It was a sunny day, the kind that always reminded Joe of childhood. He’d been thinking about his younger days quite a bit since his mother died. She’d been his last direct connection to that fading part of his life. He would never be sure again if his memories of that time were accurate, now that he had nobody to corroborate them.
It was the first day of Spring, so the air was heavy with the promise of renewal and even (dare he dream of it?) romance. Joe did what he usually did when confronted with the uncomfortable confluence of hopefulness and loneliness: he stuck his head into Dempsey’s and let the rest of his body follow it in.
Tim, who was always good for a warm welcome and a cold pint, was tending bar but today he didn’t even look over when Joe entered. Tim had bigger fish to fry. A woman, and a finely-formed one at that, was standing at the bar. Joe couldn’t see her face but, judging by the undivided attention Tim was paying it, Joe assumed it was a sight worth seeing. The bar, for her, was almost chest-high and she was resting her elbows on it, which caused her skirt to hike up a bit. Joe watched with fascination as she shifted her weight onto her right leg so that her left knee went loose and the cheeks of her ass clenched into two distinct spheres.
In the mirror behind the bar they caught each other’s eye. Then they caught more than that. She saw his mother and his loneliness and his god-forsaken thirst. He saw her intellect, her insecurities, her puppy-dog trustworthiness, and all the things the first day of Spring had unleashed in her spirit. They smiled at each other through the looking glass and he bellied up to the bar. A black cat jumped onto the bar, startling the three of them.
“Ooh, a cat,” she said, reaching out to pet its willing head. “Come here sweety.” Joe watched her slender fingers petting the cat and enjoyed the contrast of her red nails against the black fur. He turned to look at her face and noticed that her lipstick, a striking shade of blood red, was slightly smeared. Someone had already kissed those lips today. Joe took pride in his ability to notice details and draw conclusions regarding the people he met. He took the fact that she’d done almost nothing to correct the smear as evidence that it was caused by a spouse. He knew that was an ill omen of his chances with her but something – maybe it was the first day of Spring – inspired him to ask, “Buy you a drink?”
“I can buy my own drink, if I want one,” she said without taking her eyes from the cat.
“I’m sure of that,” Joe said, “but it doesn’t answer the question.”
“What would you think if I asked to buy you a drink?”
“That’s even better,” Joe laughed and jumped up onto a stool. “You’re a dream come true, darling.”
“That’s what my husband tells me.”
“I knew it!” Joe said with a disorienting mix of pride and despair. In the mirror behind the bar he recognized her smile as the one his mother used to wear when she was feeling indulgent. “I knew you were a dream,” he smiled back at her. “Just not mine.”
Mike’s first novel The Zoo was published in 2009 by Cacoethes Publishing House. His short stories have appeared in The Journal of Microliterature, The Fat City Review, The Uptown Observer and elsewhere. A staged reading of his first full-length play Digging Up John Barrymore was performed by Dreamcatcher Entertainment in 2012. In addition to novels and stories, he writes and plays music, including those with the band Late Model Humans. Follow Mike’s Words & Music at www.mikepowernyc.com.