Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gray Hounds

We are like dogs. All we can do is try to hump each other in the street, or sniff each other at the bar, or beg for our masters in the gray suits to throw us another scrap from the top of the gray buildings.
“Come with us to Café Van Kleef?” Alice asks as I board the elevator, already loosening my tie.
“We?” I sigh as I ask. Is it because I’m tired? Because I’m bored? Because my sphincter is releasing the death clinch it has maintained all day while I stayed out of the biting range of the Alpha dogs and the master’s whip?
“Sue might meet us there. Andrew. You met him, I think. He’s Rob's cousin.”
“Yeah, I know him.” as if it matters to me at all who might be there, where there is, or whether I ever manage to crawl back out. “I’ll go.” I say as one more skinny blond in high heels joins us in the elevator. She has a name, but I forgot it long ago. I see her making coffee thick as mud in the break room. We never speak, not a word, even though we once fucked at a Christmas party, and even then we didn’t make a sound and hardly looked at each other, just as we now ignore one another, not out of any sense of malice, but from a mutual indifference which may accumulate into passion by next December. Or not.
“Andrew’s fat.” I remark as the elevator doors shut us in.
“My eye itches.” is all Alice has to say and we descend with the blonde standing in front of us, texting away.
Café’ Van Kleef. It’s not as fancy as it sounds. There is a giant bust mounted to the rail behind the stage and some red metallic streamers shimmer over the hall that leads to the john. It is a long narrow bar full of dogs like us, tired desperate dogs ordering greyhounds because they put a fat slice of fresh grapefruit in each one, and we like that.
We like fresh grapefruit. As long as it comes floating in hard alcohol. We like fresh grapefruit. As long as we can’t remember who we are or where we came from. We like fresh grapefruit. As long as fat Andrew stops putting his arm around my shoulders like we're good chums while sticking his other hand up Alice’s skirt. We like fresh grapefruit until we’ve knocked the glasses over and Andrew is rolling in a puddle on the floor like an inexperienced puppy trying to get back to his feet because I forcefully pushed him off of his barstool.
“I said knock it off!” I snarl, and not even I know whether I’m talking about his arm around my shoulder or his hand up Alice’s skirt or that damned nasal laugh he’s been serving up at all the wrong moments.
On the stage some poor little poet is reading about her struggles with a disability that I can’t pin point from within the haze that has enveloped my mind. She is trying to read over the commotion, her audience of friends and family gathered up around the stage are looking back over their shoulders at Andrew. Someone- the bartender? A bouncer?- is inquiring about the state of affairs, but I’m eating the grapefruit off of the high table and Alice is explaining that Andrew lost his balance because the stool had a wobbly leg.
And Andrew? He seems to believe Alice as only dogs can believe, accepting her version of reality instead of his own, because that is how dogs are wired. We're built to please, to observe the subtle gestures of others and try to give them what they want so that they’ll toss us a bone later.
Is that what Andrew hopes? That Alice will give him a bone later if he co-operates with her version of reality? Her version which is now his version, is now the version accepted by the inquirer and the other patrons of Café Van Kleef, and is swiftly coming to replace my own. I’m innocent. Fat Andrew fell off of his barstool. We like fresh grapefruit. Another greyhound for me please.
It is a straight shot from the front door to the stage where these soft strange creatures are trying to read poetry over the cacophonous roar of drunken conversation and laughter. The bar lies in between, to the left, and it is mobbed by glee desperate pound puppies in their white collar shirts and dark slacks or pencil line skirts. It is now nearly impossible to get in or out of the front door. Where the bar ends lies a tall table surrounded by stools where I sit ignoring Andrew’s stupid attempts at humor and social reparations, even though he does not now quite believe I did him any violence. He smiles apologetically at everyone, especially me, and is careful to keep his arm away from my shoulders. Between us and the stage there are more smaller tables and chairs.
I watch a woman who sits on the stool at the end of our table, her back turned to us as she tries desperately to hear and understand the poets. Her shoulders are stooped as if she were crumpling in on herself, as if she were a giant rolly polly intent on folding into a perfect armored ball. As my attention focuses on her, she becomes the only real object in the room, the rest are all ghosts drifting in the vapors of spilled alcohol. I see her with perfect clarity, I see her like a houseplant trapped in a dark room reaching desperately towards a small far away window, her body bending visibly towards the poets, towards the light that will give her life and prevent her from joining the rest of us here in the ghost world.
Then I hear Alice saying:
“Sue and them are going to the Conga Lounge. Want to go?”
I snap back, back to the reality created by Alice, and shake my head.
“Not yet.” I say.
“You want to stay here?” she asks and I nod. I realize that Andrew is no longer with us when I see him walking towards us, returning from the can.
“Ready?” I hear him asking Alice. His face wilts a little as Alice explains we’ll catch up with them later. Then he’s carried away by the bustling tide of bodies abandoning our table with its high stools in favor of the wicker seats of the Conga Lounge.
The table is suddenly empty except for myself and Alice and the strange woman sitting with her back to us. She could easily turn and suddenly speak to us, except for the fact that she is no longer real. She is a ghost now and Alice and I are real, the bar and the noisy pound puppies are real. She vanishes from my sight and my mind and only a place marker in the form of a human body hunched on the high stool at the end of our table remains. I forget her, and I forget that I have forgotten her.
“Alice,” I say, “You’re still here.” She has taken Andrew's seat beside me and I let my leg rest against hers.
“These shoes squeeze my feet.” is all she has to say. Someone picks up our empty glasses as fresh bodies squeeze through the door, crowd around the bar and find their way to our table.
“Let’s go then.” I say, ready now to seize Andrew's bone.
“To the Conga Lounge?” she asks glancing at her phone.
“No. To the streets.” I tell her as I stand up and she follows.

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