Erik Quinn: The Heart of a Family: Stale

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


I walk into the cinder block building that housed our movie theater when I was in high school. The place closed down years ago. The ruby-red carpeting has been peeled from the floor like a dirty scab, and the light fixtures that looked like electric balls of yarn are history now. While this might seem like an improvement, not one shred of personality remains. The cement floor has been polished to a glossy, colorless sheen, making me feel like I'm walking on water. I pass the empty space where the ticket counter used to be and head down the hall to the bathroom across from a new tanning salon. A woman in jeans and a flannel shirt totters behind the counter in six-inch heels like a baby deer. The smell of the sprays and lotions they slather on their slow-roasted customers fills the air and sparks memories of my old Barbie perfume factory.

After I use the facilities, I head back down the hall to a small glass door, behind which is now a sports bar. After the conversation lulls and the heads turn my direction, the patrons go back to what they are doing. I have apparently been accepted into the fold. I walk past the long bar and the row of overweight men wearing baseball caps with flat brims and novelty T-shirts. Hot air belches from a network of silver air ducts. I almost choke on it. I strip off my coat and sit down at a booth, making sure to face the door.

I realize the bartender is shouting over the bar at me. She calls me "hun" to attempt to soften her tone. She is apparently too lazy to come to my table to take my order and screams the names of the two things she thinks she remembers me drinking once. She is the worst bartender ever. Instead of approaching the bar, I scream back at her, and she fixes me an overpriced Crown and diet cola. When she arrives at my table, she sets it on a flimsy paper napkin. I'm surprised she didn't huck the drink at me to save herself the effort. I have thoughts of the thick-walled rocks glass hitting my right cheekbone and splattering its ice cold contents upward in a brownish geyser. I smile at her, take a long draw from the fat, red straw, and tell her thanks. She asks if I had a quick tan on my way down the hall. After examining her face, I see she is completely serious. The thoughts I have in my head make me feel very guilty. I told her I just visited the restroom on my way in. Then I ask her if it looks like I tan.

We both laugh, but she knows the joke's on her. She leaves me alone with my thoughts.

I take a pen from my purse and begin scribbling on my soggy napkin. I should carry a notebook with me. The owner of the bar comes in, and I have fantasies about the staff wondering if I'm some sort of restaurant critic as I'm writing. I see stacks of plastic burger baskets lined with checkered paper and containers of silverware. When I ever tried to order anything to eat here, the bartender always seemed nervous and told me the kitchen was closed, no matter what time it might have been. It's probably a blessing in disguise.

The electronic jukebox casts off a throbbing blue light. There are nine televisions surrounding us all on metal stands at ceiling level. They are flickering and spouting silent images of red-faced coaches shouting and balls bouncing over Keno squares. The cinder block walls are painted a sickly yellow and covered with an odd collection of neon advertisements for booze, state school flags, a pair of old skis, and a couple badminton rackets, apparently to classify the place as a sports pub. The wiring is encased in metal tubes that look like metallic veins running all over the walls. The neon glow is the main source of light in here. I wonder if this is exactly where I was sitting when our church group saw the movie Ghandi. All I can remember about that movie is that I was not allowed to use the bathroom. I was in excruciating pain for 188 minutes. The fact that's all I can remember about the film probably automatically renders me a bad person. There are undoubtedly a lot of things that probably classify me a bad person, but you have to start somewhere. At age 12, that was probably all I could manage.

The friend I was attempting to meet never materializes. I cease to care anymore. I enjoy the flavors of artificial sweetener, cola, and alcohol mixing on my tongue. I think of going home but decide to linger a bit longer. I'm comfortable. I attempt to shake fresh images of my other friend trying to locate something to grip onto as the muscles in his legs spasm, cramp, and die. Of the nightmares I'm having now. Of the anxiety that is slowly filling every cell of my body. How nothing seems immune to change. How for just one moment I would like to feel secure. How my prayers have turned from rare, polite whispers to constant, desperate begging at the top of my lungs. I wonder if anybody is listening to me at all sometimes. I keep shouting, anyway.

A man at the bar goes out for a cigarette. Smoking is forbidden inside the bars as of January 1st, but I wonder if the stale scent will ever fade. My guess is that they will probably have to repaint. I go through paint chips in my head and secretly redecorate the place without the owner's consent. After all, nothing ever stays the same. But change never seems to evict the ghosts. They seem to hang on forever.

If I concentrate hard enough, I believe I can detect the scent of ancient popcorn.

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Blogger Dawn Low said...

Nancy, I have to tell you how your blog in particular always strikes a chord with me. You have a beautiful flair for writing and should be published. And I know exactly the smell of that Barbie perfume factory that you wrote of... what imagery!

I am so sorry about your friend's degenerative condition. Hang in there.

4:58 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Thanks, Dawn!

2:11 PM  

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