some fall in love. i shatter.

Gemini and Virgo (#46)

In Stories Volume 2 on March 11, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Mercury Lounge – 2001

Four minutes. Nick kept pushing his way towards the bar but every advance was met with an unseen, crowd-sourced nudge backwards. Four interminable minutes. The long, narrow bar, with its scratched brass railings and its faded black and white tiled floor, doubled as the entry way to the venue in the back behind two thin swinging doors. Even with a capacity of only 250, the concert traffic was enough to pile the drinkers at the bar atop one another. They prodded Nick forward but the drinkers kept repelling him backward.

By that point, Nick didn’t even care that much about the beers anymore; didn’t care about bringing a beer for Steve, back watching Lola Ray perform in the other room. By that point, after four minutes that he’d perceived as forty, it was principle. It shouldn’t be this fucking hard, he thought. His eyes scanned for an opening to get through the three-deep morass, his elbow tried to pry open small gaps, his feet slid into open spaces. An inch to the right, two inches forward, a step back and to the left, a shoulder to press open a small opening. It didn’t matter where at the bar he got, he just needed to get there. A step to the right and just barely forward. Ahead of him, he could see a slim opening to the right of a blond woman sitting on a stool. A push from behind propelled him forward and he angled himself toward the woman, landing half in the gap and half against her shoulder.

“What the fuck?” Nick steadied himself against the bar and turned to the blond, glaring at him with a glass of turbulent white wine in her now wet hand.

“Sorry, got pushed.” The glare lingered even as she looked down to wipe the spilled wine off her hand. “Can I buy you another?” Nick quickly calculated how much cash was in his wallet, hoped his recollection was correct as the bartender caught his eye. “Two Heinekens and,” he turned back to the woman, “anything?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Just the two Heinekens.” In the slim bar space between them, she laid the two wine-soaked napkins that sat like little exclamation points. Nick pulled a ten-dollar bill and two singles from his wallet. Neither one looked at the other, a tiny annoyance and a minor apology dissolving in the noisy, chaotic air around them.

The bartender placed the two beer bottles on the bar and Nick handed the twelve dollars back. He scooped the two bottlenecks between his thumb and middle finger before turning back to the crowd.

“Hey, sorry again,” Nick said, more honestly and less reflexively.

“Don’t worry about it,” Alice said, more sincerely and with less annoyance.

***      ***      ***      ***      ***

 

Mercury Bar – 2006

“So I said to him, ‘If you genuinely think she’s good at what she does, then why give her such a shitty timeslot?’ He gave me some bullshit answer about schedules being in place and that he’d try to figure out something better in the future. I think he’s intimidated by here. You’ve met her a few times, Gretchen. Sure, she can be abrasive but she’s also so fucking intelligent. She might be the smartest person I know.”

Alice had gone on about her office intrigue for the better part of our brunch. I’d stopped paying as much attention after my second Bloody Mary. It’d gone to my head a little bit faster than normal in the early spring sun that shone so brightly and brought so many people out of their apartments. People-watching, dog-watching, thinking about errands, keeping on eye on the guys that sat down around us; all these things could be done while maintaining enough of an ear open to listen for the pauses.

“Yeah, but what can you do?” Such a beautiful stock response.

“I don’t know, I just don’t want to see this thing go down in flames so soon. It’s going to eventually but it doesn’t need to be so quickly.” The only downside to ‘But what can you do’ was the open-ended nature of the question. I’d just given Alice free reign over the next five, ten, fifteen minutes to tell me what she could do. Three mimosas weren’t helping reel in her verbosity.

The table next to us on the small, crowded sidewalk patio had cleared out a few minutes earlier and I watched as the hostess escorted two guys over. They were both cute, even while both looked hungover. The taller one had a cleanly shaved head; the other had short black hair. Both were unshaven and looked weak to the sun behind their aviator sunglasses. The bald one, the cuter one, sat next to me. I heard one thank the hostess and then they stared mutely at their menus. Alice continued to fill the empty air. I sipped the last bit of my drink and she did the same.

Our waiter came by. Alice signaled for the check before he stopped at the neighboring table.

“Can I get you guys something to drink?”

“Two coffees and two Bloody Marys.” A raspy voice from the dark-haired guy.

We paid our bill as the waiter brought drinks to our neighbors. I would’ve lingered to talk with them but they didn’t seem capable of conversation and Alice had to meet a friend across town. As we stood to go, she swung her large purse a little widely, knocking into the black-haired guy and spilling his coffee across the table.

“Oh, shit. I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” I covered my mouth, trying not to laugh; the bald friend either did the same or suppressed his nausea.

“Yeah… yeah, I’m fine. I didn’t get any on me.” His speech was stilted, like he was still navigating being human. He looked up at Alice, lingered on her face a moment before turning back to sop up the coffee on his plate. She paused as well, just a second.

“Are you sure? I’m really sorry.”

“Yeah, it’s fine; no worries.”

“Sorry, guys; enjoy the rest of your brunch. Let’s go, Alice.” I knew she’d stand there apologizing if I didn’t push her on. I took a step in her direction and she turned for the street. As we walked away, the bald one finally broke his silence.

“Fuck, Nick. How did we get so drunk last night?”

***      ***      ***      ***      ***

 

Mercury Gallery – 2011

The gallery was even more crowded than Alice had expected. She tried wandering the space but found herself doing more elbowing than wandering in order to just walk straight ahead. The wine from the open bar made things a bit more bearable.

Nick showed up to the gallery two hours after the opening had begun. The space was crowded but that crowd was thinner than he’d expected. The open bar near the entrance caught his eye.

Alice circled the thinning-out gallery for the fourth time, finally able to take in the art more than the people. A second white wine in hand, she walked the perimeter of the second floor. The walls displayed black and white in-progress photos of the small sculptures on pedestals around her.

Nick took his time across the first floor, comforted by his glass of red wine and the chatter of those around him. A handful of photos accompanied each sculpture. He found himself more drawn to the photographs, appreciating the documentation of the process more than the final product. It lent a certain kind of validity to the sculptures.

Alice sat on the black leather bench that stood in the center of the larger second-floor room. The wine had caught up to her a little more quickly than anticipated. Perhaps it was pacing the gallery that did it, she thought. On the wall ahead of her was a large black and white aerial photo of Chicago.

He ascended the stairs with his second red wine in hand. The second floor was practically empty. Nick stepped into the small room to the left of the stairs and exited in under two minutes. In the larger room ahead, more interesting than any of the art, was a blond girl, seated on a black leather bench. She leaned on her knee and her face rested in the palm of one hand. The other held a glass of wine.

“That’s Chicago,” he said, sitting next to her on the black bench. He sipped from his short plastic glass as she cast a sidelong glance at him.

“I know. I used to live there. Not sure what it’s doing in an art gallery in San Francisco when it clearly doesn’t belong to the artist.”

“You lived there? I lived there for almost ten years. Moved away close to two years ago.”

“Sounds like we overlapped for a lot of those years. I got there in 2001 and left last year.” She took her eyes off the photo once again and met his in the shrinking space between them.

“Funny that we meet each other here. I wonder if we ever ran into each other in Chicago. I’m Nick.”

“Alice.”

 

 

 

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