Sometimes, we forget our words. Sometimes, we don’t remember how to mourn. Silence stands between us, a leviathan of unspoken grief. We linger in its shadow, waiting for the delicate whisper of rain.
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It’s raining outside- that heavy Chicago late-summer rain that ruins shirts and hairdos, knocks down branches and floods gutters and sewers.
All along Belmont, folks huddle in doorways, pressed against buildings and hopping from shelter to shelter. A hat rolls by in the street, with a young man in skinny jeans chasing it. Inside, The Pink Mink is full of the usual crowd; Hazel sneaking out from the kitchen for a quick kiss-and-grope with Andi whenever Andi finds time between shaking those arcane cocktails, Jen telling no-shit-there-I-was stories about the U of C parties last night, purple-haired Mariah in swooning over some girl she probably hardly knows.
I’m feeling pretty flush myself. I just got paid, rent’s not due for two weeks, and I picked up a little side work for the weekend fixing a car for a friend of a friend.
All of which explains why there’s a bottle of Scotch on our table instead of the usual pitcher of beer, half paid-for by tips from the drag show and half comped by Andi according to some arcane formula. And the bottle of Scotch, well, that explains why I don’t pay much attention when the door opens and closes a few times, letting in a gust of sodden leaves each time.
The Mink is one of my favorite bars, especially on nights when I’m feeling at the top of my game. The show went great and I’m finally feeling like one of The Boys, for real, not just the ringer they called in one night six months ago when their guitarist flounced off over some imagined slight.
Something Jai says makes everyone laugh and I join in, even though I missed the joke while I was pouring. It doesn’t matter, really. What matters is being here. I spill a little, laugh, lick the Scotch off my fingers. “Not gonna let it go to waste,” I tell Mitch, and pour for him.
“Daaaaayum,” Tay says appreciatively. Ze’s not one of the Boys, not officially, but ze’s a good hand with electronics. And George — Georgia, in her street clothes — laughs that smoky-deep laugh that drives me almost nuts enough to in and ask her out, except I worry, sometimes, that she might be a keeper.
I set the bottle down, wiping a stray drop off the neck. Pick up my glass. Lean back in my chair and follow Tay’s gaze, because Tay has an eye for beauty.
Apparently Malibu Barbie just blew into town, tanning-bed tan and blonde hair and high heels, tiny waist, pink pencil skirt and all. She doesn’t even look at the crowd, not really. Just sashays up to the bar and waits for Andi’s attention like she’s used to getting attention wherever she goes.
On second thought. I want to describe it as a sashay. But there’s an off quality to the walk, a sort of broken-marionette stiltedness.
I raise an eyebrow, catch Tay’s eye. “Little girl lost, y’think?”
“Tch. Maybe she’s on her way to Grandma’s house, you big bad wolf,” Tay chides.
I grin. “What? She might need someone to help her find her way home.” I swirl the Scotch in my glass, watch Malibu Barbie settle onto a stool and sip gracelessly at her drink. She doesn’t look like the type who normally does anything gracelessly. She grimaces at the taste, then gets that “maybe it’s medicinal” look on her face and takes a longer pull.
She’s wearing pink slingbacks, totally impractical for the weather. But damn, the way she’s got one leg crossed over the other, shoe dangling like she doesn’t give a crap, and her skirt riding up like that. Well. Girls like that don’t generally just wander into the Mink.
“Technically, Tay saw her first,” Jai slurs, almost slopping Scotch over the edge of their glass.
“You’d fall on your face before you got there,” I say, downing the rest of my drink in one swallow. The burn is pleasant, and I give Jai a lazy smile.
George puts a hand on my shoulder. “Hey. You be careful. Straight girls’ll break your damn heart every time. I should know.”
I hold up both hands in mock-protest. “I’m just gonna buy a girl a drink. Nothing wrong with that, is there? She looks like she could use a friend.” I grin again, straighten my collar.
“Besides,” I say, getting to my feet and shoving my chair back with one foot. “I’m not the type to get my heart broke.”
“I have one favor to ask. Just one. Please?”
We were standing by the river’s edge, waiting for a small barge to take us across to Camp Westwind, where we planned to spend the weekend in rustic cabins without internet or cell service with a hundred strangers – all families of children in our kids’ school program. The ground by the pier was a complete bog.
“Please don’t get mud all over your shoes. Can you do that?” I asked my 8-year-old, N.
I promised to let you leave gracefully. You promised not to look back.
One of us lied.
Your footsteps kicked up dust in the yard. I followed you out, my fingers catching at your sleeve.
I will leave the door open for you. I will leave the porch light on.
I was seventeen the first time I died. It was gentle, like the dying of a star. My heart stopped, you said, for fifteen minutes.
I died a thousand times between then and now. I died again at nineteen and twenty-two and thirty-seven and a hundred and three; I died in war and in bed, with valor and in obscurity, alone and in your arms. All I remember is the dark and the shape of my name, how it fluttered against the wind: a kite tugging on a string.
Next time, I think, next time I will bring a knife.