Long ago and far away

 

The place is dark when I walk in.

Some lights left off around the small stage to make the strippers look better than they actually do.

I hate the cliental here, and hate the fact that my face reflected back fits the typical character here: a tall, lean figure with hard eyes that scare people when I look at them wrong, or donít want to talk Ė which is mostly.

My nose is straight only because no oneís been tough enough to make it crooked, though a lot have tried.

I got scars on scars on my knuckles to prove that much.

I lean against the bar my big hands flat over my last twenty, waiting for the bartender, Ned, to notice.

Ned sees me and comes over grinning, although his thin voice asks me not to make any trouble tonight. He says he doesnít need the place broken up like the last time I got riled.
This makes me a little hot since I donít like people telling me what to do, but I like this place. Itís one of the few places in town where I feel comfortable, and I donít need to get riled at Ned and lose my place here. So I bite my tongue, ordering a beer as Ned goes on about a fight months old when four cops had to drag me out.

He claims I was drunk.

I tell him I wasnít and to get me my beer.

He catches my tone and scurries away.

Ned has a weak face and a pointed nose that makes him look like a mouse.

Some people give him the nick name Mousey, but never say it loud enough for him to put them out.

He delivers my beer and leaves. I sip foam off the top and look around.

The place is small, which is why is always looks crowded, with an oval bar that extends from the front door to the rear, leaving just enough room to get in and out of the toilets. In one corner, the few cafť tables remain nearly always empty. The men cling to the bar and the stage behind it so they can flirt with the strippers.

Everything here is tit and ass.

But not for me.

I hate things I canít touch, and you canít touch the strippers.

Down deep, I got this soft spot in me; even though Iím a man people sometimes call ďMountain.Ē

I like to touch soft things. Not the usual female places. I mean hair and skin.

As scarred as my hands are, they sometimes ache for something less violent. Yet Iíve always felt clumsy in that regard, fearing I might hurt when I donít mean to.

Then I see Doris at the end of the bar, hustling some poor sucker out of a free drink and maybe more.

This is a shock since I hadnít seen her in years, and not on this coast.

She looks as shocked when she notices me, and quickly drops the guy sheís with to make her way up the long bar to me.

Time hasnít treated her well. She looks much older than she was when I knew her, and her blue eyes had an ache in them that causes me to ache, too.

I know Iím the cause of her pain and my own.

She calls me by my last name, ďHull,Ē and says she didnít know I had come back to New York, even though she knew I grew up here.

Everybody comes back, I tell her, and laugh, trying to hide the confusion of emotions, the anger, hurt, and relief at seeing her again.

This is only made worse when she touches my arm.

Acid could not have burned so deeply, yet I canít pull my arm away.

She still had whatever it that makes her successful in her profession, and despite the aging, she still made me ache in that special way.

Mousey is shocked when he comes to this end of the bar again. Heís never seen me with any women in here before, and asks in his squeaky voice if I want to ďbuy the lady a drink,Ē and I do.

My voice breaks a little, which startles him, too.

But then, itís not Doris that broke me. I was broken long before I met her, by my father, who didnít believe I would turn out any good, and maybe I didnít.

But thatís the past, and thatís the reason I grew up hard.

Doris asks me what Iím doing with myself, and I tell her, still snooping around the way I was in LA, although now for less money and for petty scandals rather than the high profile stuff Hollywood always handed me.

I donít need to ask what sheís up to. That much was obvious. And my looking at her clearly reminds her of the fights we had back in the old days when I objected to her profession and urged her to quit. Every day, we argued, every trick left one more wound in me that wouldnít heal.

And yet at this moment, this many miles away from where we were back then, I find a new urge rising in me, one that wants to help her keep her secrets, one that wants to hug her and hold her and rock all the pain out of her as if she is a child.

I want to forget that she kept giving pieces of herself away, and realize now that she never gave all over herself to anyone but me.

Yet even now, I need a whole woman, not a mosaic, someone I donít have to put back together with airplane glue.

She knows this. She finishes her drink, touches my hand again, then makes her way back to the sucker she abandoned at the end of the bar.

I pay for the drinks, leaving the change from my last twenty as a parting gift, knowing I wonít be coming back to this place.

 


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