Accented by Reticence

“What can I get you, sad eyes?” The kind woman from behind the bar asks. I’m delayed in my response. Not because I am unsure of what I want, but because I know that I can only order so much of it at any given time.

“Uh, bourbon, please.”

“Sure thing.” She smiles along with a playfully flirtatious glare that lasts just the perfect amount of time. I watch her walk away and begin to make my drink. She was correct in her observation of me, and it had nothing to do with my romantic interest in her; though of course, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she was. No, what she had noticed was hidden behind the stare of attraction—the weighted thoughts of a depleted man.

When she returned with the drink, she placed it softly in front of me and with her other hand embraced my forearm which was rested atop of the bar.

“Such a young face for such eyes…” She remarked with soothing inquisitiveness. I smiled now, a forced yet polite rebuttal accented by reticence. She walks away once more and I am left alone, stranded within a sea of clattering voices. There is a piano in the corner of the bar. A dim hue of crimson is the only thing to give this sight a frame of visibility. Each key struck feels as though it is being played just for me, and it is a song hallmarked by a crushing sadness being fastidiously played by a skilled and oblivious man with a tie.

I sat in a room of a thousand faces, yet could picture only one—hers. No matter where my eyes trundled towards, images of that girl pulverized my minds eye. Her hair, her skin, the shade of lipstick she chose to wear, all of it, stapled to my thoughts and dangled in front of my weary gaze. Try as she might, the woman from behind the bar was fighting a losing battle for my attention.

After several rounds of idle chit-chat and one pour after the next, she finally pulled words from my whiskey stained lips.

“Miss, may I have another? Please.” I asked politely while raising my glass and its clanging ice an inch or two off the counter.

“He speaks! Although it took three; gonna have to make em stronger, I guess…” This was followed by a cheeky smile and a hypnotizingly flitting squint. As she poured the ingredients of an Old Fashioned into the glass, she cast a gape over to me and began to speak:

“So, a quiet man with heavy eyes and a vampiric desire for whiskey can mean only one thing—girl troubles! Care to fill me in?” She was playful in her delivery, but sincere with her inquiry.

“Yeah, something like that…”

“Well, hun, you’re a cutie—there’s plenty of fish in the sea, ya know what I mean?”

“Yeah, yeah I know. It’s just—”

“Hey, listen to your bartender, I know a thing or two. And it’s not just how to make a helluva drink.” She cantered back over to me and repeated the act of caressing my arm and placing the medicinal ale down in front of me.

“So, tell me—what’d she do?”

I paused for a moment and struggled to find the words. It wasn’t as easy as recalling a simple series of events to beguile her with.

“She, uh, she…”

“Hold on, gotta grab some drinks, I’ll come back—promise”.

She faded into the bustle for a while. In her absence my mind once again took hostage my thinking space. I saw her lips, her pale colored cheeks and even remembered her fading nail polish. All of it was so heartbreakingly clear that for a brief period of time, I feared that I would never be able to get over her. The world became pretty unfair and clouded in that moment, despite the beam of a setting sun peering in through the window.

I looked out the window in time to see the lingering orange of an evening sun give way to a dark canopy of night. As black as the sky now was, my thoughts were darker. Bleaker and a lot less glittered. The kind woman from behind the bar did as she promised, she returned to my sitting space and struck up conversation.

“Look, I don’t know what she did, or maybe it was you, though I can’t see that being the case, all I know is, we gotta get you smiling”.

You can try, I thought to myself.

“Might be a hard task for tonight, Miss. Sorry”.

“Don’t be sorry, I’ll make it happen though. Tell me about her. Tell me about the girl who’s broken that heart of yours…”

“Well, I tried… you know. I did… It’s just—”

“Hun, if you tried, that’s all you can do. She can’t expect much more than that! What happened, she cheat?”

The woman’s face was enamored with curious concern. I was somewhat surprised by her interest with me and my current state of despondent mood. I mean, I had only met and drank at her bar a handful of times before this. And sure, there was playful banter and libidinous laden speech on those times as well, but she seemed to genuinely care for my aching thoughts and their causation.

“No, I mean, I dunno… I don’t think so. Impossible for me to say, really”.

“So, do you suspect that she did and you’re just not sure?”

“No… It’s, it’s not like that. It’s not what you think”.

“Well, don’t leave a girl in suspense, Hun. It’s rude. Tell me, maybe I can help you?” She said through a smile.

