Copyright is held by the author.
“ARE YOU still hung up over that thing at work?” Julie tipped her tiny nose up and her eyes crinkled, those Asian eyes with the epicanthic fold.
“I’m distraught.” He pulled out a barstool next to his colleague from the skunk works. “I saw a ghost.” His lifted finger signaled Ralph to pour his usual 12-year-old single malt.
“That’s a cliché,” she laughed in a tinkling sort of manner.
“No, really. I saw a face on a bus plowing through the snow going down Valley Road, by the A&P supermarket. A woman I knew once, and I saw her wipe the steam from the window. I waved, but she stared right through me without recognition. I stepped back, tripped and fell into a snow drift.”
“Just another clumsy lover,” she tee-heed. “I’m ready for another glass of wine.”
“She was a ghost. She died a year ago in Berlin and now she appears on a goddamn suburban bus.”
Julie was a project team member, a co-worker he’d known for a decade. He could confide in her, and she him. He called her his cubicle wife, knowing their marriage would never be consummated because their mates back home were waiting for them after work. Fridays they met at Phil’s Corner in Montclair, New Jersey, calling it their decompression date.
She smiled at the barman and sipped the Pinot Noir he placed on her coaster. “Old loves. I’ve had my share. One summer in Taipei….” Her eyes turned inward, thinking of other times and other places. “When there’s a man in your life, you’re concerned about idiotic things like is your lipstick okay, your mascara on, the shape of your bra. That fills the time, salves the ego and it’s fun.”
“Fun. And Weltschmerz.”
”That’s not English. What’s that mean?”
“It’s German, meaning something like sentimental sadness.”
“Are you going to drink that whiskey, Allan, or sink into nostalgia?”
This is why they were cubicle mates. He and Julie understood each other in an almost telepathic way. “Maybe I’m tired of winter, tired of life ambling here and there without purpose.”
“Oooh, you old war horse.” She punched his shoulder. “Ready to give up and go to the knack works?”
“What I need,” he said, slurping the Scotch, “I need more plot in my life and less stream of consciousness. Totally simplifying plots like some James Patterson page-turner you pick up at the airport. Plot provides resolution in life where there is none. It can provide catharsis.”
“Jesus, you got it bad, Allan. No plot in your life. Disaster.”
“No, this happens every time it snows. I start to remember. Memory’s like a 7-Eleven surveillance camera that records everything in your life. But you never review the tape until there’s an incident.”
“Your ghost on the bus.”
“Yes, I think that’s it.” He rattled ice cubes and drank again.
“I wish I had your problems. My doctor’s manic about some allergy commercial he saw on TV. He’s plaguing me to try it to see if it works. Or he gets a kickback somewhere. What I wish for is a law protecting people from being bothered by a leaflet when you’re trying to open a box of meds. And you can’t read the warning — Beware of sudden death — because you forgot your glasses.”
“No, my problem’s bigger than new meds or packaging. Much bigger. I think I’m going into early dementia, Julie. Like, I misplaced my EZ Pass when it fell off the windshield. I actually believed it was stolen. But then I found it mysteriously tucked into the Jesus handle on the back of the front seat. Everyone denies putting it there.”
“Maybe there’s an iPhone app for finding lost items. Lost lovers. Happiness once enjoyed. But that doesn’t mean you’re losing your mind, Allan.”
“No? Another example. I was in line at the supermarket checkout last week. I saw a beautiful young woman who looked familiar. I told her that I thought I knew her, to which she said, ‘Well you should remember me. You`re the father of one of my kids.’ I stopped to think and then this holy shit moment hit me. New Years Eve 2010. That rooftop party in San Diego! ‘Wow!’ I told her, ‘We got so high together, didn`t we? That was some night, huh? I guess I should have stayed in touch.’ She looked puzzled and said, ‘What are you talking about? I’m your son`s pre-school teacher.’”
“Oh, wow, Allan, that’s awesomely funny!” She planted a kiss on his cheek so quickly he hardly knew it had happened.
He continued staring at the shelves of bottles that sparkled like crystal.
“Let me tell you, Julie, since I’m older and wiser than you. People all think they’re Cinderella at the ball, and as the night goes on and the music gets better and the drinks flow, they all think they’re going to leave at two minutes to midnight. Of course, there’re no clocks on the wall and they’re still dancing as the end comes.”
“The end has come, Allan. I’m going home to my darling husband and make him take me out to dinner.
“Me likewise. So, until Monday morning and it all starts again.…”
“Until that time.” She stood and smiled. “Until that time.”