Friday, January 28, 2011

broken bottles and the southside of heaven.

They had met on New Years Eve the year before, and the two things about George that Nat found so interesting were as follows:

1. Even having experienced 23 New Years' Eves, he had never once had champagne.
2. He was a virgin.

So that night, knowing that her parents had left town for a long post-Christmas holiday weekend, Nat took George to her suburban childhood home and they made love long into the morning in the bed she slept in from grades kindergarten-to-twelve.

George's New Years' resolution had been to be more outgoing, and so at about 8 PM, not knowing any better, he showed up at their mutual friend Laura's party in a tie and jacket, violating both conventional wisdom and the incredibly loose dress code.

"It's a little formal," Laura said, straightening out the half-Windsor that George had misapplied to his cravat, "but you look handsome. Why so dressed up?"

"New Years' resolution," he said, looking amongst the small crowd that had arrived even earlier than he had, for people to whom he could introduce himself. Laura got distracted and sauntered off to a different cluster of guests, so George practiced his introduction(s).

"Great party, isn't it?"
"It's a pleasure to meet you."
"No, I'm not named after the king."

He wasn't so fond of the last one, but he felt optimistic about the first and second, so he decided to try them out. He approached different constellations of people, glass of sparkling cider in hand, and inserted himself into small breaks in the crowds, slipping in acknowledging chuckles and understanding nods to whatever they were saying.

"Yeah, great party, isn't it?" His enthusiasm was met with skeptical eyebrows and ironic laughter. He didn't know why these people weren't as excited about the gathering as he was. Perhaps he was the only one that had established a resolution such as his.

He walked to a different group that he heard laughing. Assuming them more gregarious than the previous, he attempted the same physical maneuver, getting close enough into the personal space of two members of the circle that they naturally and unconsciously made room for him, allowing him to insert himself like an apostrophe.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," he said during a lull, extending a hand to a man wearing an "ironic" ascot and a purple velvet jacket. When that hand was met with an indignant raised eyebrow, George offered it to the woman standing on his right in the backless red dress. She looked at the ground and sipped her cocktail. Knowing he wasn't welcome, George walked away, looking over his shoulder to see the group close itself back together like it had received stitches.

He decided some fresh air would be nice, so he made his way to the front door. The house where the party was being held was an old ranch-style split level, and he assumed--accurately--that there would be a nice, accommodating porch, having not paid attention during his walk up to (and his wait upon) it. So color him surprised that, when he stepped out there, he found Nat, smoking a clove cigarette, humming an Elvis Costello song as she drew and undrew aromatic puffs.

"Great party, isn't it?" Nat said, seeing George only out of the corner of her unturned eye.

"I thought so," he said, "but nobody inside seems to agree with us."

Nat tapped the ashes from her cigarette and George watched them fall away and get caught by what neither of them knew would be the last wind of December. "I was being sarcastic."

"Oh," he said.

"Do you want a smoke?"

"No, thanks. Seems sort of like a bad start to a new year to begin a bad habit."

"Good point," she said, exhaling a cloud of smoke that met up with the fog and congealed into a single visible mass. "Maybe I should stop."

"Probably."

Staring at this curious man, Nat dropped her cigarette to the asphalt porch and rubbed it out with the toe of her shoe, and she noticed that only then did George make eye contact with her.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," he said, holding out his open palm. "I'm George."

She accepted it and shook firmly. "I'm Nat. Pleasure to meet you, too."

"Great party, isn't it?" he said.

"You already said that."

George paused and looked for the moon as if his next statement would be imprinted upon it. "I guess I did."

"Do you want to get some champagne?" she asked.

"No."

"Really? Not even on New Years' Eve?"

"No," he repeated.

"Why not?"

"I don't usually drink," he said. "This is cider."

"Best way to start something new is to do something new."

And with that, they went back inside, found a freshly opened bottle, and drank the whole thing in Laura's bedroom, each drink turning the seconds into minutes into hours until it was time to ring in the next 365.

"Do you want to go to my house?" Nat asked, the chimes of midnight echoing around the hall from the TV downstairs.

"What's there?" George asked, the alcohol moving from his liver to his bloodstream and making him add second and third syllables to single syllable words.

"Us," she said, taking him by the hand and leading him off of their host's bed and dragging him hesitantly (if not reluctantly) across the street from Laura's house to the home where she was born and grew up.

She opened the door and began to kiss him in a way that neither he nor the champagne had been expecting. It was certainly not unpleasant, though, so he matched her dynamic and they navigated up to her bedroom and spent the first hours of the new year under a down comforter, holding each other as they traded sighs and goosebumps.

"Can this be something regular?" George asked in the morning, his eyes reflecting the rising sun with a green tint and a bright glimmer. Nat smiled and nodded, and they become nigh inseparable.

On Valentine's Day, despite it having been less than a month since they had met, he got her two dozen red roses (he had counted twice at the flower shop to ensure quantitative accuracy) and she had got him a new tie, in honor of his arguably overdressed appearance the first night they spent together. He wore it while they co-made dinner and fed each other spoonfuls with laughs and grins.

On April Fools' Day, she left a can of joke mixed nuts on his doorstep. He opened them, expecting a snake to spring out, but she had replaced the snake with actual mixed nuts, and he was fooled. He hadn't though of anything for that holiday, but smiled at the can every time he saw it on his nightstand.

