I stagger like this, aimlessly, for more than a mile before I hear a sound. Two sounds combined: a diesel engine, and a horn. I turn around in time to see the truck coming up behind me from around the bend. Self preservation is a powerful instinct. It kicks in and pushes me out of harm's way, to the outer edge of the shoulder, as the truck cruises by. The driver yells out, "idiot!" And rightfully so. I'm in no shape to be taking a walk.
It's true that self preservation is a powerful force, but so is a night of heavy drinking. I make it safely out of harm's way, but I do not land on my feet. Instead, I lose my balance as I jump from the paved road to the gravel shoulder, and end up rolling into one of the last vestiges of mud season. It isn't a deep puddle, and it's almost dried up, but it's muddy, just the same. Now I'm muddy, too. I stand up, but the slippery mud sends me back onto my ass. Common sense takes over and I decide that crawling out of the mud and back onto the dry, gravel shoulder on hands and knees is my best bet. In a reenactment of the birth of man, I begin my crawl out of the primordial ooze just as I hear a car pulling up on the road, about 15 feet away. I do not look up.
"Do you need help?" the driver calls out. I recognize the voice. My heart soars, and then sinks, again. It's her. She's the reason I'm drunk, in the first place. And now she sees me at my worst. Rock bottom. (Hardee har har. You have a hell of a sense of humor, God). Still, I don't look up. I hear the car door opening and then slamming shut. I hear her footsteps on the gravel, getting closer. "Are you ok?" She asks and then, close enough to see through the mud, "Oh - it's you!" I look up, and take the hand she offers me, and pull myself upright.
"I was taking a walk." I say, smiling, as if this happens every day, "I fell. Mud season isn't quite over, I guess."
She smiles, and I lose my breath for a moment.
"Are you still drunk?" she asks.
I just give her a puzzled look.
"You don't remember, do you? You called me last night. You were drunk. When I couldn't find you this morning, I got worried." She takes my hand and pulls me towards her car, "Come on, turkey - I'm buying you brunch."
(Who says 'turkey"? She does.)
We get to her Toyota, she opens the back door, reaches in and sorts through a bunch of clothing that's piled on the back seat. She grabs a towel and spreads it over the the front passenger seat. Then she hands me a wadded up blue sweatshirt and says, "There's no one around - change into this. It's not exactly clean, but at least it's dry."
She is tall and slender. A dancer.
"Your stuff will never fit me." I say, handing it back.
She sucks her teeth, and says, putting the shirt back in my hands "It's my gym shirt. It's really baggy. It's a little stinky, but it'll fit. Hurry, while there's no one around."
I change into the shirt. She's right - it fits. She's right about it being stinky, too, but I don't mind. It smells like her.
A moment later I am sitting next to her and we are driving down the road, in search of waffles and coffee, as I wonder what it is I said the night before when I drunk dialed her.
We have been to this place many times together. It's a funny, homey, New England diner tucked away in an unlikely strip mall. It's got a name. The Village Cafe. Or Country Cooking. Something like that. We never remember what it's really called, because the sign just says, "RESTAURANT." That's become our private joke: "I'm hungry - let's go to RESTAURANT."
At RESTAURANT, we sit opposite one another at a table in the corner, away from most of the other diners. The waitress is busy, and forgets to take our order, or even pour us coffee. Neither of us says anything about it. I'm not even sure we're actually hungry. We just sit there, looking at each other, talking about nothing in particular, humming along to the music coming from the jukebox. The Eagles: Lyin Eyes.
"Are you warming up?' she asks me.
"I'm fine," I answer, "This shirt is cozy. I might steal it from you. My hands are cold, though. I should remind the waitress we're here and get her to pour me some coffee so I can warm them up."
She reaches across the table and takes my cold hands in her warm ones, brings them up to her mouth, and blows on them.
"Poor baby." she says, and I think my heart will break through my chest. Surely, everyone else in the room can hear it pounding.
Lyin Eyes finishes and we hear the jukebox shuffling through the 45s as it gets ready to play the next song. She is still holding my hands, transferring the heat from her body to mine, when we hear the record drop and the stylus make contact with the vinyl. The gentle guitar intro is unmistakable.
"This song -" I say, before she cuts me off.
"I know," she whispers, squeezing my hands tighter, "Me, too."
© 2012 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves