December 12
by Deborah Osgood
It’s not raining yet but you can smell it coming. An oak tree towers over the back parking lot of The Blue Dog Pub, still hanging onto clumps of dead leaves with bare fingers like oaks do, roots like knees and toes pushing up, splitting the asphalt. A 1976 Lincoln Continental, midnight blue with fat white-walls, rests like an ocean liner in the first space. This vintage ride is four years older than its owner, Zach, the lead singer of the band.

Leaning against the cold brick wall, Zach pulls a thumb-size stone pipe out of his jeans pocket, along with a leather pouch from which he pinches a couple hits of weed, tucking it carefully, almost lovingly into the bowl. He doesn’t look up into the branches of the tree until he’s drawing on the pipe, holding the smoke deep in his lungs, sniffing it deeper, sensation flowing into his arms and legs. Zach cracks a smile, smoke streaming out both sides of his mouth. Three bedraggled sparrows huddling together on a low branch remind him of his seventh birthday. Disney World, pouring rain, Zachary and his parents wearing Mickey ponchos, pressed under the facade of Cinderella’s castle, one of the few times he remembers the three of them together.

A stripped down Jeep Wrangler wheels into the lumpy parking lot and out jumps Ronny, the drummer, lighting a cigarette almost before his feet hit the ground. Sylvie, the violinist, steps blithely out of the passenger porthole, taking a stance, shivering, rubbing her tattooed arms. She’s taller than Ronny and flaunts the fact in four inch heels. The only man she doesn’t look down on is Zach. Unless they start comparing tattoos, Sylvie’s satisfied to back Zach up with her velvet voice and smooth violin.

Zach bums a cigarette from Ronny as Hope, the waitress, pokes her head outside. She’s wearing felt reindeer antlers that light up. Takes all her strength to prop open the heavy steel door; the antlers bob precariously with the effort. “Hey ya’ll,” she says. She doesn’t look at the others, focuses her premium smile on Zach. “It’s almost eight o’clock.”

Zach drops his borrowed cigarette after one puff, crushes it under his boot. His shoulder length dark hair catches the light from the security lamp; holds it glowing like a halo.

Hope tries to slip her arm around Zach. He doesn’t quite flinch, isn’t exactly friendly either. “Hey babe, what’s a matter? Kinda touchy ain’t ya?” Gives Zach her Georgia-peach look, might as well have hugged the oak tree. Zach is oblivious to her charms, even though she’d have him for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if he was willing.

Sylvie’s watching closely, “What’s up Zach, why the crappy mood?”

Ronny would tell Sylvie to mind her own business if he dared. He’s a weasel when it comes to Zach.

“It’s my birthday,” says Zach. “My parents are coming tonight. I invited both of them on the same night.” He tucks his hair behind his ear like a second thought. Wonders what he could’ve been thinking.

Sylvie ignores the loaded comment about parents; she has her own mismatched set of parental units. “Your birthday’s on Christmas Eve?” Looking sympathetic. “Bogus. You got ripped off for gifts.”

Zach shrugs. “Wasn’t that bad. My parents always celebrated my birthday with me anyhow.” He meant that after their divorce, whichever parent had him on Christmas Eve saw to it that he had a birthday party. They switched off every other year to accommodate each other, thinking they were doing the best thing for their son.

“Let’s go.” Zach holds the door open for the others, strolls into The Blue Dog.

The Blue Dog is a friendly neighborhood joint, an oasis in the ‘burbs’ of North Atlanta. It’s usually full of the beautiful people. The beautiful brokenhearted people. Behind the bar the usual glass shelves, glittery mirrors, colorful bottles, beer taps, stacked glasses. There’s a blue neon sign stretching the length of the bar, along which a blue dog dances continuously. The stage is on one end of the long room, close to the bar, a very intimate setting.

The bartender greets Sylvie, “Hey lovely lady,” knows her poison, sets a drink in front of her.

“What’s with the bar towel on your head?” asks Sylvie.

“This old thing?” He strikes a dorky pose, arranges the towel and headband around his face. “Can’t you tell I’m a shepherd?”

“Oh. Sure. Sure.” Sylvie rolls her eyes. “But why are you dressed as a shepherd?” She thinks the bartender’s pathetic, but kind of sweet.

“It’s Christmas Eve dear girl. I came straight to work from the living nativity at Crossroads Baptist.” Scoops crushed ice into a tumbler, dumps it, wipes the outside of the glass all in one smooth move. Swiftly, expertly measures a double Crown Royal, slides it down the bar to a man in a business suit.

“You lie,” laughs Sylvie.

Bartender opens his eyes wide, innocent as pie. “No. It really is Christmas Eve.”

“You’re a Baptist?”

“You think I’d lie about a thing like that?”

“This place is going to Hell.” Sylvie swivels around on her barstool to watch Zach and Ronny plugging in their equipment, leaving the bartender to tend his flock.

The bartender swipes at the bar with a damp rag, keeping one eye on Hope as she perches herself at the end of the long mahogany block of gleaming wood, clutching her bar tray. Figure like a wholesome milkmaid, she’s looking rich as Bailey’s Irish Cream, even in those ridiculous antlers.

Hope could show the bartender a little kindness, but she doesn’t want him to get the wrong idea. She’s a college girl, granted she’s in her fifth or sixth year at Georgia State; doesn’t need the few bucks she pulls down at The Blue Dog. Trust-fund baby. “What a man,” thinks Hope as Zach says, “test, test” into the microphone. Even “test, test” sounds sexy to Hope. She knows there are some things even a trust fund can’t buy.

