Janis, the name sticks in my mind like an infected wound that won’t stop itching. I can’t tell if her incompetence at her job is a masked attempt to irritate me, or if she is truly as vapid as she seems. I know I should go home, eat one of the sad bricks of frozen food lining my freezer, and get some sleep; but the open sign of the hotel bar calls to me. The rain fades into the background as I pull into the parking lot. Today sucked. As I enter the bar I survey the scattered tables decorated with exhausted travelers intermingled with the hometown drunks who return to the same place every night. The hotel is close enough that the locals can stumble home if need be. If I remember correctly this bar makes a wicked rusty nail. They use big, solid rocks in the glass so it doesn’t water it down. My eye is caught by a woman at the bar. She turns and looks at me, her lips part slightly, but the hope in her eyes quickly fades when it’s apparent I am not who she is searching for. She turns back around and the screen on her phone lights up her face as she stares at it.
The smell of this place is the same as many others. It’s interchangeable with the thousands of identical hotels scattered around the country. The faces of the purveyors wear a familiar look, like that of people who cling to this place as their last hope of socialization. I robotically sit at a barstool, one over from the beautiful woman who is still looking at her phone.
Janis. Screw Janis, and screw tomorrow. If I break all my fingers I won’t be able to help her with every asinine little thing. Drumming my fingers over the plain wood bar, I order my drink. Janis, my job, this bar, I am basically sitting in a shallow grave waiting for the end, just like everyone else.
The sound of the rain grows louder as the door opens. The woman to my left turns again. Once again she is visibly disappointed. Her phone still in her hand she checks it for the time, for a text, or perhaps for some hope, I can only speculate. We are desperate, lonely creatures. I look at her more closely as I wait for my next drink. She is stunning, and a bit out of place. She has dark hair cut short exposing her long and graceful neck. She is wearing a dress that could be considered business attire but on her is quite elegant. It exposes her shoulders while the knee length skirt barely masks the shapely legs underneath. My second round of drinks is beer accompanied by a shot of whiskey. I down the shot immediately after the glass touches the wood.
The door opens again. The yearning in this elegant woman’s face is apparent. Same routine, she looks behind her, disappointed again, she looks at her phone, still nothing. I can’t help but think if I had my phone I would smash it. If I really had my druthers it would be right into Janis’ vapid face.
“So, Wednesday night in a hotel bar. What travels brought you here?” I smile and hope the sympathy in my voice isn’t too forced. I secretly hope she won’t answer.
“I’m meeting a friend.” She replies, pulling the barstool between us closer. Apparently she had been protecting it the whole time.
“Ah. Well I hope they show up soon.” I reply. I pull back into my thoughts as she returns to her phone. I’ve never had this beer before or even heard of it, but it’s actually really good. Kwak, it’s even fun to say. As twenty more minutes pass she turns to me.
“Would you rather spend one month rich and alone, or a year poor and in love?” She asks, I laugh.
“Interesting… Though I understand the premise of the question it is truly contingent on mood don’t you think? In my youth I would choose the year of poverty. However, as with my current despise for the human race exhibited by my adamant drinking alone; I would gladly take the wealth.” She looks at me quizzically. I smile as I swallow more beer. “Let me ask you something? Would you prefer to spend eternity waiting for a friend or a year of intimately living with an enemy?” Her face contorts into a look of contemplation. She was playing a hand with a question she thought she knew the outcome to. As I did not fairly answer her question she chooses not to give a paltry answer to mine.
“If my question was contingent yours is as well. I could say neither, because sometimes they are the same thing within one person, you are not experiencing them separately.” She smiled and I couldn’t help but match it. “What brings you to this place?” she asks.
“I had a difficult day, and going home wasn’t going to help.”I reply waving over the bartender, allowing the thoughts of Janis to once again take over. I feel my jaw clench as her face worms its way back into my focus.
“I know how that goes. I’ve been having a difficult month.” She waves,
“Oh, let me get this one.” She says to the bartender.
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I insist.” She says.
“Thank you. So are you coming or going?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” her bright green eyes locked into mine.
“Well, we are at a hotel bar not far from the airport. You’re definitely not a regular here. So, staying or fleeing?”
“Leaving soon; I lived here for several years until recently…” The sound of the door causes her to turn again, but this time rather then looking at the phone clenched in her hand she turns back to me. “After living here for about six years I got to the point that nothing in my life was working. So I spent the better part of this year teaching English in Thailand.”
