I had no place to be, so I stopped off for a beer on my way home. It was late, so I'd already missed Chuck before he left for work. One beer, maybe two, at a townie bar close to my house sounded good.
I ordered a Fat Tire, filled out my name, address and phone number on a slip of paper without questioning what sort of contest I was entering. If I know this place, it's a meat raffle. I began reading from a book of short stories that I keep in my purse. I call it purse-book.
I like reading in bars. It's a nice mix of being in public and in private at the same time. I usually have to explain this to at least one person who asks what I'm reading, then apologizes for bothering me. Reading in bars is confusing to people who have never tried reading in bars.
After the bartender asked what I was reading, I went out for a cigarette purposefully leaving the book next to my drink to a) save my chair and b) give her time to look at it if she was curious. I came back, diddled with my phone, and wondered if I should write a short story about a woman who secretly becomes an alcoholic and her boyfriend never finds out about it because he works nights.
"What're you doing? Just playing with your phone?"
It was a super tall 20-something who had come in earlier with a woman who was noticeably older than him. He seemed like a regular. He called the bartender by her first name and had a slurry remorsefulness that suggested he understands that he sometimes annoys her.
"Reading," I said, wishing I had the book in my hand instead of splayed out on the counter.
"Well, now you're going to have fun!" he said.
"Right. Reading," I said.
He gave me a cockeyed look.
"I'm at the bar with my mom," he said, confirming the fan fiction I'd written about him in my head the second he walked in the door.
Down at the other end of the bar, the surly blonde was scowling at nothing.
"Now you can have fun with me and my mom!" he said.
"Hm. I think I'll just read," I said, nodding to my book.
He picked it up.
"The Collected Stories of. Lydia Davis," he read the cover.
I was moderately surprised. I had bet myself he'd call her "Linda," and lost.
He flipped through the book.
"What. Are you going to read to me?" I asked him.
He opened to the story I was on, and read the title aloud: "Meat, My Husband."
"That's funny," he said. "Because 'meat' is spelled like that."
And again I was moderately surprised.
So he began reading:
"My husband's favorite food, in childhood, was corned beef. I found this out yesterday when some friends came over and we started talking about food. At some point, they asked what our favorite childhood foods had been. I couldn't think of any, but my husband didn't have to think before answering.
'Corned beef,' he said.
'Corned beef with an egg on it," one of our friends added.
"Corned beef with an egg on it!" he slurred, clearly appalled. "Who would ever eat corned beef with an egg on it."
The bartender interjected. She would. For sure. Grew up on the stuff.
"With an egg on it?!" he asked.
"Sure," she said. "Haven't you ever had corned beef hash, with eggs?"
He made a face as she walked away.
"Must be a new thing," he said, and continued reading.
My husband often ate in diners before we met. He had two he liked, but he preferred the one where they did a particularly good hot roast beef sandwich. He still likes a good piece of roast beef, or steak, or hamburger mixed with sauce and spices and grilled outdoors with ..."
He struggled with the next word, brochettes, and said instead "bruschetta."
"... of onions and peppers.He put his thumb between the pages. "Does any of that sound good to you?" he asked me. Frankly, I'd already stopped listening. So I grappled for a memorable word.
"Bruschetta," I said. "Bruschetta sounds good."
"HEY MOM!" he yelled down the bar.
"Shhhh," said the bartender.
"What?!" squawked his mom.
"Do you want to cook bruschetta!" he yelled in a whisper yell.
"What?!" she said.
"Do you want to cook bruschetta?!" he yelled in a non-whisper yell.
"Tonight? No. I work all goddamn day and I want to go home," she growled.
(These are all direct quotes. I was texting them to myself at the time because I didn't want to forget a lick of it).
I'm not sure what he thought was going to happen. Were we all three going to bumble to the car, drive to Morgan Park, and sit around the table listening to him read "Meat, My Husband" while his mom chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic and placed them on a baguette. Ponder the meaning of the 800 word story while it baked at 425 degrees? Chuckle over that clever Lydia Davis as we finally ate the bruschetta? Maybe segue into some Cribbage. Whatever it was, she seemed to know what he was thinking.
"Your mom wants to go home," I told him.
He looked at her at the end of the bar. Got up. Walked away.
I ordered another Fat Tire, and finished the story.