Sunday, May 29, 2011

LIEF: Twenty-Four

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It was so noisy in the bar that nobody could use their real voices.

    “So how do you know Lief?” Liz shouted.
    Rob leaned in. “What?”
    Lief rolled her eyes. “She wants to know how you know me,” she told him.
    Rob nodded and smiled. “We work together,” he replied. “At the library.”
    Lief twirled the cup in her hand and watched the ice cubes circle around the bottom. “Do you guys want another drink?” she asked.
    Liz was whispering something in Tom’s ear. “What?” she said, turning back to Lief.
    Lief held up her empty glass. “Come to the bar with me,” she shouted.
    They left the two men and pushed their way through the crowd. Lief pulled her arms in close to her chest and tried not to touch anybody.
    “So what’s the story with Rob?” Liz asked.
    Lief shook her head. “It’s not a date,” she said.
    “You look like you want to strangle him,” Liz said.
    Lief leaned over the bar. “Could we get two more G&Ts?” she yelled to the bartender.
    Liz leaned against the wall. “So?”
    “So what?” Lief replied.
    “You look like you hate the guy,” Liz said.
    “I don’t hate anybody,” Lief told her.
    “Could’ve fooled me,” Liz said.
    Lief took the two glasses from the bartender. “What?” she asked.
    “Nothing,” Liz yelled.
    Lief handed one of the drinks to Liz. “Who are these guys?” she asked.
    “Debasers!” Liz replied. “From school!”
    Lief shook her head and then took a sip from her drink.
    “We saw them play in the student lounge, remember?” Liz added.
    Lief looked at her drink for a moment. “I don’t think I was there,” she said finally.
    “You weren’t there?” Liz repeated.
    “I’m pretty sure I don’t remember it,” Lief said. She could see Rob and Tom through the crowd.
    Liz was sipping her drink through her straw. “It was junior year,” she said. “Maybe it was that weekend you went home.”
    Rob was waving to them. “I went home a lot of weekends junior year,” Lief replied.
    “Why did I think you were there?” Liz asked
    Rob continued waving. “He thinks I don’t see him,” Lief said.
    Liz sipped her drink some more. “I think you had a crush on the lead singer or something,” she said. “Maybe that’s why I thought you were there.”
    Lief again pulled her elbows in and slid between two girls facing the stage. Rob was smiling.
    “There you are,” he said. “What were you guys talking about?”
    Lief sat in the bathroom stall for a while. The crowd noise existed in a dull buzzing that she could almost ignore until somebody opened the door. In those few seconds it took for them to enter the bathroom and for the door to slowly close behind them, Lief could hear the mass of colliding conversations, just like when she was out there. Then it would be quiet again.
    She sat on the toilet and stared straight ahead. Sometimes she looked at the floor, at the way her boots looked against the grimy tile. But mostly she just stared ahead. She stared at the silver coat hook, and at the silver latch that locked the door shut. She checked her watch.
    She read the graffiti on the stall door. It was spare, it dotted the door like tiny blemishes. Tammi Christenson is a slut. Amanda F is a whore. Eddy Ramirez has a teeny tiny pecker. Ha-ha. In the center of the door, in magic marker, someone had drawn a sunflower. Lief stared at it for a long time, it seemed. Then she looked at her watch. She’d been gone long enough.
    She unlatched the door, and grazed the sunflower lightly with her fingertips. The bathroom door was closed, and she stood and absorbed the silence. She heard somebody giggle from one of the stalls, so she checked herself in the mirror and then went back out into the bar.
    She found her friends easily. Liz was shaking her head.
    “They’re talking about that Perot guy,” Liz told her, putting her hands on her shoulders, pulling her in close.
    Lief rocked her shoulders back and forth gently until Liz let go. “Who?” she asked.
    “The Texas billionaire who wants to run for president,” Rob interjected. “He announced on Larry King last week.”
    Someone was tuning a bass guitar on stage.
    “I don’t really follow politics,” Lief said.
    Liz was chewing on the ice from her glass. “I’m voting for Tsongas.”
    Lief turned towards the stage. “I think the band is starting soon,” she said.
    Tom and Rob continued their conversation. “You don’t think he could beat Bush, do you?” Tom said. “There’s no way.”
    Liz stood next to Lief. “Rob’s not so bad,” she whispered in her ear. “You should give him a chance.”
    Lief folded her arms across her chest. “Hopefully they’ll be good,” she yelled. “The band, I mean.”
    “I heard they might be signing a record deal,” Liz told her.
    The drummer counted in the first song, clicking his sticks together. 1, 2, ah 1234.
    Liz stood beside Lief, and bobbed her head to the beat. Tom was interrupted mid-sentence. He tried to yell out a few more things, but the band was too loud.
    “Nobody introduced them,” Tom yelled to Liz.
    Tom leaned over her. “Usually somebody comes out and tells you the band’s name and that they’re going to start playing!” he yelled.
    Liz shook her head. “This isn’t that kind of band,” she answered.
