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Holiday

Hal saw Alice enter the hotel bar. She was alone and didn’t pause on her way to the bar.

The place had been filling up for a while. And with only two hours left in the decade, it would soon be SRO.

She approached the well-stocked bar with a predatory expression on her face. When she reached the bar Hal caught her eye and indicated the empty stool next to him.

“You’re in time for the show. May I buy you a drink? I’m Hal.” He offered his hand.

Alice scanned the room. “I’m Alice. Why don’t I buy you one? Since you held a seat.”

Hal smiled and gestured to the barkeep with his empty highball glass. Alice held up two fingers. She took possession of the empty stool.

Hal said, “So you know, I’m just looking for conversation.”

“That’s okay. I’m looking for a drink. And I’m on the company dime.” Alice looked around the crowded room. “What show?”

“Oh… Spend enough time in hotel bars and certain patterns emerge. Especially on a night like this.” Hal scanned the room and then whispered. “Over my right shoulder, blinking neon top hat.” Alice nodded. Top-hat picked his way unsteadily, from table to table, offering to buy a drink for any woman he encountered.

Hal said, “Pure speculation, of course. But my guess is this is his first night away from home and he’s desperate to find a stand-in for his teddy bear.”

Alice watched the man working the room and then laughed as what Hal said sunk in. “At the rate he’s going, he won’t make it to midnight.”

“Or he’ll have forgotten what the teddy bear is for.”

“Parties are the best places to be perfectly alone and not know it.”

Their drinks arrived. Alice told the bartender to open a tab. They raised their glasses toasting the New Year.

She looked at Hal’s hand bearing a wedding ring. “Where’s the missus?”

“Her flight got delayed. She’s wrapping up a show.”

Alice raised her brow. “Movies?”

Hal nodded and told Alice his wife’s name.

She whistled. “Very classy lady you’ve got there Hal.”

“Thanks. We’re very happy.”

She looked at him expectantly.

“Oh, you wonder how I pulled that off?”

Alice laughed. “Well…”

Hal laughed. “Believe me, you’re not the first to ask me.” He shrugged in mock defense. “I’m a location scout. We met on a feature and the rest is history.”

“That’s amazing! It’s like a storybook romance.”

“Not quite, but pretty close. Of course, we both travel all the time. And not always together…”

“That could be difficult, living out of suitcases.”

“It’s what we did before we met. Of course, she doesn’t always work the same show as me. And syncing up her schedule with mine can be a challenge. Home is wherever we’re together.”

Alice nodded. “It’s so different from the usual nine to five…”

“But we’ve found a pretty happy balance. And the reunions are spectacular.”

Alice laughed and raised her glass. “And your motto is: ‘Location, location, location’?”

“She was working on a feature in Romania when we first got married. We always say we spent our first year snow-bound in Transylvania.”

Alice watched Top-hat for a moment.

Hal asked, “So where’s your better half?”

“I’m in town for a job interview. Sales. It’s a promotion that comes with a relocation. I feel pretty good about my odds. He’s at home.”

“What’s your husband’s take on this opportunity?”

“Trip is a therapist. He’s grounded. He can work anywhere.”

“But does he want to?”

“He’s very adaptable.”

“How will his clients…”

“Rolling with life’s vicissitudes is one thing he teaches his clients.”

“Vicissitudes? You use that in your sales pitches?”

Alice smiled. “Almost never. Didn’t someone famous say that? It just popped up.”

“The famous get all the good lines. There’s a hermit in the Himalayas writing down all these great sayings. The famous get a monthly allotment.”

Alice watched the crowd.

Hal continued, “I’m serious though. Leaving clients isn’t like canceling a newspaper subscription.”

Alice looked at Hal.

He said, “I saw a priest tell his congregation it would be his last Mass because his wife was relocating for her work.”

“A priest? But…”

“I know. No notice. Nothing. They felt abandoned.”

“I can see that. But doesn’t a priest have a commitment to his church? Or to God? It isn’t just a job. I thought that was why they couldn’t marry.”

“There is some debate about that. I think he was married before being ordained…”

“Wow! I’ve never heard of that. They got a replacement?”

“Of course. But it was unsettling.”

“I would think so.”

“I understand that is not the same as your situation with your husband.”

“Hardly.”

“But that was unusual because men tend to look to their work for their identity.”

“And women…”

“Well, women find identity in raising their children…”

“I see what you’re doing… ”

Hal continued, “No kids then?”

Alice paused before answering. “No. It just never entered the equation. You make me sound like those women who become the men they hate…”

“I didn’t say that…”

“But?”

“No. I don’t know you. It’s none of my business what you and your husband do. Let me take a different tack.”

“Then I get to ask why you don’t have children.”

“Women are superior to men.”

“You don’t really believe that…”

“Actually I do. I heard a pastor once say, somewhat ironically, women’s superiority is why men have to work so hard to keep them down. Adam was made from clay. Eve from Adam’s rib, already a step up.”

Alice laughed and shook her head.

Hal said, “But don’t women sell themselves short competing with inferior men? Why take a step down and compete on men’s turf when they can excel at something men can’t compete with at all?”

“I like my job. I like my freedom. I like the money. Why should I feel guilty about that?”

“You shouldn’t feel guilty. We’re just having a conversation.”

“Okay…”

“But it’s like outshining me at coloring within the lines when you could be creating an original work of art.”

“A strained analogy but I’ll give it to you.”

“Thank you.” Hal ordered another drink and after a nod from Alice, one for her.

“Which brings me to your childless marriage.”

“Touché. As I said, we live out of suitcases. My wife is an actress. She has downtime but… well, you know. We’ve talked about it. Perhaps in the future.”

“She likes her job, her freedom…”

“…the money. Where have I heard that before?”

“Well?”

“As Vonnegut said, we’re a nation of two. We all have our seasons. I love what I do. But I have no trouble admitting I can see a time when it would be a pleasure to wake up and know what time zone I’m in. It’ll work out.”

The crowd yelled, drawing Hal and Alice’s attention. Top-hat had teetered onto a table crowded with drinks. Hilarious laughter and cheering accompanied the crowd propping him upright against a pillar. Someone got him a chair to sit in. Through it all, he never lost his hat.

Hal glanced at his watch and shook his head.

“I know this is rude, but I must say adieu, Alice. I have a phone call to make. Thanks for the drinks. It has been a pleasure. And I wish you and… Trip…?” Alice nodded. “I wish you both every happiness.”

“Thank you, Hal. Safe travel up to your room.”

Hal squeezed Alice’s hand and turned to weave his way through the crowd to the elevators. Before he exited, Hal looked back to see the man in the top hat leaning on the bar and talking to Alice. Hal laughed and shook his head.

The elevator doors opened and Hal punched the button to his floor. Hal said, “Happy New Year,” as the doors closed.  


January 03, 2020 04:45

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