likes to sit at the far end of the bar, away from the music, away from the door
and the crowd and the gawkers who treat this bar, his bar, like a cruise ship
stop. They come in, order a drink, pose at the bar, sing with the piano man like
starlets, kiss the man or woman on their arm when they are done, kiss just a
little too long, like they are the most attractive people in the place (which
they often are), and move on. He doesn’t like being near them.
They smell of cigars and perfume and bubble gum. Their heels click on the
tile floor and they move quick, as if they’ve got a schedule to keep.
They remind him of show dogs, jumping through hoops, pleasing some master with a
pocket full of treats, bred to look good and amuse.
By midnight the cruising show dogs are all gone and it is just the
regulars. He lives near the polluted river that divides this city in half,
drinks from it, crosses it nearly every day to come to this bar. All the
trees that had grown on its banks were logged and floated downstream a hundred
and fifty years ago. Mills replaced them, and condos have now replaced the
mills. Trees, he thinks would have been a better choice, better neighbors;
alive, colorful and quiet. Sure the crows would take over, sit on every
branch, but they were here anyway, lining the wires and cawing at everyone who
crossed the bridge as it was.
It is March, the ugliest month in this ugly city, but still this city
believes in music and brewing beer, that some things are worth losing sleep for.
It is past midnight, the band has hit their stride and the music and the booze
are in his veins and there is no place on earth he’d rather be.
Until she walks in. She is wearing a charcoal watch cap and scarf,
bundled up tight, but he can see her light brown hair and blue eyes and
thinks first of a fairy tale he’d been told as a child, by his mother, about
such a woman. He can’t remember her name, but she was the one who slept
for many many years, because she was so beautiful and a curse had been put on
She stops at the middle of the bar, unwinds her scarf, and pulls the hat
off her head. Unzips her coat and he sees she is more lovely than he
imagined. Dick, the bartender, asks what she’d like and he can’t hear
her answer, but sees Dick turn and grab a bottle of gin. It is dark in the
bar, but she seems to glow, as if she’s lit from within, like a firefly or a
glowworm. Like an ember.
He realizes, that if she is an ember--warmth and light-- he is a cinder,
a piece of coal; dark, moody, burned-out. And logically, he is what she
makes of men, when she is done with them.
He never understood the fairy tale about the curse and locking up the
beautiful woman, until now. He was perfectly happy in his solitary
contempt until she walked in. Now he felt desire stirring, knew, if he had
the chance, he’d talk to her. That he couldn’t stop himself.
He’d say something witty, something dark, charming, and try to engage her.
Knew he would do just about anything to kiss her.
Who needs this kind of beauty to wrap itself around you and take you on a
course you had no intention of taking? Who needs this kind of jolt to the
heart? Disappointment is an easy companion, and always predictably
From this angle, he can see her in the bar’s mirror. And again he
is stunned. She looks so well rested, like she did just get up from a
multiple-year sleep. Sees his own reflection and all he looks is tired.
His face lined, his skin sallow, he looks more like his father every day—which
isn’t good. And he is tired. Even if he napped for ten years, like
she obviously has, he’d look just as worn out, just as beat up. Because
he is. Not from living hard, he knows, but from living careful. When
did he decide it was easier to make do, easier to not want? Careful takes
its toll too, turns men sour and cautious, turns them grumpy and old without one
decent scar or crazy story to tell. Like his grandpa used to tell him,
stay on the path and you’ll run into shit, but it’ll be familiar shit.
He’d stayed on course, picked the easiest route, one with no edges to peer or
fall over, no way to get lost, no shit he couldn’t recognize.
She is drinking gin on the rocks. Fast. Has the lime in her
fingers and is sucking on the pulp. A little piece of pulps sits at the
corner of her mouth. He notices that her hair is tangled, the hat and the
scarf sit on the bar, and he thinks that if she has been sleeping for a long
time, he’s glad to see she woke up thirsty. He watches her try to catch
Dick’s eye, for another one, but Dick is headed his way, wiping the bar as he
goes. He picks up the napkin in
front of him, forms it into a tight ball and tosses it into the trash can behind
“Two points,” Dick says.
