by Laura Adamczyk
We get together for drinks. We meet up for drinks.
We tie one on. We hunker down. We put five dollars in the jukebox.
We meet inside the bar. We meet inside the bar, on stools, near the door. We meet inside the bar with the pool table and the owner who calls everyone My dear or the bar with the drunk mean owner and cheap watery drafts and brown fuzzy furniture that came from a basement in the 70s. We meet early so we can talk, breaking up a line of empty stools. We meet outside the club and wait in line with all the skinny kids and haircuts. We meet inside the club, where bottles are two-fifty, where the photo booth is three dollars, where we once did coke in the back bathroom for free. We meet on the corner and walk to the bar together. We meet downstairs and we drive, with the windows down and our cigarettes out. We drive, pitying those standing in the weather waiting for buses, looking miserable. We drive up Western Avenue, marveling at its prison-sized school, its gated cemetery, and its closed-up convenience stores as though we’ve never driven up Western Avenue before. We drive to the restaurant, to the bar, to the show. We park and put a quarter in the meter, cranking the crank, resetting the time. We drive home drunk and tired, glad we don’t have to walk or wait for the bus. We drive home, sucking down more cigarettes, leaving a ghostly trail behind us. We drive when we probably shouldn’t.
Amelia drives to my apartment or I walk to hers. We sit on her couch and we eat and we gossip. She asks me how the rest of the kids are, though we are all the same age. We watch our bad TV show on her couch; we watch as two people are voted off each week. We watch as the host of the bad TV show says, The weeks are flying by! though she looks shiny and ageless. When something is good, we squeal and clap. When something is bad, we say, Oh, come on. We give each other high fives and back scratches and massages and bad advice. We give each other hair cuts in the sliver of grass in front of our apartments, carving out a set of bangs, one side higher than the other, purposely jagged (too purposely?), saying, I don’t think you’re going to like this.
We make plans and we break plans. Sam and I make a promise to make plans soon. Sam and I meet up with very little planning. We crack each other up. We make fun. We hit it where it hurts, but we hug the biggest of hugs. I jump and he twirls and I hang on and laugh, a full moon of a mouth gaping open. He says, Come ‘ere, you.
Sam and I dance to soul music at the basement club. We dance in the too-hip, white modern furniture club. We dance in the bar with the not-too-dark lighting and the plaid wallpaper and good gimlets and perfectly crowded dance floor, everyone dancing with everyone else. We get in the bar with the not-too-dark lighting for free, because Sam writes about music and flirts with everyone. He lifts up my arm and I spin. He sticks out his hip and I use it the way a skateboarder uses the curb. When he goes outside to answer his phone, I dance with my drink, holding onto it loosely like a boy’s hand. I drink the last diluted sips and I crunch the ice. I get another one. Sam and I talk about his new girlfriend, who was his old girlfriend. We talk about the girlfriend who worked at the radio station and lived above the bar he likes, the bar that Nelson Algren and our friend Jay used to drink at. One of many places he used to like to drink at. We talk about his girlfriend from a long time ago, the one he had sex with on a mattress in an alley, the one who lasted the longest. We talk about where people are now, about where they go when they leave us. We count the number of people who’ve left us, the number who’ve gotten married. We count the number of times we’ve had this conversation while we wait for the DJ to play our song.
We wait for buses and trains and cabs. We wait, but don’t mind waiting. We let our minds wander while we wait, we let the anticipation build. We wait for newspaper-wrapped vinyl records in the mail, for homemade mustard-colored tunics, for red and blue buttons the size of quarters pledging support to our candidate. We wait for news from Carolyn, who is one of the people who has left and been gone. We wait for Carolyn for what seems like a very long time. We check our email and our voice mail and our rectangular lock-and-key mailboxes every day.
We wait downstairs for Elaine and Art, who together are often late. We wait for Elaine and Art inside the restaurant, a crowd of people around the bar deciding between side cars and blood-orange somethingor-others. We wait for Elaine and Art the same way we wait for buses and trains. We say, Surely, they must be coming soon. We wait for the headlining band, with the skinny bespectacled high school boys who talk to listen to themselves talk, hoping that others are listening to them talk. Gritting our teeth and rolling our eyes, we listen to them talk. When the show starts, we tell them to stop talking. We come later so we don’t have to wait for the headliner and listen to the high school boys. We get there early so we can see the opener and then leave, taking pride in rejecting the headliner, laughing, saying, It takes more than that to impress us.
I wait outside the bathroom in the theater lobby and, catching myself in the window, I spin so my skirt fans out and my legs feel the air. I look at my phone while I wait. I read Woolf while I wait. I jot down “She was very good at beginnings” in the notebook in my purse. I spin on a barstool. Anna and I, waiting only a short time for the other, meet up for drinks. Anna and I meet at the dirty country bar where her boyfriend is playing. Anna and I meet in the back room of the bar way up north and smoke her boyfriend’s pot and talk bad about people we don’t like and writing and writers we don’t like and our boyfriends and the boy we had in common and how he’s back in town now and we think what if but don’t say anything while we wait for her boyfriend’s band to play. Anna is waiting for her boyfriend to tell her that he loves her. She is waiting for him to become vulnerable. She cannot wait for them to move in together. For them to get married. To have kids.
