You enter a bar for the first time in years, your friend at your side; the same friend who bar-hopped with you when bar-hopping and bed-hopping were every weekend’s ride, every Friday’s romp, every Saturday’s circus, with Sundays reserved for hang-overs. Your friend was your maid of honor seventeen years ago, and now she’s the matron of honor at your re-entry into the single world, your divorce just beginning to scab over. “Come on,” she says, “it’ll be fun, just like the old days.” She is a pro at re-entry and you follow her closely. Divorced three times to your one, her seventeen years are split up in five, seven, three, each with one year between. The one years between spent in bars like this one, while you sat married in front of your television and waited for her every-Sunday call, when she would confess her conquests to you. At the time, you considered yourself lucky. You don’t consider yourself lucky anymore. You consider yourself jaded. Bitter. Delusional. So many years spent lying to your friend. So many years spent lying to yourself.
The bar is the same as the bars you remember; it varies from bright to dim to dark, depending on if you’re on the dance floor, or seated at the tables or the booths. Your friend steers you to a table, tells you that dim light works best for women of an age, then she asks you what you’d like to drink. She volunteers to pay for the first round.
What to drink? You haven’t been much of a drinker in seventeen years, put off as you were by four pregnancies and breastfeedings and then just by a need to be aware. During dinners out, you sipped one glass of white wine and sometimes had an ice cream drink for dessert. You love grasshoppers and Bailey’s shakes, but you know that it would look ridiculous to drink an ice cream drink here, where the laughter is as loud as the music.
Your friend tells you they have a great peach sangria, complete with swizzles of fruit. You nod and she crosses the dance floor to the bar. As the bright light captures her, you see what she means when she says that dim light works best for women of a certain age. The sleeveless blouse she wears exposes skin just beginning to crease on her upper arms, and her fiercely blonde hair evaporates into a dandelion wish. Still, she looks good, and she saunters with confidence, hips swaying easy, and you wonder if you could do that. Saunter. When you’d really rather be curled into a booth at the back, where you don’t have to be seen and you don’t have to perform.
Your sangria is served in a royal glass goblet. The drink is smooth and sweet and as it slides down your throat and buzzes to your head, you think, Oh my god, where have I been? But you know where you’ve been. You’ve been waiting for him to come home. Waiting for him to look up. Waiting for him to smile, to say something, to lick his lips and lower his lashes in that way that makes you press up against his chest, rest your head in the nook of his neck and shoulder. Used to make you do those things. It’s been a long time. And now the waiting is over and those things are never going to happen again.
You take a bigger swallow. When the goblet is empty, you ask for another. The third, you get for yourself. You think about sauntering as you head to the dance floor, but you stick to the dim and get to the bar the long way. Your friend is dancing now, and as you wait for your drink, you watch her. She laughs a wide-mouthed laugh, leaning forward and shimmying at her dance partner, her breasts abob in the sleeveless shirt knotted at her waist. It’s ridden above her waist now, you notice, and you think that while she probably shouldn’t be wearing shirts like that anymore, she really doesn’t look that bad, and the man she dances with seems appreciative.
By the time you circle your way back to the table, the music downshifts to slow, and your friend curls into this man, lays her head on his shoulder. His hands rest at her bare lower back, and as she raises her face to his, you quiver. You remember those times in the bars long ago, when a stranger’s lips would cover yours, when his tongue would become an acquaintance and then someone you’d always wanted to know. You remember when the dance became a simple sway, your bodies locked at the mouth, the chest, the crotch, and you remember the thrill as you felt the hardness that seemed destined to mold itself to you. And for a moment, sitting at your table, watching your friend, but seeing yourself seventeen, twenty, and twenty-five years ago, you sweat and lean forward.
But still. This is now. There are children at home. And you, like your friend, are not the same woman, are not the same body, that you were seventeen, twenty, and twenty-five years ago. Yours is the body of a seventeen-year marriage, of four pregnancies and of evenings sitting in front of the television set. Waiting for your friend to call. Waiting for your husband to come home. Waiting for him to see you when he does.
It wasn’t always this way. You’ve felt the sparkle of new marriage, the attached at the hip, tell each other everything, talk late into the night shine of it. And like this bar, you’ve seen the bright slip into dim, the dim slip into dark, the attached at the hip become hand-holding become passing touches, become sitting in separate chairs, his and hers, in front of the television set, his usually empty until late into the night, the kids asleep, you almost. You’ve seen the dark, when he finally speaks and the words he says aren’t what you were waiting for. When he talks about stale. When he talks about missed chances. When he talks about the chance he took which blossomed into a new romance that is anything but stale, but as fresh as bread out of the oven. When he talks about let’s remain friends and you wonder how that can ever be and yet you stay civil. You cry only after he’s gone, only after the judge declares your marriage dissolved like an antacid and you go home to the room that is now your own, to the queen-sized bed which needs two pillows only to make the bedspread look balanced.
