Darryl in the Bar

Darryl asked her if he could buy her a drink and Julia Pearl accepted, saying she’d like a glass of white wine, thinking that sounded like something a woman should order. She didn’t go to bars so she didn’t know for sure. After he’d put a ten down on the bar and Julia Pearl had a glass of wine in front of her Darryl started asking her questions. Julia Pearl couldn’t figure out if answering them right away would make her look more or less attractive. She didn’t want to appear too eager or desperate. She just didn’t know the right amount of answering to do before she asked him a question. Maybe it wasn’t O.K. to ask him any questions. She’d just met Darryl. In the parking lot, she’d rolled up her skirt at the waistband to make it shorter, fluffed her hair out of a bun, found a little lipstick at the bottom of her purse, used her finger to put it on her lips and cheeks, and walked into this bar. It was an impulsive decision she made when she was leaving Costco in an industrial area of the city. It had been a long time since she’d been around a man or had a boyfriend and her last boyfriend had the nerve to go and die right on top of her.

Julia Pearl thought maybe that was why she’d avoided men for a long time. She wanted a man, a real man, someone to push the shopping cart while she walked ahead plucking things from the shelves while he watched her and pushed along behind her not interrupting as she read the unit price from the tag underneath each item. He would be tall with silver gray hair and he’d wear jeans and tasseled loafers, no socks. Julia Pearl saw men like that in the grocery store pushing along behind wives who were almost always about as wide as they were tall. That’s one thing she just couldn’t understand. No one ever looked at Julia Pearl, at least she didn’t think anyone did but she didn’t really know because she never looked at people except out of the corner of her eye. Julia Pearl didn’t want to take the chance someone would start a conversation with her or even smile at her, well a woman anyway, so she looked but pretended she wasn’t looking. How did a dumpy woman with a bad perm land a guy who looked like the guy in the TV truck ads? It just didn’t make sense.

Three years ago Julia Pearl had been on the couch with her boyfriend when he died. She thought they were making love and she thought he was in some sort of ecstasy when she realized he was dead weight on top of her and then she noticed he wasn’t breathing. Julia Pearl thought she must have gotten post traumatic stress from having to push him off of her so she could get to the phone. She felt terrible because, when she pushed him up to get free, he rolled over and fell on the floor. She felt like she was in another person’s life or something else unreal as she dialed 911, telling the operator that she thought her boyfriend was dead. She couldn’t actually say she knew he was really dead. Something about that just didn’t seem right. Julia Pearl thought saying her boyfriend was dead, just like that, might make her sound cold-hearted or something. She didn’t want to sound so cold-hearted that she sounded like a murderess. She’d wished he’d die because she couldn’t find the words to break up with him. The police interrogated her for an hour before they were satisfied she hadn’t poisoned him or something. She’d thought about poisoning him because he’d gotten fat and gone bald, the male equivalent of a bad perm, not the kind of bald that looked O.K. but the kind of bald that made him look like a friar in an old movie, and he had stopped going to the grocery store with her, stopped taking her out to dinner on Saturday night. He said he liked her cooking so much he just didn’t want to eat out because he ate out all the time when he was at work. She wasn’t very good at arguing so she didn’t.

After the police left, Julia Pearl felt shocked, repulsed, guilty and happy that he was gone all at the same time.
Now, swiveled toward her on his bar stool, Darryl asked if she lived around there while he tried to look into her eyes and at her chest at the same time. She thought it was a dumb thing to ask since the bar was surrounded by industrial buildings and asphalt but she told him she didn’t, that she lived across town. Darryl wasn’t bad looking but he wasn’t good looking either. He wasn’t tall, didn’t have silver-gray hair and wasn’t wearing tasseled loafers with no socks. He wasn’t much taller than Julia Pearl and she wasn’t tall. His hair was brown and he looked like he hadn’t taken a shower that day. Julia Pearl could tell because his hair wasn’t fluffy. It just laid flat on his head. His clothes looked like they were on their second or third day of wearing, wrinkled with a few spatters of whatever he’d eaten on his shirt and he had on dirty tennis shoes with black socks. Julia Pearl saw them when he put his feet on the lower rung of her bar stool.