We get drunk at the bar. We yell and sway. We hold up fingers in each other’s faces. We wave our arms and say, But-but-but. We drink the cheapest beer we can find. Or we drink the beer with the highest alcohol content. Or we drink bottles of beer, not mixed drinks, in the bar down the street because the owner, Maria, has a weak pour. We stay up all night. We watch the sky start to grey and we feel sick, like we’re seeing something we shouldn’t, though it feels as if we missed something, too. We sleep late into the afternoon and don’t leave the house until it is dark again. Or we sleep three hours and get up and drink coffee and Diet Cokes and eat tortilla chips, dark half moons carved beneath our eyes. We feel good when we leave the house, surprisingly good, but after the train ride we throw up in secret bathrooms at work, running water to mask the noise. We wish we hadn’t had that last beer, that last bit of something. We grind our teeth and gnaw our lips and wonder what’s happening inside our bodies. We worry about what we might have said and find mysterious bruises on our calves and knees, the underside of our arms. We remember yelling. We remember feeling very adamant about something. But we don’t remember the walk home. We don’t remember putting our keys in the door. We don’t remember why we started crying or if we started crying. But we think of our friend Jay and wonder if we didn’t dream his leaving us. Didn’t dream his sudden absence. We think about cancer and cirrhosis, the diseases that killed our grandfathers, that are killing our fathers. We find our wallets mysteriously empty or surprisingly full. We stop drinking for two whole days. We make a pact never to drink that much again and say we will eat better. So we cook marinara sauce and black bean soup, homemade mac and cheese. Our sinks fill with dirty dishes, every pot sticking with onion skins and flakes of dried basil. Our fridges fill with Tupperwared leftovers, testaments to our new lives. The next week, we eat out every night. Pizza thicker than hardbacks and tacos the size of compact discs. We eat burgers named after states (California), burgers named after writers (Big Papa), burgers named after death metal bands (Motörhead). We eat burgers with oily cheese melting onto the plate, a glistening, congealing slug. We sigh and say how much we love this place. We say, Haven’t we all been here, just us, just like this before? Or is there someone extra this time or someone missing? The waitress asks if we need anything or if we are okay.
Back in my tiny apartment, Elaine and I chop garlic and cilantro. We squeeze limes and lemons for margaritas, making a sticky mess. In my tiny apartment, we drink $10 red wine or cheap, thin beer. We drink too much Canadian whiskey even though I’ve never liked it. While we cook, we talk about cooking, how the smell of onions sautéing is our favorite smell. We talk about books and our boyfriends. We talk about keeping our maiden names. We talk about who does the dishes, who cleans the bathroom, who pulls the gunk from the drain. We talk about our dead grandmothers and how their old clothes smell when we wear them, how their calico shirts are stained underneath the arms, worn to a soft transparency. We talk about yeast infections, urinary tract infections, periods, and birth control. We talk about running, about working out, about working up a good sweat. We talk about sex. We talk about who’s doing what. We talk about masturbating when we were too young to know what we were doing. We talk about masturbating now that we know exactly what we’re doing. We talk about all the sex we had in college, trying to remember all of their names. We talk about ex-boyfriends, the hopeless small town high school crushes. We talk about girls who don’t like to give or receive head. We talk about people who don’t vote. We talk about people who think feminist is a bad word. We talk about popping our boyfriends’ zits.
Out on the balcony, we all talk about how we used to live much closer, about never being farther than a walk or bike ride away. We talk about our friend Jay who died in a bicycle accident two summers ago. We talk about how he used to ride everywhere, the right leg of his jeans rolled up to his pale, skinny calf. How he shuddered at our cigarettes, but never told us not to smoke them. How he hated when Carolyn came back from smoking, the taste still on her lips. How he’d frown, and she’d smirk and pout and smile and kiss him anyway. How the two of them were a well-honed comedic team. He, the straight man to her goofs and teasing, never smiling wide enough to show his crooked teeth. We all talk about how today would have been his 30th birthday. How he would have had no problem with it. He and Carolyn would have had a party: some chips and pretzels on a table, a dark beer, a new party mix. Christmas lights and the couch pushed back for dancing. We talk about how when he drank, his voice got loud, then louder, filling up the room like a light shown in our eyes. We talk about how he talked and talked about music and books and movies and politics. Never opinionless, never ambivalent, always knowing just how he felt, which was always: strongly. We talk about where he might be, forgetting that we’re atheists. We ask if anyone has heard from Carolyn lately.
Out on the balcony, it is cooler. We talk too loudly and smoke our cigarettes down to nothing. From the balcony, we admire the neighbors’ flower garden and someone says, It looks very Rear Window back here, and someone else says, I was just about to say the same thing. We are sad, but we laugh and bring out more beer from the fridge, beer that has not yet had time to cool, lining up the empties on the ledge. Later, when one of the neighbors yells up to keep it down, we go inside without a word,having no idea what time it is, thinking that it must be very late.
Laura Adamczyk’s fiction has won awards from the Union League Civic & Arts Foundation of Chicago and has appeared in PANK and Necessary Fiction. She lives in Champaign, Illinois.