Coins slapped the soggy wood in front of me. I placed my empty bottle down and slouched on the bar, my bare elbows lying in spilt beer and cheap tequila.
Her eyes looked into mine, “Don’t you get it, Jake?” she asked.
“Let’s go out for a smoke. I need some air.”
“You’re impossible. And it’s freezing out. If I’m going outside, I’m getting my jacket and going home.”
“Okay. Well, I’m going outside. Go dance. I’ll meet you in a few minutes.”
Lola turned away, her dirty white shoes sticking to the floor as she walked. The bar was full. The band was playing something that made the girls dance. I spotted my friend Fletcher and grabbed him, “Let’s go for a smoke. I’m dying in here.”
I didn’t wait for a response and turned for the door. I was wearing a t-shirt in early December. It had yet to snow but it felt like it could any minute. I took my squished cigarette pack out of my back pocket as the sweat on the back of my neck started to freeze. My heart thumped. My stomach tightened.
“Hey, gimme one, will ya?”
I handed the lit cigarette out of my mouth to Fletch and took another one from my pocket. Since the summer, he had been saying he was going to leave Halifax, but here he was: bumming cigarettes off me on another cold, dirty, wintery Thursday night, “She hates me, Fletch. Man, does she ever hate me.”
“Everyone one does, Jakey,” he said with a laugh.
I didn’t say anything back and looked down the street. The arena at the end of the block was the tallest building in sight. There was a line of cabs parked in front of the entrance of the bar where girls with bare legs were shuffling in and out. The rest of the buildings looked frigid and lights flashed at random through their frosted windows. I could hear scraps of symbols crashing and guitar riffs from the opening and closing door that Fletch and I stood a few feet away from, “C’man, buddy. She’ll be fine. You’ll all be fine,” Fletch said, slapping my shoulder.
I took two more drags before tossing half of my cigarette to the pavement and walked back into the dark room with sticky floors. A new band was beginning their set. The lead singer came out on the stage timidly. The look on her face was as though she had just handed an alcoholic their last drink for eternity, the one that tipped them over the edge. But her cheeks sparkled with summer freckles in the middle of winter. Her legs were boney and knock-kneed. Two blonde and braided pigtails hung out the back of a purple knitted tuque. The room grew quiet, and the strange looking girl piped up. I stood by myself and listened to her songs about all the things she didn’t understand, “It’s like cowboys and fistfights… everybody’s gonna change,” she sang, an emphasis on the a-n-g of change.
“You like her, eh?”
She was staring at my eyes again.
“She’s got courage, wouldn’t you say?”
“She’s got something. We’re heading to Fletch’s place. Are you coming?”
Fletcher lives in his grandmother’s basement and has too many of us over to drink after the dark hole-in-the-walls, with brave and knock-kneed girls yelling inside, all shut down. His grandmother is almost completely deaf and never says anything about it. I understand it’s sad, but when people started singing about all the things they can’t understand in this world, I can’t just head straight to bed.
Twenty minutes later, five of us: Fletcher, Benny, Lola, her friend Emma, and me, stumbled through the side door of the old lady’s house. Fletch let out a big “Shhhhh!” as he opened up the door, like his grandmother could hear us, and fell into the stairs that led up towards the kitchen. I stepped over his sprawled limbs and went upstairs to search for a bottle of vodka.
When I came back downstairs, vodka in hand, Fletch was sitting on his bed, back perched up against the wall. I took a swig, sat down beside him, and passed him the bottle. Lola took it from Fletcher and took a drink without moving the wavy blonde hair falling into her eyes. Those eyes are bright blue and have speckles of white in them like snowflakes falling on a cold morning sky. They’re inviting like her lips are kissable and her soft curves are touchable. I sighed and looked away.
Benny, who most likely has a drinking problem, got up from the couch and snatched the bottle out of Lola’s hand. Not in a mean way, Benny just needed a drink and didn’t appreciate that Lola was starting to use it as a dance partner. I was watching this while Fletch was in my ear, “How can ya possibly believe some guy, or thing, just thought up the universe one day? How? Explain that one.”
