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art by Melissa Mead

Venus at the Streetlight Lounge

Cheryl Wood Ruggiero's speculative work has appeared in Abyss & Apex, AnotheRealm, Bewildering Stories, Goblin Fruit, Luna Station Quarterly, Mirror Dance, Neo-Opsis, Shelter of Daylight, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye, among others. She lives, writes, and teaches in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.

Stalker feels the leers of wall-leaning pool-players slide along her spandex dress--she's worth gazes, even though she gilds her hair to hide sneaking gray.
She breathes alcohol-and-hormone haze. Ah--her prey are at the bar, his buzz-cut gray head nuzzling her sleek neck, her young face bored, as on most nights.
Stalker laughs at hunting such pitiful creatures--but hunt she does.
Pretty Neck goes to the Ladies', so Stalker slides onto the abandoned barstool, feeling warmth from that other body under her thighs.
"True Love," she murmurs.
"What?" Buzz-cut growls.
"True Love. You can have it. But only one. Pretty Neck or Wife." She lays an inch-long golden arrow on his palm.
"You Cupid or something?"
She looks down at her hands, twists her tapered fingers. No one has asked this in centuries.
"Cupid... was... my son."
"Was? He's dead? Ain't you gods?"
"Gods die. Forgotten. Valentine cupids… they're… not him. Me--well, men still dream."
"Yeah. I guess." He looks at the tiny arrow. He looks at her bare, vulnerable hand, now toying with his empty whiskey glass on the bar. She is watching the red and blue of the neon Budweiser sign reflecting around the rim as she turns it.
The arrow pierces the fleshy base of her thumb. Her eyes widen, dark irises opening like black poppies. "You fool! You--"
"My wife left me this morning for my boss. The girl? She just likes my money. You… you're for real?"
Fear squeezes the blood from her face--for a moment, only a moment. Then soft rose flushes her lips and cheeks. "I'm real. For your short lifetime, Mortal. Yes."
Pretty Neck arrives, peers at them both, laughs, and leaves on the leather-jacketed arm of a guy waiting nearby.
Stalker looks into Buzz-cut's eyes--inviting pools of pale, pale blue.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Author Comments

"Venus at the Streetlight Lounge" started with a surprising image in my head of a woman stalking through a bar. A bar is not my usual environment at all, so my first challenge was to make that environment sensually evocative. Then I needed to find out who she was and Venus occurred to me. I tried to make it microfiction (150 words precisely), but that story ended with her admission that Cupid was her son, which was fine with me as a revelation, but not enough story. Then I saw that the man was as interesting as she was, as was the other woman. And I began to feel for all three of them, and suddenly there was the reversal at the end, right in front of me. Another challenge was to keep it from being either vicious or vacuous--I hope I succeeded. The pleasure was in writing this come-down, blonde-dyed, bar-hopping vision of a goddess. These days we don’t have much heartspace for a goddess--no sacred wells, no springs she visits at the equinox. So I saw that a bar, where people thirst for grape or grain spirits as a form of the ineffable, turned out to be just the right place for divine power to twist into the hands of a guy with a gray buzz cut.

- Cheryl Wood Ruggiero
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