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Distilled Spirits: [Season 2] Ch. 22 — Caitlyn

February 8, 2014

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 1:  “Icing Over a Secret Pain”

Note: This is the extended chapter for this episode, at 1,850 words.

Caitlyn

          Cait couldn’t remember the last time she had a girl’s night out.  No boyfriends, no lovers, no friends, no brothers—it must’ve been back in college.  And probably at the same place they were hanging at now.

The Crane Wife had changed its name a hundred times.  When Cait was still studying and living a few blocks away, the close-to-campus bar was called Art Fuel and brought in a different crowd, but it was the same place soaked foundation-deep with decades of memories and spilled drinks.  Dimly lit with darker patches, The Crane Wife began as a coat-and-tie bar for professors and businessmen and pretenders with enough money.

Traces of the upper-crust remained, the kind of stuff that Fitzgerald wrote and revisited—worn but washed hardwood floors, dormant chandeliers, a thick, dark brown serving bar lined with a brass rail, and a grand piano in one corner held together with band stickers and gum that a small girl sat behind, playing softly.  The place had weight to it.  And history in its hanging, unsold paintings by students long since graduated and moved away.

A few were Cait’s.

Students took over the bar maybe twenty years ago and turned it into a dive, and only recently had it taken on a specific appeal—those who wanted to get drunk and listen to unobtrusive poetry and music, and girls who wanted to meet girls.

“She’s not bad, huh?” Molly said, gesturing with her beer.  “At playing, I mean.”

They had taken a table close to the piano and the bar was quiet enough that they didn’t have to shout.

Scarlett was barely visible over the top of the piano, trim hair bobbing and body swaying with the boy beside her—a black student with a harmonica.  Together they embellished jazzy tunes that didn’t need names.  They had been playing for thirty minutes with breaks to drink and talk with the small crowd of twenty or so.  Almost all were students except for some veterans that could find their way to the bathroom with the lights off.   These older few stuck out while fitting in—hunched on their barstools, looking at the rows and rows of bottles that no one ever bought.

“I see why the music program grabbed her,” Molly said, elbowing Cait.  “Where’d she find time to learn?  Doesn’t she work?”

“A couple of part-time jobs,” Cait said.

“I told you this would be fun,” Molly went on.  “If I could just avoid any ex-girlfriends a bit longer.”

If Scarlett was anything like Geno, she found her niches and excelled at them.  While Geno exploited them until he had enough money to pay the rent, Scarlett was different—she enjoyed her work.  Cait was a good judge of tiny smiles, and the one on Scar’s face was a sincere, pressed line that curved more when she was happy with her previous notes.  As she neared a quiet crescendo, she gave the spotlight to the harmonica player who really worked it, letting his foot keep the rhythm on the floor.

The two of them let their notes drift and the audience knew to applaud.

“She’s way too good for Geno,” Cait said.

Molly laughed and watched Scarlett bend over to pick up her coat—she was wearing a short kilt over black leggings.  “Mmhmm.  Cute, too.”

“Don’t start anything,” Cait joked.

Scarlett plopped down in the booth next to Molly, straightening herself beside the taller girl.  Scar’s neck and face shone with sweat and she flicked her long-sleeved shirt to cool her body.

“Those lights,” Scarlett said, sipping her water.  “It’s a sauna.”  She took a long drink of her dark beer, probably as warm as her now.

“That was awesome,” Cait said.  “I almost forgot about this place.  Good thing you didn’t bring Geno—he’d probably get in a fight with any girl who checked you out.”

Cait felt someone kick her under the table but Molly was looking toward the entrance of the bar.

“Oh, Geno wouldn’t come out for these—I don’t ask,” Scarlett said, not sounding upset.  “I think he’s jealous, really.”

“He plays like four instruments,” Cait said.

Scarlett shrugged.  “He’s weird about some things—but I’m happy you guys came out.  This is much better than practicing at school.  It’s all so sterile there.”

The boy with the harmonica came by wearing a collared shirt, no tie, and he had a smile for each of them.  He put a thick wad of bills on the table in front of Scarlett.  “Same time next week?  I got a guy—he can sing all right.  Like a black Bob Dylan.”

“Pass,” Scarlett said. “We got a good thing here.”

The boy just nodded and walked to the bar, signaling with his hand for a drink.

Scarlett smiled at Cait.  “Say, he’s a bit cute.  When’s the last time you—”

“Enough talk about dudes,” Molly said, playing with her empty glass.

Cait stood up.  “Anyone?”

“Whatever you’re having,” Molly said, and Scarlett waved her on, counting the money.

The large woman behind the bar started pouring before Cait could even cross the room.  Sam had been working at The Crane Wife for a decade as other servers came and went.  Nearing her 40s, she was a patient pour and could guess what someone wanted, but that wasn’t what she was best at—Sam often played matchmaker whether a customer wanted to hear it, or not.  If she thought someone was single, she’d scan the bar and find someone that fit them.

