I am at the Key West bar where I met and befriended the band a few weeks ago. RG Daughter is interviewing folks for her thesis, which gives me several hours to kill. It is quiet in Key West in the middle of this December week before the holiday season and the other “season” kicks in.
In a certain kind of bar, and this one is no exception, you hope to see the bartender open a new bottle of wine if that is your drink of choice. Because in this certain kind of bar, you never know when an open bottle was actually opened–today or last week? The beauty of this bar is that the wine comes in little single-serve bottles, so it’s always just opened. Ha ha.
“I’ll take another glass of your fine wine–the airplane-style vintage, please,” I laugh to the bartender.
“Would you like to taste it, first?” she deadpans.
“No, you can just unscrew the top and pour,” I say.
This bartender has not paid a lot of attention to me up until now. I have been sitting by myself off to the side, content to be quiet, alone. But now a pony-tailed gentleman has just asked if the bar stool next to me is taken. I sigh. Oh well, conversation is probably good after almost an hour of none.
And now the pony-tailed man has also attracted the bartender’s full attention to my quiet part of the bar.
“Oh my God, talking about the wine reminds me of one of my favorite regulars,” she says, talking to the pony-tailed man more than to me. “He used to always order my cheap white wine, and I’d make a big production out of it.” Her pretty brown eyes sparkle as she begins her story. The pony-tailed man and I exchange a glance.
“I’d put a white bev nap over my arm like this,” she gestures in an imitation of a wine steward. “Then I would present the bottle of jug wine to him, and he’d read the label.” We all laugh. “I’d unscrew the top, he’d sniff it like a cork, and I’d pour him a taste.” She pauses, glancing around to see if someone’s glass needs refilling. The band starts playing a version of “Brown Eyed Girl.”
“When he died,” she continues a minute later, now looking at me as much as the pony-tailed man, “I did that whole thing, the napkin and the label and all of it, right over his casket.”
Before she began this story, I had hastily hung up on my day-at-a-time boy in a momentary fit of misunderstanding and confusion with which I am trying not to become too familiar. So far, I am three for three in having it all wrong, as he will reassure me very soon. The pony-tailed man knows the phone call has upset me, as does the bartender, because they both overheard my side of it, and I think that maybe she is sharing this story to diffuse the moment and recall a sweeter one for all of us.
“They drilled a hole in the edge of the bar–not this one, the one around the corner. And they poured just a little of his ashes in it,” she smiles. “He’s there to this day.”
As the night goes on, and as my misunderstanding hangs in the sticky air that feels more like September than two weeks before Christmas, the pony-tailed man and I talk for hours about relationships and starting over and over again. When we part ways at an early hour by Key West standards, we have said much and solved nothing, but for some reason, I get it that I overreacted on this night.
I don’t know it yet, but I will find myself embraced and reassured by my one-day-at-a-time boy the very next evening when we meet at my neighborhood dive bar. He wants many, many days at a time with me, he will tell me. Wherever that takes us, he will say, he wants it to be together.
An older couple will walk in to the dive bar as we are having this talk that involves lingering stares and tiny kisses. I will be nursing a terrible glass of white wine when the couple raises their glasses across the bar to us.
“I want to be them,” my boy will say, and I will only be able to stare at the couple who smiles back at me, at us. It will be hard to grasp that I am hearing this, and it will likely take me many days to believe it, as much as I will find myself wanting so much to just live it and let it be.
And when I sip the wine that has a definite kick to it, I will be reminded of the story I heard the night before about a man who got the joke about his jug wine and who will always have a place at his bar. I will silently toast the couple across my dive bar and tentatively grasp my day-at-a-time boy’s hand. I will allow myself to feel a faint, first blush of possibility.