The Traveling Salesman

The traveling salesman needed another fix. What was he selling, exactly? Himself. Or rather, whatever version of himself he currently found entertaining, worthy of pursuing for at least a brief bout of time. The trouble with his gimmick came when he met a girl he actually liked. It was in Austin, that city people were still trying to convince themselves was “super cool” without being expensive or pretentious. He had found himself there after returning from one his latest world tours, which had come to an abrupt close after he got robbed of all the rest of his money in Detroit. But before he completely succumbed to crawling back home with his tail between his legs to Dallas (also, incidentally the name of his best friend who he not so secretly wanted to fuck out of desperation, and as a result of having no game), he decided to meet up with one of his best friends in Austin.

And so, this is how 26-year-old Emmet, in his rendezvous with Roman, a 24-year-old musician who could play drums, bass and mandolin, ended up encountering a roadblock to his traveling salesman act: Florence, a 25-year-old who worked in one of those wretched office parks doing the nondescript job of administrative tasks for an e-commerce startup. But during her nights, well, that’s when she found all her daytime pain worthwhile. The reason why she should suffer so endlessly in the hours of light for the past three years in this dreadful position was solely to experience the live music of the night.

Her most frequent haunt was the Carousel Lounge, because, you know, it was circus-themed and she was a sucker for a bar with a shtick. Far out of the way of the usual Sixth Street bullshit, Florence never knew who or what to expect when she went there. And the last person she expected was Emmet, not attractive at first glance but gradually more so after he kept talking to her and buying her drinks. The faint bald spot atop his head began to vanish, the paleness of his complexion turned tanner and the shortness of his height melted away.

Florence was no grand prize either, but better looking than your average bird. She was tall for a girl, had green eyes, long dishwater blonde hair and tended to wear revealing clothing. So yes, she was technically out of Emmet’s league. And yet, it had been awhile since anyone had the courage to pursue her with such seeming gusto. Roman had fallen into the background, chasing his own object of affection for the night, a rather plump girl somewhere in her early twenties with short brown hair that was so greasy it looked like a swim cap. Florence asked Emmet as he continued to tell her of his travels across the U.S., “Don’t you need to get back to your friend?”

Emmet turned around to glance at Roman. “Who, Roman? No. He’s a lone wolf. Knows how to make it on his own.” He looked back at Florence. “Do you?”

Florence sipped from her beer. “Of course. I’ve been on my own since I was eighteen. I’m estranged from my parents and my sister. So yes, fucker, I know how to make it on my own. Do you?”

Emmet backed away slightly, somewhat taken aback by her sudden anger-tinged expression. It wasn’t just that she was so passionate about being on her own, but that he himself now didn’t want to tell her just how dependent upon his own family he was. Sure, he projected a confident enough image to make others believe he truly was the self-sufficient, autonomous being he implicated he was, but he had never had to stay around anybody long enough for them to disprove this first impression. He had a hunch that this would all change with Florence, whom he was determined to stay near for more than the usual blip. For what reason, he couldn’t say, but there was something about her–the chip on her shoulder, her openness–that he didn’t want to part with so quickly as he had with other women he had encountered on his seven-month long voyage away from Dallas.

Finally figuring out what to say in response to her question, Emmet uttered, “I’m used to being on my own, yes.”

“That’s avoiding the question. You haven’t answered it, not really. I see right through you.”

“I’d like to see right through you, too–know what I mean?”

She grimaced. “You’re gross.”

“But you’re kind of into me, right?”

Florence rolled her eyes and took another drink from her glass. Yes, she “kind of” was, though she couldn’t exactly pinpoint why.

Hours later, they left Roman behind with his swim cap love interest and took a cab back to Florence’s place–after all, Emmet certainly didn’t have a place, in Austin or any city. The traveling salesman’s most vexatious foible.

At her apartment, Florence pulled out a six-pack of Modelo from her refrigerator; she needed just a tinge more drunkenness to get on with what was about to happen. Sober sex was for serial killers and freaks who still believed in a Tristan and Isolde-level love. It wasn’t for modern girls of the twenty-first century like Florence. So she offered Emmet another beer, which he rebuffed. She shrugged, cracked her own open and plopped down on the couch next to him.

“Do you want to watch something?” she asked.

Emmet shook his head. “I’m not really a big ‘watcher.’ Of anything, movies, TV. I think it’s a bit of a waste of time.”

Florence finished her beer in one gulp. “Well, then. I guess let’s just get to it, shall we?”

She grabbed his hand and led him into her bedroom. It was only in this enclosed space that  she was able to notice the distinct odor of hemp emanating from his pores. Maybe he hadn’t showered in a while, she thought. Or maybe he was just that much of a pothead. The traveling salesman needn’t ever bother himself with abstemiousness.

She chose to ignore the stench–or perhaps enough time merely allowed her nostrils to acclimate. He came within two minutes, apologizing insincerely to Florence for being unable to give her her due. She let him stay there inside her until his erection fully deflated, and to remain on top of her until they both fell asleep.

The next morning, he was awake before her, making her breakfast as though he had been navigating her kitchen his entire life. She thanked him and went to work, not bothering to wait for him to ask for her number and not indicating that he should probably leave. Maybe if she had, he actually would have. Instead, he was still there when she got home that night. And the next and the next. So it went that they ended up living together. Real natural-like, just as though they always had.

When Roman informed Emmet that he was planning to return back to Los Angeles to record something with some indie band that was about to “take off,” Emmet, in turn, let him know that, for once, he intended to stay. That he wouldn’t just go whichever way the wind blew this time around. Roman was understandably shocked; Emmet had never been able to stay in one place other than Dallas for more than a month. He figured Emmet might genuinely be in love to make such a massive concession to his preferred lifestyle of constant movement.

However, upon returning to Austin the following year to partake in SXSW, Roman walked in to something out of an Ingmar Bergman script while staying with Emmet and Florence in their apartment. From his vantage point on the couch, he could hear their incessant bickering coming from the bedroom. It was on his final night that he caught the tail end of their breakup conversation.

“I trained you. I taught you how to be a better woman. To fucking groom yourself and have a little goddamn self-assurance. Now my work here is done. Nothing lasts forever, ya know?”

“It certainly doesn’t when you’re not willing to put time into anything to make it last, you lying piece of shit.”

And it was true, Emmet had lied. Saying things like, “You’re the only thing I am sure of” and “I can’t picture spending my life with anyone but you” over the course of their time together. Things, in short, that honestly led her to believe that maybe sober sex wasn’t just for serial killers and freaks.

The next morning, however, Emmet departed with Roman to go to Dallas, where he would take up with the aforementioned Dallas for a time, save up enough money for a few months of living with his parents and then move on again to the next town, the next girl. He would never again make the mistake of sticking around in one place for too long as he had done for Florence. Forever the traveling salesman.

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