Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Martin Is So "It" Day!

Martin and Elise are gonna fall in love. They don't know it yet because there are presently a great many distractions afoot. For example, there's the barback lying unconscious and bloody by the curb outside. Martin and Elise have a table by the window, so it's hard to keep the conversation lively when all eyes are watching to see if the barback comes to. The barback just got hit by a car.

"I have one of those jobs where people hear what I do and they say, Wow, I always wondered who does that!"

Elise says, "What? I'm sorry. His left hand is twitching."

Martin and Elise watch in silence as the barback's left hand tries to jump from the wrist.

"Wow. So anyway?"

"Right," says Elise. "Your job. I'm sorry. What do you do?"

"I change the light bulbs in street lamps."

Martin waits. Elise lets her head nod forward. Elise lets her brow furrow. Elise lets her mouth smile. Elise doesn't let herself look at the barback bleeding on the street.

"Betcha always wondered who does that didn't ya?" Martin gloats.

"No," says Elise. "I never did. But ya know, now that I hear it, I'm thinking Gee, why didn't I ever wonder who does that?"

Martin's heart flutters. His eyelids sigh shut just a bit, then again open wide and smiling on Elise. "You're not like the other girls."

Elise's smile is coy. She wants to look at the barback in the street, but she knows that Martin wants to know the date is going as well as he thinks. To turn her attention from Martin might break his spirit. So she lays her hand over his and warms her smile. Martin's eyes rejoice. Elise's eyes scurry to the barback in the street.

"I think he's dead," says Martin.

"No he isn't. See? You can see his chest rising sometimes."

They watch the barback's chest fill up with air then deflate again. Once every eight to fifteen seconds.

Martin's looking at the barback when he says, "My brother's in prison for manslaughter."

Elise looks at Martin. He glances at her, then back to the barback. Elise squeezes his hand tight. Martin elaborates.

"Got drunk one night and went to his ex-wife's house to raise hell. Her brother was staying there with her. He tried to keep my brother from getting in. They kinda locked in a hold on the front steps and tumbled down. Her brother's neck broke. My brother got ten years."

At the end of the story, Martin looks to Elise to see how it went over. Elise puts sympathy on her face. Martin nods.

"Every family's got shit like that, right? Who needs a margarita?"

Elise smiles. They both turn to the waitress, who is just a few steps away from their table, staring past them at the barback. There are EMT workers in orange jackets hovering over him now. The waitress has her hands cupped over her nose and stale tears fogging her eyes.

"Could we uh??" Martin motions to their empty glasses. The waitress nods and goes to the bar.

Elise is glad she likes Martin. When a date is surrounded by wild circumstances like these, she knows it at least guarantees a second date. And more often than not, it's the start of something huge. Watching Martin swivel his straw around in the ice of his empty margarita, Elise lets herself imagine how she and Martin might inhabit something huge.

The fresh Margaritas arrive and Elise asks the waitress, "He worked here?"

The waitress blanches.

"I'm sorry. He? I'm sorry."

The waitress inhales, and when she exhales she coughs out a little sob. "He's our barback." She's staring at him. The EMT workers are guiding a brace underneath the barback's neck. "His name's Martin."

Martin says to Elise, "Same name as me." Elise wishes he hadn't said that, but she knew he was going to.

The waitress says, "Every night when we're setting up, he runs out to get everybody's cigarettes. Everyone here smokes, and some nights he heads out there with fifty bucks if we're all empty. Tonight he and I were the only ones who needed a pack. He went out for his Marlboro Lights and my Parliaments. And crossing the street that car just veered around the corner and God."

"Did you guys ever go out?" Elise asks.

Martin is taken aback, but the waitress answers without hesitating. "Early on. Not really. But some nights early on after I started here we'd end up going home. But not really."

The waitress goes to the bar and puts her arm around the shoulders of the hostess.

Elise and Martin watch the EMT workers lift Martin the barback on a stretcher and load him into the back of the ambulance. They sip their margaritas.

Elise says to Martin, "I took care of my mother for the eight months before she died. She had lung cancer. I didn't really take care of her. I mean, she had hospice care. But I left college and moved into the house and behaved as if it was my job to look after her. When really I could have stayed in school, and visited her every single day."

Martin asks, "Were you looking for a reason to quit?"

"No," says Elise. "I don't think I was at all. I started again two months after my mother passed. But while she was dying, in my head I just decided I have no choice but to devote all my time to her. When most of the time I was just sitting around waiting for her to come out of her sleep."

Martin nods. "You know, when my brother was on trial, I really let it eat up my whole life. It was a big deal for me, no question. But with the way it occupied my thoughts, I think I wanted to get caught up in something way bigger than me."

Elise is very glad she likes Martin on the day Martin the barback got hit by a car.

Happy Martin Is So "It" Day!