You first met him in a bar, twenty years ago. Watching your friend now, leaning into her partner, his hands slipping into her back pockets, their bodies one long line from shoulder to foot, you wonder if you really want to meet another.
You wonder if anyone would want to meet you.
Your friend saunters over, still leashed to her partner by his hand in her pocket, and she whispers to you, offers to stay, but to bring a chair over for him, and you shake your head. It’s all right, you say, don’t worry, if necessary, you’ll find another way home. You’ll take a cab, you’ll catch a bus, hell, it’s not even that far to walk in the dark back to your neighborhood. She smiles at you, reminds you to sit up straight, shoulders back, and to look around, to smile, to drink slowly, each soft sip sending pheromones through the dim to the men. Then she and her partner transition to dark, to a curved booth, where they can sit right next to each other, arms around shoulders and waists, legs pressing from hip to toe.
You decide to have just one more drink and then you will go on home. The sangria is so good, so cool and light, and the buzz it gives you is at once familiar and nostalgic. This time, you walk across the dance floor, though while you think Saunter, you feel more like Scuttle as your shoulders curve in and you duck your head and your feet move cartoon-fast. You praise the sangria to the bartender, thank him for the gift of extra fruit, and then scuttle back to your seat. As you pick up the swizzle, as you suck the small ball of green apple into your mouth, a man sits across from you. You glide the stick slowly over your tongue, then smile with wine-sparkled lips. The man asks for a dance. He takes your hand and leads you to the floor.
It’s not a fast dance and his free hand snugs quickly around your waist. You move into a sway and he tells you his name, you say yours, and the music sets the rhythm of your conversation. You softly mention your divorce, he mentions his break-up, and his hand tightens, draws you closer. Soon your fingers are locked behind his neck, his at the small of your back, and your bodies press smoothly together. You look up at him and you know what will come, and it does, right out of your memory, the lips against yours, the tickle of a tongue, and then that slow delicious entry, a possible tease, a possible promise. You feel time drift back, feel your body prime for enjoyment, and suddenly, your hair is long again, your jeans hip-hugging and tight, your shirt a flowered halter that bares your back and midriff. You are an invitation again, as strange hands cup your buttocks, then climb up your ribcage, preparing to open you like an envelope. Against you, you feel that first stir of hardness.
Which is where it all starts. The bright to the dim to the dark, the talk to the silence to goodbye. And you step away.
He looks surprised.
You say you’re sorry, and you run. Not Scuttle, not Saunter, but Run. You know your friend looks up, starts to say your name, as you dash by the booth to the door, but you don’t wait, don’t answer. You move through the parked cars to the street, to the solid feel of sidewalk, and then you breathe in the cool of fall. Walking with your hands in your pockets and your eyes to the ground, through the bright of street lights, through the dark in between, you wonder exactly what it is that you want.
The heat of a man in your bed for a few hours, leaving only his scent in the morning?
Or the waning warmth of a man who says you are his, whose embraces become loose-armed and then not at all, whose scent you wash out, load after load of sheets and pillowcases and blankets and towels, wash out until there is nothing left at all but the cloying of detergent and softener?
You wonder what it is that you want.
At home, the house is quiet; it is your ex’s weekend with the kids. The idea of your children divvied by dates is something you are still getting used to. You walk through the living room, where your two boys usually shout at video games. The television is blank, the couch empty, and your remaining chair full of unfolded laundry. Down the hall, in the girls’ room, you straighten the bedspread on the upper bunk, unearthing the book beneath your older daughter’s pillow. Looking at the cover, you smile at the memory of adolescence, of late-night paperback romances. Down below, bottom bunk, the bedspread is already painfully neat, the absence of a stuffed blue and white puppy and a pink-cheeked little girl palpable. You haven’t talked with any of your children today, and you wonder how long it will be before the silence of every other weekend feels normal.
In your own room, the emptiest room, you step into the shower. You bathed earlier, before you went out, but you want to rid yourself of the musk of the bar, and in a way, you want to rid yourself of the man’s touch, even as you wonder if you should have let him go further. Turning up the hot water, steam begins to rise and your short hair flattens against your skull. You drench a loofah with your soap and you breathe in the woody smell of jasmine. The bottle assures you that jasmine is the aroma of passion and inspiration, and you wonder if that is what drew the man in the bar to you. You wonder what would have happened if your skin misted jasmine when your husband turned to you with his indirect gaze and spoke the words you didn’t want to hear. Would jasmine have inspired the passion then, the passion you remember that he had for you, that you had for him, that began in a bar, then sparked four new lives and seventeen years?
