MUTED LIGHTS, SMALL CITY
By Andy White
Bar Dupont. You've been here before, and you will again, but tonight the ever hopefuls are crammed in shoulder-to-shoulder. The conversation is loud, the lights low, and your pupils widen as they grasp for focus. You scan the room and don't see her, or what her photos have told you to expect. Your pretty good bar karma doesn't let you down and you slip into a table in the corner just as a guy is leaving and wait.
And wait. A text rolls in letting you know she's going to be late and you roll with it. What else could you do? You get a glass of the cheap plonk marked up to $11 and note its tepid consistency at warmed over room temperature as you roll it around with your tongue.
When she finally does surface you're happy. She looks like her photos and she seems to be in shape. You don't know her, and she doesn't know you, but she's not thick around the gills so you're happy. She takes about 15 minutes to look through the menu before asking the waiter for a recommendation. You drive the conversation as she does so and almost immediately it feels like an effort. She smiles - occasionally - and laughs - occasionally - but it's like operating a fork lift truck: lots of heavy lifting and manual labor to-boot. But still, she's there and you're there and her lips sometimes curl upwards at the right times. It's enough.
The music is muted and muddied and you can't make it out but it apparently it's too loud for her. She becomes silent and sullen and remarks that she is not usually like this but the plasma television above her head is on and it's annoying her peripheral. You look up at the TV and back down to her again. The set pulsates its tri-color mix with abandon, yet your eyes fail to feel assailed. You feign sympathy as she tries to send her drink back, the waiter's recommendation having failed to make its mark.
This time the silence lingers. The double-wammy of the medium to soft strains of background jazz and the television on mute sends her into a stunned silence. You let the thread drop and see how long it drags in the mud. After 30 seconds the uncomfortable silence transcends all expectation and you realize there's nothing more to be said. You flinch first and signal for the bill. She gives a half nod, as though conserving all energy and body movement for the 4 block walk home. The bill and its arrival isn't exactly expedient which works in your favor as her mouth opens and words tumble out. You fail to grab them and their import becomes null and void, but yet you wonder what if you had.
Bar Dupont. You've been outside before and you will again, but for now you wait and you smile, for there is nothing else you can do.
The following day you get a text from her thanking you for the date but explaining that she is not ready to date. You smile to yourself, for there is nothing else you can do.