Out late in the night she sees only neon, the ice in the tumbler, the glisten of olive in gin.
Discussions around her cover all of the flavors of the human condition.
The man in the wife-beater tee salivates at young flesh on the dance floor.
Mundane observations from the bartender about Kapernaek, the weather, the price of milk in July, keeps heads nodding for another, agreement never required, equal whining for all, defenses fall down to the bottom of the glass.
To the left sits the troupe of bachelorettes, too much skin, too much makeup, sloppy grins. Yet exhuberant dancing, mischievous antics, ribald jokes about cucumbers and pickles and wood keep all entertained.
Across the room sits the young man with his date. They are new to the night, to each other, small sips from tumblers of sugar-ice liqueurs flit between witty comments, innuendo and the audacity to look into each other’s eyes, deeply, with blatant longing. Someone buys them a shot. Then to cope, a double for himself.
She pulls her focus to the table before her. Across the high top are women from her coming of age. Small town women yes, but the ones who had her back when she didn’t know she needed that. These women kept the best of the rules and made new ones to get them through career launches, predicted setbacks, the raising children on farms or in cities, fun times when some were without any partner at all. Yesterday’s road parties rise up to the meet them, memories burning, tinged with regret, but burning wild in the part of the head that stores the most bravado of whatever has passed. Bonfires, beer and big hair. Poison, Bon Jovi and REO. The rhythms and beliefs and the words of the past, slip them into easy conversation, women dabbling in tales, forgotten stories, old town lore.
Who’s sleeping with whom? Who left his wife? When did Charlie start drinking at Double D’s? Get the dirt out of the way and get down to the grit. It isn’t about the consumption of fire, it’s all about the slow death of ignorance, innocence, and what we thought we could be.
How’s Macy with chemo? How’s your husband’s farm? Are you still working at Mulligan’s to keep the coverage you need? There are few answers, a hundred simple confessions, the sips in between the happy white lies. Another beer for the rest, a dirty gin gimlet for one, laughter and photos and hugs. Married happily, not married, never marry warnings, too long married; why is the length of time the gold band covers the naked left finger still the equalizer in 2017?
Shots of Fireball make their way from the men sitting at the rail in the front. Damn bartender makes great tips because he knows all the gal’s names and will share. In a circle they loft the amber liquid, stare into each other’s eyes for few, then raise them up with a clink – not even a nod of thanks to the gentlemen – then a tap on the table top for the ones who aren’t there. The throwback, the set down, the exhale of the heat of the burn and they settle in for another hour of whatever comes out of the mouth. No need for poker faces or tears. The honesty sets in to balance the fears.
She’s the baby in the rock of the cradle, they are the sisters she let set the pace. The steady has fallen this time- it’s her turn, only fair.