I say God resides in the silouhette of a man in a trench coat and Fedora. In this guise He does as He pleases. Everyone recognizes His shape, but does not see His face. He's an echo of footsteps in the alleyway. A transient mystery on His way to the scene of the crime. Or from it.
In this shape He's asked no questions. In this shape He follows you home.
I wonder at the two of them, I truly do.
She smoking in her red dress at their table. Legs sloping off the seat and uniting far in front of her, at the ankle. Seductive as an off-ramp when you've been too long from home.
She is waiting. Aching like the promised land for his step. She drinks from her whiskey and says to him,
"You come out of your mother with the rails already laid. Some things, God won't let you change. That's how you know He made you."
Him, he has the look of a man who could not bear to change the casting. And when forced to, refused to abandon the script.
Sometimes, even God gives up. Sometimes the sun and the moon are simply celestial ornaments. Sometimes.
Other times a man makes a decision within himself to reduce the stars to Christmas lights. That way, if one bulb goes out, the string of light is broken in entirety. Leaving a man free to sit in the dark, where all pussies look the same. The re-casting he never wanted, less visible.
Every weekend I watch her.
I watch him. Misplacing her like a set of keys, he will remain unaware she is missing until he locks himself out. And even then, I think he will go on to live happily ever after without joy, ache or wings.
Living the simple tasks of daily satisfaction in such a way as to never be reminded of her. I see him wishing for an existence where nothing from Heaven ever falls his way, or lands upon him. He ducks and covers and she burns up on re-entry like an unwanted wishing star.
I see her. Going over the falls. He does not. It's as if he thinks of her as a celestial happening that has nothing to do with him. Just something unrelated that God has been up to.
She has stopped saying aloud that she loves him. I do not wonder why she does this, I only wonder why he does not notice. I wonder why this woman with a seemingly endless capacity for extraordinary entrances does not leave him like a fever breaking.
When he leaves to take a call outside the noise of the bar, I go to the table where she sits alone.
"Ready for another round?"
"Back again already?" She smiles. "Finally come to take me away with your money and your cocaine?"
"Can you be ready in an hour?"
She laughs, happy to be amused. Happy to be flattered.
"Ah," she says and gestures to his empty chair. "I still belong as you can see."
I am standing over her. She is looking up at me. I say to God,
"Fedora, why put such eyes on a woman if she will not look on me as she looks at him?"
Holding patterns, are by nature, regular elements of a bar. There are a few control towers who decide whom may land, where and when. Then there are the grim circles of flight made by those hoping only to land before they run out of fuel.
"We'll have another round," she says, answering my original inquiry.
Holding the pattern of her legs against the table legs, to me - I go back behind the bar and pour the whiskey. The beer signs blink in the mirror behind me like neon fuel lights.
She comes in early to meet him, which means he will be late. She knows this and comes early anyway. Some kinds of love make no room for shame. They humiliate you utterly. Break you utterly.
Leave you helpless to stop yourself. As helpless as St. Theresa in her ecstasy.
I say to God,
"Fedora. She is the most elegant creature. Born almost entirely along by the consequential wakes of others."
"Fedora. One day she will land bearing proof that the flood waters have receded. Let it be on my shoulder."
I get so tired. I get so tired of watching her trying to roost on him. I wish for his scarecrows to have at last their intended effect. I wish for her to be scared my way, to be flushed from the underbrush in my direction.
No. He does not notice that she no longer says. 'I love you.'
Somethings go without saying because they are known. Somethings go without saying because they make no earthly difference what-so-ever.
She walks past their table and sits, for the first time, at the bar.
"How are you today?" she asks.
"Haven't quite made up my mind yet. How are you?"
"O - ," she says. "O - I'm tired today. I'm so tired."
I can see the truth of this. The skin beneath her eyes, too soft to touch, she is barely held together. If a blossom, a single mis-step would shake her petals to the ground.
"Why so tired?"
"Think I'll be keeping that to myself. Situation stays the same, no matter how many words I spend on it."
