Cigarette smoke and the ashy pang of regret stabbing at the pit of my empty stomach, I crush out my smoke on the dirty pavement and head back into the bar. It’s early but it’s winter so it feels like the night has laid itself down right in the middle of the afternoon. The sky overhead is heavy with thick gray clouds, and the street seems to speak to me about all the paths in life I should have taken but didn’t dare. Hindsight is laughable in so many regards, but the city streets don’t care about that, nor do they hesitate to taunt you with their jagged cobblestone call to mischievous deeds.
He’s ordered us Manhattans and despite the somewhat drab surroundings in the dimly lit place, they do the martini up properly with a deliciously dark sumptuous cherry. As we sip and talk about nothing in particular, my eyes take in the scenery. Graffiti slashed upon the walls all the way up the green tinted stairwell to the bathrooms on the second floor. Dark wooden chairs and scratched out tables, each with a single glowing tea candle at the center. He is kind but offers nothing new to my mind so I half-listen and half-smile and watch the way the beautiful bartender swivels her bare hips as she serves the increasing crowd. There is something about a gorgeous woman with a golden tan in the middle of the coldest month of the year that melts my insides and turns me into a shy kind of liquid lust. I say nothing but reflect my admiration in healthy tips which is probably just as well for everybody.
I do not realize I am fidgeting with the zipper on my tall black boots until he covers my playful fingers with his palm and asks me what I’m thinking about. I hate this question because no matter what I say it feels like a trap. I’m thinking about literally everything. I’m sitting here with him but my mind is off in a thousand directions both existential and pathetic. Why do people always prefer to speak about the news or sports or the weather when I want to pull apart and dissect thoroughly the gruesomely dark thoughts which claimed me in full from 3am until the alarm went off unironically at 4:45? It’s like we trade our potential for expansion in for the cheap glow of neon tricks. More substances, less substance.
I know he wants this to be easy because that’s all he can handle. Or can be bothered to try to handle. I have been raised all my life to not be difficult. The trouble is it never stuck. Complexity is to me an aphrodisiac. I want to feel my brain chew on a thing, tear the meat of it off the bone of it. But all he and everybody else seems to be interested in is the weather or the newest flashy toy somebody bought to hide their soul-sucking dread of growing old without purpose or direction. To let us both off the hook of attempting to bridge a compatibility gap far too wide, I suggest our next stop be at a strip joint a few blocks east toward the river. He smiles and I smile and at least we can agree on distractions if not anything that could possibly matter in the least in the end.