The real tragedy of my life was that I was simply lost to my adolescence. Bright and shining, I’d always hoped for a forever but that got cut short when I met the last thing I truly needed.
I walked into the bar, smoke clouding the air and my thoughts. Random 20 something’s wandered around looking for relief from their own heads. I walked to the bar and sat on a stool, my best friend, blonde and beautiful, sat down next to me. The bar tender looked at me expectedly, but did not ask for my order. I simply nodded, while my best friend, Ronnie ordered a double cranberry vodka as per usual.
Frank’s Tavern was in the basement of an abandoned convenience store that smelled like beer and beef jerky. It was one of the few bars left that you could smoke in, which is why it was my come to spot. This secret gem had been my weekend getaway since I turned 18 and moved to the city. I stumbled upon it when wandering through the city when my mind was otherwise occupied by the green haze I’d already inhaled.
The sound of glass caught my attention as the barman sat two shots of 151 in front of me and slid Ronnie’s red elixir towards her. I downed one shot while simultaneously pulling a 99 from my purse. The cherry lit easily when I snapped the lighter open. I inhaled the cigarette and sighed before downing the second shot.
“No chaser?” Ronnie asked even though she knew my answer. I barely heard her over the clicking of her nails on phone as she texted who knows who else, demanding them to get to the underground now.
“Never,” I said and inhaled again as the barman sat a ceramic black ash tray in front of me as well as my favorite mixed drink, 151 and Redbull. I sip slowly before looking at Ronnie with a sardonic smile. “Who’s been invited?”
“I texted Marie, Helen, Zeke, Belinda, and Blake. Helen bailed, obviously, but the rest are about five minutes away,” She reported without a delay or looking up except for one brief moment when she mentioned Helen not coming. I looked down and absently swirled my finger on the black pattern tattooed on my upper thigh. The black lace of my shorts skimmed my fingers and I inhaled once more. “Of course no Helen. She’s never here when I need her to be. She’s lucky I love her or she’d be out on the curb before you ash that cigarette”. Ronnie’s voice probably sounded as fake to her as it did to me. I ashed my cigarette.
“Yes dear. I’m sure she wants to be here as much as you want her to be,” My answer was redundant. Ronnie knew that as well but we continued the foreplay of small talk until the rest arrived, 30 minutes later rather than the five minutes Ronnie was promised. Ronnie’s threat of break up may have been a lie but her love for her on and off again girlfriend was not. Helen and Ronnie were on and off again, but as that title implies, never truly off. The ‘off’ times were only prompted by Helen’s not so inexplicable fear of commitment.
I was now on to my fourth drink and second cigarette when the rest of the group arrived, filling up the already crowed space. The warm feeling of alcohol had started its invasion of body as I stood up to hug the rest of my friends. Marie, Helen’s sister, shook her head in disapproval at the collection of glasses that had already collected around Ronnie and I. To someone who did not know her they would probably assume she was upset by our drinking, but I knew Marie was really only upset by the mess on the counter. I watched her lean over the bar until the barman, Mike, caught her eye. He then came over and removed the glasses wiping the counter with the disinfecting wipes that were under the bar specifically for Marie. Marie’s soon to be husband owned Frank’s Tavern and its dank nature was her own constant torture.
Zeke simply nodded towards Ronnie and myself, ordered a drink, and lit a cigarette before wandering off into the darkness. It was approaching midnight and the music switched off before random strumming started. Belinda and Blake ordered beers before lighting up what I soon knew to be a joint when the smelled swirled around me. Blake passed to me and I inhaled deeply before passing to Ronnie. The action was muscle memory at this point and I grinned when Frank himself wandered over. He planted a sloppy kiss on Marie’s head before shaking his head at us.
“Y’all are going to get me shut down, you know that?” Frank moaned at us, voice gruff but still managing to be soft and easy on the ears. He shook his head at us but smiled and I grinned back.
“Frank, I think this is the least of your worries for a shutdown. Maybe you should be more concerned about the trespassing and tax evasion you’ve committed for 8 years” I told him and he put a hand to his ear laughed. That was his ongoing way of making fun of the softness of my voice. I’d been unfortunately blessed with a voice of femininity that had never really fit my personality. I’d always cursed the whisper of my voice, especially when the music started as it just had and muffled my response.
