Some nights I feel older than on other nights Ė just a read headed bombshell from days gone by who hands out at the end of the bar picking up guys too drunk or desperate to care how old I am or how many wrinkles I have under my eyes.

But on one night each year I know exactly how old I feel and I donít pick up anybody at all, I just get drunk.

Tonightís that night and all the regulars know it.

So when I walk into Leoís place, I get grins and ďHow are you,Ē but none of the usual come-ons I get every other night.

I like Leoís because itís darker than most bars so I donít ever have to see myself in the bar mirror and pretend itís some older women across the bar from me, and itís not my eyes thick with crowís feet, and I donít have to hide the fact that Iím so far passed 18 I use a Medicare card for ID.

In Leoís non-regulars still look at me when I first come in, a small boost to an ego sagging nearly as much as my breasts. That generally gets me passed the first drink after which nothing matters and Iím numb enough not to care.

I canít always manage to forget the kids at home, not even with drink Ė always wondering if they ever guess what I do each night when I go out or why I stink of booze and men when I get home in the morning.

Joe, the bartender, wishes me a good evening.

Joe took over from Jack, who took over from Leo after whom the place is named.

Nobody had heart enough to change the name, one constant thing in this city where you blink and everything is different.

I sit, Joe slides a Bloody Mary in front of me, asking about how I am doing, dodging the central question of my birthday until he figures out how I feel about it, and since I stay silent on the subject, so does he.

Instead, he ponders how busy the night might get and whether or not Iíll be using upstairs a lot tonight or keep myself busy down here with drinks.

I tell him to keep the drinks coming until I tell him to stop, and he takes my empty glass to refill, while Benny on the stool next to mine fells my ass and asks if Iím available, and really seems disappointed when I tell him, not tonight, leaving him to make love to the bottom of a beer glass while I make up my mind to get drunk.

I look around the room.

The same faces stare back, and I realize I wonít lose much by taking a bender tonight, all of the others here as lost as Benny is, as I am, each of us taking comfort in emptying, all of them taking part in my birthday party even if they donít know it.

I drain the new drink and smile.

For me, birthdays come †but once a year, no matter how old I get.



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