After Steffi went on maternity leave, then left Castlebar for maternity life, Brigid promptly stepped into mine. An Amazon blonde with a full body of hairpin turns. Round face. Barberry cheeks. Large, powder blue eyes.
God introduced us on a Sunday afternoon. A platoon of regulars dotting the bar, drunken polka dots. Jukebox on break. Oasis playing on the company iPod. Back room a nest of empty tables, naked stage awaiting the call to open mic night.
She tossed a coaster on the counter. Irish brogue dancing lightly off her tongue. “What’s good for you, then?”
I set my notebook down. “I don’t know how to answer that.”
“Take your time, dear.”
She coasted down the bar, threw a look over her shoulder.
Pair of lengthy braids going along for the ride.
I lit a cigarette, and thought about my options.
She returned with a wine-stained take-out menu in her hands. “Any decisions, stranger?”
“I was going to order some food from the deli on the corner. You know it?”
“You want anything?”
“That mean you know what you’re drinking, then?”
“No. You keep giving me things to think about.”
“Wouldn’t want to do that. Not on a Sunday.”
“Tell you what, though…” I took a drag. “You trust me to do as much, I’ll pick your lunch up for you.”
“Eventually, it’s going to be a yes or no question.”
She grinned. Crossed her arms as she leaned over the bar. Gave her breasts some heft, and for a moment I was petrified she was already scrounging for a tip. “Then how about an arrangement?”
“I’m new here.”
“Hi. And I’m guessing you’re a regular.”
“So, what? Your usual pleasure, I’m also guessing, is something along the lines of a bottled domestic? Or maybe a pour of whiskey, vodka, something on the rocks?”
“Sometimes. Occasionally, always.”
“Ho-hum…” She put her hand to her mouth in a contrite yawn. “Ho-hum-de-hum.”
“I want to cut my teeth. Expand my horizons.”
“You remind me of me when I was you.”
“That was a long time ago,” she said. “I’ll allow you to fetch my food, if you’ll allow me to make you my lab rat.”
“Grease the squeaky wheel.”
“I need practice and you need a drink. Perhaps many drinks. No charge. Long as you’re willing to swallow whatever I’m serving…” She tilted her head, mimicking a keen observation. “And my guess is you’ll say yes.”
“You must be Lucky.”
“You must be psychic?”
“Actually, I’m Brigid.”
“With a D?”
“And it was a fellow named Lincoln who said you’d be the man for this job.”
“Lincoln said that?”
Brigid nodded. “So what’s good for you?”
“Whatever’s good for the gander.”
I did my best not to stare as she shook the concoction. Poured a stream of watered down B-negative into a martini glass.
“One cosmopolitan for Mr. Lucky Aurelius.”
“Saurelius.” I took a sip. A few large swallows. Wiped my lips, lit a cigarette. “And I think we’ve got ourselves an arrangement.”
“Good.” Brigid tossed a bar ticket in front of me, scrawled with an order for hot pastrami on rye. “Now fetch me my meal, lab rat.”
I polished off the cosmopolitan, and let her pick my poison.
It was a couple of weeks after that afternoon with Lincoln and the Blue Label.
Rowan had tagged in for Brigid, and Brigid had taken it upon herself to cop a seat alongside mine. Her presence took precedence. Rowan breezed past the other customers, tossed a coaster. It slid to a stop at her elbow.
“What’ll it be, Brigid?”
“Pint of Bass, please.” Her eyes shifted towards my notebook, for just one split – “And a shot of Jamison’s as well.”
Rowan propped his spindly body against the bar. Playful eyes and a wicked grin channeling the charm, his beak pointed at my remainders. “What you got there, Lucky?”
I grit my teeth. “Girl’s Night Out.”
“Yes, I imagine you and Brigid have quite the evening planned.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry juice,” he recited. “Why do I always catch you drinking all these bitchy little drinks, Lucky?”