Zeke’s baritone voice cut across the room as the blend Fender Jazz master and throbbing bass followed suit. His band only united twice a year to perform their six song set list of psychedelic rock and post- punk revival that excited the younger crowd of college hipsters in the front row. Not to undermine or insinuate that the Frantic Giraffes were not good, because they were, they were really good, but the front row kids really just listened to say they had.
“Marie,” Ronnie called and I waited for the inevitable argument to begin. Marie sighed and turned to Ronnie. “Have you heard from your sister tonight?” Ronnie said as casually as she could. I watched as she adjusted the tight black dress she wore and pushed up her already tall bouffant. Bangs were pushed out of her eyes and her nails began clicking against the wooden counter in front of her as she swiveled away from Marie and sipped indifferently.
“You ask me this every other weekend. I don’t know where she is Ronnie. I wish I did, but I can’t keep up with her. She doesn’t tell me anything anymore,” Marie sighed her answer as Frank rubbed her arm. Marie leaned her head on Frank’s tattooed arm and though they were almost ten years apart in age, you could see the true connections of their souls.
Just as Ronnie went to speak again, I ordered another drink, lit a cigarette and wandered off without the notice of anyone except Blake who followed suit with his joint barely a stinger. We both stood at the edge of the crowd and listened to Zeke as we continued to trade drink and joint until both were gone. Blake was my most obvious best friend though I can’t remember the last time we really spoke to each other. We more just existed near each other and shared our highs.
“Is that your brother?” A voice squealed next to me. I looked down at the young red head next to me. She could not have been older than 20 and I watched her eyes linger on Blake. I knew she asked to gauge his availability rather than in awe of how much we looked alike. Blake’s hair was cropped short, blonde and his eyes were bluer than the fruity drink the red head was sipping on. I could be consider his opposite with dark hair like chocolate and brown eyes that matched. My hair swung in its pony tail as I shook my head before wandering away while lighting another a cigarette. I watched as the red head, slowly shuffled closer to Blake until she bumped into him. Blake just slowly smiled before pulling another joint from behind his ear.
Ronnie and Marie were still where I had left them though Belinda and Frank were nowhere in sight. The two were in deep conversation and I wiped faint mascara streams from Ronnie’s eyes as I sat down. She just smiled at me and Marie sighed.
“Talk to her,” Marie told me before wandering towards the back of the bar in search of Frank.
“She loves you,” I said to Ronnie as the barman sat another drink in front of me. I knew it was time to slow down, but I sipped without remorse as Ronnie just stared down blankly at her phone. The silence lasted a few more moments before a grin lit Ronnie’s face and she turned to me happily.
“Helen’s almost here. I’ll be back. I’m going to go fix my makeup,” She giggled before sliding off her stool and practically skipping towards the bathroom. I was now alone and I slowly traced the patterns in the wood of the bar while my foot tapped slowly to the beat of Zeke’s voice.
I knew Helen and Ronnie’s relationship was toxic. Everyone knew it. But it’s hard to stop the poison from spreading when they already loved each other. Helen was an always hopeful dreamer who believed life would forever be a happily ever after if you just held out long enough.
I looked towards the glowing green and purple lights flashing from the stage. Zeke’s head was bent low staring intensely at the strings glowing below him. He was a fantastic guitarist and he easily slid in the Frantic Giraffes’ version of I’ve Just Seen a Face.
“Where’d everyone go?” Belinda asked as she sat down next to me, appearing out of nowhere. Marie’s in the back with Frank, Ronnie’s in the bathroom, and Blake found a fly honey to court for the night,” I told her matter of fact as I pulled out another cigarette. “Oh and Helen’s on her way”.
“First, you’re drunk, Second, God Dammit. Ronnie and Helen better not cause a scene,” We both laughed before I handed Belinda a cig as well and we stared at Zeke’s band. “I wish they’d play more often,” Belinda said is a sad, wistful way. She was a music major at the local university and appreciated the sounds of Zeke’s guitar a bit more than the average person.
