Polo's Place
(Copyright © 2003 by Mimi Sandeen)

I know why it's hard for you to break away. It's a place and time set apart from the world surrounding. A place that draws you in. Comfortable. Familiar. When you walk in, you belong - a part of the scene. Welcomed.

And now I find myself in this place, looking for you. I take a moment to adjust. Dimly lit. Words hanging in the smoke-hazed air. The click of pool balls careening off each other - and suddenly, here comes John-John. An open-armed embrace, a fine spray of saliva and beer, a gush of sentiment. The spray has settled on my neck and cheek, and I remain acutely aware of it, not hearing his words as I wish for warm water and soap, or, better yet, a driving hot shower to wash him away. I politely free myself from his embrace, foolishly afraid that I might hurt his feelings, another part of me silently rebuking myself for even caring. If he had turned weepy with beer tears, it'd have nothing to do with me.

Now I search quickly down the length of the bar. There you are, shoulders hunched over, at the far end. Of all the times I've come in here, how many more times have you been at that end of the bar than this? I could have come in though the other door and saved myself from JJ. Too late for that. I make my way toward you, "Hi" "Hello" to a couple of casually familiar faces as they flow past. The stool on your left is empty and I take it wordlessly and remain wordless for a full minute. You too, are wordless, staring ahead, absorbed in your own moment, in your own time and space, your bottle and glass, your cigarette.

At last you turn to me. "How's it going?" you ask, your face serious, your voice sincere.

We kissed good-bye this morning; we'll eat dinner and sleep together tonight. Your tone hits me as too polite and strangely distant. Even so, it needs an answer. But before I can get past "Nothing special", Leona is there, asking what I'll have.

Pouring a cola over a short glass and ice, she remarks, "Haven't seen you for awhile".

"Well, you know how it is."

"Don't I ever!" She puts the can down on the bar and winks toward you. "This guy been giving you a hard time?"

"No, not really."

"Well now, I'm not sure. Is that good or is that bad?"

It takes me a moment to catch the sly, off-colour joke she has made at your expense, and I join in her laughter. Guilty. I enjoyed the joke. Picking up my glass, I glance sideways for your reaction. You are lighting another cigarette. If you laughed, I missed it.