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I rest my chin on folded hands atop the marbled bar, eye level with the curved crystal glass. I follow a particularly large bubble from its creation at the bottom of the drink, all the way to its joining with the sweet foam crest. Again my gaze drops to the bottom and follows a new floated journey.
“So she never drinks it?”
Yes, I know they’re talking about me. Neal either doesn’t realize his voice carries across the room, or doesn’t care. I certainly don’t care. They can talk all they’d like, I’ll still be here.
Caroline’s hushed voice responds, and I know she’s trying to quiet them per usual. I don’t really need her protection, but I enjoy the kindness of it, so I always align my visits with her work hours.
Most people have a favorite bartender because of good conversation, but luckily Caroline doesn’t push for that kind of connection. She simply creates the drink when I sit down, offers a smile, and then attempts to guard me from the onslaught of curious humanity until I finally slip away.
My first night, a few months back now I suppose, I hadn’t really meant to show up here at all. I was wandering aimlessly, hoping to find a little light in the dark world of mine, wrapped up in myself as much as one can be. But through the door there was a little bit of soft music, a shimmer from the chandeliers, and the occasionally burst of laughter that warms a room. So I made my way in, chose a seat at the end of the bar, and waited.
I love the bar here. It’s made of white marble. Sometimes while I’m waiting for Caroline to see I’ve arrived, I’ll trace my fingers across the veins of stone. Grays and blacks and almost-blues seeping through the white. It makes sense to me these days.
She was quite chatty when we first met, which almost drove me away. But after a few brief small-talk questions, she asked what I’d like. Sweet or strong?
What an excellent question. Can’t you be both? I’d seen both many a time. But I wasn’t feeling very strong, so I answered sweet.
“How about something with bubbles? You seem like you need a few to lift you up!”
I nodded, bubbles did sound good.
“How about a pomegranate fizz? With a little lime?”
“No. No pomegranate, please.”
“Allergic? Or don’t like it?”
This caused the tall brunette to giggle. I didn’t mean to make a joke, but it was lovely to see a young girl laugh.
“Alright, none of that then. Anything else you don’t like, to rule it out?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Alrighty… Oh! I know just the thing, it’ll put a spring in your step!” She winked, and turned to her bottles and gadgets.
A spring was indeed what I needed.
When she presented me with the glass, I was enthralled. Tall crystal held golden bubbles, with a deep wave of red. She had crowned it with a bright peel from an orange. It was gorgeous.
“Prosecco with Chambord, a little fancy with out the fluff. What do you think?”
“Great! The names Caroline if you need anything- I’ll check in on you in a bit and see how it’s treating you.”
I held my breath as from within the fuchsia current, a small pocket burst forth, rushing through the gleaming liquid and escaping to the surface. It was… relieving. I found another bubble and watched it race to freedom. A soft light bloomed within me, a little rare ray of joy.
So the next time I found myself dark and alone, I ran to Caroline and her little goblet of miracles. Sitting at this bar, watching my glass, became my safe place. I do the expected smiles and gratuitous tipping that will keep it that way.
I never need to drink it, no. I get all I need just watching those bubbles rise.
Though the people here are indeed fascinating. I’ve seen a million faces so I don’t watch, but I’m always listening.
There’s Neal, Caroline’s loud coworker, who’s charm makes him more handsome than his rectangle face and chop of black hair.
Every Saturday, and most Tuesdays, a middle-aged woman I’ve heard called Jeanie will settle into the rounded edge of the bar, almost opposite me. She tells bad jokes about people no one knows and does not tip very well.
John has a new date every time he comes in, but I like him. His voice is deep and melodic. Even when his jokes are about me, I enjoy them. He usually aims them at Neal anyway.
Usually a group of older women will come in early on a Friday. They drink Brandy Alexanders with their pinkies extended. From the way they talk, they think they’re quite brilliant.
Then there’s Pepper. Oh to be like Pepper, wearing her age proudly and still seeming to take the world by delighted storm. Everyone adores when she comes in, diamonds around her neck and mink coat on her shoulders. Patrons and waiters alike crowd around her to listen to her sage advice and raunchy tales. For such a noble woman, she’s got a dirty laugh. She’s my favorite.
I think she’s probably everyone’s favorite, even Caroline’s. I’ll admit that makes me a little jealous, but I know that’s a silly feeling. She’s just doing her job.
Tonight the bar is crowded. When I first started my little dates here, the noise bothered me- all these people packed inside. However, as I allowed myself to relax into this world, I found it makes a nice buzz, like a hive of bumble bees thrilled to communicate a new found patch of lavenders. It’s lovely, really.
There’s a bachelor party going on in the front corner. They seem to be having a little too much fun, but what business is that of mine? John has brought in a little redhead with a high voice. I’m curious to see if this one sticks around longer than the others. And Pepper is shedding her large coat onto a chair, a sure sign she’s in for a long night. I am thrilled.
