January 25, 2013 by Megan Olson
I scratched the surface of the bar with my thumbnail to see what the wood looked like before beer, vomit and oil from its patrons’ hands had coated its surface. My own beer had gone relatively flat. It probably hadn’t been stored properly to begin with. I watched Dale, the bar keep, swipe the silver surfaces of the countertops with a wet and filthy rag. I wondered why he bothered?
He had an affinity for country music sung by sorrowful women and I knew he was singing it in his head while he pretended to work. As I watched him, he glanced up casually before letting his eyes fall back to his hands. Then he lifted his eyes with deliberate slowness, like some irresistible force was summoning them. Whatever was holding his interest was directly over my left shoulder. Not wanting to inflate the ego of whatever newcomer had just strolled through the doors, I allowed a solid beat to pass before looking up into the mirror that hung over the vast collection of liquor bottles.
A flash of red caressing long legs. It was all I needed to see before my heart froze. Before my chest ached. Before I had to grip the edge of the wooden bar and stare at the ground.
I felt her survey the room like I would have felt her hand slide across my back. Part of me wanted desperately to turn and face her. My shoulders were fighting me, trying to turn of their own accord in her direction. But, I couldn’t. I couldn’t allow myself to fall into this pit again. I knew what would happen if I did and the bottom was not where I wanted to end up.
The scent of her soft sweet perfume lapped over me along with the voice of the singer that flowed from the speakers around the room. The song fit. I wasn’t sure why but it felt right, like it was singing to me. Saying something for me that I couldn’t say for myself. And just as suddenly as I had been lost in my memories, she was sitting next to me, smiling, asking Dale for a Grey Goose martini. Dale complied without resistance and I wondered how he could betray me. Its not like he didn’t know who she was, we had come here for years before… before what had happened to us. He should have turned her away. He should have been a friend and spared me from myself. But he wasn’t my friend; He was a bartender. I couldn’t fault him for it; it was the reason I showed up at the dingy bar every night. Because I didn’t want the company of friends. Not their kindness or their questions. I wanted an empty bar with bad lighting and sad music.
I could feel her watching me then and I looked up to take in the perfect shape of her face. She smiled, the same smile I knew so well and I felt the pieces of my heart splinter into smaller shards. She was talking to me. I could see her lips moving, red full lips, with flashes of white between them. I smiled; I couldn’t help myself. It was a relief to see her. And then I was lost. That quickly. I couldn’t stop myself. I reached up to stroke her face and her skin was soft against the tips of my fingers.
The harsh smack of her response rung in my ears. My face stung and my neck ached as the force of it knocked me backwards on my stool. I grappled with the side of the bar and air as I watched its feet lift up off of the ground. It took all my focus to keep me upright. And when I looked back at her, her face had changed. It was rounder and the eyes were brown. The red dress was gone, replaced by a faded black one. Her face was indignant and her mouth moved releasing unintelligible garble.
It wasn’t her.
It had never been her.
My wife was gone.
Dale watched me, his eyes understanding but not forgiving. I scrambled off of my bar stool and headed for the door. But I couldn’t completely leave. I had seen her in there. My wife had been there, right there. I let my face fall into my hands and felt the familiar sway of my body back and forth. The brick on the wall lifted my shirt and scraped my back as I slid to the ground. My hands filled with salty tears and my own sobs echoed off of the walls of the alleyway. I went through that night again. For the millionth time and let the ifs wash over me. If I hadn’t had those last five drinks… If I had rolled down the window… If we had been fighting and she had leapt out of the car at a stoplight… if … if…. If…. Then I heard Dale comfort the woman still left behind in the bar.
“Don’t worry about him. He’s crazy, but harmless.” And he was right. I am crazy. And it was exactly what I deserve. I deserve to be hungry. I deserve to be cold. I deserve to have the scent of urine on my clothes. I deserve it. All of it. I let my body continue to rock and ignored the flesh rubbing off on the bricks. Tomorrow, I decided as I swayed and caught the eye of passerbys, my sign will read “BROKEN.” Because I am.