“Get her another one,” he says. “On me.” He sets a
twenty on the bar. “Make it two. She has some catching up to
This, he thinks will tire her out. This will fade her beauty, make
her one of them—the regulars. And if poison doesn’t work--if she
becomes more lovely, more lit up, if she surprises him with her voice, with what
she has to say, if she’s been asleep as long as he thinks she has-- then
later, he’ll try a kiss.
Happens Here Stays Here
“The last thing I remember was 1984, dancing to the Talking Heads,
Burning Down the House, in the front room of a friend of a friend’s apartment
in Chicago. The room was crowded and hot, the smell of pot in the air, and
then I was feeling really really tired. I was at the party with a friend
of mine, Robin, but she was nowhere in sight when I suddenly felt the urge to
lie down, so I asked where the bathroom was, figuring a bed wouldn’t be but a
door or two away.” She is spinning back and forth slowly as she talks.
The two drinks he bought her are gone and Dick is making them more.
“I found a dark room that smelled like snow. The window was open
a couple inches and it was cold outside. Snowflakes the size of quarters
floated past the window as I climbed under the down comforter. I remember
thinking how nice it was to be surrounded by all that fluffy white. The
pillow, I swear to god, was like a giant marshmallow and as I watched the snow
float by, I thought this is heaven. Heaven is a cozy bed with a party down
the hall, and no one to bother you.
“Somebody woke me up in 1992 to move the bed from the room. They
didn’t like the idea of waking me up, but the movers refused to take the bed
down three flights of stairs with me in it. They did let me climb in the
back of the van and lay down again, once the bed was loaded in the truck.
After that, I couldn’t really tell you what was a dream and what was real, the
sleep, like a hibernation.”
As Dick slides the drinks in front of them, he raises his eyebrow. These,
Dick says, are on me. Dick only buys drinks when he thinks a regular needs
the help, socially, to look more like a regular happy guy.
She takes a long drink, then continues, “I remember hearing a woman
scream hysterically. ‘Yah right. You don’t know who she is.
You just found her in your bed, buck naked. Oh, after a party.
Somebody left her and you couldn’t just throw her out. You are one hell
of a gentleman.’ I heard in his voice a weariness, like he’d had this
conversation before, and he knew exactly where it was going.
“I remember late night sounds of ice cubes trays cracking, replaced by
the motorized sound of crushing ice. Sounds of a piano, of jazz floating
on the air. Heavy shoes on a wooden floor, the smell of a cigarette
burning, the sweet smell of pot. The clicking of keys. He’d sing
sometimes, lyrics I didn’t recognize, tunes I didn’t know.
“I remember thinking about Quisp and Captain Crunch. About Snap
Crackle and Pop. How I wished to wake to the smell of bacon frying, coffee
percolating. I remember feeling sad when I realized I’d miss breakfast.
I remember feeling utterly alone when I realized I hadn’t heard his shoes on
the wooden floor in a very long time.”
He watches her suck down two more drinks and her words keep coming, clear
and crazy at the same time.
“Really,” he say. “That’s a long time to be asleep.
You must be a really sound sleeper.”
“Oh I am,” she says. “I majored in sleep, in college. I
found myself asleep during most of my classes, and my professors complimented me
on my ability to sleep so gracefully at my desk, that I decided to make it my
major. You’d be amazed at how many professors wanted to watch me sleep.
I stopped attending classes. Private tutorials only my junior and senior
year.” She furrows her brows, for the first time a wave of sadness
crosses her lovely face.
“I guess I didn’t finish college, if I fell asleep at that party in
She swings his direction, looks him straight on and says, “So tell
me,” she says, “what have I missed?”
He shakes his head. Tries to think of something important,
something worth knowing, something that has happened since 1984.
“Breakfast,” he say. “You missed breakfast. Do you like
French toast? Hash browns? Scrambled eggs?”
