There’s this unwritten but somewhat formal rule about the length of posts. It’s kind of like the old line from the movie The Big Chill, in which Jeff Goldblum plays a writer for People magazine and acknowledges that one of the magazine’s fundamental tenets is don’t write stories that take longer to read than it takes the average person to take a crap.
The same theory seems to apply to blog posts and I know, while it is unrelated to my crapping habits, the more words a post is, the more unlikely it is that I’m going to read the thing. With that in mind, I wrote a story. But it’s almost 5,000 words long — far too long to meet the People magazine test and far too long to satisfy our shortened attention spans.
So, I’m going to post it in three or four parts over the next few days with the hope that there’s enough to keep you coming back.
I called her Chicago because that was the only name I had for her. She sat down at the bar stool next to mine, throwing down a purse that looked more like a horse’s feed bag and rattled with keys and loose coins as it hit the bar. Before I had the chance to take another sip of my beer, she popped the question. “Will you marry me?”
I barely paused, but took that sip. Nah, probably it was a gulp or two, but then I replied, “The question is, would you want to marry me?” I looked over my glass at her and saw the beauty in her. She smiled at me and went slightly lopsided. One eyebrow lifting up, a dimple in her left cheek, her mouth oddly slanted. Chicago wore almost no make-up, but it really didn’t matter. In the dim glow of the bar, her eyes sparkled, and something radiated from her.
“I could be a child molester, a serial murder,” I continued before she could answer. I motioned to the bartender, thinking I’d order my new friend a drink. “Or worse,” I laughed, “I could be a Republican. Or, a Republican serial murderer.”
“As long as your politics aren’t Republican and your many victims are the Republicans, I don’t have a problem with that.”
The bartender approached while she reached into her purse and rummaged around inside, leaning into the thing, trying to find lord knows what. I mean does any man really know, or want to know, what’s in a woman’s purse. The secrets buried deep, the hidden implements of torture. “Ummm … can I get you something to drink?” I asked her. “I mean, after all, if we’re going to get married … wait a sec, you were serious, right?”
She rustled around for a second or two more and then stopped, her hands still in her bag, she tilted towards me. “Sure, why not,” she shrugged before returning her attention back to her deep search. “I’ll have a beer. Doesn’t matter what.”
Doesn’t matter what. Okay. This was a test. Actually, the whole thing was a test. Was she serious? Was I deluded to even think she was? Was this all it took for me to jump? A cute girl sitting next to me, her arm brushing mine, sending little shock waves deep inside, as she searched back and forth in the depths of her purse. The dimple and the sparkle. Was I that desperate to … yes, I was. Now I just had to figure out how not to blow it. Sure, we weren’t gonna get married, but maybe there was something else there akin to a negative that just needed to be developed. I had to be steady and not scare her away. Not blow the necessary chemical reaction.
And she wanted a beer but she didn’t care what I got her. If I ordered her a Coors, would she be offended because she’s a beer snob who only drinks the latest craft brew? If I ordered an IPA, would she claim it was too bitter? And if we were to be married, wasn’t this something I should know? Damn, this odd possibility could be wiped away in the next few seconds.
I drained my beer and pointed at it. “Two more. For me and for …” I didn’t know her name so I just flipped my thumb in her direction and held my breath.
“Sure thing,” the bartender replied and turned back towards the taps and began to fill a pint glass.
When he placed them in front of us, the foam just leaking over the edge of the glass and leaving a wet trail down the side, I slipped him a $20. “Where you headed?” I asked her.
“Yeah?” I wiped the foam off the glass, running my thumb from bottom to top. “You from there? Or is it a vacation?”
She turned to me, her head slightly dipped, and looked at me through a curl of blond hair that dropped across her face. “It’s where the wedding is,” she sighed. “You should realize that by now.”
I sensed I was failing her test. But then she took a sip of her beer and then another one before settling further down on to her stool. “God, I needed that.” Before I knew it, she leaned into me and pecked me on the cheek, blushing to her roots as she pulled away. “Thank you,” she whispered, not necessarily to me. She spoke it almost as though she were speaking to her beer, to the bar, the bartender, and to the world at large, which just may have included me, don’t you think? I mean, I’m the one with the feeling of her lips still on my cheek.
I took a pretzel from the bowl between us and took a bite out of it and waited for her to continue. She did by placing her hand on mine. “Here’s the deal,” she said, turning to face me. I turned to her as well and looked into her eyes. She smiled. “I was supposed to get married this weekend. In Chicago. At the frickin’ Cubs game. In a suite.” She took a swipe at her nose and turned away for a second, before I could see the mist start to collect in those round eyes that had swept me in. “That was before he had a change of heart and decided he’d rather run away with … I don’t even know her name.”
I was thinking that made two of us and was about to ask her name, my mouth opening and the words right there, even my brow furrowed in a questioning way, when she continued on. I decided to wait and enjoy the feeling of her hand on mine. It was warm and soft. It seemed to fit with mine just right. I finished my pretzel and gulped back some more beer and let her go.
“It was going to be in a suite,” she repeated. “A small affair. Just 18 of us, with hot dogs and nachos and beers, oh my!” Chicago took her hand from mine and an arctic chill settled in where her warmth had been. She rummaged in her purse and pulled out an envelope. “See,” she stated, holding it out to me. “Here’s the invitation. Open it. It’s all there. Even the ‘oh my’ and I bet you just thought I was being silly. Or maybe going off the deep end.” She stopped and took a breath and a swig of ale and then turned to me with what seemed to be a new fire in her eyes. “And, you know, that wouldn’t be very nice, right?”
In my head a thundercloud burst open. Thunder and lightning battled for attention. The thunder booming at me a warning that yes, indeed, this woman was far more than just silly. She was a walking whacko, waiting for the men in the white coats to take her away. But the lightning was streaking through the synapses and gray matter, shredding my last shred of self-protection and common sense. My god, she was beautiful, with her almost blonde hair framing her cornfed pureness. When she smiled and her eyes lit up the lightning grew brighter. And, well, I must admit her short skirt that rode up her thigh and seemed to promise me something more than even my imagination could comprehend. “Right,” I breathed. And, let me tell you, I had a well-developed imagination. It was pretty much all I’d had the last few years. Ever since Socorro left because we couldn’t figure out whether we had a real thing together and I couldn’t seem to find a way to interact with another woman after our six years together.
“Of course,” Chicago laughed. “We’re getting married. It wouldn’t be good to start off with you thinking I’m a goofball.” She looked at me then, her brow furrowed and her smile suddenly gone. “Because I’m not, but maybe it’s my goofiness that attracted you to me in the first place. We can tell our grandkids that years from now.”
I thought of sliding the card out of the envelope and confirming at least something about her story, but I chose not to. Instead, I placed it on the bar in front of us. “I’m sorry,” I said. “For your …”
“Pshaw,” she waved her hand at me. “Don’t be. I’m not. He clearly was an ass and now I’ve found you.” She stopped and began twirling a strand of hair in her fingers. “But you know . . . if we’re going to get married, I should probably know something about you.” She leaned towards me again and looked into my eyes. “Tell me three things.”
“Uh . . .”