Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Profiles in String 11

The effort has like to kilt me, but I think I've recovered from my lost day of writing. Sorry for the wait. I'm not going to sit up any later tonight and reformat this to compensate for the tabs which Blogger hates, but if it's too terrible I'll fix it in the morning. Which it already is.


When I reentered the kitchen, Emma had retrieved the discarded tea bag and was sliding it around the table. She watched it spiral and twirl, and then, with one finger on the tag and another on the bag, she stretched and softened the string. She manipulated the string into a circle and tapped around the circumference repeatedly with one finger, pressing down for a beat each time. The purposeful movement seemed to quell the agitation that had built so suddenly. Her shoulders loosened, and her trembling hands relaxed and grew surer. I stood in the doorway and watched her until her meditative rhythm brought peace to my soul as well as hers.

Aunt Emma was safely bundled off to Mass with Peggy, and now it was my time. I had sorted through several options for the evening’s diversion, and had discarded most of them. The library? Too similar to what I did every day. A coffeehouse? As if what I really needed right now was to listen to a guy with long hair strum his acoustic guitar. A movie? I had hundreds of cable channels to choose from at Emma’s, and still there was usually nothing good on. I wanted to shake things up and get out of my solitary bubble and be young again. I was going clubbing.

I took more than the usual care getting ready, carefully ironing my hair, slinging rejected dresses and shoes around the room and tossing one lipstick after another into my purse out of indecision. Finally, I turned to the full length mirror on the back of the bedroom door to take in the full impression. A stranger with vividly defined eyes stared back at me, the flat sheet of her hair hanging over her bare shoulders. Would the dim light of the club would hide the nervous smudge of my eyeliner?

In the dining room, I wrestled with the key to the old bar. When the lock finally clicked, I pried the door open and peered amidst the still bottles. Aunt Emma used to keep good bourbon back there, and although I was ready for anything that would set me up right now, quality was an added bonus.

The bourbon was still there, and still potent. As I shook my head to clear it from the immediate impact of the shot, I realized that the muted buzzing I was hearing was actually my phone. I fumbled with the top of the bottle and attempted to hastily refasten the cabinet, but by the time I had scampered back to my room and unearthed my phone from under the pile of fashion discards, it was already chirping that new message was waiting. It was Stacy, who instructed me not to call her back right away because she and Brad were headed to the movies, but that maybe she’d try again later that night. I stood for a moment, holding the phone, and then tossed it into my purse. I knew it was time to get house out of the house when I was so anxious to talk to even Stacy.

It had to be time to get out of the house, because I was getting so crazy as to Aunt Emma’s advice. As I sat in the car outside the nightclub, hands on the wheel, pulling myself together before taking the plunge into the meat market, I kept hearing her voice reminding me that men liked girls to have some color. This advice drummed and echoed insistently through my head until I attempted an exorcism with an angry slash of red lipstick. Then, with one last desperate glance around the car, I descended into the club.

There is an art to clubbing. It’s the art of looking cool and confident and terrifically sexy yet approachable, while feeling like a complete idiot. It’s the art of knowing when to practice defensive dancing by throwing elbows at skeevy guys. It’s the art of seeming to keep up with the hard drinkers while nursing your first one all night.  It’s the art of keeping things superficial while giving the illusion of great depth. Men, I’ve found, are particularly good at this last.

Wedged in at the bar, I competed with a group of flat-ironed blondes for the bartender’s attention. On my end it was strictly business.

“What’ll you have, ladies?” he asked, as if we were all a group.

“Chocolate martini,” giggled the first, pushing her single shoulder strap back into place.

“Cosmo,” fluttered the second, casually flaunting her ID. The bartender seemed to pick up on her vibe of anticipation, because he said, only slightly mockingly, “I’m going to have to ask for some ID.” The girl handed it to him, almost succeeding in looking like she did this every night. He examined it with a show of completeness and handed it back to her. “Happy birthday,” he said. She melted against the first girl, completely smitten.

The third rested her elbows on the bar and leaned forward to get the maximum cleavage.

“I’ll have Sex on the Beach,” she purred, assaulting him with a sultry stare. The bartender acknowledged this pleasantry with a professional smile.

“Do you just like saying that, or do you actually enjoy the drink?” he inquired. The temptress was taken aback for a second, but she swiftly recovered.

“I like them both, coming from you,” she lobbed back at him.

He let that one fly right past him, and turned to me.

“Gin and tonic,” I said.

He met my eye and acknowledged me with a nod of pure comradeship.

The temptress turned toward me, elbow still on the bar, and eyed me coolly.

“Gin and tonic,” she said silkily. “Very clever of you to pick a drink to appeal to a man.”

“You should try it sometime,” I advised her. “It’s quite a change from the sugary drinks that pack all their punch up front. But don’t blame me if the bartender . I’m new in town.”

“Are you here for a job?” asked Miss 21, who seemed to be the most genuinely friendly of the trio.