I felt Brigid’s hip brush against mine.
Our arrangement was secret. Sacrosanct. “Just have me what she’s having, would you?”
“Two Bass, two Jamison’s, for one girl’s night out.”
We got our due.
The jukebox broke its silent streak with Billie Holliday’s End of a Love Affair.
She raised her glass. “Slainte.”
Clink, drink, down they went.
“What are we doing tonight?” Brigid asked.
“Meeting Paco and Trudy over on the east side. Said they were celebrating something.”
“What time you heading over?”
“What happened to we?”
“It was the colloquial.”
“You don’t want to come?”
Brigid took a sip of Bass. “Drink up.”
We never did come to an agreement.
Though neither one of us can say the music didn’t give us fair warning.
We took things east. Heading along Third Street, becoming Great Jones, back into Third. Into alphabet city. Watched the bar signs turn a thematic red. Last of the remaining dives overtaken by ant colonies, hipsters and young professionals descending in leather –clad swarms. Night rhythms blasting b-sides from every doorway.
Corner of Third and Avenue A, Brigid zipped up her black hoodie. “I’m excited.”
“Me too.” I stooped down, picked up a quarter. “You first, though.”
“Year and a half since that Sunday, finally heading out on the town with Mr. Lucky Saurelius.”
“Always wondered what you did with yourself outside Castlebar.”
“Porn. Masturbation. Writing.”
“I don’t mind any of those things.”
“I’m excited, too.”
An inebriated couple tipped into our wake. Living mannequins, the beautiful people. Artificial tans and smiles a wasted white. The male half of some future star child reached into his jacket and handed me a pint of rum.
“We’ve had too much, man…” he laughed. “You’ve got to help us get out of here.”
His lady giggled, and as they walked away, I heard her garble and Oh my god, you just gave them your rum, you are so crazy!
I unscrewed the cap. Took a hit of Bacardi.
Handed Brigid the pint. She indulged. Let a little escape down her chin. Wiped satisfaction from her lips. “Now I have become very excited,” she said.
“Also, I found a quarter back there.”
We went north along Avenue A.
I ducked into a tiny deli for a pack of cigarettes.
Left with an eighty-year-old woman on one arm, a bag of groceries in the other.
Brigid was waiting outside, eyes wired with surprise. Mid drag. Tossed the cigarette aside as though caught behind the barn.
“Brigid, this is Millie,” I said. “She lives one block up.”
“He bagged my groceries,” Millie told her. White curls tight over a face of grey wrinkles, mercifully free of rouge or horrid foundation. “It’s Brigid, right?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Brigid shook her hand, slipped in with her arm. “Happy to help.”
We escorted Millie, bent back and all, towards her apartment of sixty-two years. Once home to a husband and World War II vet who had lost his left arm when a surrendering Japanese soldier, hands behind his head, pulled the pins on a pair of grenades. It was a casual canter along the sidewalk, and boys in skinny jeans muttered complaints to retro girlfriends about the slow pace of these three tourists.
Empty tallboys of Pabst Blue Ribbon adorned the steps to Millie’s stoop.
She sighed, gave us a smile. Told us she’d take it from there.
“You’ve got yourself quite a fine man, young lady.”
I frowned. “Who is he? I’ll kill him.”
“Don’t ruin a nice gesture with stupid remarks, Lucky.”
“Thank you,” Brigid said. Gave Millie’s arm a squeeze.
I handed Millie her groceries. Romaine tips tickled my nose, and I held back a sneeze.
Small bite from the Big Apple. Teeth marks in the shape of a half-hour.
We figured the sign knew what it was talking about. So we peeked into the window, hoping to settle an argument. Bar or restaurant. Or possibly diner. They caught our noses pressed against glass and waved us in.
A six-five monster with a broken nose and thin widow’s peak unlocked the door. Ushered us in to a round of applause. A private party of twenty-some Russians, celebrating someone’s birthday. Didn’t seem to matter whose anymore. Empty fifths of vodka littered the tables in irrational numbers.
