Beautiful Things – Russ Doherty

Russ Doherty studied Film Screenwriting and Music Composition at the University of California Santa Barbara. His work is published or forthcoming in Broken Plate, Evening Street Review, Glint Literary Journal, Havik, Lunaris Review, Potato Soup Journal, and Summerset Review.

On Monday, Gordon eats lunch alone on the patio of the Bayside Café in Morro Bay. His mind drifts back to the sweltering days in Afghanistan on his tour of duty. Halfway through his second glass of wine, the raven-haired waitress bends over to pick up a fork, exposing a dragon tattoo flowing down her spine and into her pencil skirt. Gordon stops eating his salmon sandwich and waves to the mysterious waitress.

“Can I help you?” She smiles and fluffs her hair.

“I couldn’t help noticing your dragon.” He hopes his impulse doesn’t lead to trouble.

She stares at him, pulls out her order pad, and starts writing. Gordon is disappointed that she’s making out his check, a not-so-subtle hint that he’s out of line. She hands the check to him. Next to the total, she’s written her name, Renee, and her phone number. She winks at him and walks away. Gordon thinks life is better than it was a minute ago.

After a year, Gordon still likes his girlfriend, Laura, but feels caged by her quiet hopes. She’d said, “I’m ready to move in with you.” He isn’t. And while he’s never strayed physically from her, he’s thought about it. Gordon has wavy hair, is mid-thirties, and drives a Lexus SUV. He loves beauty, and girls adore his blue eyes. He hides his recurring Army nightmares and their ghosts. Perhaps he’ll feel happier after talking to this dragon lady.




Renee’s apartment, on the second floor with a deck overlooking Cayucos Beach, is nicer than Gordon’s house. A full moon caresses the ocean. He rings the bell as Phoebe Bridgers’ song “Kyoto” spills out an open window. He wonders if Renee knows the song is about Phoebe’s estrangement from her alcoholic father.

Renee is a visual artist. Her canvases fill the red-painted walls of the apartment. She paints predators: lions, wolves, snakes, and beautiful dragons.

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