One Night in the Village
From across the room, he noticed her. She was, like himself, alone, beer in hand, palm wrapped loosely around the long neck, bottle dangling. It was a cool look. She took a sip.
The smoky haze seemed even more obtrusive when combined with the obnoxious Industrial Rock someone insisted on playing at an earsplitting level. He watched her.
She peered through the crowd, eyes squinting, and they noticed each other for the first time. The glance turned into a look, which evolved to an inviting grin and finally, on her part, pushing off the wall she was holding up and wedging her way through the mass of humanity toward him.
He returned the grin and waited.
Arriving at his side, she handed her empty bottle to him and said, “I’ll take another.” He nodded and turned to go to the ice-filled silver bucket from which sprouted the top third of a variety of long neck beers.
She tugged at his arm. When he turned back, she said, “Just get one beer.”
He nodded, slightly baffled.
Returning with an opened Coors Light, he handed the bottle to her. She handed it back. “You first,” she said.
He took a quick pull and, hesitated, holding the bottle toward her. She grabbed it and took a sip.
She then leaned in toward him to be heard, “This place is kind of creepy, don’t you think?”
Greg had felt ill at ease almost from the moment he’d entered the party on MacDougal Street. Normally, Greenwich Village was his safe haven, especially in the boiling cauldron of a city only five miles long, but home to over eight million people, not counting the neighboring boroughs. He’d always liked that word, borough. Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx; these places should have the word ‘rough’ in their moniker.
This party, hosted by an unknown, had drawn him simply because the girl who invited him had made it clear she was interested in more. More of what was left unsaid. And she had not yet materialized at the party.
What had materialized, and begun to dominate the mood, was the open selling and use of drugs. Smoking weed had never really been his cup of tea, but he refused to see it as a ’gateway’ drug like the uptight right wingers tended to label it. It was the introduction, and subsequent obvious use of coke and what looked like speed, and then spanules that contained God knows what, that made him leery. This scene was too heavy for him.
He leaned over, taking the beer from her hand and taking a swallow, “What’s your name?”
“Ava,” she said loudly, retaking the bottle and taking a long swill, her eyes not leaving his as her throat worked through two full swallows.
“Really? Like Bogart’s wife?”
“She never married Bogie. She married Sinatra, her real love. But yeah, like her.”
“I’m Greg,” and he extended his hand and they shook.
Across the room, they both watched as a horizontal mirror was passed around, its surface carved with long thin lines of white powder, looking like an aerial view of a recently tilled, snow covered corn field somewhere in Kansas. Each person leaned forward with the same recycled dollar bill and snorted a line.
He turned to her. “I’m no prude, but this is really not my scene. You?”
“I’m with you. Let’s find a bar and get a real drink. Leave the junkies to their hundred dollar highs.”
He took the bottle from her, which was now empty, set it on a ledge, and they left without notice.
Once on the street, it began to snow lightly. They were both dressed for the possibility, so they lingered, watching as the flurries turned to flakes and then stuck to the ground, all within three minutes.
“I love the Village when it snows.”
“I know,” she said. “I wish I could live here. It’s like a snow globe turned upside down. Peaceful, quiet, beautiful, and the trees. And it’s safe, at least that’s the sense it gives.”
He looked at her and smiled. “I DO live here, and you’re right. The Village is like a tiny island of sanity ON the island of Manhattan. It’s not a gated community, but it may as well be. It’s like a safe cocoon surrounded by a jungle.”
He looked around and realized The Village Corner, his favorite piano bar and lounge was right up the street. He took her hand and started toward it.
“I’ve been there,” she said suddenly.
“The Corner? Really?”
“Yeah. It’s perfect for a snowy night. It could even be another, even smaller island within the island of the Village. Like those Matryoshkas, you know, those wooden Russian dolls with smaller dolls stacked within the bigger ones.”
“Excellent analogy. Like peeling back an onion, each layer potentially more interesting than the last.”
She nodded as he pulled the heavy door open and ushered her inside.
Two seats were open at the front end of the bar, facing back toward the piano, which was currently unoccupied. They climbed on.
When the bartender approached, an attractive woman, fortyish, with a natural smile and warm eyes, Ava ordered a Ketel One, rocks, with a twist. He ordered the same.
Their backs were about three feet from the front window, through which, if they rotated, they could watch people walk by in the snowfall.
As their drinks were placed in front of them, she turned to him, glass in hand. Expecting a toast, he raised his.
“So,” she asked, touching his glass, “are you a writer?”
They took a sip, nodded in unison their approval, and put their glasses down on the napkin.
“I’m an English major at NYU. Think I want to teach when I graduate. Maybe high school. You’re the one who came up with the fancy Russian term and analogy, do you write?”
“Just personal shit now, but yeah, that’s the goal, to be a writer.”
