The Birthday Girl

07/22/2009 4:00 AM |

“I’m supposed to be in Mexico right now,” she says.

I leave this alone for a minute and the both of us sip our drinks
and watch the underwater couple, back behind the bar. The magnifying
effect of the water makes their legs look huge, like manatees. They
might know we were watching but they might not. In the blue light,
their giant legs twine together. God knows what their upper halves are
doing but their legs can’t seem to stop touching.

“I haven’t been sexual for a long time,” says the woman.

She stops there, and waits for a response, but I can’t think of one.
After a minute she says, “It was never really a priority for me, and
then I went on the antidepressants. I’ll tell you, that whole first
wave, Prozac, Wellbutrin, those things would really knock you for a
loop in that department. You ever get tangled up with that stuff?”

“Not me.”

“No, of course not,” she says. “Every woman I know over thirty is on
antidepressants, every damn one. The men just drink themselves into the
bag every night. That’s why the Spanish and the Koreans and all are
taking this country over, ten o’clock comes around and the guys are
three sheets to the wind and the ladies are, like, wood from the waist
down. Do me a favor.”

“Anything,” I tell her. I mean it.

“I’m going to buy a pack of cigarettes here in a minute,” she says,
“but when you go, I want you to take them with you. Toss them out, run
them under the sink, I don’t care. Just get them out of my sight.
Otherwise I’ll smoke the whole pack and then I’ll smell like cigarettes
for Bob.”

“Bob.”

“My fiancé,” she says. “Down in Puerto Vallarta.”

“Everybody’s getting married,” I tell her.

“Not quite everybody,” she says. She lifts herself off the barstool
with a light, undrunken grace and goes out into the hallway, where the
vending machines and restrooms are. If she isn’t drunk, then what? I
think about Justin, back in the room, and think that maybe I should
just slip out while she’s gone. I don’t, though. I order another
Daniel’s on the rocks and settle back and watch the giant manatee legs
afloat in the blue, fake-looking water. The light at this end of the
bar is mainly from the swimming pool and filtered blue. The legs seem
very friendly with each other. A hand floats down briefly into the
water, then gone again into the air.

“You want to hear something strange?”

It was the girl again, or the woman, whatever — somewhere
around thirty, plus or minus, with a sweet concerned face and wholesome
hair. She shakes a Marlboro out of the pack, then offers me one, which
I take.

“What’s your name?” I ask her.

“My twin sister’s birthday was yesterday,” she says. “I bet you
can’t explain that.”

“She was born at 11:59 and you were born at 12:01,” I tell her.

She looks crestfallen for a moment, then perks back up. She says, “I
hear they have mermaids.”