“In a sense,” I replied. “I’m staying with my great-aunt who has Alzheimers.”

“So are you mooching off your family or do you work?” challenged the temptress.

I considered for a moment the cotton between Aunt Emma’s toes.

“I work,” I said.

“I know,” gushed the girl with the one shouldered dress. “I could never live off my family. I’d feel so worthless, you know? I looked at all these different options after I graduated, but then I got this administrative assistant position at a non-profit, Karing for Kids. It was such a great fit for me because I’ve been volunteering for them forever. I used to go down there all the time in high school and play with the kids while my dad was at one of their board meetings.”

“How lovely for you!”

My drink arrived first and I took a deep swig. “It was nice chatting with you ladies,” I said, rising from my stool. The temptress bared her teeth in a smile of farewell.

The dance floor was packed with men thrusting up next to women, and women throwing elbows, or not. I found a table at a safe remove from the speakers. Bobbing ever so slightly to the music, I scanned the throng, awash in red and blue lights. The room was full of individuals bouncing around the room, ricocheting off one another, seeking some other individual to stick to and perhaps meld with. I was with people my own age for a change, and the aroma of sexual desperation was palpable.

A richly scented man slid into the chair next to me, tossed me a smile, and continued tapping out a text. Suddenly I had a flashback to the time when Aunt Emma had caught Stacy texting at the table during Christmas dinner.

“I too once thought that people were waiting with bated breath to receive my every utterance,” she  said caustically, continuing to hand round plates of turkey.  Sitting next to Stacy, I could see her text, “aunt e is so mean!” before sulkily snapping her phone shut. Emma had never liked Stacy, and she returned the favor with full force. I wondered how Stacy would have fared if she had in my place, caring for Emma. I wondered what Emma would have said to a man who sat next to a girl and texted, and my lips curled.

The phone snapped shut. “I feel just the same way,” said the man.

“Do you?” I asked, surprised.

“All this,” he said, his gesture taking in the gyrating mass on the dance floor, the swilling mass at the bar, and the shoving mass near the door. “Everyone’s trying just a bit too hard out there.” He sat glibly back, his elbow resting on the top of the chair.

“Why shouldn’t they try hard?” I demanded, pushing my empty glass away irritably. “It does people good to work hard every now and then.”

“So you have experience with hard work?”

“I’ve done jobs I didn’t love,” I said. “Most people have to, at one time or another.”

He considered me. “I have a theory.”

“What is it?”

“Give me your hand.” He leaned in toward me and held out his own.

I laughed. “Why?”

“Because I’m interested in discovering a little bit more about such a hard worker.” His dark eyes met mine evenly, and I was the one who glanced away. When I didn’t answer, he picked up my hand from my lap and brought it up to the table. Uncurling my fingers, he spread my hand across his own and with his fingertip traced a pensive line across my palm. I couldn’t remember the last time someone had touched me deliberately, and the warmth of his hands kindled an echoing heat in me.

“You haven’t been appreciated much lately,” he said gently, rubbing his finger over my thumb. “No one sees the effort you put into your job, and you don’t get enough compliments. It’s lonely being the only one who really cares enough to do what needs to be done.”

My eyes were suddenly brimming, and I closed them. His thumb slowly massaged my unresisting palm.

“Do you see any change in the future?” I asked, keeping my voice steady with an effort.

“You have choices ahead,” he said, and the throb of his voice entwined with the throb of the music. “You can continue to have people walk all over you, or you can announce that you’re too good for this, and find other people who can truly see what you’re worth.”

I opened my eyes.

He continued, more confidently. “There is a change ahead, if you can truly focus on what’s good for you and remind yourself that you deserve better. You don’t look like the sort of girl who puts her own desires on hold for long.”

“You are prescient,” I murmured, withdrawing my hand. “Do you often find that your predictions are accurate?”

“My turn,” a husky voice commanded, and the temptress dropped in the chair opposite me, sliding her hand into position and leaning forward so that the fabric of her dress strained and groaned. “Or do your powers of foresight only work if you do the initiating?”

He placed her palm on the table. “You’ll have to wait,” he said dismissively. “I like to finish what I start.” Her mouth dropped open as he turned back to me.

I pressed my hands to my bosom. “Oh, please go ahead,” I insisted. “I’m dying to hear you at work again.”

The fortuneteller took her hand and stabbed mockingly at her life line. “You’re too used to getting your own way,” he said levelly, meeting her gaze. I rattled the ice in my glass, wondering how I could untriangulate myself.

“Your glass is empty,” the man observed, withdrawing his attention from the temptress. “What are you drinking?”

“I’ll have a gin and tonic,” she countered.

He looked at her. “You don’t look like the sort of girl who drinks a gin and tonic.”

“I don’t care for sugary drinks that pack all their punch up front.”

That was my cue. “You’ll excuse me, I hope,” I said as I rose, looking toward the door. “I only allow myself one Shirley Temple a night.”

