Reinventing the Night
by Jacqueline Moran Meyer
My breath hangs in the frigid air while I remove a leather glove and fish around in the front pocket of my new acid-washed denim jacket. The thin coat I am wearing is doing little to keep me warm on this winter night, but it is paid off and all mine as of today. I drove to Sunrise Mall this morning and made my last layaway payment of five dollars so I could finally take it home. I sift through used tissues, pens, coins, pills, and receipts but eventually give up the search because my frozen fingers are numb and useless.
“What could you possibly be looking for?” Maureen asks.
“My lipstick,” I say, as I put my glove back on. “I just bought it. It’s that new one I wanted, Fireball Red.”
“Jeez, chill. We’re almost inside. I can see the entrance from here. You brought your ID, right?”
My heart races, and I panic for a moment. I pat the back pocket of my Jordache jeans, and to my relief, I feel the familiar rectangular shape of a license. “Yep. Duh.”
The bouncer, whom I’ve dubbed Thor, is checking everyone’s identification. His flashlight efficiently swipes from ID to face while he makes his snap decisions. Yea or nay. The legal soon-to-be drunk young females are automatically waved in. However, depending on some internal algorithm, Thor either politely hands the credentials back to the rejected as he shakes his head or rips up the offending cards until they resemble mulch. He points his muscled index finger toward the parking lot, banishing those losers to the elements or back to hearth and home. Oh, the power a bouncer wields. His rapid-fire decisions change fate.
“Should we start bleating?” I ask, looking at the winding double line leading up to the door.
We inch forward like the herd of strays we are, heading into a slaughterhouse. The strangers’ bodies shield my small frame from the bitter wind coming off the bay adjacent to the abandoned warehouse turned club that is home to our destination: the Golden Leaf.
I nudge my sister holding the license in front of her face. She tilts her head up and squints. I am envious of her hat and her black- and neon-green down ski jacket. Maureen isn’t shivering.
“I’m a year older than you,” I tease.
“Oh Jesus, Peg! You didn’t bring that ID again, did you? It’s ridiculous. I may have to kill you if they don’t let us in.”
“That’s not funny. You’d never hurt me; don’t say that. I’m all you’ve got, whether you like it or not. What kind of guardian brings their young ward out to the bar, anyway?” I joke.
“You really need to stop reading Jane Eyre. You’re so dramatic. I know you’re all I’ve got. I miss Mom, too.”
Our Mom, Mary, was beautiful, loving and smart. We never like to say exactly how our mother died, but the brutal truth is that she was murdered last year. Our father is still alive but is neither fit nor able to be a parent. Fortunately, by some divine intervention, my sister, Maureen, convinced the court that she could be my guardian until I turned eighteen and finish high school. Maureen may only be twenty-two, but I feel safer with her than I do with anyone else in the world. We share blood, history, and many secrets.
I stare at the well-worn stolen ID in my hands and convince myself that Thor will let me in.
“I don’t think it’s so bad. Tonight, I am Theresa d’Ascoli. I’m five-seven, have brown hair and eyes, and my birthdate is January 22, 1968. That makes me twenty years old last Friday. Happy birthday to me — the Theresa me. Don’t worry. It’s worked before.”
“Let’s hope he needs glasses and has zero sense of scale. You’re five feet tall, have red hair and blue eyes, and you’re only seventeen, not twenty. My God, you’ve got a drawer filled with licenses. At least read the damn thing before you put it in your pocket.”
“Don’t worry, Sis. I’ve been watching Thor. He’s let in every single human with a working vagina. The only underage-looking guys to get in are dressed like they have money to burn.”
“You and your nicknames for people. His name could actually be Thor, though.”
I love successfully amusing Maureen.
“He’ll let me in because I’m a chick. This might be one of the only great things about being a girl.”
“You think that being able to waltz into a bar even though you’re underage, drink until you’re shit-faced, then get preyed upon is the greatest thing about being a woman?”
“Yes. You didn’t mention that tonight ladies drink for free at this place. Maybe we’ll meet someone to make Mom proud. We can use our magic powers to turn into any man’s fantasy. Right, Sis?” I wink at her to punctuate my remark.
She and I lean on each other, and Maureen opens her arms to hug me and keep me warm.
When we finally reach Thor, he flashes his light on my sister’s legal ID and then her face before waving her through. He does the same with me, only he adds “Make it betta next time, sweetheart,” in a thick Long Island accent.
With her hat and coat already off, Maureen is waiting for me inside. We don’t come close to looking like sisters or even friends, but we are both. Tall, thin, and naturally cool and collected-looking, Maureen is always being told by people that she reminds them of the actress Ali McGraw, while I’m often told that I resemble Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. It’s so unfair.
