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January 2017, vol 12 no 4

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Claire Everett

The Twilight Blues

with apologies to Ray Bradbury

It’s changed hands a few times, I’ll give you that. I swore I’d never set foot in the place again. But Maya knew all those years ago, when she painted a future that I couldn’t have imagined for myself, not even in my tamest dreams. She never really introduced herself but I call her Maya. I remember them all, but I’m not good with names. Like I said, it’s been a while.

“Oh, you’ll be back,” she said. “We were just as adamant as you, once upon a time, now look at us . . .”

A nod of her head set her platinum blond hair swaying and I followed the sweep of her gaze, taking in the scene: a trendy wine bar --one of several that had sprung up like neon green or electric blue toadstools, seemingly overnight -- a humming pylon-wire of voices, crackling here and there with the strangely discordant laughter of women of a certain age. They were seated cosily in nooks, in twos or threes. Others were overtly or awkwardly alone, draped like stoles, or propped like just-in-case umbrellas. Not a man in sight, apart from the bartender who leant in so graciously to each request, and found a compliment at the bottom of every glass he polished. There were tips to be made, after all. I’d stumbled in out of the cold with some time to kill before my train and had been nursing a chardonnay for a little too long when Maya appeared at my side, as much shadow as faux leather. From the lines around her eyes and mouth I guessed she was in her late fifties. When she lit up a cigarette she put it to her lips as if she was puckering up for a kiss. Back then, the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces was some boy-politician’s pipe dream. Zuckerberg might have just about been a twinkle in his daddy’s eye but the selfie (and its requisite pout) wasn’t even a thing.

“Take a good look around,” she said, husky with Blue Nun and nicotine. “One day all this will be yours . . .”

“I don’t understand – ”

“We’re all alone now, every last one of us.”

“Ah, divorcees? It’s some kind of club?” I had drained my glass and was trying, discreetly, to reach for my coat.

“Nah, Widows.”

“Really, all of you? Widows?”

Maya drew closer, her brow almost touching mine. “Not as such. But of sorts.”

“Take Linda.” She gestured towards a red-head in a sleek emerald dress, “Her husband is a member of the Hillman Imp Owners’ Club.”

“Ahhh,” I said, pretending to understand.

“Carole, over there. The tall one in the jumpsuit . . . she goes home most nights to a G and T or three and a Chihuahua. If hubby’s not playing golf he’s watching it, or practising his swing in the home office."

“Susan . . .” She pointed to a thin-faced woman, elbows on the bar, her chin cupped in her hands. In the jellyfish play of light from a lava lamp she looked like she was re-enacting Munch’s The Scream. “She holidays alone because he can’t leave the garden to itself. Do you know he winkles every individual weed out of his lawn by hand?”

She opened her handbag and, without looking inside, pulled out something and held it up for me to see. A gold lipstick case. She wound it up ceremoniously. A relic, I imagined, barely used.

“Revlon’s Fire and Ice" she said, wistfully, “My favourite red. That night was like every other night when I slipped on my stilettos and prepared to knock ‘em dead. The turning point. We all have one. You only have to ask and it’ll come straight to hand. We carry it with us wherever we go.”

Once more, I followed her verbal tour of the room.

“For Blanche it’s a bus ticket. Peggy has a dance card. His was the last name. The writing’s all fancy, much like his footwork so she says . . . Go on, find yours!”

Slowly I unfastened the catch on my bag. I’d had enough of this nonsense.

“Now don’t you be looking!” she laughed, draining her wine glass.

Immediately the thing found me. It was like fluff to sticky fingers. I tried to shake it off, but she knew. Reluctantly, I took it out. An old cheque book, nothing but stubs, from my last few months as a singleton. Of course, we’d opened a joint account. That’s what people do. What’s yours is mine, we’d said. I smiled, thinking how I’d practised my new signature over and again. Yet still, how many cheques I’d spoiled as a newlywed, dashing off my maiden name. I’d meant to throw it away. There was no reason to keep it.

With a satisfied wiggle, Maya adjusted herself on her stool. I remember how the bar suddenly fell quiet. The widows had all stopped talking at once. Then, in a split second, there they were again, chatting among their lost selves, remembering that youth with the roguish smile, making eyes with the past.

head bent
transposing blues scales
as day becomes dusk . . .
the song you wrote for me
was all about you

Note: "The Twilight Greens" is a short story in the collection, We'll Always Have Paris, published February 3rd 2009 by William Morrow.