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"Barmaid" Wine
Todd Rundgren plays on The Bar's jukebox, a sappy, needy ballad that seems out of place on a semi-rowdy Saturday night. Cleveland and Boston are playing baseball on our televisions, and they've been battling it out for what seems like ten or twelve hours already, with the game now in extra innings. For reasons I've never quite understood (other than the obvious financial bottom line), as much as this is a Yankees bar, other teams' fans are strongly encouraged to drink here anytime their season extends past the Yankees' - which is more often than usual these last few years, I suppose. So the place is packed, with a ratio of about three Indians fans to every Red Sox fan.

Jocelyn pokes me in the side as she passes on her way to the wines, and yells over the din, "Wake up, Debra!" I'm having kind of a hard time maintaining an appropriate level of interest in what my customers want and how frequently their glasses are empty. It could be the Yankees' seventh-in-a-row early departure from the playoffs several days ago distracting me, but I doubt it. When I have a spare moment I turn to the top shelf and glance at the usual suspects. I finally choose the Macallan 12, and pour myself a finger.

Here's to you knowing me better than I know myself, I toast internally, and drink my Scotch.

The crowd erupts in cheers, and I see that Cleveland has scored on a Trot Nixon RBI single to go ahead in the eleventh inning. It's the wee hours of the morning already, far past the usual time for even night baseball, but I've got nothing against people staying longer and drinking more. Indeed, I'm almost hoping the Sox tie it up in the bottom of the eleventh so that I can sell more beer, and get more tips.

Here's to independence, I toast, and drink some more Scotch.

But that tie becomes far less likely after Cabrera scores on a wild pitch, and then a short while later, Martinez comes home on Garko's own single. So now it's 9-6, and the atmosphere is festive. I can barely keep up with the orders, but I find time to pour myself some more Scotch as I go.

Here's to the law of unintended consequences, I think, and then I drink.

The score has somehow become 10-6 without my even noticing, and Vince is even having trouble keeping the cooler filled with beer. My cell phone vibrates for the first time in days, and my heart leaps with a bizarre mix of hope and cynical certainty. Ignoring my usual habit of waiting to look, I take an immediate glance at it. It's a text message from my friend Henry, comprising exactly three words: "What the hell?!" It's like a punch in the gut spreading guilt to the rest of my body. I take a deep breath, delete the message without responding, and pour myself another finger of Macallan.

Here's to the power of public humiliation - his and hers, a matching set. And down it goes.

Gutierrez puts the final nail in the coffin with a three-run homer, and everybody goes berserk. Jocelyn and I are in the weeds, just barely keeping up. When Boston is back up at the plate, and clearly not about to have a similar seven-run rally, the place gets so loud I can barely hear the orders. A big girl in a Cleveland cap orders a couple of cosmos, and I reach behind me for a shaker and two glasses, without even looking.

"Debra!!" Jocelyn runs over, grabs my shaker hand, and nearly knocks me over - the glasses in my other hand slam into the bar, and shatter. Somehow, I escape without a scratch.

"What the hell?!" I scream, and the indignance of the phrase resonates in my throat with irony.

She holds up my shaker hand, and it's not holding a metal shaker, I'm holding a metal bottle. "You almost mixed some drinks in Eddie," Jocelyn says.

"Well, what the hell was he doing next to the shakers," I rationalize. It's not my fault, these things just happen. The intervention of another human being in a well-laid plan. Mistakes were made. Nothing to see here... move along.

I overmix for the two cosmos, so that after I fill both glasses, I have a good, long slug left for myself. Soon the game is over, and although a decent part of the crowd sticks around to celebrate, it's very late. Soon enough it's down to a few regulars, die-hards, and disbelieving Red Sox fans, and before long even they have to leave. It's after four in the morning, and I'm not numb enough yet for my feet not to hurt.

After cleanup and another couple of fingers of Macallan, I manage to get a taxi with ease. "Brooklyn," I tell the cabbie when I get in, and then I tell him which intersection.

He hesitates when he hears the street names. "At four-thirty in the morning?" he says. "Are you sure?"

I don't have the time or the patience for this. "Are you turning down a twenty-dollar fare?" He shakes his head, and activates the meter. I send a text message reading "On my way," and then I close my eyes, waiting for the dread to go away.

I catnap for part of the ride, in my warm, fuzzy, Scotch-induced blanket. At this hour the traffic is light, so it's not even five when he pulls up in front of the building. He makes good on his promise and waits until he sees the door's been buzzed open for me before he drives off. I take my time climbing the three flights of stairs, not in the mood to be out of breath or to stumble, and when I arrive on the landing, the door is already open.

Bonnie stands there in a white kimono and slippers, looking down into my eyes, looking for - what? I avoid her gaze by staring at the curves in the silk where it meets her body, trying to remember how to breathe, trying to understand the red patterns in the design despite the poor hallway lighting and the Scotch in my eyes. The quiet fills the landing, and all I can think about is how badly I want to know what her skin smells like. My stomach is still on its way up the stairs, I feel like I want to start crying, and she holds out her hand.

I let Bonnie lead me into her apartment and close the door, and then I let her lead me into her room and close that door. And then I let her lead me, and lead me, and lead me, and that closes another door, probably forever. Her skin smells of freedom, and choices, and collateral damage, and burnt bridges. Friction drowns out the emptiness. Sweat silences the pain. Rhythm suffocates the guilt. And as the sun slowly starts to rise over Bushwick, our cries justify everything. Everything.

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