To be clear, when I see Alan tonight I am going to be very civil. This is just something I’d like to get out there ahead of time: I really wish him no real harm, despite his crimes. One crime I ponder often now: his tendency to introduce himself as “Alan, like Alan Greenspan” as if we had any idea what that was supposed to mean. Later we googled Alan Greenspan and found little in common between them, leaving us to assume that this was his way of telling us how his name was spelled—not Allen, or Allan. This made us laugh. How charming and quirky, Tessa and I thought, observing his slumping posture, his commitment to button-up shirts from Target. What a funny little guy.
I know I’m going to be seeing him tonight because I often know things. They come to me in the shower, usually in the transition between shampoo and conditioner—the shampooing nearly done, my eyes just falling on the conditioner bottle. This afternoon the thought arrived: Alan is going to be at Shooters tonight and I’m going to have to be fucking chill about it. I knew by the feeling in my throat that it was true. For the record, I am in general known for being very chill. Some people have even reportedly called me “levelheaded.” So the prospect of seeing Alan, while unpleasant, does not presage violence. Just putting that out there, even though one might be forgiven for experiencing some dread at the thought of an evening in the vicinity of Alan’s need to explain the plots of movies he feels we have misunderstood.
I speak to Tessa on the phone once I’m out of the shower and getting ready in the dusty mirror I keep on my bureau. On speaker, she says, “You sure he’ll be there?”
“We don’t have to go, you know,” I say, though the fact that I’m halfway through blending my under eye concealer suggests otherwise. It’s Friday night, the weather is damp and warm, and we’re going somewhere. The fact of the matter is that Shooters, as always, is really the only option out here. It’s May and it rained last night and we need to dance. The alternative would be conversation, which is not really Tessa’s strong suit.
“No, we should go,” she says, sighing. “Can’t avoid him forever.”
“Hmm,” I say. I wander into the bathroom, the air still hung with steam, and look to the conditioner bottle for guidance. This time, nothing.
Tessa and I meet where we usually do: the grass shoulder at the northwest corner of the intersection of Route 60 and the unnamed state road that leads to Forks of Buffalo. The ground makes a moist slurping noise with each step as we begin the descent into town. Hollins Creek, bloated and gurgling, crawls along beside us. A cow spectates. I suspect I know this cow, as I know many cows. I call this one Allen.
“Do you think he’ll give me a hard time, if we see him?” Tessa asks, worrying her bottom lip. The dress she has chosen is neon pink and orange and clings tight to her thighs. She must keep pulling it down as she walks, which seems unbecoming.
“It’s the guy’s natural tendency,” I say, which I realize is not comforting in the conventional sense. Though, notably, others have considered me comforting in the past, and have gone so far as to suggest I have a natural aptitude for it. So it’s not that I am somehow overall deficient in sympathy for others, which is something I feel is important to remember.
“I just don’t know what I’m gonna say to him,” Tessa says.
“Nothing,” I say. “You don’t have to explain yourself. He’s the shithead.”
Tessa sighs. “Don’t call him that.”
We walk the rest of the way in silence. The rain last night has turned the landscape a vivid shade of green, and I enjoy the technicolor splendor of it. I feel pleased with myself for remembering to use setting spray on my face as sweat collects delicately at my hairline. Tessa, it should be noted, has not made the same calculation and is starting to look a little runny, which I sense is perhaps not the ideal state for a meeting with Alan. Yet another crime: he has commented on Tessa’s inattention to her appearance on more than one occasion. As we come into town, the sun is dipping behind the mountains, silhouetting the radio towers that line the ridge and blink inconsistently in the growing dark. Already, the Shooters parking lot is full, trucks lining up along the muddy road shoulder. Inside, the bar is bustling, the music just beginning to pound. Tessa volunteers to get us drinks.
I hover near the stage, eyes searching, feeling my neck hairs rise and quiver. Every man is Alan and none of them are. Until one of them is, and he’s cutting through the room toward where Tessa is paying for our drinks with her peeling Wells Fargo card, her eye makeup smudged and her hair still frizzy from the humidity and a sweat stain at the small of her back. I see the smirk already forming on his face. I see it without needing to see it. Already, he must know what he’s going to say to her; how intuitively he has always understood how to cut deepest. Eternally ready and eager to prove all the ways in which he is quicker and crueler than she is. Her back is to him but it won’t be for very long.
I am crossing the room. I am raising my arm, clenching my fist.
Tessa doesn’t turn around until Alan is already on the ground. Until people start screaming. I don’t know if the look on her face is anger or relief. It must be said, she’s been angry at me before. But I’m turning away now, away from Alan clutching at his bloody nose and the bouncers moving toward me, and I’m hearing a song come on that I heard in a movie once. And so I’m doing what I came here to do: dance.
 My aunt Margaret, overheard by my mother the day after Thanksgiving, 2008.
 Crying woman I once handed a tissue to at the DMV, April 2015.
 Tessa, once: “Sometimes things that should be about me end up being about you.”
Marguerite Alley (she/they) is a writer from Durham, North Carolina whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Nimrod, New Ohio Review, The Louisville Review, Chautauqua, Pigeon Pages, Bodega, and elsewhere. She received a BA in Spanish from NYU in 2022.