7th Of July
by Askia Farrell
"Today’s someone’s birthday." Bacchus informed Sylvia.
"Is it a secret?" she asked.
"Today’s the 7th, right?"
"Who’s – oh, I think either my uncle Carl or my cousin Melanie. One of them."
"You remember cousins’ and uncles’ birthdays?" she asked. "Colour me impressed. I’m doing good if I remember my own."
"July 12," he answered.
"Don’t remind me."
"But why? You’re getting old so gracefully," he chided her.
"Ha-ha. Respect your elders."
"Apologies m’am. Where is the fuckin’ waitress?" he asked shifting tempos.
"You’re that hungry?" she asked.
"I’m that thirsty," he informed her. "I knew we should’ve just stayed in the lounge. Service back here sucks. You know what? I’ve decided to take up smoking. The people on my job that smoke get like fifteen, 20-minute breaks a day. Every time I’m looking for this one guy from accounting – Manny - he’s downstairs on a cigarette break. Do the math. At the end, he only works like two hours a day."
"Now there’s a great reason to start."
"Well, that and I have a great lighter."
"Your lighter still gets plenty of action, babe."
"You may be right," he started with his Billy Joel impression, "I may be crazy. But I just may be the lunatic you’re looking for…."
"Thank you. I’ll be here all week. Damn. Tha Spot’s service is slippin’, man. How long have we been here? Oh, are you coming with me to that party tomorrow night?"
"Getting senile in our old age, huh? We just spoke about this yesterday – at the bar in Chelsea. The ‘Do it till we get it right New Year’s Eve bash in July’ thing."
"You mean at that gay club?" she asked incredulously. Several diners turned their heads. "You were serious about that?"
"You’re all invited," Bacchus informed the nosey onlookers. "Open bar, babes. No crime there. We’ll be together. And it’s not a gay club. It’s a bar that a lot of them happen to frequent."
"You think so, huh? Thank you for clarifying that." Sylvia leaned over the table, took Bacchus’ hand between hers and started to stroke it gently. "Are things okay with us?" she asked out of the blue.
"What, because of the gay thing?"
"No. C’mon I’m being serious."
"Yeah," Bacchus answered. "I’d like to see a waitress and order a drink, but other than that…."
Suddenly Becca, the waitress, appeared as if summoned by the Gods. Now Becca, heaven knows, was not waitress material. She lacked the graceful, fluid-like bobbing and weaving moves that were essential for the trade, especially in a tight place like Tha Spot with it’s never ending array of busboys and cramped table space. But what she lacked in grace she more than made up for in personality and body. That body! If there wasn’t some man after Becca she had her pick of women all eager to get familiar with whatever lie under that tight, provocative whatever-she-was-wearing-at-the-time number. That was the underlying theme for employees at Tha Spot - flaunt whatcha got.
Becca knew Bacchus as a regular. And recently, Bacchus got to know Becca biblically.
It happened one late Friday night as Tha Spot was about to close. Bacchus, one the last customers as usual, had just paid the tab and as always left a generous tip. It was Becca’s first night and he invited her to sit and chat. They sat around smoking ganja, and drinking Sambuca as was the staff’s custom when the coast was clear. He recalled Becca lamenting leaving her native Guyana in mid-April because she had missed Easter where it seemed like the whole island nation congregated along the seawall and beach to fly homemade kites to signify Christ’s resurrection. It was the only holiday she anticipated. The beauty and creativity of it appealed to the 22 year old. She explained how some people would spend weeks creating the most perfect and impressive kites. They would be judged on creativity and size. Many boyfriends would be left single on that day; many single men would find prospective mates for life.
There was something about the drink, the weed and the conversation. Not necessarily in that order; perhaps in that exact order. The next morning he awoke at her studio apartment near New York University. You see, he reasoned with himself, a teetotaler would have never experienced that kind of night. That would have never happened after a cup of coffee and a slice of pie, he was sure. Bacchus would pay about anything to remember all the details from that night.
"Why don’t you guys just buy kites?" he would ask her the morning after.
"That’s something only an American would ask," she replied.
"Good evening, Bacchus." Becca greeted Bacchus from behind with a sing-songy smile.
"Oh, is it evening now? I lost track of time. I’ve been waiting for a drink since this afternoon," he kidded her. Her long, parted, straight black hair was a lovely contrast against her almond brown skin.
