Across a wood-grain bar in southern Minnesota on the way to Buddy Holly roller coaster in slower Iowa, I lay a few dollars on the bar for the sixpack of Blatz (cheapest they got and straight from... [+]
It began at a sports bar, the kind of place the realtor would call "happy-go-lucky." In other words, if your barstool wasn't sticky, assume it had just been swabbed clean by CSI. There was graffiti on the cigarette machine that said: same hell different hole. Everyone agreed this probably wasn't about cigarettes, which were a one-hole gig, but it sure made you think.
Roslyn had come for a bachelorette party. The dolphin clip-art on the invitation should have warned her exactly what to expect of her old college friends. Sure enough, they squealed for Steve Winwood on the jukebox when they weren’t intricately debating the optimum dishwasher temperature for Tupperware. Very soon, Roslyn drifted off to the bar, clung to a lukewarm Scotch, and stared forlornly at the bartender’s bra-strap. Roslyn tried a line and the bartender gave her a refill. They understood each other that much, at least.
Many lines and refills later, Roslyn was loudly forming plans to steal the jukebox, wrap it in a bed sheet and dump it in a lake. A woman further along the bar pointed out this was merely the plot of Psycho adapted to an electric appliance. The correctness of this annoyed Roslyn and distracted her just as the bride-to-be approached and told Roslyn where to catch up with her friends once she’d had some water, or a lot of water.
Roslyn found herself contemplating the woman who’d called her a Hitchcock plagiarist. She was a redhead with deliciously arrogant eyes and capable legs ending in cowboy boots. Noticing Roslyn's attention, the redhead smiled and offered to buy Roslyn a glass of water. The bartender patiently explained water was free, but neither woman was listening.
Roslyn and the redhead got talking, or approximately, the booze by now taking its toll on Roslyn’s vocabulary. Roslyn learned that the redhead was an attorney, had once sued a horoscope writer for being right, was called Christina, had a car outside, and wasn’t wearing any socks. Roslyn told Christina she was a broken-hearted, incompetent lesbian and advertising executive – but, bright side, no allergies. Somewhere in all that, Christina hooked her boot under Roslyn’s stool and dragged her closer.
"Define incompetent," Christina said.
"I can't make you whole," Roslyn said, apropos of largely nothing.
After aggressively making Christina promise not to play anything pre-1992 on the stereo, Roslyn accepted a ride home, loving the contours forming and unforming in Christina’s legs and hands as she drove. Back at Roslyn’s place, Christina eased Roslyn down onto a couch, and there was a ticklish silence. Then Christina fingertipped XO on Roslyn’s cheek, told her softly she wasn’t about to bed such a drunken wreck, and left. Roslyn floundered a bit, then fell off the couch and asleep.
Two days later, Roslyn found paper flakes in her freshly laundered pants and realized Christina had left her phone number. Roslyn got all forensic on the remains, but was only able to reconstruct what might be a 4 or a 7 or an exclamation mark.
Christina’s parting words stung Roslyn more and more with each mental replay. This drunken wreck had a vast life outside of bars, that lovely-legged bitch should know! To prove it, Roslyn went to spin class and cooked elaborate things with artichoke hearts. She even bought a few National Geographic magazines to enlarge her mind, then used them instead to prop open the bathroom door so she could still hear her cell phone when it was charging. She couldn’t remember if she’d given Christina her number in return.
Her sense of dignity kept Roslyn from returning to the sports bar for a whole week. When Roslyn did finally stop by, there was no sign of Christina. But the bartender produced a DART transit card that Roslyn recognized. It had a phone number scrawled across it that Roslyn recognized too. It was her transit card and her phone number rendered in her drunken handwriting. She’d meant to give this to Christina. It seems she’d mistaken it for a payment card and given it to the bartender instead. That meant Roslyn owed the bar eighty two dollars, and Christina had no way of calling.
Roslyn demanded to know: had Christina come back? The bartender shrugged: sure, a few nights ago. Christina had seemed bored, then annoyed. Or it might have been thoughtful, then resolved. It was hard to tell in this lighting.
Roslyn insisted: next time Christina showed up, the bartender was to pass along Roslyn’s phone number. Roslyn removed something from her body and said, "Also, these."
The bartender looked askance... then offered Roslyn a glass of water.
Nine days later, a text message arrived from Christina. It said simply: Socks.
Roslyn thought for a long time. Then she replied: Yep.
She had indeed given the bartender her socks for Christina. After all, she didn’t want Christina getting cold feet.
Christina proposed coffee.
Roslyn picked the place. It was a wellness cafe called Solstice, with Siberian soil art mounted on the walls and menu items all named after famous dead yogi. Roslyn recommended the Tirumala Nayanar mint espresso.
Three minutes in, Christina smiled. "You've never been to this place before in your life, have you?"
Roslyn insisted she did organic, locally sourced and indigenous rain chanting on the stereo all, the, freaking, time.
Christina smiled wider. "All good. Only, there's a Slush Puppie store across the street, and you have their reward card in your wallet." Christina suggested they grab a couple of slush Mega Gulps, and go play Halloween mini-golf.
Roslyn sulked. "What do you think I am? A schoolgirl, with no sophisticated tastes?"
Christina grinned. "I sure hope so."
Halloween mini-golf was sloppy and aggressive, and somehow ended at a biker bar whose tables each featured a stuffed snake as the candlestick holder. Roslyn kept scoffing that the bartender had never heard of pomegranate juice.
"Yeah no,” Christina laughed, “You can drop the classy act now. How are your cheesy fries?"
Roslyn pouted a bit, then finally raised it. "You called me a drunken wreck."
"I'm an attorney," Christina shrugged. "I don't make a move on intoxicated persons in case they sue me afterward."
Roslyn half-smiled and shoved her. "Fuck you."
Christina shoved her a bit in return.
Then, "I'm sorry,” Christina said. “That was not a nice thing to say. I've had some bad experiences with floozies, I guess. Particularly at that bar. The folks there, they tend not to want to go back to theirs to talk Dostoyevsky."
"I don't like the ending," Roslyn said.
"Whatever he directed exactly."
Roslyn said, "So why go to that bar at all? You were alone, you don't have the excuse I did."
Christina smiled. "You got me. I don't make any sense."
That took a weight off Roslyn, who didn't either.
Christina admitted the socks had changed her mind about Roslyn. They had suggested Roslyn might be one hell of an adventure, even when sober.
"I ironed them," Christina added as she retrieved the socks from her purse.
Roslyn was touched and knew she should say something. So:
"These snakes are so fake," she said. "I touched a real one once at a bar mitzvah."
Later, they were taking in the view from the derelict gazebo in the park and blowing cigarette smoke skyward like feedback to God. Roslyn admitted she still ate cereal for meals other than breakfast. Christina told her that was okay. They found each other’s hands in the dark. Roslyn said she might actually be boring, if Christina looked closely enough. As the Dallas neon awoke like tattooed fireflies around them, Christina leaned in and told Roslyn to her lips that she wasn’t bored. It tasted like there were nights ahead of them, nights a little wider than those they'd known before, nights a little messier too, nights on which anything might happen except maybe regret.