The only ones left are those with nothing to lose and those with too much to gain.
The woman by the bar, the one on her sixth whiskey, that’s Wendy. She’s worn the same shade of burgundy lipstick for twenty-three years. She first found it when she was fifteen rummaging through her mother’s make-up. She wore it all that summer, her summer of firsts. She wore it the first time she got drunk on whiskey, the love of her life. When she’s had enough burnt to the back of her throat she’ll tell anyone and everyone that it has been the only faithful lover she has ever known.
She wore that lipstick the first time she kissed a boy, and then, again, two years later when she was standing out in a car park, submerged in tears and a torrential downpour, much like tonight’s, as the very same boy broke her heart.
She was wearing that lipstick when the nurse asked if she was okay, if she wanted her to call someone, the police maybe? Any friends or family?
Wendy was still wearing it an hour later, faded and smeared along with her eyes and the ultra-sound picture as she stumbled out of the hospital, sobbing; weeping for the life she had wasted and the new one she was about to ruin.
Tonight, Wendy’s lipstick clings to her face as faithfully as it has done all these years. She’s about to order two more drinks, there’s something about this weather that brings out the sadness in her gut. By the morning, when it’s all over, she’ll still refuse to go home, instead she’ll fall asleep with her head poised on the toilet seat, her lipstick applied to perfection.
The man at the bar serving Wendy is Julien. Julien’s mother had been a seamstress all her life and her mother before her. One time the local theatre asked her for her services, and the one thing she took away from that experience, aside from a dalliance with the producer was the importance of names. When she found out she was pregnant a few weeks later, she prayed for a boy. She swore to give him a proper name, a name that would take him places in this world, a name with purpose.
Julien is working his eighth night shift in a row, and when they announced the approaching storm he was the only one to rejoice. He gave us all free drinks, until it was too late to leave. He won’t admit it but we all know. We can smell it. We can see it seeping from his every pore; the sadness, the despair. He doesn’t have to tell us, any of us, that he’s only one bad night away from suicide.
The day Julien got his university diploma his mother told him that this was the proudest day of her life. The day he announced his promotion to junior partner, his mother told him that the greatest accomplishment in her life had been to give Julien life.
When he admitted himself into the rehabilitation centre, she wept and screamed. She scratched at his hands as they wheeled him off out of sight. She turned to Marie, a mass of saltwater and despair, and told her that this was all her fault; that before he had met her he was touching the stars, bathing in glory and now all he could do was put that powder up his nose.
The last time Julien saw his mother, was a week before she died. When he told her that Marie had left and taken his son, she didn’t utter a word. When he broke down and fell to his knees and told her that his heart was broken, shattered by the loss of his wife and child, his mother still said nothing. When he told her that this, this whole mess, was her fault, she dug her chipped nails into the moss-green arm chair she had always had and looked down at her son with nothing but disgust.
Her words barely made it through the thick plaque on her gritted teeth, as she whispered pass the impairment of the stroke that had nearly killed her. She told Julien that she had given him everything she could, that her entire life since his conception had revolved around him. She told him that the day she gave birth to him, now, she sees was the worst thing she had ever done. Julien did not attend her funeral.
The couple ignoring each other in the booth by the taped up window, that’s Joel and Sarah; the local childhood sweethearts. They’ve been together since they were thirteen years old. Twenty-six years on they have nothing but three children taken away by social services, one successful back alley abortion and a crippling drug habit to show for it.
Last week Sarah found out that she was pregnant again. Tonight, they’re out celebrating. Sipping her Gin & Tonic, she strokes the life trying to thrive inside her. She’s begging the same gods with enough force to create this storm to have enough energy left afterwards to let her keep this one. Her breath on the window, a mist of a ruined existence, is the only way she knows how to plead.
When Sarah was five years old she told everyone she ever saw that she wanted to be a veterinary surgeon when she grew up. She would wrap her golden Labrador in bandages for hours at a time, saving it from a series of imaginary broken legs. When her father got her a stethoscope for Christmas, she would lay and fall asleep to her favourite patient’s heartbeat. The anthem to her childhood was this dog’s heartbeat, mixed with the screams of her parents. Whether they were too drunk to love her or fighting as they very often were, she knew that her dog’s heart would always be beating.
She doesn’t remember the dog’s name, or, she won’t tell any of us what he was called, she just refers to him as ‘The dog’. When she’s had enough wine to make her laugh, she’ll always stop for a moment, look pensive and say: ‘Hey, did I ever tell you about the dog I had…?’ or ‘Do you remember the time I told you about that dog…?’
Sarah won’t tell anyone what happened to the dog. I once heard that after her father left, her mother lost her mind and killed the poor creature because it barked too much. Another person once said that Sarah killed the dog. I asked Sarah once: ‘Hey, whatever happened to the dog you always mention?’
Her eyes never filled with tears, but her throat did. In a moment that cannot be defined by time she looked more lost and desolate than I have ever seen a person look. That night after eleven shots of vodka and five pints of beer, Sarah went home to her children. No-body knows what she did, whether she beat them or tried to kill them, but her children were taken from her the very next day.
Thomas is too drunk to stand; in between sobs on the hardwood floor he asks Julien if he’ll turn the music up. He’s crying because he cannot see the moon anymore.
Wendy cries. This is the song of her summer’s past. Of endless possibilities and squandered opportunities. This is the song that stinks of cheap whiskey and cigarettes, of far too many boys kissed because she liked the way her stomach fluttered under their gaze. It was this song they played at her daughter’s wedding, she cried then and she’s crying now.
Joel has his head on the table. With each new clap of thunder, he feels himself come down. He is falling from the sky, he’s crashing into earth and mud and dirt. Somethings will never change. He’s dreading the end of this. The moment when they have no choice but to walk home in silence. He’s dreading the way Sarah will claw his arms as he puts her into the shower. He’s dreading watching her turn the water temperature up to the highest and collapse to the floor, too drunk to balance; he’s dreading her cries; her shallow hiccups as she chokes on the steam and the smell of melting alcohol.
Joel will do nothing but wander the flat, his feet crushing the cigarette butts further into the carpet. But, mostly, what Joel cannot bear is the emptiness, the silence, the absence in this wallpapered box. He’ll stop by the children’s bedroom, an untouched shrine, and more than anything in this world, more than breath, he’ll feel that pull in his core to get high again.
I ask Wendy if she’d like another drink. She wipes her nose with the palm of her hands and tells me that she’d love nothing more. Her words are slurred and her eyes are glazed.
Sarah looks lost, I put my hand on her shoulder to remind her where she is. She doesn’t look at me, she touches my hand with hers and whispers to her third gin of the night: ‘I’m scared’.
I ask Thomas if he needs help getting off the floor, he grabs my arms and pulls me down to his face. He looks me in the eye, his grey clouds are so full of rain.
I look at the water in his eyes, and then at Wendy who is still sobbing, I look to Sarah and then to Joel who shakes in time with the thunder; I look at Julien, free pouring drinks with a smile on his face and then I catch a glimpse of myself in the cracked mirror by the door, and I see it. We are insects frozen in amber. We are victims of time. We hold on to what we know, the thunder, the wind, the rain, the clouds as big as mountains and the mountains as big as clouds, we hold on to each other; before the world collapses and this storm retreats we will live our lives in this bar of broken hearts and spilled tequila.