I was headed into the main restaurant to meet my girl Conchett’. But I spied an open door. When a door’s badly shut, or propped with a chair or a matchbook, I need to take a look.
Inside sat half a dozen ladies, in a horseshoe configuration. A meeting of some kind. In the door I pop, as they’re winding down their flag salute. The head lady waves me over. She’s in a cream-colored turtleneck and plaid slacks. Crinkly eyes from smiling a lot. The two at the curve of the horseshoe make room for me between them.
I’d lost my glasses, so I subordinated myself to them. I had to, since I couldn’t see! I soon had one of them reading me the list of sandwiches while her friend related the story of her recent trip to Austin, New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee.
In these situations, you follow a girl’s lead. I told them I wouldn’t mind heading off on one of those senior citizen trips. You only have to be 50 to get in on those dances and movie nights and getaways in our town.
How old do you think I look?
This wine bar has a hundred types of vino lined up. Framed photos of Django Reinhardt. Red wallpaper. Sprightly jazz manouche playing. None of the ladies is ordering up any wine, so I follow their leads and sip ice water.
Then the first sister says, we are all sorry as can be about Diane. I look around and at blurry lady shapes. What the hell is happening right now?
“I can hardly think about it,” I manage and hang my head. Then I get it. Something has happened to their friend. And her name was Diane. I am all right. I’ve got money in my pocket. A sexy Sicilian waiting for me in the restaurant. I am fine.
But I need to tell you. My first love’s name was Diane. A nice girl with a ponytail and a taste for the wilder life. I was already in my twenties when she and I met at the bank where she worked as a teller. Younger people don’t believe we used to smoke everywhere back then. Banks, markets, theatres. But it wasn’t a regular cigarette I slipped to Diane.
She rang my bell at ten that night. She’d gotten shitcanned from her job at the bank. When the bell rang, I was painting. My heart swimming in syrup, the room awash in the stink of gesso and paint and a man’s body.
Well, she and I dove for each other like Stanley and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. You know that scene where he is hollering for her in the rain and she runs out and he picks her up high against him and she runs her nails hard and deep on his wet skin. Diane and I didn’t leave my room for four days. My dealer brought us the heroin and big to-go bucket of soup.
I knew Conchett’ wouldn’t wait. She is not a girl you leave to her own devices. Still, I stayed there in the wine bar, fully committed to my BLT and water goblet and the ladies. I sat and took in stories of their sweet Diane and all she meant to them.
I also learned about the man she met who she thought would give her a golden second life, but that he’d turned out to be a rat and a creep. And one shitty thing had led to another and then she swallowed a bottle of pills.
My two new lady friends, one on either side, held me when I buckled, crying.
I know my Diane was years ago and another person entirely. It’s just that I learned this thing and I learned it with finality: The grief of women this age, it comes to me, is a thing of melancholy. Bigger than a work of art.
It underlies their stories, their outfits and manicures and anecdotes about getaways. The laugh lines, the facing-it-all-by-not-drinking. Or by drinking. A woman’s long history of loss and sacrifice particularly for their children and the men they have loved.
The crinkly eyes. The smiles. The jazz. All of it.
Patricia Q. Bidar is a native Californian with roots in New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. She is a former fiction reader for Northwest Review, and alum of the UC Davis graduate writing program. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Sou’wester, Wigleaf, The Citron Review, Jellyfish Review, Barren Literary Magazine, Soft Cartel and Okay Donkey, among other places. In addition to writing fiction, Patricia serves as a writer for progressive national and regional nonprofit organizations.
Her Twitter handle is @patriciabidar.