“WELCOME TO SIBERIA!”
Within seconds we were juggling five or six disposable cameras. Freelance photographers. Cries of exiled madness washing across the empty bar and barren tables, stretching towards the back. Vibrations rattling red light bulbs from their lanterns. Turning off one by one. Five fresh bottles cracked open. Shot glasses overflowing.
Brigid and I joined them for a round. Then another.
One of the bottles got knocked good and sideways. rolled its way to the floor.
Under the cover of wild applause, Brigid put her arm around my torso. Still a good half foot taller than me. Leaned in and whispered in my ear. “These are Russians, Lucky. We can’t keep up with them.”
I leaned right back. Slid my hand past her waist, along her back. Tilted my lips upwards, “Aren’t you supposed to be Irish?”
“Admittedly.” We were locked in an embrace, then. Somehow. “But when was the last time Russia was colonized?”
“So how do we get out of this?”
“This is your doing, Lucky.”
“How is this my –”
A swift fist sent one of the revelers across the table and onto the floor. In a dazzling display of mitosis, one dispute begat two, four, split into eight people shoving their way down the bar. Followed by the whole lot of them.
In the ten seconds it took us to spot our moment, everyone apologized. Bear hugs all around, some seven words of muddled Russian before they were at it again. Vicious blows to the body, face, fingers wrapped around soft necks. Bodies thrown against barstools, and when it ended, if it ever did, they would have seen the last of the their photographers.
Documenting their way north and taking a right on Tenth.
Lou’s 649 was an easygoing sort of cocktail joint, bathed in streaks of violet and yellow. Artisanal tables clashed with the bar’s modern fixtures. Tenders decked out in black ties. A Lower East Side identity crisis held together by a disco ball rotating some ten feet above the floor.
At least, that’s what it looked like by the time Brigid and I stepped in.
Up three vodkas, and one pint of Bacardi.
I spied Paco and Trudy at a corner table. Brigid missed by a mile, unaccustomed to seeing them outside Castlebar. Rounded glasses on the left, encased in long black hair and a lengthy beard. On the right, purple plastic rims. Curly hair, shoulder length. Plush features, sturdy chin.
We sat down.
Paco and Trudy ran a business out of their home. An inexplicable service of sorts involving the internet. None of which I understood. They never held it against me, and would frequently take me out for drinks.
Thought there was something different about them that particular evening. Their mood, their roaming hands, the caliber of the cabernet, a pricy bottle that didn’t quite fit the profile.
“We read your book, Lucky,” Trudy said.
“We did,” Paco added. “First page through the last, as per your instructions.”
“Didn’t actually think you’d do it,” I said.
Brigid leaned forward. “Was it good?”
“Of course,” Trudy said.
“Of course,” Paco said.
“Of course they’re going to say that,” I said. “What’s the real reason we’re all here?”
“We’ve sold Chaos Kitten.”
I kept the wine along the right pipe by taking a second swallow. Wiped my mouth against my shoulder. “You sold the company?”
Paco nodded, “Don’t tell nobody, but we’re rich now.”
Brigid stood and hugged them both with loud congratulations.
I stayed put. Unsure what good news looked like. “You sold Chaos Kitten.”
“Yes,” Trudy said.
“But that was your…” I paused, poured myself the last of the wine. Put the bottle down. Paused. “What is it you all do, again?”
“See, he doesn’t even know,” Paco told Brigid. “Doesn’t even know what Chaos Kitten was.”
Trudy disguised a caring smile behind a survivor’s smirk. “What’s got you so frazzled Lucky?”
“Lucky thinks we’ve sold out,” Paco said, stroking his beard.
“Lucky thinks we’ve given away our lives,” Trudy replied, both of them involved in their own conversation now.
“He doesn’t know yet.”
“Think he ever will?”
“Depends. Think Lucky can ever give it up?”