“Yes,” she says. “Almost as much as I like gin.” She
has this crooked smile, a dimple in one cheek, teeth white and clean—she bites
her lower lip when she realizes he is gazing at her. Those lips he want to
kiss, but doesn’t dare.
He takes her back to his house on
His house is old, built in 1896, narrow and made of wood. He takes
her coat and hat and scarf and tells her she can look around while he makes
breakfast, but please he says, stay out of my bed. This makes her laugh,
makes him laugh too, since he has never said those words to a woman before.
He finds the bacon and eggs, brews a pot of coffee. While the bacon is
cooking he finds a station that plays jazz on the
This is a dilemma. Normally, he’d feed this girl, notice the
time, ask her if she was tired, did she want to lie down. Normally he’d
kiss this girl, take her to bed, explore her body, see how much she was game
for. But this girl makes him nervous. What if a kiss is fatal?
What if something terrible happens to her, to him? And if he let her lay
down, what if she falls into a deep sleep again, never wakes? He likes
her. He wouldn’t mind if she was always in his bed, but he could see how
things could get difficult. Like changing the sheets. And what do
you do with a woman asleep, honorably? He is wishing she knew the name of
the man with the heavy shoes, the man who let her stay in his bed until what?
What had finally driven him to abandon her?
Okay, it is late and they’d drunk a lot of gin, but now he is starting
to wonder what had happened to him, to the man whose bed she had been sleeping
in. Had a curse been put on him too? Men turn into frogs, right? And
he lives near the river and all and…
“That smells so good.” She is standing in the doorway of his
kitchen, her head resting on the door. “You look nervous all of a
sudden,” she straightens up.
“Oh I was just wondering.” His
voice cracks. “Do you like frogs?”
“To eat? For breakfast?” She walks across the room, rests
her hips against the counter next to him. She
is wearing jeans that hug her hips, a white v-neck t-shirt and a soft baby blue
sweater. When she looks at him he
sees it is the same color as her eyes.
“God no. Do you like them. I mean, if you found one, would
you take care of it? Good care of it? Make sure it didn’t jump in the
river or anything.”
“Wouldn’t it prefer to live in the river? Than with me?
Wouldn’t it be happier there?” She inches closer. Her elbow brushes
against his. He feels a jolt surge through his body.
“God no. The river is filthy. It would lose a leg or grow a
third one.” She is hazardously
close to him now. The left sides of
their bodies are touching at every possible point.
“Where would I keep it? Where would he be happiest. In a
fountain? Or could I keep him in my bathtub? Would he bathe with
me?” He can see the lace of her bra, and it is all he can think about
now, and he is wondering how hungry she is.
“He’d love that. Nothing would make him happier.” He can feel
the heat of her body. The heat of her glowing skin and he knows she is
looking at him as he gazes at the tips of her shoes. Maybe he should find a way
to lay her down on the rug in his living room, where it is chilly, where he can
keep her awake, kiss her everywhere but on the lips.
Wasn’t it a kiss to the lips that changed everything?
It no longer matters if there is a curse or a spell, he realizes, he has
no choice but to see this through, and so he takes her by the hand and walks her
around the table, into the living room, over to the couch where he drops her
hand for a moment while he bends to pick up the coffee table and move it off the
rug his grandmother left him. A deep
red oriental number that hides all stains. He
will not let her lay down on the couch.
He has fallen asleep on it too many times, knows its sleep-inducing
powers. But when he sets down the
table, near his desk, she is standing behind him.
She puts her arms around his waist and runs her hand up the center of his
chest. When he turns, she pushes him
down on the coffee table, kneels on the floor and with one hand on his thigh
pulls him closer. The other she has
on his arm and she is about to kiss him, he about to kiss her, when the smoke
alarm goes off.
Damn it. It is piercing and
loud and he realizes it is three, four a.m. and he thinks of his neighbors,
waking up to the sound of it. He
jumps up and heads to the kitchen pantry, grabs the broom and starts whacking at
the alarm. It won’t shut off.
She has followed him in, hands covering her ears and heads to the pan of
flaming charred bacon, pulls it off the stove top and tosses it in the sink.