    Lief leaned against the back wall. The singer played his guitar facing away from the audience. His long greasy hair fell over his face.
    “We can probably get up closer if you want,” Rob told her. “There’s some space up front.”
    Lief shook her head. “I don’t like having people behind me,” she told him. “I can see them fine from here.”
    The singer sang sideways into the microphone. “Salt and pepper shaker gonna meet my maker,” he started. “Sinner or a winner, I just think you’re a faker.”
    “They’re not too bad,” Rob yelled to Lief. She nodded.
    The song was over quickly. There was a smattering of applause.
    Rob leaned over to Lief. “Tom said you went to school with these guys?”
    Lief shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t really remember them,” she said. “Liz knew them, I think.”
    The singer turned to face the audience. “This is called Storm Girl,” he announced. He pushed his hair from his face.
    Lief tensed up.
    “Leaf, leaf in a storm,” the song began. “Take off your sweater, show me your form.”
    Liz was again nodding her head along to the beat.
    “Take off your sweater, let me keep you warm.”
    “I like this one,” Rob yelled in her ear.
    The singer kept his eyes closed. “You whispered my name, my name, my name,” he sang. “We made love to ‘Come On Pilgrim’ side A.”
    Lief stared straight ahead.
    “I sung to you in Spanish until you came, you came.”
    The lead guitarist wandered too close to the stage and accidentally unplugged himself from his amp. The song teetered and lost momentum as he searched for his lead. The whole left side of the stage was buzzing.
    “I need some air,” Lief said. “I just got to step outside for a minute.”
    The drums and bass continued on until the guitarist plugged back in. The singer continued.
    “You were the Viking on my seas, I was the leaf in your storm,” he sang. “I was the leaf in your storm, girl.”
    Lief closed her eyes. “I just need some air.”
    Outside was quiet. A street sweeper rumbled off in the distance, but there were no cars driving by, no people out walking. Her breath turned an ashy blue as she exhaled into the cold night air.
    She heard the door close behind her.
    “Are you alright?” Rob asked.
    Lief shook her head but did not turn around. “It was just so loud,” she replied. “And hot.”
    “It’s a beautiful night,” he continued. “So clear.”
    She sat down on the sidewalk. She had a cigarette in her hand, but kept it hidden in her palm.
    “Have you ever thought about who writes graffiti in bathroom stalls?” she asked. “Who thinks to write shit about somebody while they’re going to the bathroom?”
    “I don’t know,” Rob replied. “I’ve never vandalized anything.”
    “They must be assholes,” she told him.
    She could hear him get closer behind her. “Did somebody--is there something on the bathroom wall about you?” he asked.
    She shook her head. She opened her hand and rolled the cigarette in her palm.
    “That band was shit,” she said.
    Rob hopped down and stood on the street in front of her. “They were pretty rough-sounding,” he replied. “You went to school with them? The guys in the band?”
    She flicked the unlit cigarette in her fingers. “I went to school with a  lot of people, Rob,” she told him.
    Rob dug his hands into his coat pocket. “You didn’t have to invite me,” he said.
    Lief palmed the cigarette again. “What do you mean?”
    Rob flapped his arms so that his jacket looked like wings. “You clearly can’t stand me,” he answered. “You clearly don’t want me to be here.”
    She looked down to the street. “It isn’t that,” she said.
    The street sweeper was getting closer. “You’ve just been making all these little comments all night. ‘I went to school with a lot of people.’ ‘I can see fine from here.’ It’s like you decided the minimum amount of effort you wanted to put into liking me.”
    Lief looked down the street. “We’ve got to move,” she said. “The sweeper’s coming.”
    Rob looked down the street, as well. “You’re just another of those cynical, bitter girls. I thought you were better than that.”
    Lief stood up and walked back to the building. “Don’t be that guy, Rob,” she told him.
    The street sweeper passed by them. They stood together silent as the machine grumbled and hissed. The operator smiled and tipped his cap to Lief, and she smiled back at him.
    “Let’s forget it,” Lief said after the sweeper had passed.
    “Don’t be what guy?” Rob asked.
    Lief turned to watch the sweeper make its way around the corner. “I’m sorry, Rob,” she said. “It’s nothing.”
    She could hear him sighing loudly. “So what do you want to do?” he asked.
    “This isn’t a date, Rob,” she told him. “Why don’t you go watch the rest of the show and I’ll see you on Monday.”
    He was dramatically silent for a moment. Lief looked over to him.
    “I thought you liked me,” he said.
    She could really feel the cold then. It crept through her jacket and shirt from the stone wall.
    “I’m not bitter and cynical,” she told him. “I’m just tired and that band sucks and I’m just not having fun.”
    She looked up at the night sky. It was clear, and the stars were faintly visible. She saw her breath rise up.
    “Tell Liz and Tom I had to head out,” she continued. “We took separate cars so they should be alright.”
    Rob sighed loudly again. “They’re your friends,” he whined.
    Lief nodded. “I’ll see you on Monday, Rob.”
    Glover was asleep in the armchair when she walked in.
    “Glow, don’t be worried,” she whispered. “It’s just me.”