Well, not quite seventeen years. Seventeen years of marriage, but not seventeen years of passion. Like your lather, it sloughed away.
You know jasmine wouldn’t have helped.
In the heat, your body pinkens, and the sweep of soap makes you glow iridescent. The loofah follows your generous curves and you circle each breast and each hip in caresses so tender, it makes you want to cry. And you do. You remember the nights you sat home alone, the nights you went to bed alone, and even more, you remember the nights he rested beside you, and his mass only added to the weight on your shoulders. And you think about the man you left behind on the dance floor, the man who could have laid beside you in the dark, but then would have disappeared in the morning, leaving you newly alone in the impossible lengths of an empty bed.
Your skin is so soft, and as you emerge from the bubbles, you breathe in the jasmine and relax. You tilt your head back in the spray, let the warm water roll down your face, your neck, pool in the goblet of your cleavage, then drip like an hourglass over the rest of your body. When you shut off the water, the cool wraps you like a sheet and the touch of the towel is delicious. You turn off the light and drape yourself in darkness.
How different it is now, to get into your bed without any expectations at all, without any questions, without any answers, but just the crispness of the sheets, the familiarity of your own pillow, and the sounds of a sleeping house around you. How different than climbing into bed with the expectation of connection, with the wish and the need and the failure when it didn’t happen, especially when there was a broad back turned toward you.
It takes a minute for the sheets to warm, and you huddle with the covers pulled up to your shoulders. Lying on your side, you face the middle of the bed, and your husband’s vacant and abandoned pillow. It is smooth and white, the pillowcase as fresh as the day you stripped the bed, washed every sheet and blanket in the linen closet, and then redressed it. With a jolt, you realize how useless this pillow is, how much a posture and a pose, a symbol to the world that you’re not alone, and a sign to yourself that you are. With a quick shove, you flip it to the floor. You decide the bed will look balanced enough with just your pillow in the middle, with just your body in the middle, and you scoot yourself there and reorient.
The dark slowly turns to night-sight gray, and you cup one loose breast and then the other. You think how sad it is that you won’t be opened by anyone on this night, or the next night or the next. But then you stretch in the expanse, point your toes and straighten your legs, arch your back and your neck and flex your fingers, and you feel every inch of skin grow taut and smooth and cover this body that you’ve known all your life, this body that will be with you forever. Through every change in your world. It’s already persisted through the prairie of childhood, the swamp of adolescence, the upheavals and sighs and swellings of womanhood. It was with you in your chair, it was with you on the dance floor, and it is with you in this bed. Through every bruise and every blush of pleasure, it was with you. It will not walk away from you now.
And you think, what a treasure. You feel what a treasure.
And you decide it’s okay to keep your invitation. To not have someone open your envelope and see the riches within. It’s okay to admire the riches by yourself. It’s okay to just be your own company, to not sit and wait for the company you keep, but to keep the company that’s been with you all along.
In your bed, in your room, you embrace yourself and know that this time, when your friend calls on Sunday with her hung-over tales of conquests and raptures, you really will be lucky. By yourself, to yourself, you won’t be lying at all.
About the Author
Kathie Giorgio’s short story collection, ENLARGED HEARTS, is due for release in early 2012 by the Main Street Rag Publishing Company. Her first novel, THE HOME FOR WAYWARD CLOCKS, was released on February 1, 2011, by the Main Street Rag Publishing Company. New stories will appear soon in the St. Petersburg Review, Lalitamba, and a flash fiction anthology by Pill Hill Press. A poem is due out in the 2012 Wisconsin Poets Calendar. Her poem, “In Retrospect,” appears now in Fearless Books’ newest anthology on love and touch. Her short stories have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Harpur Palate, Fiction International, The Dos Passos Review, Ars Medica, THEMA, Cutthroat, The Pedestal Magazine, Alimentum, Evening Street Review, Bayou Magazine, Epiphany, Eclipse, Potomac Review, The Arabesques Review, Oyez Review, The Jabberwock Review, Reed Magazine, The Binnacle, Licking River Review, Bellowing Ark, The Hiss Quarterly, Midway Journal, The Externalist, Fogged Clarity, Lowestoft Chronicle, and many more. Her stories have also been in anthologies by Papier-Mache Press, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Editions Bibliotekos, and Susurrus Press. She has been the featured author in Women Writers’ ezine. She’s been nominated twice for the Million Writer Award and for the Best of the Net anthology. She is the director and founder of AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, a creative writing studio. She also teaches for Writers’ Digest and serves on their advisory board.