by Patti See
When you lay your bag of groceries on the wooden bar top, your milk and bread and fruit remind you that you have parents and children, somewhere.
Each bartender knows your face by what you drink, and this one sets a mug of beer before you and a bourbon for your lover. You are a couple only here, this place with pool cues in a barrel in the middle of the barroom and Bessie Smith on the jukebox. The regulars know your movements, hands in a strange gesture they mimic a table away. They guess the secrets you keep together, know from the way you walked in tonight—snow-caked scarves and steamed glasses—the songs you’ll play again, standing shoulder to shoulder, as close to dancing as any public place allows.
You chose the fruit together at a corner grocery store.Your lover held each piece to his nose, turned each one round in his hand. He said, “We’ve never shopped for real groceries together.” A melodrama only you and he appreciate. When you walked along the street to the bar, biting into your fruit, the nectar ran down your arms, soaking your coatsleeves to bare wrists. Later tonight, in bed beside your husband, you will remember a skin that gives and takes.
You held the fruit to your lover’s face and rubbed the fuzz to his cheek. You started to say, “Winter thighs like mine.” Instead came out, “It’s summer somewhere.”
At the bar with peach pits in your pocket, you imagine how you might be different without these other lives, when you’re together fulltime. He will say Just three drinks and mean it. Your hives will disappear. He won’t need Ziploc baggies of homegrown skunkweed to write your story the way you tell favorite parts to each other in a dark booth.
Mornings you will wake with him and fit everything in. Groceries and pets. Children and jobs. Every conversation mystical and true; odd seams between finished and start anew.
Tonight the surfer boy bartender will leave a paper sack for him, folded like a Valentine, on the edge of the bar. You slip it into your bag of fruit, tell yourself it is medicinal and thereby nearly healthy. When your lover slips to the men’s room, you imagine his dried plants, as you’ve seen them before when he rolls a joint on your belly, tongues the remnants from your navel, lovely as the parsley you sprinkle on your husband’s pasta. Within minutes a single hundred-dollar bill has been passed from hand to hand before the urinal. Your lover reappears wearing his coat and hat, your parka draped over his arm.
You stop a block from his house and kiss him in your cold car. In the darkness his mouth is a living thing, each kiss eats back.
Your husband will never know the story of your night. His wife has no way of knowing he’s carrying home a bag of poems.
Patti‘s work has previously appeared in The New Works Review, Salon Magazine, Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction, and other magazines and anthologies, such as Women’s Studies Quarterly, The Southeast Review, and Wisconsin Academy Review. Her book “Higher Learning: Reading and Writing About College” was published last year by Prentice Hall.