"Well I’m doing just great. Thank you for asking," Becca replied placing a well manicured hand on his shoulder.
"Becca, this is Sylvia." Bacchus mentioned quickly.
Becca and Sylvia exchanged pleasantries as women do looking each other up and down as if the other didn’t notice. Becca had noticed Sylvia’s shoes when she came in and was dying to ask her where she got them. Maybe later.
"May I get you a drink from the bar?" Becca asked.
"I was thinking about a bottle of apricot wine," Bacchus said to Sylvia.
"No, nothing for me. Just a Coke, please."
"One Coke," Becca repeated. "And I guess you’ll be drinking alone then tonight?" she asked of Bacchus.
"It won’t be the first time Becca. The regular then."
"With or without?"
"Without as always. And sans the lime too. I’m on a diet."
"Aren’t we all?" asked Becca, unconsciously batting her long eyelashes more than was necessary. "Be back to take your dinner orders in a minute," she said as if catching herself.
"Pleasure, just now."
"Now-now or just now?"
"Now-now," she assured Bacchus looking over her right shoulder while sauntering off to the bar.
Sylvia, without pause, began where they left off.
"So, you were saying?"
"I didn’t realize I was saying," said Bacchus.
"Yes. I had asked you if you had any issues with us. Something you’d like to speak with me about. Or are you happy with things as is?"
"No…everything’s fine by me. Why? Does it seem like something’s on my mind?"
"No, no, not at all. I’d just like to have an open line of communication that’s all. You know, we’ve been together for a little bit and sometimes colour fades away, so…"
Bacchus reached over and touched her face. They’d been together for seven months and every time he looked at her, you know, really takes the time to see her, he is truly taken aback by her genuine, without-makeup-needed beauty. He understood where her insecurity stemmed from. She had told him before that her ex-fiancé just up and split a few weeks before the wedding. He understood that all she needed was a little reassurance every now and then. This was one of those moments. He studied her face with love for a minute.
"Thank you," he told her. "I appreciate that really. No, I rather like the way things are going. At its own pace. We’re not rushing anything. You give great head, good in bed…"
"That’s what’s important, huh?"
Bacchus was really just joking. Kind of.
"Well, not important – important, but it’s up there, like number two and three respectively."
"Oh, really? So what’s number one then? This should be interesting."
"What’s number one?"
"Don’t answer a question with a question," she told him.
He sat back and pondered the question for a minute. Tha Spot still had a good vibe going after all these years. It was a great place to be for happy hour. Where the beautiful black people came. Always plenty of eye candy too. A great place to come and continue getting your buzz on. You’d catch the occasional bourgeois wanna-be cat there every so often, but that’s everywhere.
Now Bacchus was coming down from the blunt he had smoked earlier at home and wished Becca would magically appear with his Marguerita.
"Well," he finally answered. "I think this is something that should be universally important to man, woman and child."
"I’m listening," said Sylvia.
"The ability to appreciate silence."
"Okay. That’s different. Explain."
"It seems like you understand that not every waking moment has to be filled with conversation. There can be, you know, some dead air time without there being anything wrong or one of us being mad at each other. I’ve been in relationships before where I’d actually have to start an argument just so she’d be mad at me and shut the hell up for an hour or two. Let me hear my own thoughts."
"I didn’t realize that was so important to you," she said.
"Many people underestimate the value of quiet contemplation." He continued, "But I never really put these things in any particular order before. But…."
Becca returned with their drinks and placed them on the table accordingly.
"May I take your orders now or would you like a few minutes?"
"I’ve never had the meatloaf is it any good here, Becc?"
"The fish man would never tell you the fish is bad," Becca responded.
"True. Point taken."
"I’d like a few more minutes please," Sylvia added.
"Thanks, Becca," Bacchus said.
Becca went to another table. I’ll never get to ask her about those shoes, she thought.
"Now it’s my turn," Sylvia turned to Bacchus and said.
"Pardon me?" he asked.
"Don’t you want to know if I have any issues?"
"Oh, of course, I – "
"It’s your drinking, Bacchus."
He sat back in his chair by the weight of her statement. She goes on. He hears her loud and clear. Everything. She may be right. She could very well be wrong. But she brought it up. They all do eventually. The ones that claim they care, anyway. He was hoping she’d be different. And still care. He even had been tapering off a little the last couple of days. Hadn’t she noticed?