We’re carried through a long, dark hallway in a cresting wave of neon earrings, Members Only jackets, perms, and hairspray until we are in front of a rickety metal staircase spiraling to unknown depths below. While we descend, we pass people smoking, couples swapping spit, druggies snorting cocaine, and the occasional comatose-looking partiers, being dragged up the stairs, fighting through the tsunami of youth in a vain attempt to get the hell out of there.
I recognize the sound of New Wave music getting louder. The traffic on the stairs starts and stops until we reach the bottom. We walk through a doorway into an enormous, windowless basement. It takes us a few minutes to adjust our eyes and ears to the onslaught of flashing lights, deafening music, and bright clothing. Three bars line the perimeter of the main room, with a large dance floor in the center.
We order gin and tonics at the first bar we can get to. Drinks in hand, we clink the glasses together.
“Cheers! To our first cups of courage,” Maureen says.
We down the drinks and head straight to the dance floor.
About half an hour later, two young men, double-fisting beers and wearing identical blue Brooks Brothers suits, saunter over to us while we are dancing to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Maureen selects Brooks #1, I think because he’s tall and the better-looking one. Therefore, pudgy Brooks #2 becomes mine, and we start screaming at each other in a semi-futile attempt to make conversation.
Not that he needs me to have a conversation, because he never stops talking. When he dances away from me, I can still see his lips moving, but I only hear the music. When he gyrates back in my direction, I catch snippets of what he’s saying before he spins and wriggles away again.
“Hey, little girl. My name’s—”
We’ve known each other for so long / Your heart’s been aching.
“I make more money in a year than my dad did his whole—”
We know the game and we’re gonna play it.
“Golfing and models. I bought a boat last week with a—”
Don’t tell me you’re too blind to see—
“Wall Street, baby. The only women who work there are bi—”
Never gonna give you up / Never gonna let you down.
“I bought a red Beemer and—”
Never gonna make you cry / Never gonna say goodbye.
Brooks #2 is slurring every word. He doesn’t ask me anything until he’s inhaled the last of the two beers he’s been spilling all over himself and the floor.
“Will you steal me a drink, sweetie? It’s ladies’ night. You get drinks for free because you’re a girl,” he screams in my ear, mansplaining how ladies’ nights work.
I stop dancing and stand as still as a statue. He continues jabbering about himself until he realizes that I am no longer dancing. I smile and wiggle my finger in a “come hither, young man” motion. He struts over and leans in close to go for the kiss he thinks I’m begging for. I turn my head just in time to scream in his ear, “Pay for that drink yourself, Beemer.”
Unfazed, he dances away to find another young thing to listen to him blather on and supply him with free drinks.
I decide he isn’t an evil or dangerous guy, just arrogant and greedy. However, his drunkenness does trigger me, and visions of my father flash through my mind. Dad would often come home looking so handsome in his fedora, carrying the remnants of a long day at work and the effects of the bar car into the house with him. The smell of cigarettes and beer and his scratchy face would greet us at the front door.
I loved his initial silliness, which I didn’t realize until years later was entirely alcohol-induced. When it was time for Maureen and me to go to bed and for our parents to eat dinner alone, the uncertainty of how the rest of the night was going to go filled me with anxiety. Sometimes our nights were uneventful, but other times they were punctuated with fighting and violence toward Mom, and then Maureen and I became our father’s targets.
The best nights were the ones where our dad didn’t come home at all. It puzzled me why my mom got so upset when this happened. All I knew was that when he wasn’t home, there was no screaming or crying, and I never worried about him hurting any of us.
Maureen is laughing with Brooks #1. She winks at me in acknowledgment when I motion to her and pretend to guzzle from a bottle and then point at the bar.
While ordering a gin and tonic, I unintentionally lock eyes with a pink Polo-shirted guy across the bar.
He is next to me in a flash, and we make small talk. After about five minutes, his tone suddenly changes.
“My God, you’re way too young to be in here.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. Go home. There are so many creepy guys in here. Bars aren’t safe,” Pink Polo says.
“Then why are you here?” I ask.
“Maybe I’m a bad guy, or I’m just a 24-year old guy out with his friends after going bowling and having dinner. Are you by yourself?”
“No. My sister’s over there.”
His friends are next to him now. I hadn’t seen them walk over.
“Guys, we should drive her home or call her a cab. She can’t be more than fourteen,” he tells them. Then he glances at me. “No offense.”
