The Birthday Girl

07/22/2009 4:00 AM |

“Not tonight,” says the bartender, a stout redheaded woman with a
face like the prow of a ship. She says, “Everything’s buttoned up
tonight with the snow and all. The mermaids called in at eight o’clock
and said they weren’t even going to try. I’ll be lucky to make it home
myself.”

“Try Mexico,” says the girl on the next stool. “Try getting to
Puerto Vallarta in this.”

“Do you have a dog?” I ask her.

“Why?”

“It seems like you’ve got one of everything else. One twin sister,
one fiancé.”

“One leg,” she says, and giggles.

“Really?”

“You’ll never know,” she says. “It’s one more item in the vast
unknowable universe, one more piece of information beyond your
ken.”

“I would like to buy you a drink in honor of your birthday,” I
say.

“Gwen,” she says. “And you?”

“Richard.”

“Richard, I would love a piña colada.”

“Done and done,” I tell her. The bartender has overheard, and with
invisible bartender gestures asks if I would like another drink, too,
and I imperceptibly nod yes. Gwen places on the bar in front of us a
photograph of a very large and mournful-looking dog, some sort of
mastiff, mostly white, with a single large brown spot on his side. He’s
lying on his side on a wooden porch and in the background is lush,
dense, green forest, almost a jungle, like nothing around here.

“Where are you from, anyway?” I ask.

She doesn’t say anything, just takes my arm in her firm grip and I
follow her eyes upward to the tank. The bartender brings the drinks,
makes change out of the twenty I left on the bar, then she looks up
into the tank as well. The hand has returned. It’s a woman’s hand with
a wedding ring and we all watch it disappear down the back of the man’s
bathing trunks.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” says the bartender, and turns to a faithful
customer at the end of the bar. “Wayne? Wayne, would you go tell those
people that everybody is watching.”

“Sure thing,” says Wayne. “Right now?”

“This is not going to end well,” says the bartender.