I need a long evening with my glass tonight. I need to lose myself in it. Winter gets longer every year and my body is exhausted. I hate the cold. That seems a mutual feeling with the way the icy wind pulls at my skin and the cold breaths freeze my heart. Ugh. To be young again and willing to fight back.
With this thought I almost fall back into my sorrow, but I’m brought to the surface by the ascending golden spheres again and again. Time passes, but I don’t know how much. I used to meticulously watch the time. But others would lengthen it and shorten it, twist it around, so now I just let it move on its own.
Pepper has stood, far too early to leave. She’s breaking away from her little audience and coming towards me. I can feel Caroline’s apprehension on the air. Sweet darling girl, still looking after me. I wish she was able to stop Pepper’s approach. I am in no mood for company.
The chair next to me scrapes out, then scrapes back in, now with the decorated woman upon it. She sets her glass beside mine. I do not know if she expects any sort of conversation, but she says nothing. I study her out of the corner of my eye. Tonight she’s wearing a black velvet dress, with long bell sleeves reaching each dainty wrist. Her diamond necklace is in place, this time joined by a set of pearl earrings. The one I can see appears to be gleaming slightly, almost moonlike. Even in her silence there’s a little warmth radiating from her, and I am actually quite calm to sit there, watching my glass as she watches hers. Her drink is tall like mine but smells of lemon. It reminds me of harvest, and I am almost homesick in a comforting way.
Finally, I realize my own peace in her presence. Of course. I have been so determined to be among strangers, I did not feel the recognition in the slightest. I lean in close to her, our shoulders grazing.
“You know who I am, don’t you?”
She nods, her soft cocoa eyes meeting mine. There’s a smile in them, a mischievous glimmer of our little secret.
It’s a rare creature that knows me these days. I used to be notorious the world over, but most have forgotten. I’m like the Mona Lisa now: a figure to study or a discussion to have, but my reality and identity have been lost somewhere along the age.
Really, I shouldn’t be so surprised Pepper has seen me. She has spring in her eyes and summer in her soul, I can feel it. As creatures age, they have a choice to make- either become a shell displaced from the world, or allow the barrier between themselves and the world to blur. Pepper has chosen the latter, and it looks marvelous on her.
She leans back into me. “Are you missing her?”
It sounds like a question, but she knows the answer.
“Very much.” I whisper.
“Cheers to her health, Demeter. May she return to you soon.”
She lifts her glass, clinks it gently against mine. I see her time has come, so I lift my glass also to toast a life well lived. For the first time, I sip. The delicious amber nectar coats my tongue as each of those heavenly bubbles tickles my throat. It makes me smile, and Pepper smiles with me. We sit there for a few sips more, sharing a full silence that is sacred to women who have seen the world over.
When our glasses are empty, I offer my hand to her. “May I walk you out?”
“Yes dear,” she puts her hand in mine, “I’d like that very much.”
Alveolate (Adjective): 1. Hollow and large. 2. Cavernous. 3. Pretaining to honey, as in honeycomb.
Demeter, goddess of the harvest, watcher over the cycle of life and death! (Sometimes checks in on the law, good gal.) I had not fully planned for this girl and her glass to be an earth mother mourning Persephone’s yearly jaunt with Hades, but as I said on Sunday, I’ve been thinking on the nature goddesses a lot.
I’ve also been thinking of cycles, of growth and renewal. It’s hard not to in this season with the turn of the new year, planning New Year resolutions, starting all those new habits and cycles we do with each spin around the sun. It is so interesting to me that we start these new little lives in the dead of winter*. You’d think we would wait until Spring and burst open with the flower buds, turn a new leaf with the new leaves, ya know? I think that’s why this word spoke to me so much. Its first meaning is hollow and large, then cavernous. I just see this big, empty space that light has a hard time filling. But then we get to its last definition- pertaining to honey …What? Of course, smarties that you are, you know this really means in the idea of the honeycomb structure, which has lots of little caverns. But still- honeycomb is not empty for long! It’s quickly filled with honey, or a little baby bee** which are both sweet signs of joy and a successful, continuous life.
I’m not a good Winter-er. I am a Spring baby, and I like it that way. There’s a jar of Vitamin D supplements in my cabinet that prove I just was not built for snowy clouds and gray days. Demeter, of course, is not a huge fan of Winter either (whether you think this is her own fault or not will determine if you have Greek or Roman ancestors). But I wanted to give her some little happy place she can hide from the cold while she waits to bring forth the fruit of life again. Then Pepper’s warmth reminds her that it can actually be an honor to watch over the cycle of life and death.
And that’s really what Winter is, isn’t it? The other side to the cycle? It’s like a cleanse, a wipe of what life brought before, leaving behind space again to grow in the sunshine.
Cheers to fresh beginnings, and the endings that bring them!
*Well, except you, Australia. But in the middle of such a hot summer I imagine you feel a tiny bit “dead of” too.
**Yes brothers and other nerds, I know these are called larva but that word is gross. This is not a gross-word post. I’ll make one some other time.