She runs water on it and the room is lost in a cloud of greasy foggy
smoke. He feels like such a fool.
He hadn’t even remembered he was making bacon, hadn’t turned the damn
burner down, much less off.
The ceiling is high. Twelve
feet to be precise, and he has to jump with a broom in his hand to hit the
alarm. He knocks it loose so it
dangles from a wire, but still it blares. He
cannot think, it is so loud. So when
the firemen come into the kitchen, masks on, axes drawn, he is stunned to see
them. Suddenly the room is full of
men in gray and yellow and the sound of muffled voices surround him.
One of them lead him by the hand around the table, into the living room
and instead of stopping at the couch, or the coffee table, the fireman leads him
outside, into the front yard where he sees half of his neighbors standing in
robes and parkas. Staring at his house.
When she is brought out, his neighbor Mark catches his eye, grins at him.
She is talking to the fireman that is leading her out and he realizes
that they know one another, senses that the fireman probably knows her better
than he does.
“Any pets?” The fireman
“Ah, no. No pets.”
“Edie thought you had a pet frog.”
The fireman says to him and he sees she is smiling at another fireman who
has joined the scene.
“No pet frog.” Edie, he
thinks. I wonder what that’s short
The front yard is getting congested with hoses and men and neighbors and
dogs and flashing lights. It is so
embarrassing that it was just a small grease fire and completely his fault.
He feels responsible for everyone in his yard and wishes there was
something he could do to make it up to them.
Invite them all in for a drink, or something, but he realizes that would
not sound good to most of his neighbors at four thirty in the morning.
Edie is at his side now, and she is laughing and says look.
He turns around and sees the fire hydrant has been opened and a fountain
of water arcs into the air, splashes to the ground and begins to roll and
“I love fountains,” she says. “If
it was warmer, I’d take my clothes off and run through it like I did when I
was a kid.”
He is relieved it is March, and cold and that for now she’s going to
keep her clothes on. “Sorry about
breakfast.” he says. “I hope you
aren’t too hungry.”
“Never mind. I’ve missed
so many breakfasts, I can miss another. Although
it did smell good there, for a while.”
The firemen cap the hydrant and pack up their things.
The one who had led him out comes over to them and says, “no more
cooking in the middle of the night, okay? Find
something else to do.” Then,
“bye Edie. I hope I don’t see
you again real soon. This is twice
this week, I’m going to start thinking you’re a pyro or something...”
“Twice? This week?”
he is surprised by this, although he isn’t sure why he is
surprised—she did just get out of bed after sleeping for years.
“Yes. He was the one that
woke me up, two days ago. Someone in my building had left toast in their toaster
and set off the smoke alarm. They
had to clear the building, and he was the man who finally woke me up.”
He wants to ask her how the fireman woke her, but feels self-conscious
and paranoid, so he decides to wait until a better time.
He wishes he could have seen the fireman’s face more clearly—wished
he had checked for warts or any discoloration.
All the neighbors had gone home, and their lights blink off, one by one.
He takes Edie by the hand, rubbing it in his to warm it up, and walks her
towards the house. “Hungry?” he
says, “or tired?”
“Hungry. She says. “But
if you’re tired…”
He says. “Cold and in a
They are standing on his front steps and she is smiling at him.
Over her shoulder he sees, down near the fire hydrant, a small green
lump. And then it hops.
“Oh my god.” He says.
“What?” She turns and
sees the frog and before he can stop her she is running towards it.
She crouches down and scoops the thing up in her hands.
“You now have a pet,” she says, showing him the small green leggy
ball in her hands. “And it looks
like he needs a warm bath. I hope he doesn’t mind sharing the tub.”
When she takes the frog and slides him in between her breasts to warm him
up, she tells him she learned this from her grandmother, he thinks he might
die--out of jealousy he realizes-- and says, “Do you know the name of the man
whose bed you slept in, all those years?”
“Name?” She asks.
“No, I never did catch his name, but I’d know the sound of his voice,
the sound of his walk anywhere.”
