...well, that's okay. So did I. I'm considering expanding this into something longer. Let's see how it pans out.
Also, I'll probably have to change the name since Gail sort of disappears. Or maybe I'll turn it into a mystery!
THOSE WERE DAYS OF ROSES
If anyone asks, I love this bar because of its stellar jukebox. It's got Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Uncle Tupelo, Elvis Costello (yippee), the Stones, and Prince. Only a greedy man could ask for more.
And when Tom Waits' "Closing Time" comes on, I shy away to the two-stall bathroom that smells like a construction site to privately manage the small handful of tears that always accompany it. This has nothing to do with the breakup with Martha or what I've had to drink or even Tom's voice--the song's instrumental--but with this completely unquantifiable aura of mysticism that manages to completely break down any defenses I have somehow managed to scrounge up.
I come out five goddamn minutes later and the whole place has changed. Gail's gone, Eric and Jordan have presumably stumbled home, and the remainder of the bar's pre-restroom trip denizens are all elsewhere. I don't come here often enough to know the regulars, and so I don't even bother trying to find a familiar face.
I trudge back to my spot at the bar and am about to take my previous seat when I see that I'm sitting down immediately next to Alice, Martha's sister. Awkward. She recognizes me as I pull up, and it's too late to back out without looking like I'm totally terrified of talking to a 5'3" Provo resident that's surely the designated driver for her party. So I shut up, sit down, and ask for a club soda and lime.
"Andy?" she says, peeking above her Shirley Temple.
The Cape Cod bridges the gap between crappy drinks and quality drinks. On one hand, it's got the unfortunate luck to be named after something other than its ingredients (vodka and cranberry juice, for the uninitiated). Aside from the alcohol, vodka is more or less tasteless, and the cranberry juice ably masks any hints of fermentation. The thing tastes like a goddamn Capri Sun, but somehow, I can't hold it against it. On the other hand...it really does taste like a goddamn Capri Sun. Seriously. It's weird. You also have to be careful because vodka, especially that which is concealed by a strong juice, can sneak up on you. It gets its hooks in and ruins your night (and the subsequent morning) and you had no idea the two of you were even that close.
If one is not satisfied with the drink's lack of complexity (or perceived lack of class), one could garnish with a lime or a splash of orange juice, although that's taking it more into a Cosmopolitan territory, and that's dangerously shaky ground, quality-wise. Proceed with caution.
"How're you holding up?" she asks. She sounds about as sincere as a Kanye West apology.
"I'm okay, thanks. Doing alright." She doesn't reply, so I take a drink from my club soda to give her the time to. She still doesn't. "Yup. Pretty, pretty, pretty okay."
"So what even happened? Martha hasn't told me anything."
"I'll let her tell you if she wants you to know," I say.
"Come on. Don't be an asshole." I shouldn't be as taken aback by her combative posturing, but my better nature, in addition to the roughly 5 oz. of Beefeater gin metabolizing in my liver, get the better of me.
"Why does it matter?" I ask her. "It's over, and everyone's better off. I know your whole goddamn family is pleased as fucking punch. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
She hand lunges to my shoulder and she squeezes. Hard.
"DON'T talk about my family like that," she shrieks before releasing. I stare in disbelief.
"First of all, you'd do well to not ever touch me again." I take a long draw from the club soda and the ice unexpectedly hits my teeth and causes a sensation nearly as unpleasant as the conversation I'm having right now.
"Second of all, none of you--not you, not her mom, not her dad, not her bullshit friends--have any idea what kind of a person she really is. Go ahead and have an actual conversation with her that isn't about how expensive your jeans are or how hard your retail clerking job is and then you and I can have a conversation about why you shouldn't be allowed to speak."
Now she is shocked, and I feel a bit better about myself. I'm not taking these peoples' shit anymore. It's been months since I've stood up for myself, and I remember how good it feels.
It wasn't my fault. It wasn't my fault. It wasn't my fault.
"Finally," I say before pausing so I can maneuver the words through the gin, "If you're wondering what happened, check the 'None of Your Goddamn Business' file."
"You know what?" Alice huffs, putting on her coat as loud as she can and summoning her friends to leave. "She's better without you. I'll never see what she saw in you."
"God willing," I reply.
I realize how much worse that conversation could've gone. Not that I'm terribly grateful for how it actually did go, but things can always be worse. I watch Alice storm out and silently thank the Good Lord for facilitating my forming an abnormally well-constructed sentence. As she opens the door, a woman that I do not recognize but seems incredibly familiar walks in alone.
I make brief eye contact with this woman before I turn away out of shame: she is too beautiful to be looked at. She sits next to me on the recently vacated barstool, orders a top-shelf scotch that's old enough to order its own scotch, and smiles out of the corner of her mouth.