A bitter rain had begun to fall, and I had to brush from my face the wet tendrils of hair now freed from the artificial constraints of the flat iron. In the car, I tugged at my dress in a vain effort to combat the sudden damp chill that had crept into the autumn evening. The car engine was a more effective method of warming up, and by the light of the dashboard I rooted around in my purse. Suddenly I had a desire to talk to someone who knew me, at least a bit.

“Stacy, hi,” I rasped, then cleared my throat. “Sorry I missed you. I went out clubbing.”

“Clubbing?” came her sleepy voice. “I thought you hated clubbing.”

“I do. I only just remembered how much. Hey, how was your trip to Cabo?”

“Oh, it was great,” and I could hear her slowly waking up. “Brad found this deal at this resort where all expenses are paid, even the tips, so all you have to do is eat good food and enjoy yourself in the sunshine.”

“Sounds wonderful.”

“It was. I wished you all could have been there.”

“I would like that.”

There was a moment of silence.

“I called earlier because I wanted to tell you something,” she said, shyly.

“What it is?” My sister was all over the place tonight, and I couldn’t track her moods.

“I’m pregnant,” she announced, and then, suddenly, joyously, “I’m pregnant! Brad and I are going to have a baby! You’re going to be an aunt!”

“Oh Stacy.” This time the hot tears did spill out. “Congratulations. I’m so happy for you.”

“I’m so sick,” she said happily. “I can’t do anything. Brad is waiting on me hand and foot. He made me dinner the other night and I was so sick I couldn’t even look at it, and then later I was starving, and it turned out he’d eaten all himself because he thought I was going to bed. So he went out and got me a hamburger, because that was what I really wanted. I don’t know how I’d do this without him. He’s going to be the best dad ever. He doesn’t even mind cleaning up after me when I get sick. He’s says it’s all just prep for when the baby is pooping all over everything.”

“I think that’s really sweet, Stacy.”

“Don’t be sarcastic, Emma,” she pleaded. “I’m so excited, and I want you to be happy for me.”

“I’m being completely honest with you,” I vowed. “I think Brad is sweet, and I think you’re going to be a wonderful mother.”

Stacy was ecstatic and rhapsodized at length on the joys of incipit motherhood. She detailed her aches and nausea and analyzed historical events such as how she and Brad had thought at first they didn’t want kids, but then they changed their minds, but then nothing happened, and now, just as she had given up, life had taken her unawares.

“I didn’t know before we went to Cabo,” she glowed. “And then in Cabo I just didn’t want to do anything but lay around all day, and finally I went to the doctor at the resort, and he told me I was pregnant, and I just bawled all over his office. And I couldn’t do anything for the whole two weeks, but I didn’t care. And Brad made me drink bottled water the whole time because he didn’t want the baby getting parasites.”

I let myself quietly into the house and slipped off my high heels. Peggy had gone home after putting Emma to bed, but I could see the faint glow of lamp light under her door. Turning the knob gently, I saw her laying in bed, cozy but awake.

“Hi, Aunt Emma,” I whispered. “I’m back home.”

“Well, come on in,” she croaked sleepily. “Put your feet up. I’m glad to see you, honey.”


Melanie Bettinelli said...

Love the clubbing scene.

Anonymous said...

At first I thought the bartender was the "Game guy"! Hahahaha!

I don't want to scare you now, but if I showed the clubbing scene to some people I know and told them (just for fun) that the actual "Game guy" was based on a specific Game Theorist, they'd have a field day guessing whose technique you are satirizing here. Heck, you've got me wondering whether you did have a particular someone in mind.

Having said that, I still think the bartender has the tighter Game of the two. The second guy may have brought out the "kino," but it was the bartender who launched an actual "neg." I like him already. ;)

Brandon said...

Catching up on the story. Bellita is right: the bar scene is absurdly good. I'm not sure whether the would-be player is trying too hard, in which case he's a bit of a dork who nonetheless has picked the right bar for him, or whether he was really aiming for the temptress the whole time, in which case he's a devious one, albeit an overtalkative devious one. That's certainly an ambiguity that's true to life.

But the funniest part was the temptress's conviction (apparently unshakable!) that the only point of getting a drink is so that you can turn your order into a flirtation.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, Brandon is right! The only reason the Game guy didn't launch a neg at Emma was that he was going for the seemingly easier "Hot Babe"! (That's in quotation marks not because I'm disputing that she's hot but because "Hot Babe" is a Game term, often abbreviated to HB, with a number at the end of it to indicate whether the woman in question is a 10, a 9 or an 8. FYI.) This is a Game tactic. Go for the unattractive girl first because it will make the HB jealous.

Hmmmm! Mrs. Darwin, you've either very sneakily based this character on a highly recognizable Game Theorist or that Game Theorist is more of a caricature than everyone who buys his insights must realize. Hahahaha! (In fairness to him, though, I think he knows his online persona--and his PUA persona--are caricatures. Perhaps he even designed them that way. Because it gets him results.)