Cait made to pay for her local IPA and asked for another of the same, but Sam waved the money away.

“It’s on the house,” she said.

“Huh?”

“I almost forgot,” Sam said, hitting a few keys and popping open the register.  She laid a $50 bill on top of Cait’s beer.  “This is for you.  We sold one of your paintings a few weeks back.  You should come around more often.”

“Which one?”  Cait glanced at the walls of the bar while pocketing the money.

Sam started wiping down a mug, thinking.  “It was a pair of tits—I remember,” she said.  “Like you pressed painted red breasts to a canvas.  Some guy bought it.”  She sounded disappointed.  “It was a nice, modest pair, too.”

Cait felt herself blushing and grabbed the two drinks, but she could use all the money she could get right now.  She put the drinks down and quickly scribbled her phone number on a napkin.

“In case you sell any more—you can reach me there, Sam.”  Cait pushed the napkin across the bar.  “Only if you sell something.”

Sam laughed and put the napkin away, moving down the bar to serve someone else.

*          *        *

An hour later the three girls were outside the bar, saying goodbye and waiting for a taxi to come get Scarlett.

“Molls, haven’t see you here in a while.”  A deep, girl’s voice called from behind them.  The 44L pulled away from the curb after letting its passengers off.  “You get someone new?”

“Shit,” Molly muttered under her breath, turning to the voice.

The girl was small and plump and had a permanent frown to go with her pierced nose and lip.  Metal chains connected different parts of her outfit but Cait didn’t see any point to it.

“Yeah,” Molly said, “I found someone.”

The girl jerked a thumb at Scarlett and gave a low whistle.  “Not bad.”

Scarlett tried to hide a laugh, coughing..

Molly grabbed Cait’s hand and squeezed it tight.  “No,” she said with a big smile, “I’ve been seeing her.”

The girl looked Cait up and down in a way that removed her clothes and skin and bones.  Her eyes paused on every place that Cait didn’t want them to.

“Heroin chic, huh?” the girl sneered.  “You’ve done better.  At least I eat food.  What, are you fresh out of rehab?”

“Still a bitch, huh?” Molly said.  “There’s a reason no one can stand you for more than two weeks.”

The girl stopped examining Cait.   “Let me know when you get tired of her,” she said to Molly, walking inside the bar.

Cait dropped Molly’s hand.

“Thanks for playing along,” Molly said, putting a hand on Cait’s shoulder.  “I’m sorry.  Ignore—”

“No,” Cait said, shaking Molly off.  She wiped her face and wished it was raining.  “It’s fine.  It’s late.  I—I gotta get going.  I’m gonna walk to the 19.”

The bus stop was six long blocks away but the ride over the bridge to the Inner Harbor went by in a flash.  The lobby of Glenn’s building was looking nicer—the receptionist’s desk had arrived in a giant box from IKEA.

Glenn had gotten economical with his units.  Calling Cait’s place a studio was generous—more like five closets taped together.  She didn’t blame Glenn—it was a place for herself.  She hadn’t lived alone since sophomore year.  Still, it was obvious.  Glenn didn’t really want her here.  Sure, Cait knew, Glenn would never say anything and never kick her out, but he wanted her to move back in with Sid.  Sometimes Cait wondered if she was the only one who didn’t want that.

Cait thought about putting on music but instead opened a window and let the car and truck noises wash over her with the breeze.  It was chilly but she liked the view of the street—better than the brick wall at her old place.  She opened the drawer on her bed side table and saw the seven little plastic boxes linked together.  Drew had given it to her when she left the hospital—the last time they had seen each other and probably the last time, for good.  Cait didn’t think either of them were sad about it.

In each little box was a tab of morphine, broken in half.

The previous days up to Friday were empty.

It had been enough to keep Cait regular.  To feel in control.

One half to fall asleep—one half to tolerate daylight.  Never more than that.

She picked up a half and saw the piece of paper under the tiny boxes.  Cait took out the note that she had written to herself on the night she spent with Sid.  She had memorized a lot of it.  She could tear it up right now and it wouldn’t make a difference.

Cait always felt something when she held the note—that yesterday was fine, tomorrow would be good, and that she just had to get through today.

She kicked off her jeans and checked her phone: two voice messages blinked and she knew who they were from.  After putting the note back, she put her phone on ‘silent’ and swallowed the half tab, flicking the lights off.

Cait closed the drawer firmly.

Distance was always good.

Cait wrapped the comforter around her body.

The beer helped—everything grew quieter and quieter, the outside sounds just white noise, and soon her thoughts were the same.

Distance was safe.

___________________________________________________________________

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