Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Memories of Grace in Winter 

A winter night in early March. The wind shakes the glass of the shops on Franklin Street. The cobra-headed street lights make little cones of cold yellow light in the darkness. You walk west into the wind toward Broadway, and turn right up a short flight of uneven steps at a place where the columns of an old Tribeca textile building are wrapped in white Christmas lights.

Inside is a long tall room with a bar on the left. J.J. behind the bar sees you come in and reaches for the bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey. The place is called Grace. You’ve been here before. You used to be a regular but something changed. A new crowd ran in newer bars and you stopped coming to Grace. Even you are surprised you are back in Grace again.

You push aside one of the tall stools in front of the bar, and lean up against the bar on your elbow. J.J. puts the glass in front of you. Two ice-cubes float in the amber whiskey. You watch them melt for a moment before you take a hit. The water cuts the alcohol a bit and lets the flavors of the whiskey flourish. The small portion of ice makes the drink cool but not cold. After your first drink you lick your lips and smile at the taste of whiskey. The muscles in your neck loosen and your eyes relax.

“Been awhile,” J.J. says as he shifts around some glasses beneath the bar.

“Yeah. Awhile. I didn’t know I was coming here,” you say. “I had other plans. But I found myself in the neighborhood and then in front of the bar.”

This was true. You had other plans for the night. Those were gone now.

You try to remember the last time you were here. It was in November. You were alone. You were alone a lot last November. A good friend had died. Another friend had given up the drink. Your brothers had all moved away.

Of course, there had been trouble with a girl. You know the moment the trouble started. It was just before dessert in a restaurant in Chicago where you and girl had gone for a weekend. She stopped talking, and put her fork down. This wasn’t what she wanted. When she said “this” she meant everything that had to do with you. She meant she wanted to leave you. You were to tell your mother not to expect her for the holidays.

Thinking about it now you realize that the trouble hadn’t started then. It had its start in a hundred smaller conversations that were tucked into everyday the rhythm of life. This one stood out because it was a disruption in the rhythm. The conversation that stopped everything else. You imagined it as a doorway in time which would forever divide what had come before you crossed the threshold and what had come after.

Afterwards, it was easy not to think about the girl and the dinner and the doorway during the day. Why was it so hard to avoid looking back through that doorway at night? You spent your nights pretending not to look but the only way you could stop yourself was with whiskey. So you drank too much.

You are drinking again tonight. Trying not to think about how cold it was outside. Somehow you had managed in a few short months to march yourself down another corridor that led directly toward another doorway, through which you had stepped tonight. Another conversation that brought stillness to life. Another mark between before and after. Another girl with tears in her eyes, saying goodbye.

J.J. hands you another whiskey. How many has that been? You’ve already lost count. You take a pen out of your pocket and start to write on a bar napkin. What you write is meant to be a joke, a twelve step program for people who seem to be addicted to broken hearts. But you can’t laugh at it tonight. You hope tomorrow it will be funny. Tonight you just wish you could cry but that’s the other part, that you cannot even, ever cry.

The whiskey helps though. It really does.

[About a year ago on Manhattan Transfer I wrote How To Preserve Your Heart. After that the blog went silent for ten days.]