And as you’d guess, the frog ribbets, on cue, and they both have no
choice but to look down her shirt and admire him.
There is a smoky haze in the living room, add the smell of scorched
bacon, steam, and grease. It isn’t
an unpleasant smell, necessarily, but a shower sounds good.
He is chilled from the trip to the front yard and would like hot steamy
water running over his body now. He imagines taking her in with him, watching
the water find paths and ravines down her body, turning her skin radiant and
glossy, even more beautiful.
The frog wouldn’t like it, he’s pretty sure of that.
And although he has stopped being careful, stopped the minute he bought
her those first two drinks, he is a little worried about upsetting the frog,
somehow maiming or killing the frog. No
one has to convince him of who the frog is.
He already knows it is the man whose bed she slept in for years, and that
he has followed her here, to his house. Hopped
all the way on those tender legs. If
he had been paying attention, he probably would have spotted him at the bar too.
And he knows that the frog wants her back.
Jesus, he’s between her breasts now, happy as a clam.
But killing the frog doesn’t strike him as the answer—accidental or
intentional. What the answer is, he
doesn’t know, but the answer, he is certain, will come to him.
“Drink?” She is in the
kitchen. He can hear her opening and
closing the cupboards.
“Sure, why not.”
“Do you have any vodka? Your
orange juice looks like it needs something.”
“It’s…” He is
starting to feel tired, but knows he will not sleep tonight.
Not for one minute.
“I found it. It’s here in
the fridge. Cereal can wait, the
milk looks happy where it is.”
She finds him sitting on the floor, in the middle of the rug, legs
stretched out in front of him, leaning back on his elbows.
She is carrying two drinks and a Pyrex bowl half full of water on a tray
he had forgotten he had. He can see
the frog in the bowl swimming in circles, his legs in perfect unison, kicking.
“I think a bath can wait, she says.
He seems happy enough in the bowl, for now.”
She sets the tray down next to him and hands him a drink, then sits down
on the floor, cross-legged, and sighs. “I
really do wish you’d fill me in, on everything I’ve missed.
I know something must have happened while I was asleep.
Something important, something that mattered…”
“The Berlin Wall came down,” he said.
“In 1989. That was a big
deal. And 9/11.
The Twin towers in
He feels a tear run down his cheek. Then
her hand brushing it away.
He wants to tell her something else, something else that is good that has
happened, something optimistic, something about how the world is better now;
cleaner, less hungry, healthier, more peaceful, but he can’t think of anything
and he wonders if he has been asleep too, or worse, he’s been awake, but not
“I woke up,” she says, sensing his need to find something good.
“I woke up and I met you.”
They are the classic triangle. The
frog is after her, she seems to be interested in him for god knows what reason
and he would love to kiss her, but he can’t, not with the frog swimming
circles in his measuring bowl, watching them.
And then it hits him. He
knows precisely what he must do. It
is a strange feeling for him. He is
not a definitive kind of man. Careful,
conservative, prudent to a dull edge, he has always let others make decisions
for him, he has always been a witness, not an actor.
He pulls himself up, off his elbows, and reaches into the bowl.
The frog is smooth and cool to the touch.
He lifts the guy out of the bowl, brings him to his lips and kisses him.
The frog squirms from his hand and jumps away, plopping near the edge of
the rug, then springs to the corner of the couch where he disappears from view.
“Thank you,” she says. “I
couldn’t have done that.”
“What will happen to him now?” He
is sitting on his knees in front of her.
“He is free to go now. He
is free to move on.”
“And you? What will happen
to you, I mean if I kiss you?” He
chuckles at the thought of his kiss having the power to change the course of not
only one life, but two or three. A
few hours ago, he would have thought he was going mad, with a thought like that.
“You’ll have to kiss me to find out.”
As he gazes at her, he remembers that feeling he got right after the
basketball left his hands, how he knew at that moment if it was going to make it
through the hoop, knew if it would hit backboard or swish through the net.
Knew if it would drop perfectly in. Leaning
forward, his eyes on hers, he lingers, knows exactly what will happen next.