When we meet for a drink after many years, I’m carrying a baby and you’re still as wild as when we’d chase fireflies in your front yard. We walk along the wet streets of where I no longer live. I’m the only pregnant person in the bar. You order whiskey, I get water. The bartender rolls his eyes.
I found this speakeasy during my twenty-something downtown days. I liked the sloping stairs, the yellow light, the second room in back. Januarys ago, I went there to watch the Super Bowl alone to prove something to myself.
It’s louder than I remembered. We’re sitting on swivel stools and sometimes our knees touch. This city always throws people close together. Once I thought I’d marry a man after a crowded elevator ride, though we never spoke.
I begin to wonder whether going back is a good idea. You don’t seem to mind. You tell me about the book you’re writing, the trip you’re taking, the parents you no longer talk to. I sit and listen. You were always a storyteller, I was always a believer.
When the other kids were throwing spitballs, you’d slip me small pieces of ripped paper with Simon & Garfunkel lyrics on them. Hello lamppost, what’cha knowin’? I’ve come to watch your flowers growin’
You were always a storyteller,
I was always a believer
During hurricane season, I’d sleep on your floor. Before that, our mothers would bathe us together. We passed adolescent evenings in your basement, watching Indiana Jones, listening to Dylan. Or in your bedroom, where you’d pluck at your guitars—each one named for a different girl you kissed—and I’d wrestle relief and ache that none were named for me.
One Thanksgiving, we walked out on our families and went for a drive. There, in a car parked along the curb, we wondered whether we should grow old together. You rested your hands on the steering wheel and stared ahead as if you could see the edges of our future in the pitch of night. You waited for me to speak. When I did, it was to say I was in love with someone else.
Or I thought I was. It ended, in the way everything does. We were from different faiths and different worlds and maybe there was another reason too, but I’m left with only the gauzy sense that because of where we came from, we couldn’t last for life.
I fidget on the bar stool, place a hand under the swollen belly we’re both trying to ignore. We talk quietly about why you’ve never married, why I have, why I still write about lost love. You say you’re about to ditch your university job and then the country for some lecturing gig two days out of seven where you can spend the rest of the time traipsing around Eastern Europe spinning strangers into lovers and finding cheap ways to stay drunk. You can do that—leave. Be anonymous. Begin again.
We talk quietly about why you’ve never married, why I have, why I still write about lost love
I went on a road trip years ago with a man I loved at the time and we stayed in places so shitty they didn’t have towels in the bathrooms. We’d have to ask for them at the front desk, which wasn’t really a desk at all, more like a counter in a room painted beige so many times the walls told their own sad story. The towels they handed over were so coarse it hurt more to use them than not, so we walked around that roadside motel room air-drying and nude and climbing back into the creaky bed for more sex and then more showers until our skin cracked with winter and everything outside us and our tawdry lovemaking fell away.
I remember shit like that.
I look over at you—your once-shaggy hair, the same half-assed blonde as mine, now cropped closer to your forehead. Tortoise-shell glasses. Shawl-collar sweater. Your face is thinner. Your brow, creased.
When we were nine or ten, our legs dangled over the edge of the stage during play rehearsal for Peter Pan. At a scene change, I read from a heavy history textbook while you boasted you had a photographic memory.
“Test me,” you said. “Ask me what it says in the last paragraph on that page right there.” I held the book up to my chest and you recited with your eyes closed. Every word.
I can’t deny the life I’m living or the one that’s inside me or the way I slice bagels and freeze them, one by one, in little Ziploc bags because that’s how my mother did it, because it’s all I’ve ever seen, because it’s the only way I know.
Now you’re swirling your second whiskey and, for all our years, still I wonder what you’re really thinking. You must remember everything. And how I envy you. How you carry it all with you, how you remain weightless and free.
Dina L. Relles lives and writes in rural Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Atticus Review, matchbook, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, CHEAP POP, Barrelhouse online, and River Teeth, among others, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is a prose poetry reader at Pithead Chapel and penning her first book – a memoir in micro-prose. Find her at www.dinarelles.com or @DinaLRelles.