If you had seen him sitting there you’d have first noticed his bouncing knees – an anxious habit – that threw the ceiling lights off kilter and caused an eerie pulsing of the bulbs.
He was nervous, it was palpable. Perhaps something stronger than beer would be advised. Then again, likely not.
She breezed through the door, late. She had terrible stomach pains and kept fixing her top. The place was familiar to them both. Didn’t the guilty always return to the scene of the crime?
She drank martinis, needed something strong. The smile they exchanged was not forced.
If you’d had seen them sitting there you wouldn’t look away. It wasn’t an easy situation to read, they didn’t blend into the background. There was familiarity, but it was tense, like pushing through water – smooth and resistant.
Why return to the bar, the page, why return at all?
They say living in the past is what causes depression, so have no past. She was choosing to have no past – to not let a person exist only in a former state of her being. Because then she was locked there too, stuck also in that intangible place. Some version of herself a “back then.” A version she couldn’t determine if she still or ever really was.
That night she was honest in a way that she hoped would create comfort, but may have been disarming. She hadn’t always been that way.
Two years had passed between when they had lived at the apartment around the corner and this conversation. There was a lot to catch up. A lot to get straight.
If you had seen them sitting there you’d determine he liked pale ales, she was getting tipsy and was trying to be restrained. He had a lot to unload. A lot of untruths to untangle from the headlines. And she had always been a good listener.
They are old friends you’d conclude. Only old friends with a lot of lost time would sit here till closing. Neither had anything to prove, though they each urgently needed to be understood.
They didn’t touch, or did they? Perhaps she had tapped his elbow when the bartender was attempting to get his attention, but you can’t remember.
You’d feel as though you knew them just from watching the words bounce between them. You’d know their history, understand that of course they were meeting in summer. You’d sense that the story was not over, but certainly was in a different chapter, and that their plot lines had forever diverged.
She spoke protectively about a new love. He spoke resolutely about a past love, having tried artificial sweetener and determining, ultimately, he preferred the real thing.
In some sense they owed their lives to each other, were living the after shocks of the decisions they had once made. And in that sense you’d suppose the past does always remain a part of your present, that it all at once surrounds you like air and gravity – real, invisible, necessary.
When they left the bar you’d notice you hadn’t touched your drink.
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