Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Tin Ceiling 

Susan was awake, but she hadn’t opened her eyes yet. It wasn’t only that her head hurt. She had a strong sense that something was wrong. It was a kind of hangover intuition that belied her dim memory of the night before.

She started to think through what she could remember, the images scrolling across her brain like the news ticker at the bottom of her TV screen.

That was a fun night last night. Did I drink wine and gin? Oh god. At least I looked cute. We sure did a lot of dancing. I was dancing with Lisa and Jimmy and Alex… Oh no! ALEX!

She sat straight up in bed. Her black eyeshade, which had allowed her to sleep until almost 10:30, was now pushed back, holding her hair out of her face.

Her body parts complained in unison. Her dancing muscles were sore, her stomach was sour, and her mouth was like a desert. Sitting on the edge of the bed now, the clock showing 10:23am, she noticed that her husband was gone.

And thank god the kids had been away overnight, or she would have had to let them watch cartoons for a few hours. She would have spilled some dry Cheerios onto the carpet for them and then gone back to bed.

Jimmy was probably driving to get the kids now, to his parents’ house. He had always been better with liquor than she. He could function through it, and through its aftermath.
What did I do last night?

She checked her phone and it was the sweetest message, really:
“Doll – on my way to get kids HYDR8 xox.”
Reading that, she melted, because Jimmy was a fantastic man, an ideal husband. He was the reason that she was able to stay home with their three kids, her three angels.

But then she thought of the poop that she had had to clean out of the carpet the day before, and her stomach twisted, so she forced her thoughts back to the night before, her birthday dinner.
She had worn her new top, the one that Lisa had helped her pick out. Lisa wouldn’t have worn it herself, because of how low it was cut. Jimmy had complimented her on it and Alex, Lisa’s husband, had certainly appreciated it as well. She could recall the exact moment that Alex had gotten a view down her top because she had let him. Or, rather, she hadn’t tried to hide anything. She knew when it had been because that was right before he had kissed her.

During dinner, the spouses sat across from each other and Susan and Alex found themselves sitting next to each other. Susan found she could not stop touching Alex throughout the meal. He would pour more wine for her, or say a joke or compliment her in some way and every time she would reach to touch his arm or lean her body into his if she was mid-bite or laughing too hard. During dessert she felt him watching her through the mirror that hung on the wall behind his wife.

After dinner, when they had moved down the street from the restaurant to a bar with cheap draft beer and loud music where she was drinking gin, Susan took Alex’s hand and they began to slow dance. It wasn’t really a proper dance. They were barely moving and the music was not really appropriate for any kind of dancing. It was more of a reason for them to touch each other again.

Both of their spouses were right there, and since everyone was friends, this sort of affection wasn’t remarkable on its own. If anyone had pressed them on their dancing, if Lisa or Jimmy had expressed any concern about the birthday girl’s behavior with her husband’s best friend, the pair could have separated themselves and claimed intoxication and bliss and, “It’s my birthday. Leave me alone!”

Susan said this last part out loud to the empty house.

The two were still holding each other. Alex’s hand was in the small of Susan’s back holding her to him. Susan had hooked a finger into Alex’s belt loop.

He said, “Did you notice the tin tiles on the ceiling?”

She looked up and saw the painted tin squares decorating the ceiling above them. Each square had a fleur de lys stamped on it and a decorative ribbing along the edge. It was a beautiful, old ceiling for such a dingy bar. The ceiling, however, had been a diversion and by lifting her head, she had exposed her neck and Alex‘s lips had found her there.

Alex had been using this move, this trick, since he had introduced it one lonely night back when he was single and Susan and Jimmy were only just dating. She still fell for it every time. He was always trying to get her to look up, this time at the ceiling but other times at a new moon or a sign on the side of a building.

“Is that food on you? Let me see – lift your chin up.” he would say.

It was a harmless prank that even their spouses could appreciate. She would giggle and she would push him away, just not too quickly. She loved it when Alex stole a kiss.
He put a song on the jukebox – a type of music she didn’t care for – heavy metal. But he had played it for her. They were dancing again and their spouses were leaning into the bar, arguing some political point. Alex explained the lyrics to Susan, whispering them into her ear as the singer sang them.

The song was loud and the guitars were not something that she had an ear for, but the song had a melodic refrain during the parts that Alex was whispering into her neck and at least it wasn’t the ABC song or the more literal sexuality of whatever it was that Jimmy listened to.

“Happy birthday.”

She smiled at that and kissed him quickly on the lips.

That must have been when the gin really took over because she remembered, vaguely, a different place – some dance club – and then Jimmy putting her into a cab and now here she was.

She made herself stand up. She needed coffee. She walked to the kitchen, humming a quiet melody to herself, letting her fingers trace an outline along her jaw and neck as she went.
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