TASTINGS by Colin Lubner

Nose

So once upon a time this chick gets a job with her boyfriend at a liquor store and two months in he quits after some regular has a seizure and crashes forehead first into a refrigerated shelf of Sierra Nevada. 

In the incident’s aftermath she calls the drunk a drunk. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, deems the victim a sort of tragicomic invalid. And while they hadn’t contemplated separation prior to this fight, not once, this divide is by itself enough. He’s a romantic. She doesn’t know who she is.They are different people, he tells her. She agrees.

This is some year in the early aughts and craft beer is not yet a Thing.

She stays at the store. He moves to Nevada (unrelated). She unlearns and relearns terms like nose and head and funk. He texts her ten times a year or so. Mostly late at night. The next morning she always asks how he is but he rarely if ever responds.

When everything happens it does so all at once. Craft beer is massive and she has a nose for marketable notes. She is a manager. She is married to a man who taps kegs. 

It is some year in the late teens and she’s in her early thirties when she gets on a Greyhound and goes. 

It is winter. She loves the smell of winter. It is a smell she has lost the ability to describe.

Tongue

So once upon a time this kid taps kegs at a brewery named Tastings while during the day he gets his degree in Advertising and Strategic Marketing. 

On the night his boss smashes a glass into the nose of some nondescript drunk their most popular drink is a 7.5% Baltic porter. Twice already it’s kicked. The beer’s name is Omega Wolf and on its label anthropomorphic wolves toast glasses across a card-strewn slab of ice-crusted moraine. For reasons the kid has yet to fully understand this is his favorite design.

His boss is a thirty-something woman of whom he has always been unreasonably afraid. That the glass she smashed is half-full of Dank Quixote (a New England IPA, 7.1%) fundamentally alters the irrationality of this fear. Who smashes a half-full glass? Who smashes a glass at all?

He mops up glittering chunks and the sweet-bitter smell of citrus and hops. He’s grateful that the glass only broke upon hitting the floor, that she was denied any implications of abnormality, of inhuman strength, of all-too-womanly instability. He breathes through his nose. He swallows saliva that tastes of chemicals and fermented grains. She tells him she’ll pay him double if he pulls a solo close. She presses a rag to the man’s hemorrhaging nose with dismaying grace.

Yes, he says. How could he not?

Everyone is already gone, but the dregs of their drinks remain. Shuffling along the bar, glugging flat half-glasses of IPAs and DIPAs and Belgians, he catalogs their tastes: lipstick, cigarettes. Forty flavors of bitterness. A chapstick sweetness he associates for some forgotten reason with loss. 

He does this in full view of the over-the-bar security camera. He does this with a certain determined despair.

He is stumbling by the time he stumbles, exhausted, into his dorm. By now his tongue’s become an evil leech latched to the roof of his mouth. He brushes his teeth until his wrist is sore.

Throat

So once upon a time this knight goes to Vegas before their hockey-playing Knights are a Thing. For a stretch of years he is variably unhappy. At last he decides to forsake whatever by leaving his home he’d meant to seek. He heads back east. 

Near Albuquerque he holes up in a motel and busses into town with the intent of finishing someone else’s half-finished pint. He is so, so fucking broke. He has never been this broke. He is a broken fucking man. 

In a brewery named Tastings he finds an abundance. He pays four dollars for a session on special. As he’s reaching for his third Bonus Beer his former girlfriend breaks his nose. He remembers, dimly, an unnamed man stumbling and shattering frosted glass. He gapes. 

In the car she listens to music he remembers her hating. Hip-hop, folk pop. Reanimated jazz. He wishes the radio were off. In their lack of silence all potentiality has been zapped. He looks out the window but the sky past the streetlights is a jaundiced black and he can see no stars.

She asks him where he wants her to go and he says he doesn’t know. 

By the time they find the motel she is on the phone with someone else. There is a ring on her finger. Earlier there was not. Light from a nearby lamp does not catch on its facets. It is a small, dull thing, easily forgotten. He exits the vehicle.

She finds him stuck outside the door, struggling to unlace his shoes. His nose has again begun to bleed. His throat tastes of copper and oats and other notes he can no longer afford. He has forgotten whether this woman was ever someone to him. He has forgotten if she is now untying or tying his shoes. He decides to say something. He is at a loss for what to say. He clears his throat.


Colin Lubner writes (in English) and teaches (math) in southern New Jersey. His work has either appeared or will appear, temporally speaking. Recent pieces can be found through his Twitter: @no1canimagine0. He is keeping on keeping on.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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