It was all I could do not to turn off the radio. I forgot who made me the mix cd, but man was it awful. Truthfully, the only thing that kept me listening was how obscure the song selection increasingly became as the disc progressed. I sat idling in the parking lot — characteristically way too early — trying to stay warm, braving this disc. The song that irked me to actually get out was an indie-techno cover of Phil Collins. Before I had made it across the lot, I knew that somehow this song was going to burn in my memory for this night.
With my coat collar up about my neck, I made my quick and goofy sprint to the bar door. I truly wanted to fool myself into thinking the rest of my jacket would magically become a shield against the lakeshore wind. I had almost made it with that lingering sense of car heat still trapped around me. As I reached for the door, a blade of cold found an opening somewhere between the fibers, boring its way straight to my skeleton. I shivered my presence known when the door to Frank’s closed behind me.
The place was fairly empty as it was still early and the only real noise came from a bank of flat screens perched above the small bar counter. I ordered a drink, something to keep my flu at bay, and found a seat.
A low murmur of business types rose and fell as familiars and regulars slowly trickled into the bar. I picked a seat towards the back, not to put distance between them per se — they seemed like fine enough people — just more so that while I waited, I wouldn’t seem like a loner, honing in on their happy hour.
The bartender moments ago served me a soda water with orange, coupled with an odd look. Evidently this was not the typical order for a Monday at 6pm. I tried not to let it phase me. This kid didn’t know me from Adam as it was, and I had been through enough life where I did not have to defend something as meaningless as a drink. I tipped him three dollars just to spite him, though in hindsight, I doubt he’d read it as a ‘fuck you’.
Everything around me was tinted in a yellow and red glow, hinting at warmth that simply wasn’t present. I was fighting some type of bug and had felt just barely good enough to go out. Somewhere in me I was still trying to fool myself that since I was inside, I would be warm. Games such as these were merely a brisk reminder that my body was not running at 100 percent. The soda and orange tasted like it could have been medicine but wasn’t helping in that way. At least I still had my wits about me.
From the bar, the same game of the evening played on several screens. I sipped my offensive drink hoping it would chase away the garbling lump in my stomach. Thankfully the source of my discomfort had nothing to do with this meeting. Which was odd.
In the past, even the thought of another encounter, be it chance or planned, sent my bowels in a twist, an anxious maze of gastronomic confusion. Who knew a single person could have such power? Or further more, that a person was capable of such a peculiar response? Questions aside, tonight it seemed to be seasonal, not personal.
People came and went over the next half hour. I watched them all absently, scanning the bar scape as if something would shift in my peripheral revealing a clue as to why I was actually sitting there. Not that it was necessarily a mystery, but enough to wonder all the same. I had no reason to be sitting in my seat other than to serve my own curiosity. Anything of myself left for her had been stowed away or put to rest. I felt almost like an amnesia victim, i knew how to recognize but not much else. Actually, that’s probably not even right either…
I suppose it could be traced back to when I answered my phone.
I recognized the number, despite having deliberately not saved it. The last four digits were my birth year repeated twice. Adding each pair together produced another number, which when repeated figures out to be the month and day I was born. Granted, this was really probing and was no doubt neurotic, but I still was curious nonetheless if this numeric irony even dawned on her.
Regardless, it was how I remembered her number.
Thinking back, curiosity had a lot to do with the events leading up to this point. Curiosity made me pick up the phone and say hello. Curiosity kept me on it to lend an ear without much other reason to stay. Curiosity made me consider what was being said, and it made me accept the offer to be where I currently was. And that was it basically: the question “why”.
A sudden eruption of excitement stirred the small groups around me. Focusing on one of the many TV’s, I gathered enough cues to see our team had done well, apparently having won the game. Good for them. The patrons clapped and drank happily, recapping and replaying the choice final moments of the win. I wondered if the jukebox would be open now that the game was over.
Just as the moment crested, the door swung wide again and in she glided. Quietly as if sneaking past them, I could make out her form. Past the standing crowd, she upped the couple stairs on the landing and found my following gaze. For the first and last time that evening, she smiled honestly saying hello. And too much like that frigid gush of air that followed her in, that glimpse of her was just as fleeting. By the time she looked back towards the bar, she had reassembled, and any traces of her unguarded self were gone.
Affectedly kind and still welcoming, it was a persona well rehearsed and easy for her to slip on. She asked few questions, choosing to talk more, occasionally giving space for me to question, if I so chose.
And that was us now, just older. Slight strands of silver to us both, barely visible at a distance but close it proved some time had come to pass. We cleaned up well in coats and black shoes, buttons all in a row, and all that. Still, the mileage was there. And it wasnt to say scars were present, horrible signs of truly rough incidents, it was just… time. Time spent, time passed, time set in. Nothing you could spot at a glance by way of a crows foot or eye bag, rather a sense of something less tangible that comes merely from knowing someone long enough.
Overall, the talk was fine, even enjoyable at times, yet somehow… mechanical. You sit up straight, you talk with conviction, pronounce your words, you do your best, everything is ok — the conversation keeps moving. A decade never passed, or so you pretend, or trick yourself into thinking.
And yet it doesnt feel that way, anyway. It all falls into place.