Angels & Deviled Eggs
Angels & Deviled Eggs
It was Memorial Day and I was at the Book Exchange again. I spent the entirety of Sunday sitting in this same spot, writing in my red composition notebook for four hours. One of the main reasons I came here to Asheville was to write, so at first it didn’t feel wrong. I just moved into a room at 11 Walton Street on Saturday morning, so sitting there amongst the book shelves on Sunday felt good. I didn’t force myself to poeticize every word, I just wrote.
Then there I was again on Memorial Day, flicking the same pen while rubbing at my eyes. I came here to write, I thought. Why can’t I do it? The way I did it yesterday. I looked beyond the book shelves, squinting through their cracks. I couldn’t make out a specific image, all I saw was a bright blinding light. That’s the sun. It’s Memorial Day, the sun is shining and I’m in North Carolina. I need to be out there. It would be an insult if I sat here staring through a shelf.
So I left the Book Exchange and went walking. Downtown was just the way I remembered it from my visit in November, only now there was sun and now there was time. I passed a man playing trumpet on the corner of Wall Street. I remember back in November this same man directed me toward a bar I was trying to find late one night. I saw him the following day and he said,
“Did you find The Yacht Club? I have to say, once I gave a pretty girl like you directions, I almost went there for a drink myself. Here. Have one of my CD’s,” then he kept on blowing at the horn through his gray beard.
I smiled while recollecting all of this, but he must have been too entranced by whatever song he was playing to notice. This time I didn’t have a dollar, and even if I did, I didn’t have a job. That may have had something to do with him ignoring me. People here in Asheville can sense those sort of things.
Being alone while I walked didn’t bother me. I just drove eleven hours from New Jersey after quitting my job and leaving behind the people who will always matter. Being alone is something I had already gotten used to because I believe it is necessary. A person can’t possibly live their life without trying to be alone, and I mean REALLY be alone, at least once. How else would people be able to discover who they are, or who they could become, without this sort of test? I walked the streets of Downtown Asheville knowing all of this which is why I didn’t start crying.
I finally had the freedom to do whatever I wanted, and it sounds absurd to say that kind of freedom can be overwhelming. Freedom? Overwhelming? That not only sounds crazy, it sounds ignorant. There are people out there that will never get the chance. There are people out there that dream of the way I was walking down those sidewalks on Memorial Day, without direction and without restriction. Still, even with this knowledge I felt overwhelmed, and that made it all worse.
Checking the clock on my cell-phone, I wondered if it was time for lunch. I was starving and I felt guilty. All I’ve done here so far is write for a few hours, and eat and drink the rest of the time. I’m nothing but a glutton from New Jersey that now lives in a strange house and writes in her diary. The guilt was soon silenced by the growling of my stomach and I began to search for an appropriate place to have a meal and a beer or two. I had already been to several places for meals in the Downtown area, so I searched for somewhere new. This is a bustling town in the Smoky Mountains and it’s one of the biggest restaurant industries on the East Coast. I couldn’t be that person who becomes a regular somewhere this soon upon arrival. I couldn’t succumb to daily routines and the comfort of familiarity. I came here to put an end to all of that.
So I walked through the Grove Arcade, hoping to find someplace I hadn’t noticed before. There were mostly shops selling things like clothing, musical instruments, fudge, and haircuts. Maybe the Book Exchange is the only place that offers food in here, I thought. And I’m not in the mood for a mere snack to go along with my wine and daily reading. I want a sandwich. A big one.
I walked toward one of the exits back in the direction of the sun, then I noticed a small wine bar through the glass window to my right. I approached the door, looking for a food menu.
“Come Enjoy our Wine Specials and Gourmet Food!” The sign read.
I surveyed the menu taped to the glass and reviewed the food selection. Although I was hungry, I was more ready for a drink of some sort. Even if it was wine.
A Cobb Wrap. That’ll do. I read the scripted font, then decided to walk through the entrance.
“Hi! I know it says wine bar out there, but do you have a beer list?” I asked the bartender.
He was average height, with brown hair, professional attire–all black, and a feminine voice. I can’t recall his name.
“These are the ones we have on draught. And these are the bottles.” He pointed after asking for my I.D.
“I just moved here. You’re gonna have to help me out. All of these local beers are throwing me off. There are so many and I can’t remember which one is which.”
He asked me what sort of beer I usually drink. I didn’t tell him Stella and it wasn’t because I was ashamed. I wasn’t trying to live up to being a resident in a craft beer city. I was just trying to stray from routine once again.
“Try this,” He gave me a sample. I think it was the Gaelic Ale, but there are so many I still can’t keep them straight.
“Excellent. I’ll have one of those and a Cobb Wrap, please.”
He poured my beer, then walked to the computer to send through my food order. I watched him the way people used to watch me at Chili’s. Working in the restaurant industry makes a person aware of certain strange details and curiosities. I was wondering about which computer system he was using, when I noticed another woman sitting at the opposite end of the bar. I sensed that someone else was there the whole time, but I guess I was too distracted by my hunger to look up from the menu and investigate. Or I was just growing so used to being alone.
She had long silver hair that made waves as it extended past her shoulders. She sipped on a red wine while simultaneously glancing at the book she was reading. I was reading Bukowski and I had it propped open, facing downward against the linoleum bar top while I ordered my food and drink. Watching her made me remember this, so I reached for Bukowski and folded the crease. I read a sentence here and there, but couldn’t help looking up from the pages while I sipped my beer.
I attempted to see the title of her book without appearing nosy, but there was no use. My eyes are terrible and she was all the way at the other side of an endless curvy bar. It was strange. We were the only two guests there at 1:00 P.M. on Memorial Day, and we were both reading books. And drinking.
Back home, I would have approached her immediately to find out what book she held, rather than squinting across the room. But I was still in that state of aloneness that makes people temporarily forget their voice, because they are still so used to hearing it only inside their heads.
For some reason, I felt like whatever she was reading was something romantic. It definitely wasn’t Bukowski. Every now and again, she would flip her silver hair from shoulder to shoulder and look up from her pages, too. She would sporadically look out the window, make conversation with the bartender, then she ordered dessert.
“What’s that glass right there?” She asked him and pointed toward the window where several empty wine bottles were positioned as decoration.
“Those are just decorations.” He said.
“I know, but what’s THAT one? With the cork still in it?” She pointed again.
“Oh wow, I’m not sure why that’s there. That’s definitely not a decoration. I hadn’t even noticed,” He reached for the bottle then placed it into the recycling bin.
“It was still beautiful.” She said.
I continued to read a sentence here and there while picking at my Cobb Wrap. I’d just been starving but now I found it difficult to swallow my food. I was too distracted.
I watched the bartender bring out this woman’s dessert tray and she marveled at it like a child in a candy store.
“This is just so gorgeous. Thank you so much,” She was sincere as she flipped her hair before taking a bite. The bartender refilled her wine glass a couple of times during the dessert.
An elderly man came through the door and sat in the middle of us. He ordered a beer and seemed to be in a hurry. Sure enough, his wife followed moments after and yelled at him to leave.
“What are you doing?!” She was mad.
“I don’t like shopping.” He said, then the both of them left.
Right after, the woman with the dessert tray approached me. She walked the length of the bar holding the long ceramic plate in her hand before saying,
“I just had the most delicious dessert, but here. I’d like you to have the last of it,” in her southern accent.
I was having trouble stomaching my own food, and I’ve never been a fan of sweets, but I took the last cookie off her plate and ate it thankfully. I asked her what she was reading. It was something romantic. She asked me what I was reading. It was just Bukowski.
From a distance, I could tell she was undoubtedly a beautiful older lady. But up close she was breathtaking. Her long silver hair traced the outline of her face and accented all the colors of her eyes. They were blue and green and gold shining and reflecting the light from the window, as she stood there and blinked at me enthusiastically. She was dressed in casual clothes, but it hardly mattered what she wore. A person with eyes like that doesn’t need to accessorize.
We spoke for several minutes and it felt strange. It felt like I already knew her. It felt like an introduction wasn’t necessary.
“I just moved here!”
“I moved here last August! Hey, do you write at all?”
“A little,” I said.
“Really? Well there is a writer’s group tonight. It’s every Monday. You should come. It’s at 6:30.”
“The Book Exchange. Upstairs. You know it?”
“Great! I hope I see you there. I’d sit here and have another glass of wine with you but I need to sober up a bit before tonight. We’ll have a drink together there? How does that sound?”
“Perfect. I’ll see you in a couple hours…Wait though, what’s your name?”
“I’m Susie. What’s yours?”
“I’m Erin,” I told her, and for the first time in a while my voice didn’t sound strange to me when I spoke aloud.
“I hope to see you tonight then, Erin.” And she paid her tab, while I sat there and read a sentence or so more of Bukowski. Then I paid too and got up to leave. I may have appeared rude because the bartender looked confused at my sudden hurry. But there’s never any point in ordering another beer when I’m full. There’s never any point in ordering another when I actually have somewhere to be.
I drove back to my room at 11 Walton Street and didn’t think too deeply about how strange the encounter with the silver haired woman made me feel. I drove too fast on unfamiliar roads then I parked my car in front of the house. The stack of trash and rotting furniture across the street didn’t bother me. Michael Tree told me two nights ago those neighbors were getting evicted for gang violence. I was also standing on their porch, lost, two nights ago before Michael Tree told me anything. None of this mattered, all I wanted was my laptop.
