by James Greer
“Full of grace my ass. Every one of them too goddamn tall. And doubtless crazy as swans. ” The young man was annoyed. He banged his bottle on the wet wood of the bar.
“Perhaps that’s true, but you didn’t stick around long enough to find out.” His companion, a much older man, talked from the side of his mouth, but his words were perfectly clear to anyone who wanted to hear. His eyes were fixed on the ceiling fan in the middle of the small room. The ceiling fan rotated so slowly that it was impossible to tell whether it was turning by electric power or the currents of the barroom’s fetid air.
“What, to see if one was maybe shorter than six foot two? I will not dance with a woman who’s taller than me. It’s not a question of prejudice, simply logistics.”
The old man took off his straw hat and set it on an empty barstool. “Name one thing that’s not a question of logistics,” he said. “Name one.”
(The process of naming, if done properly, kills the sense of the thing named. Like pinning a butterfly.)
“That’s poetry,” muttered the young man, spitting flat beer back into the bottle. He signaled to the woman, thin and sallow under neon beerlight. “Another.”
“That’s not poetry. That’s beyond language. No — you’re right. Tenderly, straight as a curving arrow, that can be poetry.”
“Did you see the way that one redhead was boring straight through me with her red hair and her green eyes? Her red hair? Red?”
“I saw her,” said the older man.
The woman brought a bottle of beer for the young man. He took the bottle and held its coldness to his forehead.
She gave an inquiring look to the older man, who considered his glass of whiskey. He nodded. The nod meant “yes.”
“Boring through me. I was transparent to her, but she was transparent, too. Didn’t think I’d notice. I noticed.”
“It’s good to get out once in a while, see how the other half drinks,” said the old man. “You can tell a lot of things that way.”
“Did you say tell or spell?” asked the younger man. The woman brought a fresh glass of whiskey, sans ice, for the old man, who nodded gratefully. The nod meant “thanks.”
“I’m not sure I understand your meaning,” said the older man, sipping his drink.
“The brunette with glasses? What kind of plan or mission or hidden agenda was up her nose? Shifty, that one. Shifty and tall equals danger. You know what color were her eyes? Because I don’t! She kept shifting them around their orbits so fast you couldn’t catch the hue.”
“I remember the brunette with glasses,” said the old man, wistfully. “I remember all the brunettes with glasses.”
The younger man had an abstract look. He leafed through a book on the bar in front of him, abstractedly looking at a point in the distance, somewhere past the edge of the page.
“There was only one brunette with glasses,” said the younger man after a time.
Here are the words that the younger man was not reading, but nevertheless had open in front of him:
You are reluctant to state the purpose of your being here. Your reluctance derives from fear and from the certain knowledge that purposes cannot be stated. A purpose stated is a purpose thwarted. Into the blackness of: night, into the blackness of: sea, from the blackness of: solitude, longing, and despair.
“I wasn’t talking about just tonight’s brunette with glasses. I was talking about all the brunettes with glasses, past, present, and future.” The older man finished his whiskey with a single swallow.
“Time, gentleman!” called the woman, dishtowelling an empty glass. “Time!”