Thursdays Fridays at the bar, at the end of the bar, slightly adjacent, tilted backwards, in a corner, in the middle, by herself with people all around. I see her sitting there fingering the rim of her glass and ask her three what’s all in one breath, “What’s new what’s happening what have you been up to?” Failing to read the mood.
“I’ve been mourning the loss of an unobtrusive, yet deeply personal friend.”
I ask what that means, but she just says she doesn’t want to talk about it and pushes her glass to the bartender and says, “I’m empty.” I want to ask if she means more than just the drink. I want to ask if she means that she feels empty inside and can we talk about it, I want to talk about it.
But I don’t know how to. So I order a drink. Something hard, to take the edge off, I laugh, trying. But she’s not. Sitting alone sitting next to me, the only two women in the room.
She pulls out a pen and starts scratching her name with it into the bar.
“What are you doing?” I whisper as loud as I can, without being too loud; forcing the air out from between my tongue and my teeth. I hate vandalism. Hate. Hate. Hate dents in wood.
“I don’t know,” She doesn’t look up. Not even a little impressed by the severe tone in my voice. “It’s not original,” she leans back to examine her work, “But it just feels really important to document somehow that I was here. Don’t you ever feel that way?”
I try to generate a reaction, but I’m obsessing over how the “S” in her name has a bigger curve on the top than it does on the bottom. I tell her about the types of B vitamins I take sometimes to even out my mood. She stops scratching and glances at me, but I can’t read her expression. “Really? I’d rather just be pissy.”
It’s not what I meant. I meant something else. Something closer to blue walls on four sides. And a beige couch right in the middle. And a river running over the top like a glass you look through while you lie beneath; heavy on your chest.
But I want to be asked. I want to be pressed. So instead I say, “Ummm,” and nod my head. And wait.
The clock on the wall and the wood on bar and the smoke in the air melt together and rise together, clinging to the ceiling as I glance up. I’m thirsty and I wish I had water, but order another shot to impress her.
And I keep scratching at things to see if they will bleed.
“How’re things with Greg?”
“Fine. Things are fine with Greg.” She’s short and irritated by the question, like I knew she would be.
I look to her but she looks past me. Inhales deeply, coughs a bit. Looks to the end of the bar and sees a man sitting there. A definitely-not-Greg kind of man. A No-Man kind of man. Maybe a Trent. She smiles and he nods. Like they’ve been doing this for a while. I try to smile too, but it’s moved on.
She turns away from the Trent and looks over her glass. “Listen, it was great running into you, but I’ve got to get going. Call me sometime?”
Sure. Sometime. She explodes into flame, flickering her way across the room, to the man at the end of the bar. I watch her burn as I turn and slip quietly out. Heel to toe. Like a phantom.
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Portland Fiction Project
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