“Wow, that’s incredible. I’ve always considered doing something like that.” I say, as though I am not bound to my current existence by fear.
“I came to visit some old friends, now I feel that I’m meant to be elsewhere.”
“What are you planning on doing now?” I ask.
“I’m not sure. I’m waiting to see if I have been accepted into a study program in Dublin, but I think I’m headed to New York for a while.”
“I’ve always wanted to go to Dublin.”
“Well if I’m accepted you’ll have to come visit.”
“I’d like that.” I say smiling at the thought of traveling to one of my dream cities.
“So what do you do?” she asks. I feel the soreness in my back molars resurfacing as the sound of Janis’ whiny requests echo through my memory.
“Let’s not talk about that.” I say.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up a sore subject.” Her eyebrows meet in regret as her eyes show momentary remorse. She has a very expressive face. I take a big swig of my second rusty nail, feeling the cool burn drowning the things I was going to rage about.
“Change of subject.” she says, “If you could go anywhere, buy a ticket tonight and just go, where would it be?”
“There is this river that ran behind my grandparents’ house. I would go there many times throughout my childhood. It was a place I always felt happy. That’s where I would go. You?” I ask, reflecting on the joy of my youth.
“That is a good answer. I was going to say to Berlin to play lazer tag.” We laughed
“Well that’s a close second.” I reply.
The night seemed to fly by as we continue sharing more and more about ourselves, laughing, joking. The elusive guest she is waiting for becomes less of a distraction. Janis fades from my thoughts as the hours disappear behind the veil of our new found friendship. When the door opens, now she barely even looks. Her phone lay on the counter; she doesn’t touch it for at least an hour.
As the bartender announces last call we look up startled, her phone buzzes. She picks it up and looks at the screen. Her large green eyes begin to well with tears, but she blinks them back and asks for her check.
“Is everything ok?” I ask, now earnestly invested in her answer.
“Yes.” She says. “My friend isn’t coming.” Two tears escape her blink and as she wipes them away she looks at me. “I was waiting to see my ex before I left town again, but those things I was so desperate to say I suppose don’t need to be said...Thank you. I am honestly happy he didn’t show because meeting you was so much more important.”
She finishes gathering her things, frames my face in her hands and kisses me passionately. I feel the flow of our friendship in that moment. It is an honest true connection that we both needed. In that kiss I feel the vitality of hope and love. She pulls away smiling.
“You really have to come visit me.”
“I will.” I say with all the intention that what I am saying is true.
“Don’t forget me.” She says as she exits the bar.
I watch her run out to the street, her long legs almost dancing across the pavement. She attempts to wave down a cab, and I watch as speeding maroon SUV swerves into the wrong lane and slams into her.
The lights of the ambulances and the police cars look like macabre strobe lights at the crowded scene. There is no reviving her. When the car hit her, her body fell limp and blood exploded from her form. Her striking features are now covered in a thick layer as her brains lay spilled on the street. They attempt to cover her as fast as possible. As the bright white spotlight on one of the police cars hit’s my eye the sounds of the crowd disappear and I am laying on the large rock jutting out of the river behind my grandparents’ house. The sun dries my wet shoes and socks spread out next to me as I listen to the rushing of the river. My new friend would love it here.
The small cop before me snaps me back to reality as he attempts to take my statement. The other officers fan out to keep the drunks and pedestrians back from the scene. He asks me how I know the deceased. I don’t know how to explain it. I tell him how we met as I stare at the debris that piled after the SUV mowed her down, and crashed into the cab. I see it as puzzle pieces for the meaning in it all. I tell him how she was the beautiful beacon in a dark, sad bar. I tell him how we connected and how selfish I had been.
I finally make it home, though I don’t know how I got here. I stand at my front door staring at my keys. Images of her lying on the cold ground are on repeat in my brain. I just want to hold her. She was a treasure and I didn’t see her, really see her until I let go of my selfish bickering with a coworker. I was distracted when the only important thing in my day was sitting right in front of me. Each movement I make is mechanical; changing out of my work clothes, turning off the light, crawling in bed. Every action happens as though I am not the one doing them. Lying in bed, I realize she had been waiting for death, and it extended me the chance to meet her first.
copyright © 2014
Veronica Love is a Colorado native with an insatiable love of travel, adventure, and dancing in the rain.