On the Fourth of July, he bought a massive box of fireworks at the Wyoming border. After emptying each of their contents into a single bucket, they put it in the middle of a cul de sac and lit its makeshift fuse, only to see it fizzle out. They went inside, disappointed, and watched Die Hard, feeling proud to be Americans and getting their fair share of explosions, satisfying themselves with cinematic ones in place of real-life equivalences.

On Labor Day, he mowed her lawn and raked her leaves. He was trying to be meta, but she didn't make the connections necessary to get the joke. Even so, she was impressed with his workmanship and brought him a glass of lemonade and a kiss on the cheek.

On Halloween, they dressed up as Superman and Supergirl. After taking his nine-year-old niece trick-or-treating, they went to a friend's Halloween party where someone told them that Superman and Supergirl were cousins, not lovers. They felt creepy, went back to Nat's place, and watched Halloween. George jumped whenever Michael Myers appeared, and Nat liked the movie's soundtrack.

On Thanksgiving, they divided the day halfway between his parents' house and her parents' house. His mom, not quite sure how to deal with her son's outgoing girlfriend, asked Nat to help in the kitchen while George and his father watched football in the living room. George didn't much care for sports, though, and spent most of the time cringing at the things his mother was saying to his girlfriend. And laughing at commercials. When they got to Nat's house, they both kept smiling at the table and making their eyes roll upward toward the bedroom where they first consummated what had begun as their impromptu union and become their relationship.

They decided to spend Christmas by themselves, and drove to a resort four miles outside of town. Falling asleep by the fireplace watching A Christmas Story during one of its annual marathons, George whispered "I love you" to a pretend-sleeping Nat, who continued to fake her slumber, but couldn't withhold the small grin that snuck between her closed lips. George didn't see it, but the warmth of the fireplace and the joys of the season jumbled into his tummy and gave him an indescribably warm feeling, the origins of which he couldn't explain.

On New Years' Eve, they went to Laura's next party and Nat bought George a bottle of champagne, the same brand that they had enjoyed exactly a year prior, and he wore the tie she had bought him almost a year ago, and they found themselves playing out a similar New Years' Eve with a smile.

But things didn't go that well. George misinterpreted Nat's friendliness to a group of strangers as come-hither-ness, sprouting accusations which begat a fight, which begat George drinking too much, which begat Nat accusing him of precisely that, which begat George of grabbing the champagne bottle off of Laura's granite kitchen countertop, storming outside, and (luckily) walking the four miles home.

"I never want to see you act like that again," read Nat's text to George immediately after he departed for home.

"You won't have to see me again at all," he replied, regret setting in as soon as the "Message Sent" prompt showed up on his phone's screen.

They were broken up then. George tried to apologize for his drunken response, but to no avail: Nat had decided to move on. Months later, Nat changed her mind and attempted to retroactively accept George's apology, but George wouldn't have it, and they remained apart. Nat, in a final gesture of goodwill, did her best to smooth things over with an apologetic text message, but George thought that they had probably, at least in the long term, made the correct decision in parting, and didn't reply.

Months passed. George consumed bottles of bourbon like aspirin and waited for time to catch up with him, his weary heart holding onto images it didn't care to hold.

Then, like a first snow, June arrived like an unwanted houseguest. It had been six months since their breakup, and neither of them were over it. The calender indicating George's birthday (June 21st) loomed large in Nat's eyesight, no matter where she seemed to sit, and the bottle of champagne that she had given him six months prior in tribute to their first night, sat on George's mantleplace like a sarcophagus.

He waited until his birthday before he decided it was better to throw it away.

The new year found him in a bad part of town. The only apartment he could seemingly afford by himself was rough like gravel below bare feet, and hie dumpster was literally on the end of the block.

George did his best not to leave the house when it was dark, on account of the dangerous neighborhood, but tonight, he had more resolve than brains, and his decidedness blinded him to the concerns that his mother had raised as he moved into the affordable albeit cautionary-tale apartment.

So, unopened champagne bottle in his hand (and contents of whiskey bottle in his belly), George trudged out his front door and to the corner, where his dumpster sat. He didn't want to throw it away, of course--it was one of the few remaining reminders of Nat his apartment held--but he believed it for the best, so foot after foot met asphalt patch after asphalt patch as he made his way.

But for the first time, in his several months of having lived in that apartment, a junkie leapt from behind a corner alley and brandished a knife, demanding the contents of his pockets.

Mentally tallying the twelve dollars or so that his wallet contained, George's heart hardened at the man's knifepoint claim, so he pulled the bottle out of the plastic bag in which it was being carried and he held it like a firearm before shocking the addict with a smashed champagne bottle over the furrowed brow hardened by street life and the man fell to the sidewalk like a collapsed Jenga tower, forming a whimpering mass covered in celebratory bubbly, like a memorial to a past holiday.

After the base of the bottle collided with his attacker's skull, George found himself still grasping the neck of it, holding tight in case of a reprisal. But when he sufficiently believed the man to be incapacitated, he walked on, throwing the remaining shards, as well as those remaining ones that he picked from the ground post-self-defense, into the recycling bin that was his initial destination.

But George didn't know they recycled glass in this town. He had figured they'd rather just throw everything out.

1 comment:

Meg said...

Aww...life. Charming, nonetheless.