I fall a little bit in love.
The margarita is a fickle mistress. Tequila, triple sec, splash of lime or maybe some sour mix, and you're set to go. But there are a lot of other factors. What ratio of tequila to triple sec? Gold or silver tequila? On the rocks? Blended with ice?
And most importantly, do you salt the rim of the glass? Conventional wisdom would say so. But conventional wisdom says that men in bars don't cry at Tom Waits songs, so clearly, conventional wisdom is out of its league. Personally, I say keep it simple. Two parts tequila, one part triple sec, one part lime, on the rocks. It's too easy to get distracted from what matters if you have too many things going in.
"How's it going?" I squeak out after--literally--five minutes of self-aggrandizement. Her mouth opens to reply, but the crack of the pool balls drowns out her soft, sweet voice. It's sharp as a razor and soft as a prayer and immediately as I think that, I realize that I lifted that metaphor from the Tom Waits song playing on the jukebox. Shit, I'm completely unoriginal.
"Sorry?" I ask.
"I said it's good, thanks." She takes a sip, a proper sip, from her snifter: she puts her nose in it just a bit and hesitates before drawing it in and I wonder if I've been saving all of my love for this woman, this magnificent creature who is too beautiful to be in this bar. She belongs on a savanna, galloping away from cheetahs and lions and poachers, constantly evading capture. I notice that every set of male eyes and about half of the female eyes in this place peer through the smoke and the despair just to catch a glimpse of this unattainable beauty that cannot possibly exist outside of fiction.
"How are you?" she asks.
"I'm okay," I say. "What's your name?"
"Eve," she replies.
"Eve? Wow. That's..." I hesitate, "...biblical."
I'm shocked that she's even still talking to me. There are men in this bar whose biceps appear to be made of some kind of futuristic titanium alloy and there are sets of teeth in this bar into which your optometrist would advise against looking there are guys with beards that don't look like they're trying to trick everyone into thinking that they're 24 and they surely have bar pickup success rates more regular than Metamucil and somehow, for some reason--blindness? deafness? low standards?--this woman who can only be described as an idea of a woman looks right at me and asks me my name.
"Andy." I've suddenly developed cottonmouth and I drain the last half of my club soda.
I'm staring at this woman--trying really hard not to, but remaining unsuccessful--and I realize that she isn't some Megan Fox, US Weekly cover template of womanhood with the big breasts and the big hair and the red lips and the dead, soulless eyes. Her appeal comes from an entirely different dimension. She's certainly beautiful, though. She's got long dark hair that's clearly an unnatural color but that she pulls off with staggering success. She's got brown eyes like an opera that you vaguely understand but are still mystified by.
"Nice to meet you, Andy," she says. "What do you do?"
"It doesn't matter. We have bigger things to worry about, Eve."
"Like what?" she asks.
We could have it all. We could leave right here, right now, I don't need to go to work and neither do you and we'll embrace the spontaneity and the serendipity of the occasion and do something just as random as our encounter, like bungee-jumping or trying some bizarre ethnic food and the excitement will be perfectly representative of our brand new relationship and the happiness that it will surely bring the both of us.
We'll drop our bags in a locker at the bus station and you'll close your eyes and I'll spin you around in a circle and after four or five rotations, you'll randomly point your finger in some direction, your choice being guided by the patron saint of romantic notions and warm-hearted eccentricities and we'll follow that direction, we'll hop on the first bus headed that way and when we get on the bus, we'll sit somewhere towards the back so we can be alone in our new reverie, and you'll put your head on my shoulder and we'll hold each other through day and night and day and night and day and night and day and night and day and we'll get off of the train in some Norman Rockwell portrait.
When we step off the bus, we'll come up with a new last name, something to replace the "Sherwin" and "Smith" or whatever your last name might be—by this point, I imagine I will have learned it—and we will abandon our secondhand monikers that have been given us by heritage and circumstance and we will forge something new and that name will be us. It will be you and it will be me and it will be beautiful.
I'll canvas the town for work so that we have money to eat and to be sheltered because we will have love and there is nothing else that we will need and I will discover a small diner run by a third generation Polish American named Nikolai who will serve pirogue but call it ravioli, much to the chagrin of his wife, Ruthie, a first generation Italian immigrant that wants to keep their diner a tiny little slice of her tradition and culture and identity and Nikolai will offer me five bucks an hour and two meals a day (one for you, one for me) if I'll bus and serve and wash dishes and I gladly accept and we shake on it and my hand will reek of vodka and optimism for a solid hour.
