The Spirit of the Season

by: Genevieve Palmieri

Day 4 of Across the Margin’s 12 days of holiday stories brings us into a piano bar for a little bit of melancholy…..

I should be home by now but I’m stuck- too much snow and a broken heart. It’s a little too Chandler when I think it, but I relish the romance of the sentiment. The truth is the restaurant is right downstairs and I don’t really feel like being alone.

There’s an old white baby grand in the middle of the room with an old timer just bent crooked as a tree branch over the ivories. Both he and the piano look like they came with the building; they’ve been here long before the reclaimed wood and New American menu. He’s just trying to sneak under the radar, praying no one notices–singing for his supper with old time songs in a bar that has long out hipped him– gentrified around the relic. He gives me Dixie-Land, the Blues, American Songbook and love by candlelight.  I watch his fingers settle from a frenetic up-tempo rhythm into a hypnotic lull. I know the tune but I can’t seem to pin it— a melancholy mix of “We Need a Little Christmas…” and “As Time Goes By.”

I swirl my Sazerac and study my cuticles.  I really shouldn’t drink so much.  I wonder where the last two years have gone and what has changed.  Nothing’s come from nothing.  Time wasted watching the pot that would never boil.  My mind is swirling in a brief indulgence of nihilism.  When did it all become so heavy?  As if on cue, the music takes a turn. We’re summoned by the tide to all get a little more contemplative.  Melodrama is in full tilt.  ‘Tis the season, I suppose.

A table of four catches my eye- a double date horribly mismatched.  I know this dance all too well and can’t help but watch as it unfolds. The false comfort of the misfit pair, forced contact and desperate eyes begging, “Please, lie to me a little longer, don’t break the spell.”  The true dilemma: an intricate lace of subtle glances; a slow volley of accidental contact and aversion under the table.

It must be that kind of night.

My phone buzzes and skims across the table: HOME.

What a novel thought.  Home.  I’m not so sure where that is anymore.  The call is trying to remind me of the way there.

“Just come home, baby…”my mother’s voice pleads.

She’s convinced her kitchen can replace the warmth that’s gone and make me feel a little less lonely.  She’s sweet, but I’m too busy licking my wounds to appreciate the gesture.

“Mom”, I condescend, “I’m fine.” and immediately wince at my own tone.

“I wish you wouldn’t drink so much…”

“Yea, you and me both.” “It’s the first night I’ve been out in weeks. I’ll be home.”

It’s a lie, but right now, I don’t want any truth. I’m getting pitchy and I feel my blood getting hot. I’m finding it impossible to mask my dissatisfaction with the turn this conversation is taking.

“Ok, Elizabeth.”

She concedes.

“Ok, Elizabeth.”: Marianne’s classic one-two punch.  I quit, you bully.

“Are you still coming on Monday?”

Monday, Christmas Eve— she knows I’ll be there but it’s one last hit, an attempt to relay just how much my bites have wounded her.

“Yes, mom. I’ll be there Sunday afternoon.”

“I love you baby.”

“Me too, Mom.”

It feels a little better hearing those words.  “I love you.” I needed to hear it even if it’s just from her.

He keeps calling.  I can end this stalemate if I wanted to. But I can’t. Not this time.  I’ve said ok too many times before him and have become much too proud for that.  That’s what it is, right? Pride? It just feels stupid now.  I turn my phone over and signal the waitress for another. I know that look. She keeps scanning the room for me in a combination of pity and hope.  I don’t need either from this waif. Yeah, it’s my third. So what? There’s a foot of snow on the ground and I’ve got nowhere to be. Let me have a little melancholy.

The relic gnarls and bends soulfully while Guaraldi spills from the belly of the baby grand.  Christmas time is here and he won’t let me forget it.  I force a smile because my eyes are telling her to fuck off.   ‘Tis the season, I suppose.

When she leaves, I notice a bohemian gentleman from the table of four with a rocks glass full of some anonymous brown liquor standing at the piano.  He strikes up some polite conversation and sways in time with the maudlin tune.  I guess we’re all a little drunk.

“May I?” he asks with a shake of his glass.

The old man rises.  He is as crooked upright as he was at the keys.  I politely clap and slip him a twenty as he passes my table and makes his way to the other side of the piano.  With a wink and a smile to whichever lady is his tonight, the young man picks up right where his predecessor left off without so much as a key change.  He bends and curls at the whim of the melody.  It transforms him into a more youthful version of the relic, an eerie image to say the least.  I’m not sure if it’s the spirit or the season but I’m overcome with heaviness in my heart.   The old timer sees himself sitting there. Fifty years ago with the same swift, sure stride, the same twinkle at some girl he’s wooing with song at the same piano in the same place.  Wrinkled eyes once serene by the music are now blurred with the tears of time gone by.   He blinks.  I guess that’s all it takes.

My hands have, at some point or another, moved off my drink and onto my phone.

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