--DIFFERENCE IS SLIPPERY
Dirty MartinisSeptember 14th, Sunday, 2014
I’m not broke, but I’m getting there. Besides, it’s lonely on the road and strangers are never as friendly as you’d guess.
So I pull over at a truck stop near Nashville with a Help Wanted sign in the window. It’s a bartending gig, something I know a little something about having spent my last year of college fixing drinks for drunk frat boys at a strip club called Jiggles. The manager here is an obese man who goes by the moniker Hercules. He’s so huge that it’s torture for him to breathe and any time he moves or even leans a little it’s like hearing a vacuum cleaner going full blast.
Herc gives me a test run. He has me make an Old Fashion, a Manhattan, Dirty Martinis and even a Dirty Girl Scout, which, by the grin on his face, would be his trump recipe, yet I nail the concoction with just the right amount of Bailey’s and a dash of crème de menthe. The happy smirk on his face tells me he’s impressed.
“Start now if you want,” Herc says.
I work my shift and another late into the evening. Herc is low on bartenders, I learn, because almost all of them end up stealing from the till, which is pretty stupid since there are two low-hanging cameras in each corner.
No one ever orders a Dirty Martini, let alone a Dirty Girl Scout. Mostly it’s gin and tonics, whiskey straight up no ice, or rum and cokes. And beer of course. Lots of beer.
I try to keep things clean in and around my work space but there’s so much alcohol soaked through the floorboards after all these years that certain spots give up a tight squeal when you step there, like crushing a poor kitten, plus the air smells like a well-used urinal.
The patrons are mostly miserable, and they’re all drifters, yet an hour before midnight a lady comes in and I feel my knees buckle.
She looks exactly like my wife, but with red hair.
“Hey there,” she says.
I try to speak but I’ve got rocks in my throat.
She takes the center stool at the bar, staring at me, daring me to look away. For a minute we just look at each other. I feel sweat dripping down my ribs. My socks are damp with sweat as well.
“Do I know you?” she finally says.
I swallow and manage to say, “I’m not from around here.”
She smiles and it’s my wife’s smile, the kind she’d give me when she was in the mood for some hanky-panky.
“What’ll it be?” I say, feeling dizzy and out of sorts.
“Give me your best drink, you pick.”
So I make her a Dirty Martini and when she says, “Why don’t you join me?” I do as she suggests, making another for myself. It’s late and there’s no one else in the place, plus I’m thirsty and nervous, needing something to take the edge off.
When we clink glasses in a toast, she says, “To chance encounters.”
I drain my glass in three quick swallows. She flashes that smile again. I make another drink and try not to down it all at once.
She says, “You look like someone who’s had their heart broken in a million pieces.”
“How do you know that?”
“Ah, so you have?”
I nod. It feels like there’s a balloon swelling in my chest. Since I left home, I’ve done a pretty adequate job of not thinking about my wife, but now, here with this woman who looks and acts so much like her, nostalgia ensnares me and I feel as weak and defeated as I did when I found out she was cheating on me.
“Hey now, it’s all right,” the woman says, reaching across the counter and clutching my hand which is damp with what I now realize are my own tears. “It’s like they say: Time heals all wounds.”
“There are plenty of fish in the sea,” she says, using her free hand to unbutton her blouse.
“Momma said there’d be days like this.”
“What are you doing?”
She draws my hand across the counter and pushes it inside her bra, purring, “There’s no place like home.”
Her skin is creamy and warm, her nipple as rigid as an eraser.
I reach under her armpits and hoist her off the stool and onto the bar counter, climbing on it too, positioning myself between her wide open thighs.
As I enter her, she grabs a fistful of my hair and yanks my head to hers, biting my ear, saying, “A stitch in time saves nine.”
We go at it furiously. She makes the same urgent, wounded animal noises my wife would always make. She’s demanding. She bites my other ear.
It lasts a half hour or an entire day, I can’t be sure, because I’m in a netherworld. Everything feels right and somehow restored. When I say, “I’ve missed you so much,” there’s a guy across the bar in hunting fatigues sucking on a toothpick who snarls, calls me a “Queer” and backs out of the bar.
I look around for the woman who resembles my wife, but she’s not there. I’m leaning over the bar, fully clothed. The air smells of jasmine, the fragrance my wife loved, or maybe it doesn’t smell like anything other than barley and hops.