JON AND MAEVE

At the bar the lights were low and green and everyone’s faces were close together and they were laughing and talking loud so they could hear each other over the music and some of them played pool and others sat at tables and leaned forward
into one another and others played darts and everyone brought up beer bottles or glasses to their mouths and sipped them and the bartender took orders for drinks and the men and women who bought the drinks held them at the height of their stomachs and they laughed and when there were pauses in the conversations they would sip the drinks and look away or laugh and sometimes they all sipped their drinks together.
Maeve Fesnying sat with Vicki Sord who was a reporter at the Blue Ash News and they laughed and talked and Sord had thick blond hair that was curly and she was thin and wore bright red lipstick and tight purple pants and Maeve talked and laughed and drank her drink with Sord and their faces were close.
A few stools away a man with a beard and a round face and auburn hair mixed with gray and dark brown sat by himself with a mug of steaming tea in front of him and his shoulders were slumped over and down to the bar and there was an oval stain of blood on the right thigh of his khakis but no one could see this because his thighs were tucked beneath the bar and his head hung over the mug so the steam of the tea rose up into his face and he breathed the steam in and sighed it out.
Maeve laughed a loud laugh and the man with the tea and the beard looked up at her and his eyes rested on her for a moment and his eyes rested there for long enough to see that her hair was curly and her face was sharp there in the dark by the bar and that she was wearing a purple button-down shirt with large orange buttons and the man with the tea sat upright and his shoulders turned back and his lower lip tucked into his teeth and he stared at Maeve for a few seconds and Vicki Sord wiped her red-lipsticked mouth and excused herself to the ladies’ room and Maeve watched her walk off and turned to face the bar and sip her drink and she looked to her left and noticed the man with the tea and the beard staring at her and even in the low green light of the bar she could see his eyes were very blue and she saw the roundness in his cheeks and she sipped her drink again and leaned toward him and said into the noise and the music of the place,
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
The man with the tea blinked and wagged his head and looked around and away from her eyes and her eyes were smiling and he said,
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t . . . ”
“But do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Have a girlfriend.”
“No. I’m . . . No. I don’t.”
Maeve leaned in closer to him and blinked a slow blink and said,
“Well, I do. I have a girlfriend. Just to let you know.”
The man shook his head and put his shoulders down again and said into his tea,
“I’m sorry.”
“What?”
“I said, ‘I’m sorry.’”
“I didn’t mean to make you feel sorry. It’s just a line I use on guys that stare at me in bars.”
The man took a deep breath and looked into his tea again and brought his face up to Maeve and said,
“Sorry. I just couldn’t help noticing your shirt.”
Maeve looked down at herself and she moved closer to him and said,
“You like it?”
The man brought his hands up to the bar and they were shaking and he sipped his tea with his shaking hands and said,
“I bet I know where you bought it.”
“Really?”
“Yup.”
She leaned in and he could smell her breath and she said,
“Five bucks says you can’t.”
The man put his elbows on the bar and put his face in his hands and rubbed his face and looked back at her and said,
“It’s not really new, is it?”
“To me it is.”
“You bought it at a thrift store, right?” “Nope,” she said and sipped her drink.
“Yes you did.” “No I didn’t.”
“Yes. You bought it at a thrift store in a town in Iowa. Ottumwa,
Iowa.”
When he said this Maeve’s eyes opened wide and her face went out to his face and she said,
“Get the hell out of town! How did you know that? I was just in
Ottumwa for work last week.”
“The Salvation Army, right? Next to the Target and the courthouse.”
“Stop it! Yes, absolutely. Yes. How the hell did you know that?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Yeah. Yes. I do.”
The man tucked his lower lip into his teeth again and said,
“I just donated all my parents’ clothes to the Salvation Army in
Ottumwa. That’s my mom’s shirt.”
“Why’d you donate their clothes?”
“They died about a week ago.”
Vicki Sord was out of the bathroom now and talking to a woman by the dartboard and didn’t see Maeve drop her drink on the floor but she heard glass shatter and Vicki looked in the direction of the noise and she saw Maeve hug the man with the tea and hold him there at the bar while the steam from his tea steamed up from the mug.
Maeve hugged him and kept hugging him and he put an arm around her and her breath was on his ear and it was warm and she was warm and she pressed herself into him and he let his hand rest on her lower back and his nose pressed into the purple shirt and it smelled like home to him and he said, “Thanks.”
“I’m so sorry. I can’t believe it,” she said.
“It’s okay, thank you.”
“No, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
The man laughed and it was first time anyone had touched him in a long time and Maeve released him and looked at him and lunged into him again with a big hug and locked his arms to his sides so he couldn’t move and she said,
“I can’t believe your parents died and I’m wearing your dead mother’s shirt. I’m so sorry.”
“I appreciate it. Thanks.”
She leaned back and looked down at herself again and started unbuttoning the orange buttons of the shirt and she wasn’t wearing anything underneath it and the man put his hands out to stop her and said,
“Oh, no, please, it’s fine. Keep it on . . . ”
“No. I can’t believe I’m wearing your mother’s shirt and your mother’s dead.”
“Listen, please, I—I don’t even know your name yet.”
Maeve stopped and took a breath and put a hand on her forehead and she wavered around and smiled and looked at this man and said,
“Hah!”
Vicki Sord walked over to the bar and sipped her drink and said,
“What’s going on over here?”
Maeve turned around and blushed and said, “Give this man five dollars.” “What?” Sord asked.
“Give him five dollars. He deserves it. He won a bet.”
“What bet?”
“It’s nothing,” he said.
“Nothing?” Maeve asked.
The man’s face fell back to his mug of tea and he put his hands
around it to warm them and his shoulders fell again toward the bar and he said,
“Don’t worry about it.”
Maeve looked at Vicki and Vicki’s eyelids were drooping and she was smiling at everything and said,
“Do you have your little pad, Vick?”
“Yeah I do.”
“And a pen?”
“Yeah, yeah hold on.”
Vicki reached inside her purse and handed Maeve a journalist’s notebook and then reached in again and picked out a pen and handed the pen to Maeve and Maeve took the notebook and the pen and pushed them to the man with the beard and the tea and said,
“Write your name and where you live and I’ll bring you the shirt back.”
“It’s really not necessary.”
“No, no, no. Let me. I’ll bring five bucks with it or something.”
And the man looked at her and her hand was on her hip and her hip was out and he saw her Converse sneakers and the curve of her thigh where her hand rested and he said,
“Okay.”
Then he took the notebook and the pen and he wrote his name and an address and a phone number and he slid the pad and pen back to Maeve and she ripped the paper out of the pad and folded it and put it in the pocket of her jeans and she stuck out her hand and said,
“Good. I’m Maeve, by the way.”
“I’m—”
“No, wait!”
She took the paper out of her pocket while holding his hand in mid-shake and read it aloud:
“Nice to meet you, Rubber American Jon Sowse.”
“Rubber American’s where I work, it’s not . . . ”
“Jon, it’s a pleasure.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Ma—” “Maeve, like May with a ‘v’.” “Maeve,” he said.
“Right,” she said.
“So I’ll see you tomorrow or something?” she asked.
“Okay.”
“Good.”
Then Maeve turned back to Vicki and Vicki asked,
“Did you just get his number?”
“Yeah.”
“But you’re gay, I thought.”
“No, no, no, no, no. You got it all wrong. I’m not anything.”
Then Vicki and Maeve laughed and the music was loud and Maeve drank her own drink and put the piece of paper back into her jeans and she looked back to Jon whose dead mother’s shirt she was wearing but he was gone into the green light and the music.

by David Backer


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