My eyes start tearing up, and I’m not sure why. Do I believe he cares about my safety? I want to believe he does. Do I think he’s being condescending? Yes. Could he be a bad guy and worthy of my wrath? Yes. Do I really look like I’m fourteen years old? Damn him! What a prick.
“You’re making the little girl sad, man,” one of his stoner friends remarks.
“Stop,” I say, and I spin on my heels to walk away.
“Be careful,” Pink Polo shouts at my back.
It’s then that I notice the man who has swayed in and out of the shadows all night and who owns the eyes that have been following me. His face would almost be handsome were it not for his pockmarked skin and the fact that his eyes are placed a little too close together. He is standing alone at one of the bars, and he is looking directly at me. I think this may be the one I have been waiting for, but maybe it’s Pink Polo, who is still staring at me from across the room. I’m feeling the effects of the alcohol, and those plastic cups of courage give me the nerve I need to walk over and confront him.
“Hi. Do I know you?”
“You do now. Where’s your friend?” he asks.
“My sister? She’s dancing. You’re watching me. Why?” I ask, pretending I don’t know exactly what he is thinking.
“Am I that obvious? How embarrassing. You’re gorgeous, so it’s hard not to notice you.”
His voice drips with an almost convincing charm. I pretend to be shy by looking at the floor, but in my head, I’m projectile vomiting all over his shirt.
“Were those jerks bothering you? The guys you just left? You looked scared,” he comments.
“No. Well, I’m not really sure.”
“I think you need a drink.”
“No. I’m fine.”
“Just one beer.” He orders me a Budweiser without even asking if I like beer.
But I don’t care what he gives me, I am going to pretend to drink it, anyway; I have had enough.
“So, what do you do?” I ask, since he does not seem interested in introductions and exchanging names.
He scowls, appearing annoyed at the question, and he hesitates before answering.
“I’m a lawyer. I’ve been in this suit since six-thirty this morning,” he lies.
“Impressive,” I lie in return.
I observe his darkly tanned and roughly calloused hands. They aren’t the hands of a man that works in an office. They are the hands of a man who labors outdoors. Construction work or garbage collection, maybe. His cheap clothes are far too big for him, which is especially astonishing since he’s a big guy, at least six-two. The suit looks like an off-the-rack Sears special, I decide. And presto, he has a name, I dub him “Sears.”
A lot can be learned about a man by the way he wears a suit. Despite his faults, my dad can really rock a suit. He only buys the best, not that he can wear one at the moment. Dad looks so confident in a suit; he could probably play baseball in a tuxedo and no one would bat an eye.
Sears isn’t as good at faking it. He reminds me of how my cousin Billy looked in the suit he wore to my mother’s funeral. Billy moved around the funeral home stiffly and awkwardly. He was not used to wearing a suit, and it showed. Sears is doing the same thing, and when he leans over to grab the bottles from the bartender, I see that the white X-shaped thread holding the vent flap closed in the back is still intact. He doesn’t realize that he is supposed to remove it. To confirm that this guy is an imposter, I glance down at his shoes. They are too awful for words.
I take the beer. “Thank you.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty,” I lie. I definitely don’t look twenty.
He smirks but sips his drink instead of commenting. “Do you want to get out of here and go to a party?” he asks.
This guy has some nerve, I think. Our conversation has lasted all of five minutes, and I know nothing about him except that he lies. I don’t know his name, real or false, and he hasn’t even asked for mine.
“No, thanks. I gotta go home.”
“Yeah. I should do the same. Can I have your number?”
I pull a pen and an old receipt out of my pocket and write down “Tracy” with a number I make up on the spot. We are both liars. Before handing him the phony contact details, I apply my newly found Fireball Red lipstick.
He seems a little turned off by the lipstick application, and he stares at my mouth as he takes the piece of paper from my hand.
“You’re prettier without that,” he says, pointing to my lips.
“OK, then. I’m going to find my sister and go home. Good night.” I back away.
The entire time I was talking to Sears, Pink Polo never stopped staring in my direction. I glance at him out of the corner of my eye as I walk toward Maureen, who is still flirting with Brooks #1.
“I’m going to walk home,” I say.
She raises her eyebrows and looks around to see if I am with anyone. “Are you sure, Peg?”
“One hundred percent. I realize this isn’t the usual plan, but I want to walk. You can stay here with Brooks #1.”
“Who is Brooks #1?” Brooks #1 asks.
“They do have names, you know. Be fierce, Sis,” Maureen says, laughing.
“I’ll see you later.”
Copyright © 2019 by Jacqueline Moran Meyer