Song for a 51 Year Old Bar Fly
It’s one-thirty in the morning on Barrett Avenue. Void of any signs of life and shrouded in a quiet fog, there could be no lonelier place on earth. There are three bars within my view and all of them seem to want it kept secret they are open.
I opt for the nearest one and walk through the windowless door of the Bamboo Room bar. It’s as dreary and dimly lit inside as the moonless night is outside. Aided by the blue glow from a small television, I see movement behind the bar.
“Are you still open?” I ask.
“We’re still open,” answers a deep voice.
“It’s kind of dark in here.” There’s no response to my comment.
Reaching the bar, I sit on a barstool and swivel towards the bartender. I can hear the delicate sound of ice tinkling in a glass, followed by a thump on a table. It comes from a dark area of the room. I can smell the familiar mix of cigarette smoke and bad perfume. The smell of one confounds the other. I know I’ve come to the right place.
“What’ll it be?” says the deep voice, which belongs to a middle-aged bar tender. He possesses a thick build and a humorless face. I can’t help but wonder what sad, pathetic stories he has heard from the various bits of humanity that have sat at these bar stools. How many times he has had to bring passed out patrons back into enough sobriety to get them out the door.
I snap back to the present time. I realize he has been staring at me.
“Oh, uh, sorry. A seven and seven, I guess.”
He goes to work making my drink. I look over my shoulder at the dark table. I can make out the top of her head and light reflecting from a necklace. I see a small red dot grow and then fade. Smoke tumbles past a dim wall sconce before slowly drifting to other places in the bar.
My drink arrives in front of me. It looks weak but I say nothing. I hear the tinkling ice again, followed by a louder thump than before.
“Hey Al,” says a rough-hewn, female voice from the dark table. “My drink’s empty. How ‘bout ‘nother one?”
“Comin’ up!” says Al.
He begins making her drink. It looks like he’s made that one so often he could do it blindfolded. Without turning towards me he says, “It’s last call. You want one more?”
Before I can respond, the dark table yells, “C’mon dammit. Where’s my drink!”
“It’s coming, it’s coming. Keep your shirt on.”
He delivers it and returns.
“Hey Sonny! What’re you looking at?” says the dark table. “You know, you kinda look like my old man, the jerk!”
I turn on the bar stool and face her. Before I can answer, she says, “He ran out on me when I told him I was pregnant. D’you b’lieve it? The same day.”
I slide off the bar stool and walk to her table. Her gray streaked hair is parted on one side and brushed over. It reminds me of Lauren Bacall. Painted eyebrows, painted lips, painted nails, all applied with care. Her eyes possess a wariness of any intrusion into her small world.
I sit as she puts out her cigarette. The tin ashtray is full of butts, each tipped with red lipstick. She pulls out another one and fumbles with her matches. I take the matches from her struggling hands. I strike one and hold it out for her. She leans forward to draw on the flame. Inhaling, she flops back in her seat. “Thanks, Sonny.”
“Yeah, he just ran off. We was going to have a life, him an’ me. He was six years older ‘n me. We had money an’ a car. When he left he took it all. You know, I was a dancer once. And beautiful. Then I got pregnant an’ he ran off. I got a job at 7-11 and had to give up dancing. He ran off and I had nothing!”
She lowers her head and doesn’t move. Her hair falls in front of her like a drawn curtain. The television is playing a commercial for “The Romantic Songs of the Fifties.” The male and female hosts reminisce about the songs from that era. From the television speakers comes “Love Me Tender.”
“Hah! That’s a laugh! Whoever wrote that don’t know nothing,” she says with her head still down.
She slips into silence once again. Finally her head comes up and she downs her drink. Her eyes focus on me and she says, “You look a lot like him. He was beautiful. Why don’t you take me home?”
I come to her side of the table and get her to her feet. She is wobbly but she can walk.
The television is playing “In the Still of the Night.”
“Another love song. I don’t want to hear another love song. Al, turn that damn thing off!”
We walk out of the bar and into the isolation of Barrett Avenue. Our shuffling feet are the only sounds. Her apartment is two doors down. I help her up the stairs and into her bed.
“Hey Sonny, play it for me, will you?”
I go to the record player. It’s already on the turntable. I switch it on and bring the needle to the first track. The familiar ticks and hisses emit from the speakers. Then Andy Williams begins crooning “Moon River.”
“You know Sonny, we was going to have a life. We had money an’ a car. I was going to be a dancer. Oh, how I love this song.”
“I know you do, Mom.”
Her eyes are closed and I imagine she is drifting off to somewhere only she knows. Someone is with her and she is dancing. And beautiful.