Friday, February 17, 2017

Undercroft Bar, Bentonville

The entrance is subtle: a door at the foot of a stair tucked behind a brick archway. No neon lights for this place, just the word bar—written in classy black—guiding patrons who already know where they're going. I'm unsure of myself, but three men in suits walk down ahead of me, and I decide to act confident and follow them. 

My first impression is darkness, a heavy but not unpleasant darkness that makes everything seem quieter than it is. Rather than hiding something, the gloom seems keen to expose it. What little light there is brings out of the shadows a dozen glinting textures: metallic threads in the upholstery, shimmering accents on the black wallpaper, a glitter-encrusted skull on display.

Narrow spotlights accent segments of the long, low room, creating personal oases so that each table becomes an intimate sanctuary. Long wallbenches accommodate large groups of after-hours drinkers as well as couples and trios; the squat portable stools making it easy for more to join in. In the middle of the room are curious chairs with arms as high as their backs, one facing another down the line like a row of intimate cubicles. Here is another attempt at privacy: the three tall sides of each chair blocking out everything but the person sitting directly across the candlelit table. 

The bar is golden and glowing, the center of the action that manages never to overpower the darker corners. Cocktail waitresses float to and from it, friendly and faceless, serving the thirsty 5:30 crowd.

As I am notoriously indecisive even at familiar restaurants, it takes three visits from the waitress before I make up my mind. Then my drink of choice is not on tap, and I have to scramble. Thankfully, she has a recommendation on her sleeve, and I order in a breathless rush, happy to finally resolve the matter. When the pale pink confection arrives in its martini glass, I feel the halo effect of pure sophistication. The drink tastes bright and sparkly, and the fruit juices and orange liqueur play over my tongue.

I'm drinking in sounds with the liquor. Like the sharp top notes of an urban perfume, I hear the sharp sound of the exuberant bartender rattling a shaker above his head. The heart notes come with the music, warm and thrumming, easy to talk over but filling in silent gaps with ease. The background hum of conversation lays the base note, steady and comforting. 

My glass is not even half empty when I start to feel a buzz. My head fills up with sand, and my hands move with more energy as I talk. I'm a dreadful lightweight. Hopefully, my loosened tongue doesn't say anything I might later regret.

My fingers brush the tiny tabletop (which seems almost too small for the drink). It's cold to the touch, but if I stroke the cushion beside me it feels warm, like furry silk. The temperature of the room is so perfect that I don't even notice.

Time passes without a thought in this underground room. When I've paid my tab and poke my head out at the top of the stair, I'm surprised to find that it's already late evening, and the downtown is bustling with nightlife. Down below me, the congenial humming continues unbroken; it will carry on until the wee hours of Saturday morning. As for me, I've had my taste of elegant society, and it's time to get home to my dinner.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rachel Weeping

One woman packs away the pink box half-filled with clothes and stuffed animals, gifts purchased for the daughter she named but never held.

One woman gets a phone call and falls on her knees, a knife's point cracking her breastbone to dig deep into her heart.

One elderly mother stands at the grave of her middle-aged child and wonders how.

One woman takes down four plates from the cabinet and bursts into tears.

One woman hears sirens in the middle of the night and starts to pray.

I've never given birth, but something in me trembles at the sight of a bereaved mother. I grip my empty womb and try to fathom her depths of pain, failing utterly.

Elizabeth Stone wrote, "Making the decision to have a child—it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

An Audacious Plan Pt. 2

I yelled to Jamie to double-check that his toothbrush was in his backpack. He yelled back that he’d checked three times already. Well, what else is a mother to do? I tried closing my suitcase, but that was easier said than done. I yanked the zipper until I was sure it would break, then slammed the entire weight of my body on the top. Miraculously, it closed. 
Photo by Craig Sunter

Steve stood in the hallway looking like a lost puppy. “Jenny, I can’t find my windbreaker. I’ve looked everywhere."
“Already packed, dear. It’s in the blue bag.” He threw up his hands and went into the bathroom to collect his toiletries. 
Planning an international trip had been no picnic. Though we hadn’t gone with the “next Tuesday” idea, opting instead to plan three months in advance, it seemed like barely a week since I’d had my Scotland vs. Iowa revelation. We'd had to plan our destinations and transportation, get passports for all four of us, buy random items like plug adapters and rubber boots, and most worrisome of all, try to figure out how on earth we were going to navigate two weeks in Britain with two young children. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

An Audacious Plan

I heaved the laundry basket out of the way to check the dryer for loose socks. Those things went missing at an alarming rate. Aha! There it was, stuck to the side. A black crew-cut.