The lights dimmed from green and purple to a sudden change of flashing red and blinding white light with fog flowing over the already smoky bar. I looked down to my phone and noticed the time approaching 1:30am. Work in the morning would be hell, but I’d already set my grave.
I was startled from my thoughts when black painted finger nails rested on my shoulder and I looked up to see Helen grinning sardonically down to me.
“Hello Helen. I see you finally made it,” I told her with faint distaste in my voice. I didn’t like Helen and she didn’t like me. But we were cordial for Ronnie. Helen and I met two years ago when I first moved to the city and I introduced her to Ronnie, my best friend from home who inevitably ended up living with me.
“ Miri, Belinda,” She acknowledged before gesturing beside her. “This is my friend Ezra. He works at a bicycle store downtown,” I turned towards the guy she gestured towards, though I watched as Helen itched her nose a bit before looking away quickly. Her black hair swirled as she glanced towards the stage. Ronnie was headed back from the bathroom.
I fully looked at the guy Helen introduced. He was tall, thin, and his left arm was swallowed in a sleeve of tattoos. His shirt was dark and ripped with a faded band logo on the front. The darkness of his hair swooshed up as he ran his fingers through it and it my drunken state I could readily admit he was hot, even in this sporadic light.
A final red light shined before the whole bar was washed in darkness before the regular dim lights and speakers took over.
“Hi. How’d you guys know Helen?” He asked looking towards Belinda and I as Helen and Ronnie embraced in a passionate kiss. He looked towards me for the answer completely ignoring Belinda, who had actually turned to walk away after watching Helen and Ronnie’s embrace.
“Ronnie, her girlfriend,” I said, not wanting to explain the whole history of Helen and my friendship.
“Not a big talker? That’s fine I can talk plenty for the both of us, Miri. Miri right? Odd name,” His voice was deep but he spoke fast as if he couldn’t get the words out fast enough.
“It’s a nickname, from Miriam,” I said, bored already from this conversation. I’d had it too many times. Ezra rose his eyebrows before continuing on with his endless stream of words.
“Pretty. So this is a pretty chill place. It’s so random too. Like how’d it get here? And how’d you all find it?” He questioned and itched at his nose just like Helen had. I sighed, knowing now the friendship between Ezra and Helen. Coke had always been hard for Helen to not do. She fell into it early and has sworn it off at least 15 times since I’ve known her. Ezra must be someone she met in that circle of friends she has.
I looked down at my phone one more time before standing up. Ezra was standing almost on top of me as I backed away surprised at his height. I was tall myself standing in at 5’10. I turned first towards the reflective mirror behind the bar, brushing my fringe of dark bangs from my face before picking up my purse and turnings towards Ronnie.
“I’m headed out, I’ve got work,” I told Ronnie as I planted a kiss on her forehead before sliding my way through the crowd. I took the stairs, running my hands across the graffiti wall beside me. I made my way outside, the air still warm for the end of September. I lit a cigarette as I sat down against the brick that comprised the abandoned convenience store. I laid my head back staring up, head slightly whirling as the alcohol reminded me of its presence. Inhale and exhale. The smoke rose up in swirls above me.
“Hey! Dude you didn’t even say goodbye to me! That’s very rude you know. A complete lack of manners,” I snapped my head to eye level and got a glimpse of long, jean covered legs. Male. I looked up further to see Ezra kneeling down in front of me.
“Sorry, goodbye,” I said, casually exhaling smoke to side of the conversation.
“Could I bum one? Fresh out,” he said ignoring my blatant attempt to get him to leave. I sighed and grabbed a cigarette and handed it to him as he slid himself next to me against the brick wall.
We smoked in silence and my throat began to burn from the acidity rising up from my stomach. I quickly tossed the cigarette and throw up in the empty space next to me before wiping my mouth and standing up, barely.
“I’ve got to go,” I told the strange coke head next to me and ignored his muffled words as I staggered away towards my shitty apartment in order to sober up and escape the white noise ringing in my ears.