The bar was loud and crowded now… Not as it had been, as when he had remembered it. Then it had been dark, and there had only been the two men at the pool table. But now, even as he sat in the same place, it seemed altogether different. The pool table was surrounded by young men in t-shirts, and there was the smell of alcohol and sweat. It was so loud you couldn’t hear the music. But, back then, he had sat across from her, and even now, he could remember how she had looked…
When he had first seen her, almost a year before, she had been sitting behind the pool table… He had looked at her over the book he had been reading. They locked eyes for only a moment, but he had known he had been caught. He did not approach her, as he only intended to stay for one beer. But they looked at each other a number of times over their books, and when he left he was caught again, looking in the window as he walked away… He remembered that the last time she had smiled.
She had remembered this exchange, and, a long time after they had met, she asked him if he had remembered it.
“Of course. You were sitting right there.” He indicated the place with his eyes, and she looked and smiled.
“I thought you were so dreamy,” She said.
“Hah! Of course I still do,” Her face lit up, and for a while they just looked at each other. It seemed like a very long time. It was finally broken when the waiter arrived to take drinks. They both laughed.
“What will you have?” He asked, looking confused and perhaps a bit peeved.
They looked at each other briefly, and the woman with the deep, shining, blue eyes said, “We need a minute.” She laughed nervously, and when the waiter left, they both sighed and fell back into looking at each other.
“Did you feel that?” She asked.
“Yes,” He said.
“When time stopped?”
“Yes,” He smiled and meant it, and she knew he meant it. Nobody had ever made the time stop before, and he figured it was significant.
When the waiter returned, they ordered drinks. When he left, the young man and the woman with blue eyes got to talking again.
“People must hate us,” He said.
“Nothing… Just that we are happy, and people are always annoyed by happiness in others.”
She said nothing, and he was not sure if she had understood him.
“I used to hate seeing people kiss or hold hands in public,” He continued, “but I kind of like that we can’t help ourselves.”
She reached across the table and squeezed his hand.
“I know,” She said, sighing deeply and looking somewhat past him. “I can’t believe you are leaving in a week.”
“Let’s not think about that now.”
They both looked away.
It had been a long time now. Alaska came and went… When he came home, things were different. He would look at her a long time, and did not see what had stopped the time then. She did not look at him that way anymore. He studied her glances… Each of them… But, he could no longer find it. “It is like fishing the Poultney River. You can see right to the bottom, and you will not catch fish that are not there to be caught,” he thought to himself.
“Do you remember?” He asked her now.
“Remember what?” She asked, but her reply was not tender, it was short and curt.
“The time… Before Alaska…?”
“I remember times before Alaska, yes.” She placed a strong emphasis on the word times, and he suspected that she did this, so as not to be reproached for anything specific. He decided to try and play the hand, even if it were a bad one.
“Better to go for broke,” he thought.
“Do you remember when the time stopped?” He asked her directly, and kept his eyes locked on hers. He wanted to study this new look of hers… He wanted to find the artifice behind it.
She looked at him blankly.
“We were sitting right here, in love, and it seemed like the time had stopped,” He tried to remind her, though he already resented her for not remembering on her own.
“Yes,” She said, with a quizzical expression.
“Do you ever miss that?” He asked.
“Why should I miss it? You are here now.”
“That’s not what I mean. Never mind.” He said, becoming agitated. She put on a smile he had only recently come to know. He knew it was designed to placate him.
“You don’t look at me like you used to anymore…” He said.
They didn’t speak for a time, both of them looking in different directions.
“It is not the same as it was,” She said.
“I know that.”
“Well, what did you expect?”
“Nothing,” he said. “It’s just, I still love you… As much as I did then.”
“As do I.” Again she put on the placating smile. It was so vacant he could not bear to look at it.
“I really can’t stand it,” he said firmly.
“Can’t stand what?” Her eyebrows twitched upward, and her face became interested, but still far from tender.
“The farce of it all. Doesn’t it feel like a farce now?”
“I mean, I’m leaving again, and there is no trace in you that you feel anything one way or another about that.”
She didn’t say anything.
“And its all I can do to get you to pencil me into your schedule.”
“I have a lot of obligations.”
“I’m not interested in being considered amongst your obligations. There was a time when it was all we could do to keep away from each other for a day or two… Now you are exasperated that I come around at all. I mean, I can’t even tell if you want to be here now… I know that over the course of time things change, but I mean, I’m leaving and its like you couldn’t care.”
“Just because you are leaving, does not mean I suddenly have more time.”
“You used to find it when you wanted to. Its not like you had less obligations then.”
She did not answer and he could feel himself becoming agitated.
“Do you feel okay living in a farce? Because, I sure as hell don’t. You give me this look like I must be an idiot or something… But I recognize something has changed, and unless you want to talk about it, I have to know it has changed, but have no idea why. As far as I can tell, there is nothing left… It is all spent up.”
“Don’t yell at me. People are looking at us,” She said, and her eyes became suddenly panicked. The change happened almost too abruptly… As though completely contrived for just such a situation.
“I’m not yelling. I’m telling you I won’t live this way. It’s not fair to let somebody hang onto something that isn’t there anymore.”
She said nothing else, but got up and stormed out. He thought of following her, trying to make it up to her. He even thought that might be precisely the kind of show she had wanted. But, immediately he thought better of it. He’d be chasing the past, and however he felt about that, he knew it was all spent up.
When he had been away, in Alaska, all he could think of then was her, as she was then, when the time stopped… The way she looked him in the eyes, and there was no mistaking that look. She would put her hand in his and squeeze it, and the way it had felt was final. Thinking of it was a torture… He never thought you could spend something like that up…
He saw her car pull away. He could see her face, and he knew she’d been crying. For a moment he wondered if he’d actually been unfair. The tail lights drifted away, and he became intensely aware of the conversations around him, and the clanking glasses of beer, and the shuffle of the waiters.
“Will you be having anything else?” He looked up at the familiar voice, and there was the waiter. The young man wiped his brow and finally answered.
“No. Nothing else… I’ll settle up.” He pulled out the billfold… That was it then. You just settled up. It was all paid out.
After paying the bill he stood out on the sidewalk watching the cars pass, and the neon lights, blinking in and out. He hailed a cab.
“Where are you heading?”
“I don’t know yet, just drive.”
After a while he told the cab to drive him home. He could not think of anywhere else to go. It all felt futile…
He got out on Broad Street and paid up. When he got up the stairs he could see the cars passing in the street below. It was dark and the cat was mewing for food. It felt like something was missing… Like the room was empty… Devoid of anything that gives a space character. It had felt that way a long time.
He sat a long time, looking out the window. He could see the bars as they cleared out. The young man thought he would read, but he could not keep his mind on it. After a long time watching, he grew tired, and his eyes closed. He could feel everything coming and going, like waves, washing over him… and when he finally slept it was devoid of dreams.