Alone in A Crowded Room
He dabbed at the stain on the crimson tablecloth where he’d spilled his drink as he turned suddenly believing that he heard her call out his name, but she hadn’t. She was still facing in the other direction, talking to the people sitting near her as they all waited for the band to begin. He sat at his table alone, mocked by the crowd’s posterior, and staring at her glowing profile illuminated by the candle sitting on her table. How he wished she would turn to him. Medusa would envy her seductive stare, frothing with lust and mystery and mischief. He dreamed of her piercing eyes, aglow in the darkness, drifting through the smoky lounge to meet with his, buckling his knees in the interim. He wondered what their glance meant to her. Was it a mere meeting of the eyes or something more? But more than that, he wondered if she even knew that he was still there.
Just a few nights prior she had closed those overpowering eyes in the back seat of his father’s car. She displayed a somewhat content smile as she lay naked in his lap, covered only by a moonlit sheen of perspiration and his winter coat. She informed him of her past since he’d moved from Westfield and how she’d always wished he’d stayed. She told him stories of her relationships over that span and how she’d always felt foolish for letting him go or rather for not going with him. She spoke of how much she hated that town and wished for a day when she could leave. For him, the stars had never sparkled as clearly as they did that night. There he was with the girl that he’d loved since childhood when he would stand outside in the cold to catch a glimpse of her reading in her bedroom window. She may not have known, but she was the reason he left town. They dated briefly after high school, while he was working at the steel mill, until she told him that she was too young for a relationship and broke it off only to begin dating an older more successful man soon after. Once word began to spread that she’d actually been seeing the man for quite some time he couldn’t bare the pain and left Westfield.
He had only been back in town for a few days when he stopped into a bar and heard his name ring out, turning just in time to see a blur of mink, olive skin, and curls crash into him. The next thing he felt were her arms wrapped around his neck and her lips pressed against his. The two drank and danced until closing time at which point she asked for a ride home. As they drove she directed him to a bluff that overlooks the town where they parked and made love as if they’d invented it. For that night they were continents; solids separated only by liquid.
It had been four days since that night, but the intermission felt much longer, as if those few days had actually been a lifetime between two lost lovers who’d grown apart. During which time he missed her intently, but she had long forgotten him. He remembered this feeling from the end of their first relationship. The feeling, that to her, he had outlived his usefulness. The queen had demoted him to the lowest level of the court, no longer wanting of his council or companionship.
He sat in that lounge just feet from her and waited. Craving her love and willing to settle for less, but much more than this, much more than to be ignored. Ever since the brief wave she’d given him when he first walked in she hadn’t so much as looked his way. He initially assumed that she was with friends and didn’t want to be rude, but that was two hours, six drinks, and a half pack of cigarettes ago. Was this a game to her? Was she deriving pleasure from watching him sit alone in a crowded room when he’d expected a table for two? He wondered if she’d concocted the entire plan to punish him for some crime unknown to him. His scarred psyche was the perfect palette on which paranoid thoughts awaken.
Her mesmerizing gaze drifted through the dim club inexplicably never coming into contact with his. That gaze that had aided her words in convincing him of her intense feelings. The gaze that made him forget about all the barriers he’d set up since she broke his heart. The gaze that influenced him to sell his beloved Studebaker, the only thing he had left of his fathers. He got a fair deal for it and held back enough to buy two train tickets. The rest he spent on a new suit, the flowers that still sat on the table now doused in whiskey, and the ring that still sat in his breast pocket.
A few drinks later and it was becoming too much, the shame of being openly scorned in public with him the only one who knew it. The other people sitting around him all seemed to be facing away from him. He stared at the back of their heads and wondered if they were involved in her malicious game. The voices throughout the crowd caused a humming sound, almost like whispers. Certain voices became distinct and he strained to string their words together. After another drink the club got dimmer and the whispers grew louder. The taunts began to echo off of the clubs gold plaster walls.
“Look at him. He’s so pathetic!”
“He thought he’d reclaimed his greatest love! Ha ha ha!”
“Why would she want you? You’re neither salty nor sweet, but boringly, bitterly bland!”
The menacing jeers stung him like a swarm of bees attacking a wayward sow, but he couldn’t detect the origin of the voices. No one was moving or looking his way. He spun around to find every person in the club, perfectly still, facing in the opposite direction. It had fallen completely silent in the lounge. Nobody spoke and nobody moved.
