The funeral ended six hours ago, and I wanted to leave the town as soon as it was possible. They never let me go right after the burial, I had to help them clean up the house and spend some time with the mother. It was my old man, they buried. We weren’t close, as it sometimes happens. He was a lawyer working in his own law firm, and that was all I ever had a need to know about him. I guess it’s easy to figure out that I wasn’t at all sad when they said he passed. Still, out of respect, or else…pity for my mother and little sister, I came all the way down here from Chicago. My train was in two hours, so I’d decided to make those hours a little happier.
There used to be a bar, where my high-school pals and I used to hang out at with our fake IDs. A run-of-the-mill dive bar: cheap cigarette smoke, cheaper beer and Blues Rock playing from the speakers way too loud at all times. I came inside. Just the same as I remember it to be ten years ago. The same old smoke, the price for a pint hardly went up, and that same goddamn Blues Rock was playing. It seemed to have been playing the same tune all these years on repeat. I wouldn’t have been able to tell either way.
I sat on a stool by the bar, holding my eyes a trifle down, entertaining the idea of the same damn bartender from ten years ago coming up and recognizing little Chucky with his lousy job of a fake ID. What a surprise, the guy that came out was the same old Lenny, just fatter. Little scruffier, and some grey hair on the sides of the same haircut. He had that same old look of chronic apathy on his face as he was placing his left arm on the bar, asking what I wanted. I don’t think he recognized me, and I liked it that way.
I got a beer, and Lenny disappeared back into nowhere. I took a full sip of cold beer, and I have to say, after seven days of sobriety, the taste of even the shittiest beer seems like heaven. It tasted magnificent, like quenching a summer heat thirst. Another mindless minor pentatonic solo kicked in, and I had to smoke up.
In a bar like this, where the TV is on, but is put on mute because of the music, there was not much to do, except drink. If you’re lucky, you might overhear a moronic abrupt conversation happening at some table behind you. I looked around the place slowly to see about seven people, each one sitting by themselves, heads a trifle down above their half-finished glasses, each of those lonely bastards lost in their personal solitude. Not one of those grim faces had lifted their head up a bit since forever, and it seemed their neck muscles had atrophied in this position long ago. By this moment, I had let go of any chance of someone recognizing a slightly more mature face of little Chucky. Liberated in a way, I lifted his head up, and held it this way for a while, sipping on the beer. The song was still playing in a never ending 6/8 pulse, minor I-IV-I, and it seemed to have about numbed the listener’s ears to the point where it didn’t matter what the hell the singer was singing. “Don’t you worry, mama…”, “Show me the way…”, “Don’t know why he’s away…”, “I feel so bad now…gonna pack my thangs and go away…”, “Can’t feel a thang no more…” well, I guess he was right about not feeling a thing ‘no more’…
I took another good sip when a woman burst inside the bar in a good old drunken fashion. She was alone, drunk out of her mind, with intent to go all the way tonight. She trudged up the bar, and placed both her elbows right on the railing.
“Aye, Lenny!” she yelled for him behind closed doors, “Lenny!”
I tried my hardest to keep down low and not stare at her, but the perfume she was wearing…it was something just way too familiar to not notice. Lenny, the bartender, came out with the same look of apathy all over his face. She never paid any attention to me, and instead smiled at lenny with a sinister smile.
“Can I have a beer, honey?” she said with a sweet voice.
“You’re feelin’ alright, Mary-Anne?”
I couldn’t look away anymore. I turned my eyes, and it was her! Good old Mary-Lou. Eyes bright, and smile sinister. Like she’s got a great idea. Like she’s making a memory. The queen of the ball of the graduation, 2009. And who was the king? That’s exactly right! Oh, my…She got her beer, still never looking in my direction. I hesitated all of a sudden, some feeling of burning anxiety washed over me, and I felt like an eighteen year old again. But I quickly realized I wasn’t eighteen. I’m twenty-eight. I’m an architect based in Chicago. I just got back from my old man’s funeral, ready to take the next train back. She wasn’t eighteen either. Her golden curls she now straightened and cut to shoulder-length. Her blue eyes, once the bluest eyes in town, now seemed dimmer and sadder. My eyes? My eyes were much sadder too. I guess it’s just maturity. She was having difficulty keeping her head still, ever so often swaying in her seat. I had to take couple more full sips before I had the courage to speak.
“Mary-Anne?” I called, with a formal smile on my face, “Is that you?”
The look on her face I could only describe as a deadly mixture of surprise, fright, instant joy and adrenaline rush. Her eyes opened wide, with a smile ever wide, she launched herself out of her stool.
“Oh, God!” she nearly collapsed on me, “Charlie! It’s so good to see you again!” she cried, “How long have you been here? Whatcha doin’? How long ya stayin’?”