He was not the man Julia Pearl hoped to be with someday. She’d just stopped at this bar because she was tired of going home alone and watching television with her dog. She reminded herself it was just a drink and she could leave any time she wanted to leave. This was the kind of bar people referred to as a “neighborhood” bar. The inside was small and dark so Julia Pearl couldn’t see the dirt but she could smell it, the air was musty and thick. On the outside of the bar the paint was peeling off of gray walls and there were black marks and dents where guys had gone into reverse instead of forward and stopped just before they backed into the bar. The only way anyone could tell it was a bar was because of the neon cocktail glass on the roof with a neon girl sitting in it scissoring her legs out and up. Parts of the neon had stopped working but enough still worked so that anyone could fill in the blanks. This bar was the kind of bar men could come to without having to shower and shave while their wives waited at home to complain bitterly about them going down there and wasting the day again. All of the men in the bar knew each other. Every now and again someone said something to someone else or each in his turn talked with the bartender and everyone else listened and commented when they felt the same way. And about the time most of the drink glasses were empty someone picked up a padded canister of dice and they passed it up and down the bar, each in his turn shaking the canister then banging it on the bar, lifting it up to see what they had. The winner bought the next round of drinks.

No one passed the dice to Darryl. They knew he was on to something. It wasn’t often a strange woman walked in and sat down looking like she planned to stay awhile. Darryl had just gotten lucky, happened to be sitting at the end so Julia Pearl naturally sat down next to him. Julia Pearl was glad he was because she could see beer bellies and ass cracks on at least half of the men sitting at the bar when she pushed the bar door open and what was left of daylight illuminated the inside for a brief moment before the door swung back and closed returning the room to its former dark self. Julia Pearl wondered if spending days and nights in this place was like returning to the womb or practicing for a coffin.

Julia Pearl drank her glass of wine fast because she was nervous. She had to think of something to say to Darryl. She couldn’t ask him what she wanted to ask him, what he did for a living, how much money he made, if he had a lot of debt, had he graduated from college, could he read, was he married? She was able to sneak a look at his left hand and he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. He had grease under his fingernails so she thought he was probably some kind of mechanic. That would be O.K. with Julia Pearl if he owned the shop but she’d have to wait to find out.

“Do you come here often?” asked Julia Pearl.

“I usually stop in after work for a beer with the boys before I head home,” said Darryl.

Julia Pearl recognized her opening. “Oh, do you work around here?” she said.

“I work over there at the Costco garage,” Darryl said.” I put tires on cars when people buy the tires at Costco. We do it for free if they buy our tires.”
With that answer, Julia Pearl got answers to just about every one of the other questions she shouldn’t ask. He didn’t own his own shop. He didn’t make much money, probably didn’t graduate from college and had at least one credit card maxed out. If he was divorced he didn’t own his own home. He rented an apartment somewhere close so he wouldn’t get a DUI when he left the bar at night. If he had kids the ex and the kids lived in the house Darryl once lived in too and maybe still paid for. He’d be paying child support and maybe alimony too. If he didn’t have kids he was still living in an apartment but so was she because they had to sell the house in the divorce. He might be paying alimony if they were married for a long time and she didn’t work when they were married. Julia Pearl was pretty sure he could read microwave instructions and pretty sure he watched TV and fell asleep on the couch.

Darryl ordered her another glass of wine and the bartender took away the empty glass and put a new one down in front of her. Julia Pearl didn’t usually drink so she was starting to feel a little fuzzy around the edges. Darryl seemed handsomer than he had when she first sat down next to him. Maybe he just took some getting used to or maybe that glass of wine softened her vision. He was telling her what pretty eyes she had as the bartender helped himself to the money sitting on the bar in front of Darrel to pay for the second glass of wine. Julia Pearl knew the only polite thing to do with a compliment was to say, “Thank you,” so she did. She told him her dead boyfriend story and Darryl laughed like he really meant it and then he got a serious look on his face and told her he was sorry that he didn’t mean to laugh at her loss. Julia Pearl took another sip of wine and assured him it wasn’t a loss really. It was shocking but not a loss. She was trying to figure out how to break up with him anyway.

