Who are you sitting next to?
I’m currently sitting at a bar downtown. 2pm on a Thursday. My fourth beer, most of them Yuengling.
There’s a girl next to me. Before you go that direction: no. She’s probably not even twenty-one, even though the bartender gave her a vodka tonic. Her boyfriend who came in with her stormed off after some argument, but he’ll be back: she says she’s the one with the bus tickets. She’s got short pixie-esque blonde hair. Has a baby-fat look to her. Her voice is deeper than you’d think seeing how compact she is. She seems to swallow her L’s when she speaks.
And she’s speaking to me. Not in any flirty way, just venting. I’m staring mostly ahead, looking at the liquor selection behind the bar, wondering why the same bottles are always full - always unopened- in every bar I’ve ever been in. But they’re still there.
She’s asking me a lot, my guess is because spending some time on my situation takes her mind away from hers. My answers are rote. No I’m not from around here. I’m forty-eight. Yes I’m married. Yes we have kids. No she’s not on this trip with me. No I haven’t talked to her yet today. No I don’t love her. Yes I love someone else. Yes, that someone else is married, too.
That last one seemed to amuse her.
“If I was going to cheat with someone else, I’d at least make sure they was available,” she says with a laugh, then asks me if I smoke. I don’t. She fidgets and looks at the liquor bottles, trying to figure out what I’m looking at.
“So, what’s in it for you?” Her eyes drift across the bottles. She tries to make a guy voice, answering her own question: “Sex.”
I laugh, not so much at the answer but at her attempt to sound male.
I take the last swig of the beer in front of me. Consider a change to another brand. Ask the bartender for two whiskeys, pointing in front of me and her. She shakes her head no, but doesn’t move the shot glass towards me when it arrives.
The song on the jukebox changes. It’s that overplayed Journey song.
“Not the sex,” I say.
She looks over at me.
“We haven’t had sex in over five years.”
“You and your wife?” she asks.
“Me and my mistress. Me and her.”
She laughs out loud. Looks at the bartender but he’s not looking at her. Looks towards the door then back at me.
“What kind of affair this that?”
I turn to her.
“It has its benefits,” I say.
“What could be in it for you? Texts that say ‘thinking about you’?”
I smile as I look down. Shake my head no.
The sun comes out behind a cloud and some light spills in through the window over the door. The rest of the bar is pretty dark except for one window-sized square of sunlight now on the floor.
“It’s something else. It’s like having a presence that only two people know about. That’s not a good way of saying it.”
She looks at me.
“I get it. You like the secret.” I cock my head slightly to think about that.
“Maybe. But it’s more. The whole world knows who they think you are. Even with a boyfriend or a husband or a wife you still play a little bit of a role. If your thing is barking like a dog, it’s hard to bark like a dog then go balance the checkbook then pick up the kids at soccer practice. I think with everyone you have responsibilities to that you have to play a version of yourself. I dunno...”
I’m not sure she’s following me. Or I am either.
“Once, maybe six years ago, she disappointed me.”
“She disappointed you,” she confirms. “You were here when my guy...”
She reconsiders the whiskey, puts her hand around it.
“You were here when Bobby stormed out. He disappoints me all the time. I disappoint him.”
She looks back over at me, sliding the shot glass closer to her. The rust water sloshes inside the glass, a miniature dirty ocean.
“I don’t need to have an affair to be disappointed,” she finishes, drinks the whiskey.
I decide to move to a Corona.
“So,” I say, making it clear by my tone I’m continuing the story, “So, she disappointed me.”
The bartender brings me the bottle. I wave off both a glass and a lime. My ocean is bigger and cleaner than hers. I look back at her.
“People who are married to other people are going to come up short. They have to cancel. They can’t get away. She’s on her period when you can get away.”
I take a sip. Grab a salt shaker and shake some into the beer. She winces in disapproval. I now notice for the first time she has a baby in a car seat on the chair next to her. Glance down to her chest, wonder if she’s nursing.
“So, disappointment comes with the territory. But this time I’m talking about, she disappointed me a lot. And it was her fault. Not her husband’s. Or her kid’s. And I’m mad. We’re trading angry emails all day. She’s apologizing like hell.”
“Ok,” she says.
Take a sip of the briny Corona.