Short Stories

Streetlights

Sonja sipped her cocktail, leaving bright red lipstick marks on the two tiny straws. She wore tight jeans, a black silk blouse, and a little too much perfume. Every so often she would glance at the wooden entrance doors, and her bracelets would jangle each time she turned. 


Patrick sat across from her at a high top cocktail table, just a few feet from a window. Whenever Sonja’s bracelets rattled, he would study a different part of her. He had just focused on her dark brown eyes, noticing the freckles and the pronounced crow’s feet. He liked how her black bangs hung just above her false eyelashes. 


“You can’t remember what song was playing when we kissed,” she said in a heavy Boston accent. 


“Twenty fucking years ago.” 


“Nineteen. Breed Junior High was nineteen years ago. And I do remember the song, an 80’s classic.” 


“We’re a couple of 80’s classics,” Sonja said and giggled.


“Fuck, how is it 2003?” 


“Some things are gone from my mind forever. Others linger, as clear as if you’re watching a movie.”


“Like the kiss we had, and our dance you talked about in the email.”

 

“It’s okay if you don’t remember,” Patrick said. “It was a party at Flannigan’s house. In the basement of that triple decker. I went there with my friend Braydan.” 


“You ever see Braydan anymore? You guys were like brothers.”


"Not since high school. What about you and Ally?” 


“She’s here at the Porthole all the fucking time. If they ever sell the place, Ally comes with it.” 


“Crazy I haven’t seen Braydan in years,” he said. 


“You say ‘years’ funny. Like you’re from California or something.” 


“Lived in LA for almost a decade, but my Lynn accent is still there”, he said and then took a sip of wine. “Usually only comes out when I drink.” 


“What’s up with the wine? You become a snob or something out there?” 


“Ex-girlfriend. Jill took me to Napa a lot and it kinda grew on me. Before her I just drank beer and shots.” 


Sonja brushed her fingers across Patrick’s hand and said, “Mr. Fucking Napa, what’s wrong with beer and shots?”


Back in 1984 Patrick sat behind Sonja in homeroom, and would stare at the outline of her black bra under her shiny white blouse. Thinking of that caused a bead of sweat to run down his back. The waitress appeared and Patrick ordered two beers and two shots of whiskey.

 

“Look at you go,” she said while glancing at the door. 


“When you emailed me back,” Patrick said, “you really didn’t say much about yourself.” 


“Was surprised as shit to hear from you. What do you want to know? I’m a dental hygienist. Exciting, huh?” 


When the waitress returned, he noticed the tiny rose tattoo on Sonja’s left arm. He hoisted his shot and his companion did the same. He scrunched his face after downing the whiskey, while Sonja didn’t flinch. 


“Flannigan told me he ran into you a few months ago,” she said. “Said you looked the same, just a little heavier. Same for all of us I guess. Said ya were moving back home.” 


“Was interviewing for a job when I saw Flannigan. Got hired as a producer at WGBH. It’s the PBS station in Boston.” 


“I know what it is. Sesame Street and the Electric Company and Mister Fucking Rogers. I got a kid, remember. What happened with your ex?” 


“I proposed, she said no. Jill’s still in LA.” 


“That’s a kick to the nuts.” 


“One way to put it. How about you?”

 

“Was married for a couple years in my mid 20’s,” Sonja said and then looked again toward the door. “Total asshole, of course. Since the divorce a few dickhead boyfriends.” 


Patrick felt the alcohol creating a warm glow in his head. It had started to rain, and he listened to it plink against the window. He looked outside, enjoying how the streetlights illuminated the glistening parking lot.


“When Flannigan gave me your email address I wasn’t even sure you’d remember me,” he said. 


“I’m not fucking senile. Shit, when I told Ally I was gonna see you, she wanted to come real bad. Couldn’t get a sitter.” 


“Ally used to pull the back of my nylon pants and snap the elastic in homeroom,” he said.


“She got such a kick out of teasing you. You were cute, with the feathered hair and dark eyes and nice legs. And you were so shy, such a goody-goody. Remember that song? Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?”


“That night I was drinking,” he said.


The waitress walked by and he ordered another round of shots and beers.


“Were we really thirteen?” she asked.


“Going on fourteen. Different time now.”


“I’d kill my son if he did that. Drinking and smoking at that age.”


“I only drank,” he said. “But you were so cool cause you smoked. I remember tasting cigarettes when we kissed.” 


“Gross.”


“No, it was something new, something . . . don’t think I can explain it right.”


“Your fling with a bad girl,” she said.


The rain now drummed louder against the window as Patrick and Sonja stared into each other’s eyes. Patrick blinked after only a few seconds, and tried to take a sip from his empty glass. He finally looked out the window.


The cocktail waitress placed the new round of shots and beers on the table, and Patrick continued looking through the smudged fingerprints on the window. He watched the rain strike the docked boats under the harbor lights. It now sounded as if a river were running in the parking lot. 


His eyes drifted to the stuffed Marlin over the bar and then to the door as a man wearing a motorcycle jacket walked inside. He heard the bracelets jangle and looked at Sonja, focusing on the red flush of her cheeks. She was squinting towards the door when she downed her shot.


“I was really fucking hoping he wouldn’t show up tonight,” she said after wiping her mouth.


 She was staring at the man in the leather jacket who had just sat at the bar. He had a tattoo of a bird on his neck and a full beard.


Patrick closed his eyes and remembered that Sonja wore flavored lip gloss the night they kissed.


“In a million years I never would have remembered what song was playing that night at Flannagan’s,” she said absently while looking at the man at the bar.


“Bonnie Tyler. Total Eclipse of the Heart.”


“I’m sorry,” Sonja said and then turned towards Patrick. “My ex. I hate to do this to you, but I have to talk to him.” 


Patrick picked up his shot glass, ran his finger around the rim, and then put it back on the table. 


“Don’t look so sad,” she said as she got off the chair with her mug of beer. “Let’s get together some other time. It was a great dance and a great kiss way back when at Flannigan’s house. I remember it.” 


He closed his eyes for a second and listened to her bracelets hitting against each other as she walked away. When he opened them, Motorcycle Guy was popping some bar snacks into his mouth. Sonja sat on the stool next to him. 


It wasn’t just one dance and one kiss that night, he wanted to yell. 

Total Eclipse of the Heart was the only slow song Flannigan had, and they played it over and over on the record player as the three couples kissed in the dark. The guys took turns putting the needle at the right spot on the vinyl, the black light shining on a Led Zeppelin poster the only way to see where you were going. 


Patrick could still taste Sonja’s grape lip gloss and her nicotine flavored tongue. He could feel his fingers caressing her fuzzy Angora sweater. They had swayed in the dark for hours to that one song in 1984. 


And then he recalled the walk home with Braydan that night after the party ended. It was cold and snowing and well past their curfew. They declared they would go to the same college and always be friends. Sonja and Ally would become their girlfriends, and one day their wives.


The snow as increased in intensity as they walked home, with the thick flakes swirling under the streetlights. It seemed as if there was nobody else in the city. The snowflakes were uncountable, so vivid as they danced under the bright lights. He had held out his tongue like a child and tried to catch as many as he could. 


His mind back in the present, Patrick left the restaurant without looking in the direction of Sonja. Before getting inside his car, he looked up at the streetlights shining down on the parking lot. Patrick closed his eyes and held out his tongue.