I think he was talking to Emma, but I answered, “I’m not saying I know why, but think: do you believe we all just started walking around one day without any real reason to do so? Like we all of a sudden got sick of the water?”
“Don’t look at it like that, Jakey. The world is so old, ya don’t even know the number. It’s gonna flood again, or freeze, maybe both—meteorite—and we’re all gonna be gone. We’re meaningless, all totally meaningless. Need to just accept that, buddy”
The circle of moving vodka continued. Fletch and I quickly took a swig so we could continue our conversation. Emma had lost interest, “I get that, I do, the whole seven days shit: yeah, metaphor. Easy. Can we smoke in here?”
“But what about the fight between good and evil? We have to be here for some sort of reason.”
And then Lola intervened: “You guys are lame, let’s go do something. Let’s go outside.” Her eyes were still beaming.
“I don’t feel like going outside,” Benny said as he slouched on the couch, vodka in hand, which was beginning to disappear. The hood of his sweater had been pulled up over his head. “I feel like I’m going to kill myself or something. Not actually, but you know. You guys ever think about it?”
“It’s your birthday, Benny!” Fletch shouted with a goofy smile, pushing his hair to one side; “Don’t say shit like that.”
Alcoholics are always thinking about dying. I think it’s because a lot of them are probably trying to.
“Let’s go sledding!” Lola exclaimed. We all looked at her.
“Lola, how drunk are you?” Emma asked. They were sitting on the edge of the bed near our feet. Fletch put on a James Taylor record. I leaned over and whispered in Lola’s ear that I could walk her home.
“I’m not even that drunk,” Lola said to Emma.
Fletch turned the music up and started singing along to Fire and Rain, pretending to finger-pick a guitar, and, for the hundredth time, told me that James Taylor grew up just a few hours away from where he did, across a couple state lines in Massachusetts. I didn’t want to know what time it was and looked over at Lola again. I watched her every movement, the blink of her eyes, the cracks of her smile, how she responded to the energy of the room, how she created her own.
I looked over at Benny. He was rubbing his arms and looked like he was freezing. He caught me looking and tried to play it off by asking if there was any liquor left. There wasn’t and he slipped out without saying much.
“Walk me home?” she asked, nodding towards Emma and Fletch who had started talking to each other in low, secretive voices.
“Sure,” I said and told Fletch I would call him tomorrow.
Outside, the sky was gloomy: a little grey was peeking through, without the help of any stars. We walked along the empty street, waiting for the sun to rise. She didn’t live far. I reached out and held her hand. She held mine for a moment but pulled away and lit a cigarette. I lit one. Inhaled. Exhaled, “You ever think about that stuff, Lola?”
“You know, us, being here right now. Do you?”
She inhaled, exhaled, and shrugged her shoulders. I liked the way she looked when she smoked. Her innocence disappeared for a split second and she looked tough, like one of those girls with the pink jackets in the movie Grease. She looked at the ground and squinted indignantly before turning to face me. Her mouth was opened slightly and I could see her one front tooth that sticks out further than the other.
We walked for a few more minutes, in silence, through a path and behind a tall apartment building until we came to hers. Outside, she sat on the stoop in front of her apartment building. She had about two more drags left in her cigarette, and after she tossed it, and took a breath, and a deep breath that wasn’t filled with any smoke, she spoke.
“Yeah, I do, and I find it weird just like you and Fletch do, but what’s the point in thinking about it all the time? You and him never shut up about it. The world is fucked up, Jake, in too many ways; and in places so far away that it’s impossible for us to even feel all the fucked up things that are happening. Neither of us can stop that. There’s no sense in worrying about it all the time. You have to focus on being alive because you never know when that will end. My dad just died one day. I didn’t have time to think about why. The sun rises and the sun sets. The tide goes out and the tide comes back in. Those are the things I like to think about. And you, me, Fletch, Emma, this street.” She took another deep, smoke-free breath before speaking again; “Jesus, Jake, I’m completely sober now. I hate talking about this stuff. Why do you always have to bring it up?”
I sat in stillness. Lola fumbled for her cigarette resentfully, fighting a tear in the corner of her left eye. We both looked up at the sky: The sun was slowly coming up and there was nothing we could do to stop it.