“Do we have internet here?” I asked one of my roommates. At the time I couldn’t remember his name.
“No, but I know the password to someone’s around here. It only works if you sit outside on the porch though.”
“Fine. Give it to me.”
I sat there on a beanbag chair with my laptop open and I wrote. I wasn’t aware that I just rented a room in one of the only ghettos of Asheville, and I wasn’t aware who Michael Tree was because he left for the weekend the morning I moved in. We spoke for a brief time the night before I decided to take the space, and I didn’t remember much about him. He was tall with curly hair and he wasn’t the way he described on the internet but I took the room anyway. Mostly because I was scared that if I didn’t, I would give up and go back home. Partly because I like description and I give people the benefit of the doubt. Most people aren’t good at describing things. I hardly am and it’s what I love, so how could I judge a person off something like that?
So I sat there in a dirty beanbag chair on the porch of 11 Walton Street with my laptop propped on my knees and I didn’t notice much else but the computer screen. I didn’t see the accumulation of junk that peppered the front yard. I didn’t see the crusty dinner plates, half empty bottles of red sauce, rusty bicycles, and broken bongo drums, all around me on the porch.
I sat there and I wrote a story that had been sitting in my mind for months. Sitting years actually, inside my heart before I gained the courage to even think about re-writing the words. Sometimes it’s hard to bleed that way, even for a storyteller. I bet some of the best storytellers you know were hardly telling the truth. Most of them are storytellers for a reason; the truth drives them mad.
It was Memorial Day and I sat there on the porch and just wrote. I would have kept going. I would have continued it all right then despite how much it hurt. I checked my cell-phone: 6:00. This story already happened, I thought. And the only reason I’m really writing it this time is because that woman in the bar made me feel something different. Something strange.
I closed the laptop then drove back Downtown.
“Who are you?” All of them asked.
“I just met her today, and invited her!” Susie said.
“I just came here from New Jersey. And I have no idea.”
“Wow, you’re brave.”
“No. I have anxiety.”
And then we were all asked to write a prompt. Susie mentioned something about this briefly before she left the wine bar, but I guess I was too consumed by my story on the porch to prepare.
Is this like acting class? Do I just write a sentence? Or a word?
Everyone wrote their prompts and I felt intimidated. So I wrote down something that reminded me of my friend Levon.
“I am somewhere in the city and I’m climbing up a fire escape.”
That sounds like a prompt if you ask me.
We wrote for a half hour then the timer sounded.
Fuck, that was like improv for writers. I felt something different and strange. What would I be doing on a Monday night back home? I tried to remember.
Everyone waited their turn before reading aloud.
I have to READ it too? I’ve never liked the sound of my own voice saying these things. Isn’t that why I’m a writer?
I read it anyway. It didn’t sound the way it should have, but I read it. Then after, Susie and I went downstairs to get another drink.
“When I saw you sitting there at the end of the bar today, I thought you were my future self,” I confessed.
“I thought YOU were my daughter,” She said.
We laughed while sharing the vague details of our lives. Susie came here last summer because she’s going through a divorce. Her husband left her for his boss. A forty-two year old woman with an adopted child and childish feelings of her own.
“You seem like you’re handling it well,” I said. I wasn’t trying to be flattering. She possessed an energy that made it hard to believe she was undergoing something as soul shattering as heartbreak.
“Let’s pay our tabs and go somewhere else. You’re new in town!” She seemed excited, and it made me excited too.
First we went to the wine bar and watched a band. There was a dancing black man on keyboard and I started bobbing my head faster than usual. The drummer was beyond sexy, and Susie said,
“He’s cute. I usually like guitarists.”
“Drummers. It’s all about the drummers. They have rythymn and less ego.” I said,
“You should get his number!”
“No. That girl sitting there is his girlfriend.”
“How do you know that?” She didn’t believe me.
“I’m not sure.”
Then the girl started dancing around the bar. Susie looked at me and winked.
“Watch,” I said.
I waved the dancing girl in our direction.
“Hey! You’re beautiful. What brings you out here?” “I’m married to the drummer,” She said.
I gave her a high five and briefly talked about marriage and procreation. She was having difficulty with the procreating part.
“I don’t think you need to worry. It’s going to happen.” I told her.
“Definitely.” I didn’t know. But I have learned the human mind is far more powerful than most people realize. A little encouragement couldn’t hurt.
I made small talk with a couple of other strangers.
“Wow you have really nice boobs,” I said to a lady.
