Yvonne plopped herself onto the familiar hotel bar stool and waited. The man she’d met online was expected. Once again, she’d interview the man then toss or keep. Tonight, she would introduce herself as widowed, careful not to come off as abandoned.
Some thirty years ago, Yvonne and co-workers from Fineman’s swished into this historic Denver hotel bar on Friday nights after work. The girls’ energy and sparkle caused head-turns and represented all that was mesmerizing about youth. This continued as long as there were young ladies willing to shimmy onto bar stools and hoist a few. Eventually, the girls married, took jobs in nearby towns, or simply aged out.
After twenty-five years at Fineman’s, Yvonne’s service was rewarded with a laminated lifetime 20% off card clipped to her final paycheck. Not even a luncheon, would go through her head whenever the unused card surfaced somewhere in the house.
Each room in Yvonne’s home was devoted to one of her collections. The ceramic cats in the kitchen needed once-weekly arranging. Insects she’d caught and pinned to framed cardboard hung in the second bedroom and demanded constant straightening due to the rattle of noise from the cellar below. The front room was full of medical oddities and not an inch of space remained for even a picture-post card.
Her living collections required food and water, and sometimes air. They lived in the cellar. Easily tended, Yvonne could manage this responsibility before she left the house.
Yvonne was only seen at the bar now when expecting someone she’d met online.
A woman, in a black cocktail dress at the bar’s curve, snickered and whispered something to her mate, indicating toward Yvonne. He glanced and shook his head. Intimate muffled conversations warmed the room. Candlelight at each table tipped onto the faces of people leaning in for private exchanges. Women shimmered in black, and men relaxed in tight-cut suits with open necked shirts. Yvonne sat not unaware and tugged at the lilac-colored dress to stretch over her midriff.
An hour passed. I don’t have all night. Lips pursed. He doesn’t know what he’s missing! In a highball glass, the swizzle stick poked into a red cherry that matched the color of her lips. Twirling and twirling it melted enough ice to render a sip of water. She raised the glass and tried to match her lips onto the lipstick stain imprinted on the rim. With another slurp through the short black straw, the bartender approached.
“Another whiskey sour, Yvonne?”
She lowered her head, “How much’ll that be, Jerry?”
He noticed the grey roots looking up at him from a nest of black hair. “Tell you what, this one’s on me. Say, did that guy work out you met here a couple months ago?” He put the cocktail in front of her and gathered the spent drink.
“Sort of, well, you know.” Yvonne snagged the swizzle stick. “I collect these.” Reaching deep into her bucket-sized purse she removed a baggie of pretzels. The edge of a key ring had attached itself and made an unexpected tinny plink when it hit the bar. Jerry turned toward her. She nervously yanked the cellar key lose and stuffed it into the purse next to an oversized prescription bottle.
As Yvonne nibbled the contraband pretzels and sipped the gifted whiskey sour, she fantasized about escorting tonight’s catch home with her. His husky phone-voice intrigued.
A man surprised her from behind.
“Is this stool occupied?”
“Oh,” she straightened and turned to see a man and woman. “Well, oh, yes. I, I’m saving it for someone,” she exhaled thirty years of dismay then yanked at her purse to sit tall on the stool. Hmm, he looks familiar.
Yvonne retrieved a small pocket mirror and a tube of Revlon Red lipstick from her purse, to touch-up. Squinting, she drew fuller lips than her withered skin could manage. Revlon Red had always been her color. She returned the mirror and lipstick to the purse and felt around for the cellar key. There it is.
Bottles of fine spirits watched as she spied between them into the beveled mirror behind the bar. It reflected crystal glassware, the grimace of a woman adjusting a white plastic earring, and the door he never entered.
“Excuse me, Jerry, may I have the time?” She imagined Jerry among her collectables, with a naughty thought of where to put him.
“It’s 9:30. Can I get you another drink?”
“No, I need to get home. I’ll be missed.”
“See you next Friday, Yvonne?”
“It depends.” With a wry smile, she drew the swizzle stick out of the fruit it had captured, lifted her glass, and grabbed its cardboard coaster, then pushed off the stool with a grunt.
At 10:05 pm Yvonne stepped from the number 15 bus. The tap of her heels on flagstone echoed through the stillness of her old neighborhood, making her sound bigger than she was. And the rattle of pills in the prescription bottle filled in the quiet spaces as she moved. Yvonne turned to be sure she was alone on the street and snugged a grizzled fox collar to her neck. Splashes of streetlight highlighted her rigid figure as she walked the two blocks to her jagged brick house. She leaned against the tall back gate to creak it open, squeezed through, and moved a few steps past the twenty-foot blue spruce to the cellar door. A good pull on the shovel handle wedged between the ground and the doorknob released its hold. It fell to the ground… as it always did. The alley light shone brightly so a glint from the cellar key in her purse revealed its whereabouts. Yvonne turned the key slowly until it… just clicked. She glanced left-to-right. Inched the door open. She sensed movement from something in the cellar.
“Hello-o, anyone still awake? Yvonne’s home,” in that sing-song voice a man could grow to hate.
Dianne Blomberg’s essays are published in Feminine Collective, Across the Margin, and soon, DoveTales. She has authored two children’s books. Her research is found in Good Housekeeping, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Family Life, Newsday New York, Boston Globe, and more. She is a Professor, an author, and speaker living in Colorado. Emmy, the Norwich Terrier, serves as the administrative assistant in Dianne’s writing office. Currently, Dianne is working on a memoir, All Else is Shadow.