Sometimes people come into our lives in unexpected ways. Last year, I met a soul who I know I’ll remember forever; the kind of person that words fail to describe. I’ll never see her again, but I’ll never forget how she made me feel. With a little creativity, I spun a short fragment of fiction peppered with truth.
I knew I would find her there. Like so much of her, where she spent her days was a complete mystery to me. But her nights, I knew. When she wasn’t with me, she’d be in the club. Sure, I could go there and bump into her, get to talking and share a dance or two, and she’d make me buy her drinks, and I’d oblige, and she’d either ditch me for another guy when I looked away, or hang off my arm all night whispering heavily into my ear all the things she wanted to do when we left. But I wouldn’t go. She knew it as well as I did. The music, the sleaze so thick you could trip over it, and every single person bent on finding someone to cozy up with.
But that night, I did go. It was late, and I was moody as all hell and I hadn’t seen her for what felt like weeks, but really it had been yesterday morning when we had breakfast together and talked about whether Stalin or Roosevelt had the better moustache. She told me she liked Hitler’s best because it was “hipster before hipsters”. It’s not that I wanted to go. It was my racing heart which dragged my brain kicking and screaming right up to the edge and then tossed me to the wolves. I knew I’d find her there, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to walk in, do a solemn lap, not see a fluro pink dress, and walk right back out. She’d be outside, having a cup of coffee or a cigarette, looking off into the distance and I’d sneak up behind her and ask her what a girl like her was doing in a place like this, and she’d smile and say something like “Maybe I’m not the girl you think I am?” and I’d smile back and have nothing to say, and we’d stare into each other’s eyes like we always did when we both knew nothing needed to be said.
And there she was. The first thing I saw when I walked in. The only thing I saw. A fluro pink dress, nestled perfectly in the lap of a basketball singlet and a matching hat. She’d probably end up wearing it by the end of the night. Take it right off his head, put it on her own and strike a pose at him before they both burst into laughter. He’d pull her closer and tell her that it looked better on her anyway, while he was thinking about how many more drinks hed need to buy her before they’d go back to his room. She looked like a doll in his lap. Her feet reached the floor from where she was sitting, so I put him at about 5’8″. Probably not tall enough to play ball himself, and definitely shorter than she was, especially in those black heels she had on. They were the same ones she wore the night before last when we were out and she complained about how uncomfortable they were, so I told her to take them off. “I’ve still got dignity, you know?”. I asked her what taking her shoes off where no one was around to see had to do with dignity. I wasn’t asking her to strip naked in the streets, although I got the feeling that she’d be more comfortable with that. “Will you carry me, then?”. I wouldn’t. As much as I was beginning to care about her, I knew where that would go, and the second I agreed to it, she knew she’d have me around her finger. I told her she should suck it up. I didn’t care whether she wore shoes or not; I was just happy to be with her. But he cared. I could see it on his face. The kinda look that if looks could do things, all that one would do is land him in jail. “Who wears a fucking basketball singlet to a club, anyway?” I thought. Apparently the kind of guy wild, unpredictable girls are attracted to.
She didn’t see me. She didn’t have time. Although those five seconds felt like the longest time in recent memory, they were a little nothing in her otherwise fun night. Like so many nights before, this woman had been able to change my mood without even so much as a look. My heart was trampled under foot as I turned toward the door; my head down and my hopes even lower. I wondered if she thought about me. Maybe what we had wasn’t real at all. Maybe she had more in common with Mr MVP than she had with me. I couldn’t tell with her. Sure, she smiled like that when she was with me, but I thought it meant something. I thought it was a smile that she kept for special occasions; a smile that had to be fought for and was hard won, but it turned out it was just the smile she wore when she was trying to get things to go her way. It worked. Probably better than I ever gave her credit for.
It was dark out and people were heading home to their loved ones, people they’d just met, their group of laughing friends, or pretty much any other way except how I was going home. Shattered. Alone. Utterly helpless. Feeling like someone had just cut me open and let everything slide right out onto the ground. And I knew there was only one thing that could fix it, but the chances of that happening were none last I checked, and so I kept walking and tried not to think about it. Tried. Of course that was impossible. I kicked over three garbage bins and shattered some poor assholes windscreen before I hit the next corner. It didn’t help. A side mirror. Two. Music store sign. All I could see was his stupid smug grin and his hand sliding further and further up her skirt while she threw her hair over her shoulder and laughed the night away.
I wanted to lie down in the gutter and die. I wanted some thugs to jump out from a corner and beat the living shit out of me so I could feel something. Anything was better than this. I was laying in an ambulance with a grin on my face, fading in and out of consciousness while the paramedics called my family to tell them to meet us at the hospital because they weren’t sure I’d make the night. I’m not sure I’d make the night the way I was feeling now.
I remembered that bar. We had gone once, maybe more, and listened to Paul the piano man play. He was one of the greatest performers I’d ever heard and we sat and listened to him until 3AM and I remember thinking how beautiful she looked and how her face lit up when he played “Fever”. I walked in, stumbled in, barely conscious of what I was doing, and sat down at the bar. Something along the lines of “strong” and “scotch” passed my lips and before I knew it I was half a bottle in and holding the glass so tight I was hoping it would shatter. Paul was playing. Playing well. Too well. It made me sick. Maybe it was the scotch. Maybe it was her. Whatever it was, I was feeling worse. “I think I need to re evaluate my life choices” I whispered to myself; thought I whispered to myself until Paul looked up and smiled at me. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, big guy” he smirked in his slightly-cocky Manhattan accent. I was fixing to tell him to go fuck himself, but that would’ve made a terrible night into a fucking terrible night. “It’s a woman, right? I know that look. Seen it a thousand times before in every city round the world and then some. They’re a dime a dozen, kid”. I felt like saying not this one. But he made a good point. It was a woman. Oh boy was it.
“Not tonight”. He glanced over again and looked at me with what I think was his attempt at sympathy. “Any requests, kid?”. There wasn’t. He played on, something smooth and sad and trying to fit in with my mood, but it didn’t. He didn’t know how I felt. But that’s what everyone says. Maybe he was right, and I was wrong. I smiled under my breath, thinking about the situation, and how I always wound up like this, and how I never learned my lesson, or from my mistakes, or at all, really. A smile was still enough to make me want to throw myself in front of a bus.
Coldplay. It was “The Scientist”. That’s what brought me back to the room. To Paul. The quarter of a bottle of scotch left, and my aching body. His voice was echoing inside my mind, in and out of my body; taking the pain with it in moments of relief, and then forcing it into new and more uncomfortable places when it came back. Here and there, it’d make me want to beat my head upon the table or get up and run to the bathroom to bawl my eyes out, or throw up my liver or both.
She would be in his room by now. Probably sneak out at some point before dawn. He’d never hear from her again, even on the off chance he wanted to. Unless she ran into him again at a club somewhere, but she’d look right past him like a perfect stranger and he’d be too busy trying to seal the deal with someone else.
Paul was still playing his little heart out. Or big heart. I hadn’t decided yet. He’d grin the whole time he played. You could tell he loved what he did. Every night, he’d be there; enjoying himself, and not giving a fuck about what people thought, if someone was drinking themselves to death, or whether anyone liked his music. Maybe I could learn a thing or two from him after all.