old (2007), Uncategorized

…and lead us not into temptation…

In a wood-paneled room, with a jazz piano soundtrack and the familiar smell of cigars amid a haze of cigarette smoke, with bottles of Stella in her line of sight, with a hum of a microphone, with maraschino cherries bobbing to the surface in a row of Shirley Temples, with an empty stage in front of her, the woman who isn’t drinking knows that the man smoking a cigar and nursing whiskey at the bar is the one she’d most definitely go after if she were.

I’d go home with that guy if I were drinking, she tells her friends.

Yeah, I thought that when I saw him, says the pregnant one.

Really? says the happily-married one. He screams ‘asshole’ to me.

That’s exactly why I’m not drinking, says the woman, and the three friends laugh, all for different reasons.

The pregnant one laughs because she sure can call ’em. The happily-married one laughs because, well, it’s funny. The woman laughs because it takes her mind off of drinking.

All night, a tension: the woman thinking, thinking about drinking, thinking how drinking would mean that guy, thinking how that guy would feel good. Thinking that guy and drinking would feel even better, because that would mean that the feeling of ants under her skin marching out a pattern of anxiety would go away for a while. But I’m hear to listen to poetry and celebrate being alive! she thinks. Everyone else is listening to poetry. Everyone else knows when to laugh and when to groan and when to tune out idiots. Everyone else can tell you that the drunk woman in a Ramones t-shirt said something about her nipples getting hard when hearing the Home Depot song and the tall lawyer kept reading uneven poetry and the whiskey-drinking cigar-smoking guy’s poem ended with something about a blow job.

The woman has vague recollections of all these things — and other poems, including a disturbing one about children and S&M — at the end of the evening, and if someone put a gun to her head, she’d be able to produce answers about who said what to whom and when, but all night it’s the same thing: looking at the bottles of Stella, and back at the blow-job man, and back at the bottles, and the man, back and forth, simultaneously wanting both but definitely neither but definitely both. Yes and no mingle with right and wrong and simultaneously it is nothing and everything that make sense, and she both knows and doesn’t know that the answer is in the bottles of Stella and the man who would taste devilishly dangerous if she were to kiss him.

When she exits the wood-paneled room into the fresh air, she leaves knowing that she’s walking away — yes, her feet are moving; yes, she is getting into her car; yes, she is going home instead of turning around and going back to that bar — but what remains is still the pull, the attraction, the memory of what it feels like to kiss someone who tastes like bourbon and cigars. She’s angry and anxious and sad — not to mention generally crestfallen and heartbroken and wistful — that things can’t go as they’ve always gone, and she wants to scream over wanting things with such desperation that she knows she can’t have because she knows they are bad, bad, bad. And then there’s the uncomfortable knowledge that there is something disturbing in wanting the mingling of tobacco and whiskey in her mouth more than not wanting them.

What she’ll remember, later, when she goes home, alone, to write about this: she and her friends laughed for different reasons.