There was a brief pause as I sifted through appropriate language and terminology to use when responding. A task made increasingly more difficult by the booze that was steadily replacing the fast-moving corpuscles within my veins. But I tried, rightly or wrongly.

“There was nothing I could do. I was too late. She was dead when I got there…”

I watched as an anchor of incredulity pulled at the facial muscles of this woman’s beautiful face. She thought I was broken hearted over a girlfriend. A love gone bad. But the reality of that night was that I was horridly crippled by the sad imagery of a dead girl suspended by a rope. The bartender had no idea that I was a paramedic. She also had no idea how to respond now that the playful aura that had once been between us was precipitously vanquished beneath the weight of my revelation.

I was unable to follow up my statement because once more my ailing mind had thrown me back into the room with that dead girl. My ears could hear the piano continuing its sad carol, but that was the only bit of me that remained in that barroom. The rest of me was painfully absent. It wasn’t until I felt the delicate presence of a woman’s hand draped atop of mine that I was snapped back to the present of where I was. I looked up from a glass waning of whiskey and into the big brown sea of a caring woman’s eyes. I told her the rest of the story. I told her that I had been called to a suicide of a girl no older than eighteen. I told her about the ruby red lipstick and the note scrawled across the glass of a bathroom mirror. She melted into absolute disbelief of it all.

“Hun, sweety—tonight’s on me, yeah? I’ll getcha another”.

She took my glass and ensured that it was healthily supplied for the remainder of the night. Eventually the time came when my body had had enough. The room was spinning and the floor was moving beneath my unsteady feet. I thanked the beautiful woman through a series of well meaning but poorly spoken slurs and exited into the welcoming breeze of the night air.

I was in no position to drive home, and I knew that. I also knew that I was in for another unpleasantry this evening—my spouse of the time and I had gotten into a rather lengthy and heated spat before my time at the bar. I had gotten home late from shift due to the call in mention and instead of being welcomed home by a concerned lover, I was scorned for not calling to inform her of my tardiness. When I had explained where I was and what I was dealing with, she responded by telling me that I could have made time to call her. I’ll admit, I did not handle that well, and instead lashed out in anger at what I perceived to be an uncompromising selfishness. She in turn did not take that well, and thus, the war was on. After enough shouting and futility, I left the house and drove to the bar.

Now, here I was, standing outside of said bar, wobbling like a tree in the wind with no place to go. I recall being stricken by a ravenous hunger all of a sudden. I walked a few blocks, stopping at one point to purge myself within the sanctity of an alleyway. After wiping my chin, I walked into a convenience store and ordered some type of greasy something. As the cashier was ringing it up, a flashing image of a dead girl attached to a noose flickered across my eyes. I wasn’t hungry anymore. I paid the man and began walking out, leaving all that I had bought on the counter. His thick accent called after me as I walked away…

All I wanted to do now was go home. I wanted to run away from what was now living inside of me. The irony of that, is that what dwells within is death. I puked again, this time in full view of a patio of onlookers from a bar across the road. They were cheering and pointing while laughing. Introspectively, I wanted to snap my fingers and disappear. But there was no magic to be had. I was unable to bring the dead back to life, and I was unable to navigate the world of the living—it’s like being trapped within two places at the same time. Like living in two worlds. This is what it felt like all too often as a paramedic for me. The streets were alive with ghosts, not people.

The topper of the evening, I had to concede to an intoxicated defeat, and call Miranda for a ride home. After a scornful lecture over the phone, she reluctantly agreed to come and get me. The ride back to our place was one reminiscent of my early hours at the bar—a pretty woman talking to me, wanting my attention and me, silent and shameful. Miranda’s tone was a lot less warm and inviting than the woman at the bar. She offered no comfort, only vituperation and venom.

When we got home, I was unable to make it inside before vomiting once more. I threw up all over the steps to our home. Miranda groaned in disgust and stormed off into the house. I fell asleep on the steps for a passage of time that I do not remember.

And you know what happened the next day? I logged on and went back to work. My tour wasn’t over, even if that young girl’s life was…

“Dispatch, this is Alpha one-four, where do you need us…?”

My partner looked at me as we waited for dispatch to respond; “You okay, Matty? Your eyes… you look tired… tired or sad…”

I smiled, a forced yet polite rebuttal… accented by reticence.

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