After hours


I can do math, but I cannot remember the name of my second child without saying the first child’s name first, and sometimes the third child’s as well. I can rise up singing, and I can fall flat on my face and what do you think that means? Do you think it means I miss you? Do you think it means I am drinking in the attic, naked and out of my mind, do you think it means regret? Do you think I care what you think?

That is all I had to say to you tonight and that is a better conversation than many I’ve had without you since I don’t know when. Truth – I am not drinking naked in the attic, playing old Tom Waits songs and chain smoking, and if I was, I’d be enjoying it and not worrying about you, or your dumb dog – how is old Blue, anyway? I guess he’d be older than dirt or dead by now, older than dirt and sitting outside that tavern where Sheila sang every Thursday night, Cry me a river and all that. There was a tavern, there always is, and one night, after midnight, I left that tavern, you sitting on a stool tapping your cigarette pack against the bar, leaning in to tell something funny, something sexy, something completely full of shit to a woman with apricot hair, and her name was Jennifer, I think, or Juniper.

Then suddenly twenty years or so passed and I’m back visiting, expecting that the old place was torn down and replaced with an oxygen bar or sushi or something, but it’s still there, only place in Clearwater where folks are still allowed to smoke. Changed the city limits so the Blue Elvis Lounge is just outside of jurisdiction, smoke still hanging over the pool tables like a heavy fog. Patsy Cline’s ghost has rubbed the bar smooth and shiny, the lights have been blue in here for 50 years.

After midnight, the tone in the Blue Elvis Lounge changes. A sea change – old smokers going home to an early death, young smokers filing in, throwing themselves into the sagging booths, setting up mikes, opening the doors, skinny young men in straight thin pants and their pale girlfriends. And once upon a time there was a tavern, she reads, this young Sheila, whose name is Colleen, and then Travis and then Brynn, and they slam their words together and smoke, slam their words together and smoke, until after hours and then they leave, on little cat feet, and continue this conversation at all night coffee shops, same as it ever was.

(Prompts — assorted song lyrics. 15 minutes.)

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