this could be any bar in the world, even though it’s on Amsterdam St. in New York, with tan and dark brown floor tiles, posters of Madeleine Peyroux, young men with slicked-back hair dressed in blazers even in the summer, sipping drinks under dim lights. Three plasma televisions hang above the bar, all of them off. Years from now I’ll try to remember the pale white woman playing saxophone, accompanied by a guy on bass. He might be as tall as any building in Manhattan, with a face that stretches outside of the bar. I’ll try to remember the sound of the woman’s voice sitting behind me, and already I think I never will. This is the kind of place that when you look for it again, it’s gone, closed down, a myth nobody ever heard of, and if you do find it, it’s not the same. I’ll wonder why I don’t go back and then I’ll remember that I haven’t seen it since. It’ll become one of those places I think about going to again, but never will.
The band plays across from the restrooms, and I imagine they’re from Delaware or someplace. They’ve been traveling for years, getting by on Taco Bell’s dollar menu and sleeping in rented vans. New York is one of their last stops. I watch them play from a reflection on a television screen to my right. I pretend they’re on live TV performing for audiences around the world or instead they’re just part of a movie: a scene transitioning to a spy sitting alone at the bar drinking a whiskey sour.
The bartender is a tall milky-blonde. After seeing my Texas driver’s license she calls me Buck. I think she’s cute until my third drink. A chubby man sits next to me. He has dark curly hair, thin square glasses, and pouty lips. He snaps his fingers and taps the counter. Though I’ve said nothing to him all night, I feel we are friends and I feel safe to say that. He scats along to the soft music and his body spasms when the drummer goes into a solo. I place him as a physics instructor who dreamed of being a musician, but maybe now at forty-something he doesn’t think it’ll ever happen. I want to snap my fingers with him and say, doobie woobie woo, but instead I raise my whiskey sour to him and say, “You’re going the distance.”
He nods with an enthusiastic smile as if to declare, “This kid gets it.”
In the television above I see my reflected darkly-double. Behind me sits a group of girls just shy of being silhouettes drinking what looks like antifreeze on ice in long glasses. I give myself a slight salute while trying not to make it obvious. I’m a character in a movie, I think. I look at the girls through the screen. One has amber skin, I’m sure, and wavy hair pulled up in a bun with a few strands hanging down on the side of her face. In the movie, in the TV, this is where we’d fall in love. She wears lip-gloss that doesn’t fade when she drinks. I can see it even through the LCD screen. She talks and laughs, and although I can’t see the details clearly I can tell that her nose crinkles up a bit like a hissing cat.
The saxophone player’s voice speaks into the microphone, “Here’s a classic, y’all. Satin Doll.” Everyone claps except the man next to me who snaps his fingers and sings, “Doobie doo doobie.”
The girl in the TV screen is looking towards me. Her oval face tilts down. Her dark eyes scan where I’m sitting. I lower my glance to the liquor shelf across from me. Now I can see the girl through the mirror, her long eyelashes blinking as she moves her lips to her glass. I stir my sour, playing with the cherry caught in the ice.
Any moment now I’m going to turn around and say, “Ladies, how about another drink?” They’ll all nod and invite me to sit with them. Naturally I’ll refuse, but I’ll smile at this girl with the amber skin and glossed lips, and she’ll smile back and I’ll turn around to play with the cherry in my lowball. And just as the bartender comes to take my order this woman will come and sit next to me—tell me that she couldn’t help but notice me as she reaches her hand out to shake mine. She’ll make sure her skirt is pulled down before sitting on the stool next to me, keeping her legs aimed in my direction, our knees slightly grazing.
We’ll talk about drinks we like. We’ll talk about interesting bars. I’ll tell her about Texas. We’ll talk about New York: the stuffy subways that seem to have their own tropical weather; the tourists that bundle up at the corners of streets, getting in the way as you try to walk across. We’ll talk about music. “This is nice,” I’ll say, pointing to the band, “Do you listen to a lot of jazz?” I’ll tell her that my favorite is Thelonious Monk, but in all honesty I don’t listen to much jazz. She’ll tell me she loves jazz, loves Miles Davis and Art Blakey, and rock bands like Califone. She’ll invite me to Smalls.
“There’s a show tonight,” she’ll say, “I hear it’ll be good.” She’ll touch my leg and smile, her apple-green eyes staring promisingly into mine. For a moment all we’ll see is ourselves mirrored in each other’s eyes, infinitely. “It’ll be nice,” she’ll add and I have the feeling it would’ve been.
I stir the cherry around my lowball glass while looking up at the girl, who has now turned away. I try to think about everything I’ve imaged here before it dissolves like sugar in hot tea. All these daydreams I wonder, what are they reflections of? She’s still only in the TV, talking to her friends. The music ends.
“We’ll be back in ten,” says the sax player.
I look up again at the girl on the television screen. She stands, digs in her black and white checkered purse, pulls out some bills and leaves them on the table. The bartender looks at me. I smile. She looks at the empty television screen. She turns it on and I like this bartender even less now. The girl on the screen fades into a soda commercial.
“Give in to your curiosity. Vanilla Coke!” I turn around and she’s gone. The only reminder of her is the empty glass on her table and the mirror-like door slowly returning to a closed position. Already, I wonder if she really existed. The door shuts and I’m left staring at my reflection again. I raise my glass to myself, wondering what daydreams my reflection has.
On a planet spinning as violently as the inside of a Whole Foods does after washing down a king’s ransom of aspirin with liquid codeine and a Four Loko, who is left to scavenge the crumbs of sampler pita chips and blood oranges? Why David Scheier, a writer and illustrator whose work has appeared in the Rio Grande Review, Ginger Piglet, Gather Kindling, and other publications and exhibits. Visit him online at davidscheier.com