“Well…” I speculated on which question to answer first, smelling a good amount of liquor on her.
“Please don’t tell me you’re leavin’ soon!” she cried again, still hanging onto my shoulders, “God, how long has it been, huh?”
“Ten years, I think.”
“That’s right!” she straightened herself out, grabbing both my shoulders, as if to keep me from running away, “So…what brought you back here, Charlie?” she asked, her bright eyes piercing mine.
“Just had some family stuff…” I said, maintaining a polite smile, “I’m leaving in an hour or so…”
“Oh, that’s just not good!” she said, with a scent of mania in her voice, “How in the world are you gonna leave this late? Where are you leaving to, anyway?”
“Chicago,” I said, hesitantly, “I live there now.”
“Oh, wow!” she said in a slightly teasing voice, “Look at you! The golden boy made it in the big town!”
“I’ve been alright…” I said, “How’ve you been doin’?”
‘Oh! I’m doing just great!” she said with a smile to believe, “Just…you know, fantastic!” she sipped on the beer, and smoked up.
“Well, that’s…great…” I said, “I never knew you smoked…” I instantly regretted saying that.
“Why, I hadn’t started since like a year ago, or somethin’ like that…” she puffed, “I never knew it’s as good as it is!”
“I guess you’re right…” I took another sip.
“So, you’re doin’ architecture stuff in Chicago, right? Sounds really cool!”
“Yeah, it’s pretty great,” I felt good saying it, “What about you?”
“Well, I’m currently and escort,” she said with a light smile on her face, as if it was nothing out of ordinary, sipping on the beer.
“I’m sorry, you’re what?”
“An escort,” she said ever firmly. Not a slight hint of supposed shame or hesitation. Just plain.
“Oh…” I said, stunned to say the least, “I, uh…I never would’ve told you were…”
“What?” she said calmly, the expression of her face morphing from joyful surprise into suspicious contempt towards my remark, “Oh, I see what it is…” the tone of her voice got darker, I could tell she got quite insulted just by that.
“No, I never said that it’s, uh…”
“Never said that it’s what?” she pressed me alright.
“Nothing, I don’t know…”
I sighed and sipped on my beer. She remained silent, now staring me down. I was silent too, for a couple moments, before I couldn’t hold it anymore.
“You know what…” I said, “I don’t think it’s that great, I’m sorry…is it even legal? Did you get mixed up with some shady people? I just don’t understand…”
“What’s there to not understand?” she rolled her eyes on me, “It’s a job like any other job…and it’s the one that I do really well!”
“Jesus…” I winced loudly, “but weren’t you gonna go, volunteer at some third-world countries, and become a social worker, and help people?”
“Well, I actually did volunteer for five years to be precise!” she took a full sip, “and I help people. I help people a lot. I just don’t understand what YOUR problem is with me bein’ an escort…”
“Well, how do I even start to put it…”
“You know what…” she barked, “I remember you sayin’ you wanted to leave this town, cause it’s shit and it’s boring. You talked about it all the time, right…you had your great plans, and you got it, I see! That’s great! That’s just swell…” she puffed, “but listen, not everyone has to be like you, you dig? I myself maybe haven’t gotten out of here. And yeah, this fucking town is boring as shit, but I’m curing the boredom of men on a nightly basis, you see!” she took a sip, “Now, you tell me my line of work is something less than.”
She sat still, staring me down. I sat, holding my beer, unable to look her in the eyes. That creeping feeling of embarrassment and anguish came down on me, as I thought about the next move. I dwelled in silence of my mind, and came up only with “I’m sorry…”
“Oh, that’s okay!” she said, and her smile ever glowed again, “Don’t sweat it, Charlie!” she palmed my slouched shoulder with her tiny little hand. I collected my courage to look her in the eyes again. They were as bright as ever.
“I’m glad to see you, Mary-Ann…” I said to her quietly.
“Well, I’m glad to see you too, Charlie,” she said with a smile that would melt your heart, “Too bad you’re leaving, though…oh, hang on…” she grabbed a napkin, took out a pen out of her purse, and started writing. She folded it, and put in my hand, “In case you’re still here, and wanna catch up, you know…”
“Alright…” I squeezed the napkin in my fist, watching her go out the door, and into the night.
The smell of her perfume stayed for a little while, as I drank three more beers to the ever-dreadful slow Blues Rock. I paid the bill, and left, never finishing the last beer.
At the train station, as I stood there waiting, I had an idea to call her up. I took out the folded napkin and held it in my hand. Something stopped me from unfolding it, and I tossed it down on the railroad track. Coming inside the train, I thought one thing. Mary-Anne was exactly where she wanted to be. I wasn’t.