“Stop being Lucky?”
Trudy stuck out her tongue. “Bleah.”
“Yes, sorry,” I polished off the wine. “Clearly I was wrong. In fact…” I turned in my seat, calling out to all customers. “Everybody, if I could have your attention! All of your drinks tonight are courtesy of Paco and Trudy!”
The second half of my announcement was lost as the disco ball hit the floor. One foot from my chair, shattered into one thousand pieces. An abrupt suicide sending a collective cry of surprise, saving Paco and Trudy from blowing their hard earned millions on a single night in Manhattan.
Paco shook his head. “That was a close one, Lucky.”
“Pulling a wild stunt like that,” Trudy said.
“For fuck’s sake, Lucky…” Brigid slapped the back of my head. “Can’t you let them be happy?”
“Never,” I said. Finished my glass, and sighed. “Next bottle’s on me.”
Trudy rolled her eyes. “You’re drunk, Lucky.”
“I am how I am. Next bottle’s on me. Next two.”
The bartender had rushed to my side. Dust pan and no broom. Unable to fulfill his task, he went about checking on my relative well-being. Raining down apologies. Leaning in close, tie dipping in and out from between my legs. Assurances that my tab would be taken care of for the evening, and what else could they provide me and my friends?
“No worries,” I told him. “Just going to need two more of this Cabernet. We’ll use the same glasses.”
He ran off for two bottles and a broom.
I turned back to the table. “What are you thinking of doing now? What’s next?”
Trudy gave Paco’s cheek a warm kiss. “We’re going to open up a barbecue pit upstate.”
Paco smiled affectionately. At his wife. At the entire table. “Some of us have more than one dream.”
“A toast, then. To the both of you,” I said. “In exactly one minute and thirty seconds.”
The time it took for the wine to arrive, poured evenly amongst us.
Brigid slid close and put her arm around my waist.
I held up my glass, said something honest and sad that was best left to the walls and empty tables.
Wouldn’t see Paco or Trudy ever again, but it was fine, at the time, to simply brush stray shards of disco ball from my lap as we dug into both bottles with savage glee.
Brigid and I stumbled out of Lou’s, no stopping this chain reaction.
Arm in arm. Down Avenue B, skirting the iron fences of Tomkins Square Park. Laughing soundly to a botched punchline. Ripe springtime smells from the gutters.
“Is this how your life works?” Brigid asked. “You go out for an evening stroll, and the events just explode around you? Shrapnel from every corner of the city?”
“Maybe.” I paused to light a cigarette. “Either way, I’m stealing it.”
“What you just said.”
“You can’t, it’s mine.” She lit one of her own. Put a hand to my face. “It’s mine. This evening is mine. So are you.”
“You have me for the evening.”
I did. Palm against her face, thumb resting against the corner of her mouth.
“Chaos kitten,” she mumbled, closing her eyes.
Leading the way for mine. Paving the way for infantilized kisses.
Wet, loose. Unconcerned with technique. Thrown violently against early memories, to the earliest addictions of the everyday. Exploring.
“I love your tongue,” she murmured.
I replied with the first few words of a joke that never made it past her lips.
Subtle tones of plum and red cherry…
We pulled apart for just a moment.
“Don’t think I need to tell you this,” she said, eyes still closed.
She smiled, was about to ignore my request when
An old man with rags for clothes walked past us. Caught the pure appreciation in my eyes. Momentarily met them with a smile. It wilted. Disintegrated into raw hatred as he continued north, shoes stuffed with yesterday’s headlines.
“Why are you sad?” she asked.
Took a time out from what was. “I’m actually ok.”
We pressed against each other. Obnoxious kisses in plain view of turning seasons. I made the mistake of opening my eyes for just a moment. Caught a man rushing past, purse clutched in his left hand.
Chased down by the cries of someone who had just been robbed of all they had.