"We haven’t had any fights because of it," he heard a voice disturbingly similar to his own challenge.
She just looked at him.
Drinking, he knew, brought out an ugly, confrontational side to his personality at times. One that he didn’t think Sylvia had been privy to.
"Bacchus…I don’t think you even realize how you get. You have an alter-ego that can be very frightening. Belligerent. Nasty. Scary. Scary…at times, very. And I don’t like being scared of someone I…your drinking doesn’t allow me to love you. My father…"
"My father," she continued, "was a drunk. And he was never my daddy because of it. He never made me feel good about him or myself. It was pretty bad. Sometimes at night when I’m talking to you and I think we’re having a really good conversation because – God, I love talking to you – but then after a while I notice a pause and I look over at you and you’re passed out. Everyone has a smell, a personal smell that lingers on bed sheets and pillows after they’re gone. I’m not talking perfumes or colognes, but a body-scent that’s individual. We’ve been together for seven months, and I don’t know what yours is. Never smelled it. All that’s left on my pillow and bed for me to smell is stale vodka, margueritas…," her voice trailed off.
Becca reappeared at the table, but was unseen. She cleared her throat and stood there for a few seconds. Nothing was said, but the vibe wasn’t right. She figured she’d best be gone. Damn, she said to herself, I’ll never be able to ask her about those shoes!
"Well," Bacchus began after an infinite, couple seconds of silence. "I know I just mentioned something about appreciating silence, but uh, this isn’t exactly the kind I was referring to, this awkward silence. Maybe…maybe I should start using a stronger cologne, like a musk…"
"This isn’t a joke Bacchus," she warned him.
"Oh, I know it’s not a joke Sylvia, but this isn’t even an issue. I’m not belittling your feelings…you know what the ancient Assyrians used to do when they were discussing issues they felt strongly about? They’d discuss it once sober and again when they got drunk to see if they still felt the same way about it. Let’s get that bottle of apricot…"
"Bacchus, I wouldn’t even mention it if I didn’t feel strongly about it."
"How strong is strong?" he asked.
She looked him dead in the eyes. "I don’t want you to drink that marguerita tonight," she replied.
"What?! Come on Sylvia that’s ridiculous. It’s here already."
"I know. I see that. Can you do it? Is it too tempting?"
Bacchus shook his head in disbelief. "This is childish, really. Are you serious? You can’t be."
"You can’t do it, can you?"
"Of course I can do it, but why should I?"
"To prove you can."
"How’d we get here?"
"This is where we’ve been. And this is where it’ll end."
"I don’t believe this day. This is way out of left field."
"Bacchus, do you care about our relationship?"
"Well, a few minutes ago I did – joke, joke. You know I do Syl."
"So, Sylvia, so?" he snapped. He thought he heard someone calling him and turned toward the bar. Probably just the marguerita in front of him.
"Are you going to drink that then?" she asked.
There are certain times, specific moments that occur in every relationship that you can point to and say ‘that’s when everything changed. That right there.’ Bacchus recognized this as one of those moments. He closed his eyes for a while and thought. There would definitely be repercussions for the wrong answer.
He sighed then heard himself say "Not only am I going to have this drink, but I’m going to wash it down with a couple of shots of Wild Turkey and then drink your coke as a chaser."
"I’m going to leave you alone now Bacchus."
"I don’t hate you Bacchus. I care about you. Enough to want you to get better for yourself. And if you saw what I did… God only knows."
She got up, walked over to him, kissed him on the cheek and walked out of Tha Spot.
There was this voice in his head that told him to get up and run after her. A voice he was usually able to silence in these situations. Head over heart, he reminded himself. Perhaps this was one of those ‘small mercies’ his dad used to talk about. Was probably the best thing, he reasoned. She was 35 to his 27. Successful. Attractive. He knew their hanging out-just having sex-casual days were numbered. He just didn’t realize when he woke up in the morning the countdown would be down to zero. But everything happens for a reason. And eventually colours fade away. The voice was silenced. Head over heart.
Becca approached the table. "So, will you be drinking alone tonight?"
Bacchus raised his glass to Becca in a mock toast and drank the marguerita in one huge gulp.
"It won’t be the first time, Becca," he replied. He took his napkin from his lap and wiped his mouth. "Keep ‘em coming."