    He only stirred slightly.
    “Why aren’t you in bed?” she asked him.
    He didn’t open his eyes. “Why are you here?” he mumbled.
    She ran her fingers through his hair. “I just wanted to see you guys, I guess,” she told him.
    “’slate,” Glow murmured.
    “Yeah,” she said. “It is late. Why don’t you get to bed. I’ll guard the door.”
    Glow got up without opening his eyes and shuffled across the living room.
    “Good night,” he said to her from his bedroom doorway. She could hear him tumble into his bed. She took his place in his armchair. He had left a book open and resting on the arm, and Lief picked it up. She looked at the back cover and, shaking her head, tossed it onto the floor. It landed face down and the light from the window landed right on the book jacket. She grabbed the TV Guide from the coffee table and placed it over the author photo. And then fell asleep.
    It was nearly dawn when her father came home.
    “Leapfrog?” he said. “Is that you?”
    She opened her eyes suddenly and scanned the room.
    “Is everything alright?” he asked.
    She stretched her arms over her head. “Shitty night,” she said.
    Dad took his hat off. “You’re not in trouble, are you?” he asked. “Do you need money?”
    Her neck was stiff. “No, Dad,” she replied. “I just wanted to see you guys and I didn’t really want to go home.”
    Dad hung his jacket up on the coat hook. He looked at the book on the floor. “That you?” he asked. Lief nodded. Dad bent over and picked it up.
    “Glow’s gonna be upset if you’ve lost his place.”
    Lief shrugged. “He shouldn’t be reading trash like that anyways,” she said.
    Dad smiled. “So it was a real shitty night, huh?”
    She nodded. “Have you talked to him lately?” she asked.
    Dad scratched his temple. His hair was almost completely white now. “He calls,” he replied. “He calls. He called the other day.”
    Lief crossed her arms. “What did he want?”
    Dad opened the fridge. “Why do you bring it up if it’s just gonna make you upset?” he asked. “Wanna beer?”
    Lief shook her head. “It’s morning.”
    Dad opened one and took a drink. “Not for me,” he said. He sat down on the couch. “You want to sleep in my bed?” he continued. “I’m fine here.”
    Lief turned towards him. “Dad, do you think I’m bitter? Or cynical?”
    Dad took a long swig. “You asked me this a few years ago, I don’t know what my answer’d have been.”
    Lief closed her eyes. “I don’t think I am,” she told him.
    Dad nodded. “You expect a lot from people,” he replied. “That’s what I’d say. You have high standards. Just like--” He took another swig. “Just like you always have.”
    Lief cried a little, but if Dad noticed he didn’t say anything.
    “People suck,” she told him. She started to say something else but didn’t. She took a deep breath. “Let’s talk about something else,” she said. “Tell me about work.”
    Dad sat back on the couch and put his cap on. “Do you remember Dan Miklaszewski? From work?”
    Lief thought for a second. “He the one with the lazy eye?”
    Dad sipped his beer. “Mik sends money every month to one of those Sally Struthers kids,” he told her. “You know where for less than a dollar a day and they send you letters and stuff?”
    Lief felt drowsy suddenly. “Isn’t that a scam?” she asked.
    Dad shrugged. “Could be. But Mik and his ex-wife never had kids, so I guess this is something important to him. Anyways, tonight he comes in all excited because he got a new picture of the kid. I never knew about it, but he’s got a stack of ‘em in his wallet. Like he get a new one every year.”
    “Like school photos,” Lief said.
    “Right.” Dad put the beer bottle on the coffee table. He took his hat back off and ran his fingers through his hair. “He’s showing this picture around in the break room, telling us all sorts of stuff the kid’s up to. He must’ve gotten a new letter, too. And Mark--you remember Big Mark?--Big Mark’s like ‘C’mon, Mik, you haven’t even met this kid.’”
    Lief folded her legs Indian style in the chair.
    “And you know what Mik says?” Dad asked. “He says, ‘Why should that matter?’ Why should that matter.”
    Dad put his cap back on and picked up his bottle. “I don’t know I thought of that,” he said. “It was just interesting to me.”
    Lief rubbed her feet in her hands. “What you guys doing tomorrow?”
    Dad yawned. “Glowworm’s got a basketball game at 1. And then we were having dinner with you.”
    Lief yawned too. “Maybe I’ll come to his game,” she said.
    Dad nodded. “You should. He really can’t shoot for shit, but the hustle on that kid.” Dad smiled. “He’s going to be a great sprinter some day.”
    Dad got up. “You sure you don’t want my bed? I don’t mind the couch.”
    Lief nodded. “The couch’ll be fine for me,” she replied.
    He bent over and kissed her forehead. “I love you, Leapfrog,” he said. “I’m sorry you had a shitty night. And on your birthday, too.”
    Lief reached up and put her hands on his face. “Thanks, Dad,” she said. “I just wish you and Glow weren’t the only decent people I knew.”
    He squeezed her hands. “Maybe you just don’t know that many people, sweetheart,” he said.

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