I stepped into the High & Dry about six o’clock that Friday evening, wondering who had dreamed this up. The weekend escape. The cycle of the moon drawn and quartered into its four portions, with a couple of days left over to forget.
The laughter and tinkling of glasses quickened my heart the minute I walked in through the door. The chimes of our species true destiny were calling up ahead. A doll, perhaps, or some old friends and a hi ho.
Like Christmas, everywhere you looked inside the bar, there was gaiety. Not one sad face was to be found.
Bill nodded as I sat down and poured me a club soda without asking. A splash of cranberry. A twist of lemon. The cocktail napkin appeared. I held up the highball glass and drank. Oh boy. I was really living it up now.
Outside, a light rain had begun to fall, the first of the season. Now there was peace to the heart of an Irishman. When the spring rain stopped in Southern California, it stopped. You were left waiting until October, and often times beyond, for something other heat and smog.
I sipped again from my drink and had a better look around the bar. Lots of familiar faces, but no one I knew well. Mike was playing away over in the far corner. The proprietor had stolen him away from the English Cottage for Friday nights. Wherever Mike was on a Friday night, that was where you wanted to be.
He offered me a nod of acknowledgment when our eyes met. I held up my glass in return. Mike was busy playing Green Onions. Great song. I had always fancied a bit of blues harp in the background.
As Mike transitioned into Night Train, I grew lost in the magic of bars themselves. Such great terms. Cocktail. Grog. Ye Olde Inn. Wenches and ale. It was an ancient love affair. We had more terms for a bar than for romances.
Gazing out at the rain and the last light of dusk in the charcoal sky, I saw Kenny walking up the street through the windows. A moment later, he came in through the door with a good looking Korean gal at his side. It was his third or fourth one. He loved them for their devotion as much as their beauty. The problem was, the ones that made it here were usually good diggers. When it came to love and beauty, it was hard to get a fixed notion out of man’s head.
“Hey, how’re you doing, old friend? Kenny said with a slap on my shoulder. He was all dimples and smiles. His Korean gal not so much.
“Hey, this is Seo-Yun. Seo-yun, this is Michael.”
Seo-Yun took my hand and nodded as if it were painful.
“So, what are you doing?” Kenny asked me.
“Grieving over my state of affairs.”
“A lot of dolls in here.”
“And you never see Audrey?”
I shook my head.
“Well, I guess we’re going to go grab a table.”
“Enjoy,” I said.
“Hey, maybe we’ll see you on the way out.”
“If they haven’t run me off for drunkenness by then.”
Kenny laughed, slapped me on the shoulder again and off they went. Seo-Yun was a real beauty, all right. Like a China doll, and hardly more animated.
I got back to my grieving. Audrey. How ironic to discover she was the same sun sign as Caitlin. Warm as fire but just as mercurial. It was easier to catch a butterfly. Aries were there, and then gone, leaving you to feel tormented inside until they mysteriously reappeared. I had such a love affair with the fire in Caitlin, it was hard for me to get honest with the rest of it.
I was pretty well immersed in my grieving when this blonde came by on her way to the ladies room. A gathering of five people stood alongside the bar, blocking her path. The delay in her progress brought a look of interest my way. I smiled and said beep beep. That caught the attention of the crowd and they parted for the blonde. She gave me another smile on her way down the bar.
I sat there with heart racing now, the image of her deep blue eyes glowing in my mind. Happiness was right there in the palm of my hand. The right age. The right skin. The right everything, seemingly. All I had to do was say hello.
I went about staging the next scene of the play for five minutes. When the blonde returned, our eyes met and I smiled again. She seemed to stall in a state of relativity, her mass increased by the longings of her own heart, her speed brought to a virtual standstill by the increased mass. My heart was crying out, jump, jump, but the words got caught in my throat. And then she was gone. I glanced once and found her sitting back down at a table with her girlfriends. They were paying the check. The window was closing fast. A few more moments and I would never see her again.
As I grieved over my failure to act, the group of them stood up and started for the door. When the blonde looked my way again, I turned aside. What might have been. What might have been. I could hardly stand the fact of my own existence.
Goddamn it, I thought and threw some money on the bar. I’ve got to try. Hurrying outside with hat on and coat buttoned tight, I looked in every direction but the women were nowhere in sight. I headed up to the top of the street and back down.
By the time I hit Coast Highway, I was prepared to throw myself off a cliff. What the hell was wrong with me? There was a time when I would have acted without hesitation. Hello. The name’s Michael. Such beautiful eyes. You see, if I don’t tell you that, I’m going to go home and think about you all night and for the rest of my life.
Which is of course what happened. Back at the house, the scene at the bar played over and over in my head, only the way it should have been. The way it could have been. A woman let you know when she really wanted you. All it required was a sly smile and tilt of your head. Should we? Yes? No? She had wanted me to say hello as much as I now grieved over my failure to do so.
Some Friday night. A terrible waste of one’s destiny. I lay there swearing by all that was holy, the next time a woman smiles at me, I’ll jump. I don’t want to be lying there one more night, grieving over what might have been.