A spindly punk rocker had parked himself in the middle of the sidewalk. Knees close to his chest. Ankles crossed. Arms wrapped around his shins. Fair skinned, not a bruise or scar that couldn’t be explained by tattoos or barbell piercings.
I noticed him first. Brigid noticed nobody else noticing him.
We both bent low. Heads tilted to better check his eyes, those wide, engorged pupils.
“You ok?” I asked.
“I’m fine to stay,” he said, few consonants managing to stick their landing.
“You’re in the middle of the street,” Brigid said, voice loud, looking to make an impression. “Do you need to be taken somewhere? Is there someone we can call?”
Our concern was attracting more attention than our actual patient.
We rephrased the questions in as many ways as we could. Got nothing back but a blank stare, bad trip gone worse. But not as bad as it could have been.
“He doesn’t want to change,” I told Brigid. “Let’s move on.”
“He doesn’t want to change?”
“Happy where he is, slice it any way you like. We stay here any longer he’s going to be our responsibility when the cops roll by.”
“We’re leaving now!” Brigid shouted into his face.
“Come on, Brigid. No kidding. Now.”
We left him behind.
“You sure he’s going to be ok?” she asked, checking street signs for our way forward.
“We did what we could.”
“Just drunk enough to not make a serious mistake.”
She didn’t reply.
“Did I ruin the mood?”
Brigid smiled. “We had a mood going, did we?”
“Had. Past tense. I was right.”
“Easy way to solve that…” She gave me a swift kiss on the lips. “Easy way.”
“Drinks, drinks, drinks.”
We kissed our way through any misgivings and went to continue the cycle.
The Castlebar crew looked on with buzzed disapproval as Brigid and I knocked back tequila, Jamison’s, Yeager Bombs, Skittle Bombs, laughing before the jokes had bloomed and spilling ice cubes all over each other.
We were half way to the N, when someone shoved a bowie knife right into the sky, split its belly apart and unleashed a thunderstorm onto the streets.
Brigid screamed. For a moment I thought she’d want to run. And she did. And we did. But not to get out of the rain. Not even to where we needed to be. We tore across the mine fields, dove into puddles, never once taking our eyes off the rainclouds.
Save for one moment, where I happened to look over. Catch her jacket tied around her waist. White shirt soaked through. See-through, wet to the point where the water appeared to be running down her face and along her bare breasts, down to the very foundation of our time together.
She caught me staring and drew me close.
We kissed in the rain, until we ran out of air,
and when we ran out of air, our memories ran out of use.
My basement apartment. Both of us surfacing for seconds, then back under in black immersion. Bodies wet, slithering along the bed. Misguided heel smashing against a lamp. Head down, my face between her legs. Early morning birds tapping at the window. Neither one of us interested in impressing, as though this were the greatest of all adventures that needed to be gotten over with.
I awoke to an infuriated cat, repeatedly collapsing onto my face.
Dragged my face across the pillow, over to where Brigid lay sleeping. On her back. Naked from the waist down. Black socks pulled up to her knees.
I sighed. “All that, and I never even got to see your tits.”
“Brigid, I have to feed the cat. You working today?”
She turned her head to kiss me. Perfect scent of a sour depth charge. Moved my hand up along her body. “These tits, Lucky?” she whispered into my mouth.
Then she stiffened.
Shot up, top set of teeth banging against my cheek. “Shit, I do have to work today.” She glanced around. Put a hand absently against her pussy, brief snooze button. “Time, Lucky? Time, please?”
I glanced at the radio. “Ten. Morning, in case you were –”
She scurried after her pants. It gave me the chance to realize I had been liberated from my own pair at some point. Realized Brigid wasn’t in so much of a hurry, she couldn’t pause, and send my windsock a quick wink and a sly Hello.
She barreled past me, into the bathroom.
The living room was a disaster.
Pants hanging off the back of the couch.
With that mystery solved, I opened a tin of tuna, looking to make amends.
