you of such linguistic liquor.”  

“You don’t speak like a bartender.’

“What do I speak like?”

“Like an English teacher.”


“What is it then?”

“I play scrabble competitively.”

“For money?”

“For the education of my ego.”

“Tell me: would you prefer a key or a bullet?”


“But if you had to choose.”

“A bullet.”


“Truman Capote wrote a book called In Cold Blood. An amphibian is a cold-blooded, ectothermic vertebrate. A bullet is a cold-blooded metal. Do you think if I make you a Bloody Mary – it would be cold-blooded enough?”

“May I have a highball?”

“That is how it ought to be served. However, we just ran out of tomato juice and dill pickle spear.” 

“Are you playing with me?”

“One coming right up.”

In real life, the bartender is a bullfighter. He looks like Manolete. His face takes the shape of a thin pentagon. And, his chest hair grows massively, spilling over his clean white shirt and his bow tie, and it extends into the wall like English ivies, invading and gatecrashing into the brick walls and scaling up the old apartment complexes near the bar above the Greek restaurant. He was a bullfighter by day and a scrabble player in the afternoon and in the evening, he bartends. 

“Your chest hair is a health hazard.”

“A fire hazard.”

“Has it killed anyone?”

“You mean has it strangled cats, dogs, and homeless folks?”

“I don’t mean it like that.”

“It just clogs up toilet bowls. It snakes into the bottom of the sewage system and whenever I stroll home, I drag home a city worth of tampons and wedding rings. I look like an eschatological version of a Christmas tree.”

“Does your chest hair get in the way of your—”

“You mean—bullfighting.”

“You’re a bullfighter too?”

“Yes, it makes me more of a complex beast. I get full respect from the bull.”

“Doesn’t it get in the way of your speed?”

“My chest hair?”

“What else?”

“It doesn’t. It makes me focus more. This jungle here.” The bartender waves his fingers agilely across his chest and continues, “My footwork must be flawless. It has made me more of a nimble, lithe, dexterous being. Because I always had to compensate for my chest hair—I had to be always on top of my game.”

“It seems like a very tiring life.”

“Hardly, I am clever, you see.”


“My infraclavicular virtue makes me so much smarter than men who don’t have any hair. I make better decisions. It’s easier for me to win scrabble games. And, postmenopausal species are so much more attracted to me – especially when I wear a V-neck sweater. And, I could tell that you just killed someone in the bathroom with a bullet.”

“How did you know? You could see through walls?”

“My chest hair has been wet, not like a water wet – which is when the toilet bowl overflows, but wet as in thick – like blood is thicker than water thick – and so I knew the edges of my hair has been feeding secrets about you back to me. You see, I am clever. And, I wouldn’t be clever without the extraordinary circumference of my chest hair. A virtue! Now, the cops will be arriving soon because my chest hair just dialed the police station from meters away using my cellphone. So, while we wait for them to arrive, may I make you a Campari soda?”

“I thought you ran out?”

“My chest hair, again, just strolled to a liquor store a few blocks from here and purchased a couple of bottles for me.”

“It even paid for it using your credit card?”

“How did you know?”

Vi Khi Nao is the author of seven poetry collections & of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture (winner of the 2016 FC2's Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize), the novel, Swimming with Dead Stars. Her poetry collection, The Old Philosopher, won the Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry in 2014. Her book, Suicide: the Autoimmune Disorder of the Psyche  is out of 11:11 in Spring 2023. The Fall 2019 fellow at the Black Mountain Institute, her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She  was the 2022 recipient of the Jim Duggins, PhD Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize. | https://www.vikhinao.com

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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