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Wednesday, January 5, 2000
By Paul Ford
A half-antidote to spiritual failure.Muddle of desires.
What I wanted from this one was to buy her drinks and listen to her talk, and then to leave her be. I met her in a bar. She had a bright face with a bright smile, large eyes, and a clear forehead. She lied that her name was Katrina, and I didn't hear her real name when she told me.
She wore blue and a bead necklace wrapped twice around her throat. She was small, 5'2". "If I can't find a friend to come along, I go to bars alone," she said. The longest she ever walked was from 52nd St. to 9th St, and that was to find a place to be, to drink. "I'm from Alaska."
She majored in English at a good university, then came to New York for no clear reason. "I'm a writer who doesn't write," she said. Her professors thought she was talented. She would like to put things down in stories but can never get down to the work of it, so much work.
She works during the day and listens to the radio afterwards, eats food, sleeps at night, and on the weekends she drinks cheap white wine, ordering it from the bartender, "cheap white wine, please." She is reading Achebe, Things Fall Apart, and likes to dance.
If she had one more cheap white wine, she would be drunk, but yes, she would drink one more. She knew her limits and was willing to ignore them. I was gone long on gin, buying drink after drink, happy to count out the 20s, overtipping, soft.
She was going to get up and dance by the DJ but felt too shy.
"I'm afraid of being raped when I go out too late alone. But I go anyway." She will leave NYC for Seattle or San Francisco, or Atlanta, or another city on a long recited list. She will be fine wherever she goes, she feels.
Men came over to speak to her. I watched the interaction, studying them, flying in my gin airplane, staring down on their trim haircuts. She vanished once from sight with one of them, and came back a few seconds later, looking apologetic. Finally a Hispanic man began to touch her while they talked, his mouth close to her ear, his hand touching her shoulder, then her hip, then her back, then her shoulder again. I watched this for a few minutes, seeing his formal vocabulary of intimate gesture. It worked. An interest and affection emerged over her body. She touched him back, then came over to me.
I'm sorry, I didn't mean to leave you.
I know him, she said. He was nice to me when I was in here crying a few weeks ago.
You should talk to him, I told her. He touches you as he talks. It's interesting.
He did? I didn't notice.
Yes, he puts his hands on your side, then your back, and he talks in one ear, then the other. You should go back to him.
Hmm. Would you mind if I talked to him? I really want to.
No, not at all. I wanted to see you drink and listen to you. I just ended a relationship...it's just nice to see people. I am going to go home, though.
Oh, she said. Well. She nodded.
I hope you enjoy yourself very much, I said, meaning it. Let me give you some money for a cab home. I pressed $7 into her hand.
I have enough money for a cab.
But you won't let yourself take it, you'll save the money and take the train, too late. It won't be safe.
Yes, that's true. But you can't give it to me. You must be a good friend to have if you're trying to give me cash to spend time with another boy.
I don't know about that. I'm self-centered. But will you take the money?
No. This Spanish boy. He can get me a cab. Or I can find my own way home.
Are you sure?
I shook her hand, we flashed smiles. I went for air.
I walked towards 1st Ave. I liked hearing her story, letting her voice into my head, giving it room besides work, maps, books, and movies. I wanted to not be alone, to not feel abandoned. I memorized her face before it faded, remembering the necklace she wore around her long bare throat. It was all very human. It was good to have known her.