My cat howled in anticipation, then set about wolfing it down.
In all the rush, I forgot to wonder whether I was supposed to be smiling.
The custodian had opened shop for Brigid. Gotten her chores started with enough speed to allow us to charge through the door, send her behind the bar, just before the regulars came crying their way from the sun.
We stared at each other ruefully. Back to where twenty-four hours had first found us.
“Amazing,” she said.
“I’m surprised you remember,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Shut your stupid face.”
“It’s as though last night’s madness won’t let go,” Brigid mused, pouring us a pair of waters. “Followed us right back in here. I thought for sure I’d be fired.”
“I won’t tell.”
She reached over and held my hand. Felt nice, comfortable. “Want a drink?”
“Do we not have an arrangement today?”
I smiled through my headache. “Surprise me.”
“Want to help me cut some lemons?”
“I would love to help you cut some lemons.”
She hoisted a mesh bag of yellow stoplights onto the bar, and we began to slice.
I spent the morning with Brigid. I spent the afternoon with Rowan and some of the regulars, sipping whiskey outside a bar in the West Village. Back in time to see Brigid off work. She invited me to dinner with her friends. I had a birthday to tend to in the unfortunate bars and Karaoke slums off the L train. She kissed me goodbye. Thanked me for a perfect evening. I told her we would see each other soon, left out the details.
After all, we had an arrangement.
Problem was there were still disco shards in my shoes. They followed me to the party, where the best friend went into Nitrous seizures. They dug into my heels when the thieves came looking for whatever they could steal. The incident on the Upper West Side. The illegal impersonation of Alex in a Red Hook courthouse. Waking up at six in the morning to find my face caked in blood, one inch gash stenciled along my left eyebrow and no memory of where my bookbag had gone. The wounded bird. The magician. The mad rush to write it all down taking me one month past our potential, when I finally synched my schedule to hers and sat down, only to have her ask what I’d like to drink.
“Not sure,” I said, resting my notebook on the bar.
“I’ll come back when you’ve decided,” she said.
I pulled out the crossword and let the regulars distract themselves further.
She came back with the same question.
“I’m sorry,” I told her.
“You could have called,” she said.
“You didn’t get my notes?”
“You can’t just leave notes behind and assume that I’ll assume the best.”
“It never occurred to me to call. You’re right. Cell phones are stupid, but you are right.”
Brigid let the honesty ease the anger. Left the pain right where it was. “I think you must know I fancy you. That I always have.” She threw a look back over her shoulder, then continued. “But that night was a mistake. I made a mistake.”
“Nobody made any mistakes.”
“I didn’t see it.”
“Maybe Lincoln was right about you.”
“Even with luck on your side, you’ll never stop.” She reached out to grab my hand. Smiled to herself for even trying and withdrew. “And now I’ll always feel like I was just another part of it.”
“Another part of what?”
“Chaos kitten,” she said. Gave me a sympathetic frown. Lips parted. “There’s not a woman alive who’s going to stick around for what you have to offer.”
It was my turn to do something with my hands. Made it about as far as she had. Picked up a pen instead and tapped it on my wrist. “We can rebuild.”
“It’ll take some doing.”
“We can try. Starting now.”
“Ask me for a drink, and I’ll get it for you. That’s generally how it goes.”
“Jack Daniel’s, rocks. Please.”
Our arrangement at an end, she fulfilled her obligation and accepted my tip with a rehearsed smile.
The cubes cut like glass along sore gum lines. And while that may have been our last conversation, I did finally find those disco shards buried deep in my shoes. Put them in a tiny box. Put the box in the closet, where the cat wouldn’t bother to look.
Even still, I lost the box.
And years later, when I went looking for it, I found something else instead.
And I’d say you have to believe me, but I don’t know what time it is where you’re living.
And wherever you’re living, I hope you are able to sleep.
And if you can, finally, sleep
could you tell me what it’s like?
for free. for shame.