“Really? They are fake. They have been my biggest insecurity my whole life because of my chest bone.”
“Well, they look great.”
“Thanks. Are you a witch?”
I’d never been asked that question before. So naturally I replied,
“So how long have you been married?” I creepily questioned the couple standing to my left.
“It’s funny you ask. It’s our seventeenth anniversary tonight!”
I hugged them both and they told me a bit about Asheville. They were from DC, but lived here for most of their marriage.
“How are you doing that?” Susie asked.
“What do you mean?”
“How do you know the right questions to ask these people? How are you right every time ?”
I thought about it for a minute, although I was confused.
“I’ve never been asked something like that…I sort of just talk…”
“But I don’t think it’s about the question or being right. I think it’s about asking anyway.” I said.
She put her palms together and bowed her head before taking a sip of red wine. I wasn’t sure what that meant either, but she looked happy doing it so I didn’t ask.
“Let’s go somewhere I can hear you talk without yelling. Maybe eat some food?” I suggested.
“There’s a place right up there called the Southern, and they have the best deviled eggs.”
I wasn’t sure if I ever had deviled eggs before, but they sounded like something I might like.
Susie and I sat there at the Southern and she ordered deviled eggs while I ordered another beer. We shared an American Spirit as we waited, and we finally were able to talk.
I asked her more about her divorce. I didn’t mean to pry. She didn’t seem like the type of person who was trying to vent. She wasn’t desperate to talk, and to keep talking, then keep talking some more, the way others usually are…
She was pleasant to be around and it felt strange. I asked about her divorce because a person who makes you feel that good deserves to be heard. Those kind of people, the ones that are always making you feel good, they’re hardly ever heard and no one ever notices. Because those kind of people are the ones always smiling; they don’t want anyone else to be bothered by what their insides are screaming.
“We were married for nine years, then he cheated on me and we’ve been separated since I moved out in the fall. I saw him last week. He came here and we had a good time. He told me he’s still in love with me, but he’s in love with her too.”
“That’s not fair. I know I’m young and I don’t know how you really feel, but I know that’s not fair.”
“I know, I kept telling him he can’t have his cake and eat it too.” She said in her southern accent. It’s an elegant southern accent. I didn’t find myself struggling to understand her words when she spoke.
The deviled eggs came and so did my beer.
“Do you like eggs? Have some of these. Don’t be shy. I don’t eat bacon. Eat the ones with the bacon on top.”
I ate the eggs and they were good. I never had a deviled egg before.
“I need to tell you something. It’s something I haven’t told anyone.” Susie said as she ate.
“I haven’t told anyone this. I never even thought of telling anyone this. Not my friends. Not my family. Not my husband. But for some reason I feel like I need to tell you.”
“On Friday morning I woke up and I knew today would be my last day.”
“What do you mean?”
“I woke up on Friday and I just knew. I planned on finishing a bottle of prescription pills that I have left over from a surgery. I was going to take the rest and lay by my dog’s grave back at my house. Not here. My home…”
I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t start crying. I knew better. I needed to be strong. I kept looking at her eyes. Eyes that glowed blue and green and gold even in the night. I kept looking at them and I kept listening.
“That’s why I was eating a three course meal at the wine bar when you met me. I was on my dessert… I wanted to treat myself. You showed up for the dessert part, but I was there for a while.”
“Why today? If you woke up on Friday feeling this way, why today?” I asked, and didn’t think about if this was a right or wrong question.
“I had some things to take care of, and well…I’m not sure. All I know is that I woke up on Friday and knew it should be today.”
“I guess this world needs you then. Because well, here we are.”
We sat there for a while longer sharing stories. I didn’t cry, but I wanted to.
I didn’t tell Susie about the words I wrote in my composition notebook on Friday morning. I was in the Super 8 and I woke up before it was time to check-out. I wrote:
What should a person do when they’re ready to give up? And I mean really ready to give up?
I didn’t tell her and it wasn’t because I was ashamed. I had the same composition notebook in my purse while we sat there and ate deviled eggs. I could have taken it out and showed her the spot where I ripped the page away, because half of the letters are still there. But what good would that do? Telling someone I felt similar feelings on the same exact morning, then decided to violently rip away those thoughts into a trashcan at the Super 8, just because something came over me. The words I should have written are what came over me:
There’s no such thing as giving up.
“I haven’t said this in a while, but I really think we met for a reason.” I said and hugged her before leaving the Southern.
“You might be half angel, too. I used to be one, but I stopped listening. It can be annoying.” She hugged me back before I started walking uphill toward the parking garage.
“We’ll get drinks tomorrow,” She said as she crossed the street.
And I cried while I watched her walk under the traffic light, because I wasn’t sure if she really meant it.