He closed his eyes and prayed for God to save him from this horror if she refused to honor their unspoken arrangement. She’d given him so much hope that night in his car. She may have been drunk, but her eyes seemed sober and omniscient. He wondered if he’d been so infatuated as to not notice her level of intoxication. Was all that she said lies brought forth by an inebriated tongue and soaked up by a gullible mind? She had made him feel that he had a reason to believe in love or happiness, and now she sat close enough to blow a kiss and have it land on him before the breeze had left her lips. Not yards away yet inattentive to the sadness bearing down on him.
Slowly, the hum of the crowd returned. Glasses began clanking, lighters began flicking, and her laughter sounded loud over his shoulder. He opened his eyes to see the freshly-cut and styled hairdos of those in front of him singing and toasting to memories. He looked to her table to see her sitting there with that great big smile and those enchanting eyes, and another man’s hand on her leg. Suddenly, applause as the band took the stage.
He downed what was left of his whiskey, threw on his coat, and wrapped his scarf carefully, leaving the flowers behind. It was a chilly night and he had no plans on waiting for the trolley. He pirouetted through the spaces between the offset tables in the jazz lounge, not wanting his exit to be magnified by tripping on someone’s foot or spilling their drink. He slowed as he passed her. He wondered if she would object to his leaving. Perhaps she would have the waitress add a seat to her table so that they could sit together. Perhaps she would see his face and know that his were the eyes of a person saddened by her actions. Perhaps she would stop him and apologize, knowing that pushing him away once again would be a grand mistake. She could have done any of these things, but she didn’t. She never even noticed him rising from his seat or brushing past her.
She’ll miss me when I’m gone; he thought to himself as he exited the club and the trumpet’s bellow broke the silence of the thin, still air. As he pressed against the heavy, northeastern snow, he buried his face into his scarf and all he could smell was her, not his aftershave or cigarette smoke, just her. The coat that she’d used as a makeshift blanket that night on the bluff still permeated with her presence. A magnificent blend of her fragrances: perfume, shampoo, and sweat; all bitter reminders of his naivety.
As he neared the train station on the outskirts of town he heard the distant shriek of the whistle and saw the faint glow emitting from the nose of the approaching locomotive in the distance. He looked back towards the lounge, hoping to see her running after him, but saw only the imprints of his last twelve paces swiftly disappearing under the steady volley of snow. He stepped up onto the raised tracks, like the apex of an island, surrounded by a rising crystalline sea. To his east lay his past full of pain and hopelessness, and to his west, a possible future.
He was one train ride away from beginning a new life, baptizing himself in the hopes of a meaningful existence. He could find a nice girl in a nice town and have a nice life. That’s all he wanted, nothing extravagant or superfluous. He was born from simple people and had no qualms with living a simple life.
“She’ll miss me when I’m gone.”
He pulled the jewelry box from his pocket, opened it, and examined the ring. It was a diamond that normally only the wealthiest in town could afford, a flawless stone the color of the Mediterranean. But when he looked into the diamond all he saw was his father’s car and was overcome with guilt. He looked down the track towards the train station and could see figures milling about possibly waiting for their ride out of town. A few people seemed to notice him and began yelling down the tracks. He could see a porter with a whistle in his mouth, but the whispers had returned and they were the only sound that he could hear.
He clenched the ring in his hand and turned around peering down the tracks at the train still far off in the distance, but now close enough for him to make out the smoke rising from its kiln. Remembering his scout days as a boy, he placed his ear to the freezing track to feel the vibrations. Those were good memories; the last time he’d felt completely carefree.
The surroundings began to brighten as the train approached. He stood up, drunkenly balancing on the track, facing the station, his back to the train, and pulled the two tickets from his pocket and held them in his hand. The dormant steel began to awaken, stimulated by the train’s force. Tears streamed down his face and onto the shaking track as the light from the advancing locomotive illuminated the landscape around him. The train blew its horn, but all he could hear was the hum of the whispers echoing loudly throughout the valley and surrounding forest. As the volume of the voices rose, he closed his eyes so tightly that his eyelids quivered under the pressure of the escaping tears. He clenched his fists until he’d mangled the tickets in his left hand. Blood trickled out of the edges of his right as he’d squeezed his fist so tight that the ring had cut him. He relaxed both hands and their contents fell to the ground where they were quickly buried by the snow. He could see people attempting to run through the shin-high snow in his direction, waving their arms; their mouths agape but the look in their eyes telling more than they could ever describe. A small grin grew on his face and he released a whisper dampened by the approaching train’s horn.
“Don’t waste your time. I know what I’m doing. She’ll miss me when I’m –.”