She laughs once. A sharp bark of a sound. She says,
"I do only what I have to," and taps at her breastbone.
She leans forward as if it is important that she explains this to someone who is actually listening to what it actually means.
"I answer only the compulsions God built me to surrender to. That way I am no weaker than He made me. That way I regret nothing."
She closes her eyes and continues,
"It's just that sometimes I get so tired. Sometimes I pray to be released from His compulsion. I wish to be acquitted. I wish to be able to give up."
She opens her eyes and smiles small and tired. I pour a whiskey and slide it to her.
"On the house."
"Mmm. You say the sweetest things."
She taps a cigarette from her pack. I light it, leaning in towards her, elbows on the bar. As she is sitting on the barstool we are quite nearly eye to eye for the first time.
Her image flickers against my retina. Tender as a candle flame; equally destructive when left unattended.
The bar is nearly empty," she says. "Come sit next to me. I have a question for you."
I come out from behind the bar and take the stool next to her. Proximity. Close enough to smell her. Close enough to foster a happy accident in which I might touch her at no cost to either of us.
Maybe he will not show.
Maybe she will stay until closing. Dance with me once the doors are locked. Loll back in my arms, humming under her breath, fingers idling in the hair at the back of my neck.
I see her in my casual one-armed embrace. Clicking freely under the wheels of music and desire, like the machine gun fire of playing cards clipped to bicycle spokes.
"I'm in the market," she says. "I'm in the market for a man who can say the right thing at the right time. Can you do that for me?"
She is suddenly still on the stool next to me, looking into her whiskey.
"Come with me, for I am free to love you."
I say it with certainty.
She closes her eyes.
"I tuck you into my bed and watch over you while you sleep."
She tilts her head back. Opens her eyes to the ceiling.
"I'm listening," she says.
I do not answer for she is not speaking to me. I study the white brush stroke of her neck. The honeyed pulse. The quiver of blood making its way along the arterial highway, bouncing the charm at her throat.
She keeps looking up. Eyes wandering the rafters. Waiting response to a question she has been forever asking. She laughs suddenly. A free sound.
* * * * *
He has been delayed and arrives just in time to understand that he is too late. The teeth of this knowledge against his bones is the only thing he has ever felt for this woman with absolute certainty.
I walk to the table where he is sitting alone, on the edge of the chair. He is looking around the bar as if seeking evidence that he has walked into the wrong one.
I set a whiskey on the table.
"She said she couldn't wait any longer. Bought you this drink and said to give you this."
I set the envelope next to the whiskey.
I see that he recognizes it as I did. The envelope has been in her bag for two weeks. Surfacing when she digs around for money, or cigarettes, or through her endless avalanche of journals.
I go back behind the bar. He opens the letter carefully, setting the envelope gently aside. He reads it, then folds it down as small as it will go without opening itself back up. He sets it in the ashtray. Drinks the whiskey.
He nods to himself as he does this.
Affirmation as he drinks the whiskey.
Affirmation as he rolls a cigarette.
Affirmation as he loads his pockets, lights the cigarette and stands to go.
He leaves the bar as if propelled. By the time he hits the door, his momentum slaps it back against the building.
I want to call after. I want to say, I want to ask. I want to tell.
Instead, I take the empty glass from the table and the note from the ashtray. I scuttle back behind the bar and open it slowly. "So this is her handwriting," I think.
It is shorter than I expected.
"You could have had anything. Instead, you wished for this."
I say to God, I say,
"Fedora, did you follow her home? Does she walk the alleys with you? Are you the jealous ghost who breaks her heart to have her on the rebound? Do you love her, and bed her, and break her like any other man you've sent her?"
Last call, closing time. Lights off, lock up. Out the door and into the blue contusion of Sunday a.m. Unbelieving, I walk into her on the assumption she must be a mirage.
"What did He say?" I ask.
She shrugs one shoulder and digs for a cigarette which I light.
"O - you know how it is," she says. "The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away."