You'll go through town and try to find us a place to stay, someplace appropriately squalid to cement the romance of our poor-and-in-love lifestyle and you'll come to an old woman's house, and the tenant, Mrs. Esmerelda Fay Naughton-Meyers, a churchgoing Christian who compares us to Joseph and Mary and whose references to your birthing of the baby Jesus make you more uncomfortable than you would care to admit because you're not quite sure how you feel about religion just yet, but that's okay because you have faith in me and that's good enough for now and she'll offer us the hundred square feet of the attic for ten dollars a week, so long as we join her at church every Sunday and you play pinochle with her twice a week and help out with bingo night whenever that crazy Jones boy isn't able to call the numbers on account of his voice disappearing, as it has precedent to do.
And we'll be happy. Nikolai and Ruthie will take a four week European vacation using the money that they've been hoarding and they'll meet each others' families and come back with tales of passion and reclamation and belonging and the best thing about it will be the lion's share of the profits that Nikolai offers to share with me due to my hard work and diligence and my eagerness to pick up extra hours and not insist on overtime pay because I know he can't afford it and I'll use that money to order you a new sweater from an LL Bean catalogue and it'll arrive the day after your birthday and you will be so sad when the day comes and goes and you will think that I don't love you and you'll reconsider everything, every romantic thing I've said and you've reciprocated, every touch you've so graciously gifted me, every random caution-to-the-wind chance that we've taken, and you'll wonder if you've made a horrible mistake and that you're still young, you still have your life, no one would miss you if you left because who would miss you but me and if I don't care then who does? And you'll pack up at 5 AM but you'll run into Stan, our mailman, just as you're giving him his Christmas gift three weeks early (you'd wait until Christmas, but you're leaving) and he hands you the package and wishes you a happy birthday and there's a note inside and you read it and it will say:
"I love you. It's you and me versus the world and we're coming out ahead. You're everything and I'm so sorry that I can't give you more, but it's important for you to know that this is everything that I have and I hope you'll treasure it as dearly as I treasure you."
I will have signed the letter with a fountain pen that Ruthie brought me back from her uncle who works in a Mont Blanc factory and you'll laugh at my attempt to be sweet and romantic, but you'll know that my heart was in the right place and you'll wipe a tear or two from your eyes and as you try on the sweater I'll be just waking up to accept the deliveries from the bread company and I'll see that look in your eyes and you won't let me go to work and I'll call Nikolai and tell him I'm not going to make it in because something came up and he'll chuckle at the unintentional double entendre and we'll make love in the morning as the sun comes up and after we're lying there, breathing each other in and letting the silence speak volumes, you'll know, deep in your heart, that you're pregnant and that it'll be a boy.
Luckily, Ruthie will have had training as a midwife and as the time gets closer and closer you and her will become like sisters and then like mother and daughter and you'll feel closer to anyone than you've ever felt before and seeing her and Nikolai will give you hope because if they can do it, why can't we?
At church, the preacher will ask that we all keep you in our prayers because you're due any day now and you've ballooned so much that Ruthie suspects you'll birth twins, although you deny deny deny. In the middle of bingo that Wednesday, you call out "15! Who's got 15?" and Mrs. Naughton-Meyers will stand up on those weathered legs and proclaim "BINGO!" at the top of her lungs and that sets your womb into overtime and your water breaks and I put down my book, put you in the wheelchair I've been keeping around for this, and we start to take you home, but there's not enough time so we stop at the diner because it's at least sanitized and we decide that if there's anyplace to have a baby, it might as well be the diner.
And Ruthie was right: they're twins. A boy and a girl, which we decide to name Ruth and Nicholas after their godparents and benefactors, and right after you give life to a healthy baby girl, you see Ruthie's face between your legs as she helps the baby boy escape your womb and you see that Ruthie's crying and you ask her what's wrong but she won't answer and this terrifies you so you scream and our new daughter starts crying and Ruthie shows me the second child, the boy that wasn't able to get enough oxygen and who has died and I'll take him away from Ruthie and cradle this tiny little body, this disproportionately small vessel and I'll wrap him in a blanket and I'll see Nikolai, this big beast of a man whose emotions are never further from anything than the surface, and he's shaking his head, whispering something in Russian that sounds comfortingly like a prayer and I'll immediately feel better and I'll ask him to take care of you while I'll do what needs to be done.
I'll go into an empty field, lifeless infant in my arms, and I'll dig a small hole using a flat rock I'll find below an oak tree and I'll make it just big enough to put Nicholas in and as I lay him inside his grave and blanket his body with soil, his hand will slip between the folds of the blanket and I will break down and sob and I won't be able to control myself and I'll be called back to you when I hear Ruthie call for me and I'll return to you and we'll instantly confer and agree that our daughter should be called Ruth Nicole in honor of both her godparents and her younger brother who was just too fucking good to stay in this world.
And the three of us will be happy.
COMING SOON: The reaction.