“Oh yeah. I go to Columbia. Uptown. Way uptown,” she said, taking another sip.
“You said you’d like to live in the Village. Where DO you live?”
“Well, I’m from across the river. Bogota, New Jersey, emphasis on the 2nd syllable, long ‘O’. But I’m living in a 3rd floor walkup in Harlem now, 194th Street, with four roommates.”
“Long cab ride down here, for just a party.”
She snorted out a laugh. “Cab ride? Right. Try subway, Greg.”
“It’s no short subway trip either.”
“True, but you never know what can happen on a Friday night in New York City, whether at the top of the island, or the bottom.”
She looked at him for a solid 30 seconds, and then sipped more of her drink.
He cleared his throat. “I like that we shared the same beer.”
“Because you invited intimacy into the mix without spoiling it with words.”
She grinned. “I did, didn’t I.” And she laughed, once again raising her glass toward him. “’The mix’, interesting choice of words.” They clinked.
“Not that words are bad. I’m an English major; you’re a writer, where would we be without words?”
“True, but the best writing uses the fewest words. And if it could actually show up on a page or screen, then using no words to convey something would be, and here’s a word, the ‘zenith’ for an ambitious writer.”
“Better then the nadir, I guess,” he retorted casually.
She looked into her drink, took a final sip, gestured to the bartender with two extended fingers, waggled sideways, and said without looking at him, “Showoff.”
“Where are your people from, Ava?” The two fresh drinks were set before them. Greg’s $20 bill sat at the far edge of the bar, almost in the gutter.
“I told you, Bogota, Jersey, just west of Fort Lee. A leafy little burgh of Italians and people who wish they were Italian.”
“Ah, yes, you did. I’m from Boston. Not just outside Boston, which most people assume when I tell them that. In the city, Beacon Hill.”
She ran her thumb pad over the pads of her two middle fingers in the age old gesture of money.
“Yes.” He nodded.
“I stayed a summer a couple of years ago with a friend in a flat in the Back Bay.”
“So, we were neighbors, huh?” He eyed her.
“Appears so.” She held his gaze.
“So,” she continued, “with all the august universities in the Boston area, what did NYU have that they didn’t?”
“Distance,” he said, succinctly.
“From?” She let the question hang there, like a ravenous upside down bat looking at a family of lethargic mice.
He sipped his drink, started to put it down, and raised it again for a second taste.
“Shot of courage?”
She was very direct. And cute. In fact, they both were good looking.
Though bundled up in wintry clothing, from their attractive faces alone, it was obvious two pretty people inhabited the end of the bar. The bartender had noticed Greg, resisted her natural impulse to flirt out of deference to the cute brunette he came in with, yet kept an eye on the couple for possible signs of a brother sister vibe. You never knew.
“I think the answer should be fairly obvious.”
“Congratulations. You have a firm grasp of the obvious.” It had come out harsher than he’d intended.
He put his hand on her forearm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“Stop. No need to apologize. I probed. Maybe too far. I’m a big girl. Odds are you’re probably not the only one in this bar with parental issues.” She giggled. “Not even the only one at this end of the bar.”
He grinned and didn’t respond. She seemed incapable of bullshit.
A trait he found very attractive.
“You asked ‘why not a Boston school?’ That’s a fair question. My family history involves about four generations of only Harvard and Yale grads. I didn’t want to be just another pasty white face with a red H or a blue Y on my sweatshirt, clogging up the already crowded and garish family crest.”
“Well, it IS kind of gaudy. Pretentious in how it throws the elitism of the Winchester family into the face of anyone who peers at it. They keep adding onto it like it’s a summer home on the Cape.”
“Oddly, no. I’m an only child. If I don’t breed soon, I think I’ll be taken out of the will.”
“That is the lamest attempt to get me into bed I’ve ever heard.”
“Wait, I wasn’t…” she put three fingers to his lips, silencing him.
“I know that, Greg. Did you leave your sense of humor back in Sylvia Plath’s hashish den?”
“Boston reference. Nice.”
They shared a not awkward last inch of drink silence, sipped the final bit at the same time, ice clicking against ivory.
The symmetry caused them both to chuckle. Greg pulled another twenty from his coat pocket and laid it on top of the other, signaling for another round.
“What are your folks like?”
“Wondered when you’d serve that one up. Ever heard of Bogota?”
“Only the one where all that blow back at the party originated.”
“Well, like I said, a very Italian town, 8000 people, and mere minutes from the GWB and hence, the big city. I always wanted to escape. I never felt ‘small town’. It’s not a provincial thing, I just couldn’t ignore the 24/7 glow of that famous jewel to the east.”
She nodded in thanks, taking a drink.
“So, my parents are Sicilian. I mean, old country Sicilian. Mom was born here, dad there.”