Darryl told Julia Pearl he knew exactly what she meant and leaned closer. Julia Pearl didn’t want to be rude and back away from him so she didn’t move. Darryl reached his hand up and lightly touched her cheek and said, “Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?” Julia Pearl couldn’t answer that because saying, “Yes,” meant she was conceited and saying, “No,” meant she was asking him to tell her more about her beauty and she didn’t want to do either because Julia Pearl knew she wasn’t pretty. Julia Pearl had never been pretty. She was the kind of woman nobody noticed, not pretty or ugly, not too tall nor too short, not fat, not skinny, the kind of woman men didn’t fall in love with but didn’t run away from either. She didn’t look like a great piece of ass but she did look like she might be surprising if you’d had a couple of drinks, which Darryl definitely had.
Then he leaned even closer and kissed her lightly on her lips. Julia Pearl thought about six or seven things at once, that she was letting a man she would never consider for a boyfriend kiss her, that she was in a dive and letting a man she would never consider for a boyfriend kiss her, that all of the other men were pretending that Darryl wasn’t doing anything unusual except Julia Pearl knew they were all secretly watching and thinking he was “putting the moves” on her, that he didn’t have bad breath, that she liked the way he kissed her, that she wanted to kiss him back, so she did but just a little and she didn’t open her mouth.

Julia Pearl finished her second glass of wine and Darryl put some coins in the Jukebox and selected songs, “Ring of Fire,” “My Girl,” “Twist and Shout,” and other songs from the 60s. They probably came with the jukebox when the bar was built and the jukebox was installed. The music made the bar and Darryl better looking. Julia Pearl was having a good time. Darryl ordered her another glass of wine and kissed her again with his hand placed gently behind her head. This time she could feel him open his mouth a little. She wasn’t ready for that yet but she parted her lips so she didn’t seem uptight. She started thinking about what would happen next. Would he want to go home with her? Did she want to take him home with her? Would he invite her to his place? Was this crazy? Yes, she knew this was crazy but she liked it.

Darryl began leaning in for another kiss when the door swung open. Darryl pulled back, straightened up and turned toward the door, removing his feet from Julia Pearl’s bar stool all at the same time. She looked toward the door and saw an angry looking woman coming right at Darryl. Julia Pearl turned back and faced the bartender, pretending like she was just a customer having a glass of wine.

She heard Darryl say, “Hi Babe”, and he acted like he didn’t know Julia Pearl. It was that fast. The other men at the bar were watching. She said, “Don’t you “Hi” me you fucker. What are you doing, why didn’t you come home when you said you were coming home?” She looked at Julia Pearl and said, “Who’s she?” Darryl looked surprised and said, “How would I know. She came in and sat down. It’s a free world isn’t it?”

Julia Pearl turned and looked at the woman who was short and curvy with long curly black hair and black eyeliner that extended beyond her eyes into a thin black point. She had on a low cut sweater and Julia Pearl didn’t have to stare to see that she had cleavage. She was wearing skinny black pants and high heels. She looked like she was going to murder Darryl. Darryl got up and offered her his bar stool. “Babe, I was coming home but I’ve been beating these guys at liar’s dice, and I didn’t want to give up when I was winning. You want your usual?”

The woman slid onto Darryl’s bar stool and turned her back to Julia Pearl. She said, “Hey guys, is he telling me the truth? Is this fucker beating you all at liar’s dice?”

“Yea, he’s killing us, been making all of us buy him drinks. He hasn’t paid for one drink yet,” one of the butt cracks said. “Juanita, we told him to get home to the most beautiful wife in the world, that he was a damned fool for sitting in here with us, playing liar’s dice when he could have been snuggling with you.”

Juanita seemed pleased by the compliment and relaxed a little, still giving Darryl the cold shoulder but conceding he could buy her a beer since she was there anyway. She ignored Julia Pearl who turned back to stare at the bartender while every man tried to save Darryl’s butt, including Darryl himself by making Juanita believe she was beautiful and wonderful and          Darryl didn’t deserve her, which she agreed with but she was still mad that she waited dinner and he never showed up.

Julia Pearl didn’t want to jump up and run out of the place but that’s what she felt like doing. For some unknown reason she didn’t want Darryl to get into trouble either. After ten or so minutes Julia Pearl finished the last of her wine and acted like that was her cue for getting up and leaving, which she did. She walked back out of that bar, got into her car and felt mad and hurt and betrayed and humiliated and thought she should make an appointment with her therapist to try to figure this out. Then she just worried about driving. The last thing she needed was a DUI just because she thought she’d try something different for a change, try to change her luck about men and how to meet them, which hadn’t gone well at all.


Mary Julia Klimenko c.2014