I overturning the basket on the bed and set to sorting, folding, stacking, and stashing. One more task checked off the list. One more mundane activity. One step closer to taking my shoes off and collapsing in front of Poirot reruns.

Photo by Shawn Harquail

Mondays made me fatalistic. This Monday was no different, as Steve had mentioned that we should plan our annual family vacation. Really? Did we have to discuss it? It would be Iowa. It was always Iowa. Cornstalks, flat fields, pigs, cornstalks, windmills, bad food, cornstalks, the occasional tulip, cornstalks. I questioned my choice of corn-on-the-cob for dinner.

Just because Steve had one million relatives who were still alive and begging to see him and I had no one besides two old uncles in Georgia, we were condemned to a lifetime of two-week expeditions to corn country. Every. Single. Year.

On my journey back toward the laundry closet, I glimpsed a purple-spotted heel peeking out from beneath the coffee table. Well, that was one sock that would have to wait until next week. I bent to pick it up and noticed it was acting as a bookmark in our picture book of Scotland. I opened it to the page on Inverness.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Meditations on a Sand Picture

It begins without event. A flat, calm firmament of white, black, and blue disguises a landscape of mountains and valleys, magically suspended above an empty world. The only barrier between sky and the below is a line of fragile and fleeting bubbles.

The instant the world is made, its destruction becomes inevitable. Trickles of sand, just two or three particles wide, seep through the barricade. The channels are tremulous, hesitating to fall too fast, drifting slowly from heaven to earth. The effect is slight at first but gradually takes shape on the empty ground. The percolating streams build into dells and hillocks, imperceptible and without a sound.

Is this how our world's own peaks were formed? Valleys overhead, invisible above the rippled skies, dissolving into mountains below? Or when God said, "for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return," was this the picture Adam drew in his mind's eye? An ocean of dust, dissolving inescapably into a lower ocean? Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Gregory's Garden

Seeing Gregory was the highlight of Lisette's day. She always saw him in profile as he sat on his grandmother's porch swing—his messy dark bangs hanging over a large pair of glasses that kept slipping down his long nose that was always buried in a book.

But that's as far as it went. Seeing. And she couldn't look too long or he might notice the strange, freckle-faced girl next door staring at him and then she'd never be able to go outside the house ever again. It would be awkward to become a permanent hermit. She'd have to get her mom to go to the library for her, and the chances of traveling to Italy from inside her Minneapolis home were slim to none.

photo by Joe Kirschling
Over the last couple of years, Lisette had tried everything to get Gregory's attention. She'd "accidentally" thrown a piece of paper over his side of the fence and been forced to retrieve it, she'd managed to be outside nearly every time he came home on the bus, and she'd even gone so far as to wave hello on more than one occasion. Last spring she had taken up gardening just so that she'd have an excuse to spend hours in the front yard. She'd done everything but actually speak to him; that was something reserved for daydreams.

Monday, November 14, 2016

America Asleep

You don't see them, but they're all around you. They're whispering in your ear, counting your steps, turning you back. They're controlling you, and you can't even see them. You think you know where you are, where you're going, what you believe in, how the world works, but you can't see the quicksand that's sucking at your shoes. No, your knees. Make that your shoulders.

Who do you listen to? Teachers, preachers, leaders, press—do you know if you can trust them? How many lies have slithered through your ears and you've been too blind to feel them?

You're asleep, and you will never wake up until you question everything you know. It's frightening—the most frightening thing—that fleeting, horrible thought, "Is this real?" For five minutes, step off the brink of reality and plummet into the darkness below. Unhook your brain from everything you've been taught and what you know to be fact. Dare to contemplate the unthinkable:

They lied. And you fell for it.