The piano player returned from what must have been a meal break, and began to tickle the ivories in a series of riffs that were indecipherable to Greg and Ava. Nice background music, however.
“I’m resisting an obvious ‘Soprano’ reference here, out of both respect for your dad, and fear for my own life.”
“So, you DO have a sense of humor.” She winked at him.
He was grinning broadly. He liked her. For the first time, he wondered if she liked him.
“She pressed forward with her history. “Mom and dad have no formal education. Dad was, no joke, in waste management, and his employer was, yes, a mob run company.”
Greg stared at her, wide eyed, not quite believing her.
“It’s true,” she said, smiling and staring into her drink.
“He’s retired now, at only 50 years old. Can’t knock the mob’s benefits.”
“So, is the Winchester money trusted-funded down through the generations? Has anybody worked an honest day in their life?”
Most of her inquires came with the alluring whiff of challenge. There was, behind almost everything she said, a provocative “can you handle this?’, said with her eyes, her inflection, her steady demeanor, and those north-of-the-border jutting breasts, evident even through her thick jacket.
He fought the instinct to retreat from her continuous effort to dare him.
“My grandparents retired at 30, I’m told. My parents hung onto the puritan work ethic till they were 40. Living the good life is the Winchester job, it appears. I seem to be the first potential heir to be cynical and wary of inheriting my life, instead of building it. It is a constant strain between my parents and me.”
Once again, their glasses were empty. She looked questioningly at him. Her eyes said ‘one more?’
“Yes,” he said. “One more.” The bartender stood nearby slicing limes and heard this. No gesture was necessary to prompt the next round of drinks.
“What do you like to write, Ava?”
“That segue is almost as ham-handed as your come on,” but she winked when she said it.
“I write a little bit of everything, so far. Again, just for personal enjoyment and to practice the craft. School assignments, thus far, have been too dry and boring to light any kind of creative flame. I read fiction and non-fiction. I write short stories, vignettes, and even at my virginal age, the occasional memoirish recollection.”
“No diary entries about cute guys in Piano Bars?”
His drink had two olives in it, which he hadn’t asked for. He speared one on a plastic tooth pick and offered it to her. She lipped it off the end.
She reached over and speared the remaining olive from his drink and fed it to him.
“Are you flirting with me?”
“You? An older guy? My mom would shit herself.”
“Lovely imagery. Keep your day job.”
Switching gears, she said, “Ok, so most people assume there is this whole ‘Bohemian’ thing at work here in the Village. You live and go to school here. Can you confirm or deny?”
“Yes, the romantic notion endures to this day. Bourgeois is what you might call me, which is a Bohemian with money and status.”
“Yet lacking in the chutzpah and arrogance that usually comes with those trappings. You even seem capable of humility, given the right circumstances.”
“I learned early on that it was ‘HOWston’, not ‘Houston’ like the city. Dead tourist giveaway if you screw that one up.” She laughed.
“Anyway,” he continued, finishing his drink, “there’s much less of a hippie vibe now, or so I’m told, then there was 20 or 30 years ago. The 60s have finally faded off the canvas. Now it’s no longer a sin against humanity to have money, or vote Republican.”
“You vote Republican?” There was no hint of mirth in her eyes accompanying this question.
He laughed. As she finished her drink, he said, “I’ve had enough vodka, how about a Bailey’s Irish Cream nightcap?”
She leaned over and kissed him, lightly, on the cheek. “Perfect,” she said. “If my mom ever asks, I had Frangelico.”
“And if she ever asks, I vote Democrat.”
He grinned and ordered their final round. “Rocks OK?”
“I write a little,” he said suddenly.
“Really? Like what?” She appeared genuinely interested, as if a writer talking about his work in a Greenwich Village bar was an anomaly.
“Kind of started as a fail-safe thing, a safety net in case teaching doesn’t pan out. But I discovered I loved it. Reading was a natural conduit to writing for me.”
“Can I read something you’ve written? You can email me.”
“Only if you do the same for me.”
She blushed. “I’d like that.”
The bartender put their Baileys in front of them, rapped her knuckles lightly on the bar, and said, “On me, guys. Enjoy.” She’d seen the kiss on the cheek. There had been no flavor of incest in the gesture.
They said thanks in unison. He wrote down his email address on a napkin, hesitated, and included his cell phone number underneath it. He handed it to her.
“Oh, yeah, right.” She grabbed his pen and did the same on her napkin, but included her parent’s phone number in Bogota as well. He looked at it and smiled.
“I’m there almost every weekend.”
She giggled and they toasted each other silently, not clicking glasses, but gently resting the rims against one another, as if sharing a kiss.
Then they shared a kiss.
On the lips.
The bartender grinned broadly and looked away.
When she turned back, they were gone.
© Copyright 2016 Bill Rayburn. All rights reserved.