Upsetting
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
 
The old cats called her Bluebird, and though I never exactly knew why, I didn’t not know why either. What I knew was it wasn’t a derogatory reference. I think her birth name might’ve been Lacy, and that would figure. It fit.

When I met her they told me she had a cop boyfriend who treated her like most cops treat their women. ‘You know how they do,’ they said. I didn’t really know that, either, but I imagined it was pretty much how they treat everyone else.

She was luminous motion, and the old cats shook their heads and smiled when she passed. It was like they couldn’t believe their good fortune. Or they were ashamed about what they were thinking. All the ways to treat a lady like Bluebird.

Birds and hands and bushes.

Young fella, they told me, that’s the kinda bird you don’t try to cage, there. Ain’t a man around who’s gonna catch that one. Even Mr. Charlie don’t know what he have with that one, there.

It was a neat signature, they way they finished their observations with there.

You know what I’m saying, there?

These guys used to watch the TV hanging off the wall, and they loved to sing out in their Calabama accents about the white man who had the blues because he had nothing to worry about. You could see the pain as their shoulders gently bounced with laughter.

Bluebird, Bluebird, Bluebird.

Chaos and fate and all that high-falutin’ theory seems out of this world until it happens to you, doesn’t it? Like deciding to stop by late to see if you could catch the end of the Padres-Diamondbacks game. And getting there and finding out the Padres left Arizona the day before. And Bluebird knowing that you didn’t need a Padres game to keep you there.

And after a couple she asked if you’d linger while she closed up. The old cats were long gone, and some kids were playing pool under the Budweiser lamp. You saw them at the jukebox, and you tried to remember if it’s government policy to issue that Steve Miller compilation when you turn 18.

That’s for looking out, Bluebird said as she left my third in front of me. Stronger than the rest, and it crossed my mind to not lose my edge.

She closed the door with a smile as the drunken kids piled into a car. ‘Night, boys, she said to herself.

It’d been years since I’d been in a place after hours, even though it wasn’t technically “after hours.” It was with another blue bird, an Irish girl named Sara who couldn’t forget fast enough. I tried to remember the last I heard of her.

Bluebird opened a bottle of beer and lit a cigarette.

Working at the till, she turned to face me. I wondered how she and I’d have done as kids, when we didn’t know any better, and I thought of all the stops we’d made on becoming ourselves.

You don’t say a whole hell of a lot, Joe, she told me.

It doesn’t mean I’m not thinkin’ it.

She considered that for a moment, drank out of the beer bottle and closed the register drawer. The neon light in the window poured over the darkened pool table. The smoke from her cigarette was like Aqua Velva.

No, I suppose you’re right, she answered. You know it gets in here, though. Men and their fishing tales.

It’s in our genes. We watch our fathers do it, and they model the behavior for us.

It wasn’t more than I’d said to her since I’d been going in there, but it was close. But she had me in there after kicking out the other folks, so I didn’t really think much of it at the time.

You realize things about women as you get older, and you think you understand them a little bit better. At a certain age you realize only red nail polish makes sense. You come around to the idea that maybe all pairs of jeans are not the same. You start to grasp the burden of what it is to be a woman, and you try not to add to it. When possible, you help alleviate it.

I think I have some wine at my place, I said. I could make you a little plate of food.

She closed her pursebag and slung it over her shoulder. She began to smile as she took her hair out of the ponytail and put it right back up.

Will you hold it against me if I snore? She asked.

For a moment I thought of a variety of responses, but I went with, Not at all.

Quite the gentleman, she said.

Housebroken, too, I said. I’ve known good women.

Is that so?

She moved around the edge of the bar, leaned in and asked me if I was ready for my close-up.

More than ever, I was.
 
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