There’s a whole lot of unrequited love in this world and it seems unduly concentrated in this homey little bar. But isn’t it true “Love is a many splendored thing”? Who said that anyway? Hope doesn’t give a rat’s ass who said it or that it might’ve been the words to some corny song before her time.

Everyone in the place feels a cool draft when the door opens, admitting three men with their arms interlocked; they’re singing loudly and out of tune, “We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we travel so far!”

“Merry Christmas, gentlemen!” exclaims the bartender as the three wise men saunter up to the bar. “I like your spirit. Now what can I get you?”

One of the three is an accountant and by his calculations he’s figured the probability of rain, carries his umbrella. The other two men are in sales. One of the salesmen can’t help but notice Sylvie’s tattoos, taps her on the shoulder, blurts out, “Hey, you look like a real nutcracker.”

If Sylvie was an old fashioned girl she’d slap the smirk off the despicable magi’s face. Instead she picks up her drink and moves away thinking he looks like a real jackass, but keeps her observation to herself

“Where ya going, princess?” asks the salesman.

“I’m allergic to peanuts,” says Sylvie. The salesman is too stuck on himself to get what she meant. Doesn’t matter. It’s time for Sylvie to join Zach and Ronny on the stage. She turns away from the bar and heads for the spotlight.

Zach nods at Sylvie. Sliding the bow over the strings of her beloved violin, she breathes with her instrument. The intro is beautiful if anyone’s listening. Rock music can break your heart, too.

Ronny waits, drumsticks poised. He’s working up his courage to sing a little tonight. Maybe happy birthday to Zach. Maybe not. Zach in a bad mood ain’t someone to mess with. He’s changed since he’s been to Iraq. Ain’t the same as when they were all kids. Zach is the last person Ronny wants to piss off. Seems like Zach’s carrying around a deep black well of anger; Ronny doesn’t want to step too close to the edge, hangs back a respectable distance.

Sylvie thinks Zach is sad; sadness looks like anger in young men. Sylvie knows the war hurt Zach even though he came back in one piece. She knows Zach had to do shit she herself could never stomach. She thinks Zach’s a cupcake; he wants Peace and Love she reasons, because that’s what she wants; he wouldn’t hurt anybody, especially not his friends, not even the obnoxious ones. Sylvie is in love with Zach, just like the rest of the world, only she doesn’t want his body, she wants his soul.

Cool damp air whooshes up the backs of the patrons when the door opens. Zach’s father, Aaron, an older version of Zach, still handsome, walks in. He’s in his fifties, but he recently lost thirty pounds so he knows he’s looking hot. On his arm is a beautiful blond girl, half his age. The girl glides along, holds herself like a dancer, in fact she dances with the Atlanta Ballet. Soon it will come to light that this young woman has also dated Zach, when they were both still in high school.

Zach’s mother, Garland, arrives two minutes after Aaron and the ballerina are situated with their drinks on the end of the bar closest to the band. Garland’s smile lights up her whole face when she sees her son. He’s singing a Dylan song now:
“Mama, take this badge from me
I can’t use it no more
It’s getting dark, too dark to see
Feels like I’m knocking on heaven’s door.”

Zach’s mother and father divorced when Zach was eight. They love their son, but they both had their own happiness in mind. Aaron and Garland haven’t talked to each other in years, not since they were thrown together for Zach’s high school graduation, not since they had to share Zach’s expenses. Neither one knows the other is invited tonight.

Zach nods at his mom, sings the chorus with Sylvie backing him up. Together they sound like real angels knocking on heaven’s door. The regulars know this already. The others take a second look at the band before resuming their private conversations.

Garland surveys the room, sees Aaron sitting on the end near the stage with the young blond woman. Assuming the young woman is Zach’s date, Garland drops her purse on the bar, and sits on the stool next to the ballerina. “Hello,” says Garland, her voice buttery, soothing, motherly. She includes Aaron in the light of her smile. Garland extends a hand, “I’m Zach’s mom.”

The girl’s naturally arched eyebrows fly up, pink roses rush to her cheeks. She realizes this is Aaron’s ex-wife and at the very same instant she places Zach as one of the boys she dated ten years before.

“Hey,” says Aaron. He leans around the ballerina who has begun to flutter like a caged white swan. Aaron has a good-natured martini voice. “Fancy meeting you here.” He’s thinking Garland is still a damn fine looking woman. He says out loud, “Garland, this is my date, Angelina.”

“Nice to meet you Angelina.” Garland resists the urge to admit her surprise that the girl is Aaron’s date. She’s thinking Aaron will always be a puppy. She says, “Zach pulled a fast one on us, didn’t he?”

Angelina didn’t know this was the price of dating an older man. She expected diamonds, at least pearls of wisdom. The unfortunate young lady has more poise than most her age but she has just learned that she dated the father, the son…And Holy crap! Here is the ex-wife. The ballerina recovers quickly with the grace of her profession and turning her elegant head on her long creamy neck, essentially a pirouette on a barstool, she smiles delightfully, gushes sweetly, “This is like a sitcom. Made for T.V.” The ice shatters like so much Tiffany crystal and they all have a good chuckle.

On stage, Zach’s wondering what they’re laughing about. Isn’t that Angelina what’s- her- name? Remembers 11th grade, wet kisses in the back of his old Monte Carlo, affectionately dubbed, The Barge. Can’t help grouping girls from that period with the automobiles he cherished. What in the world is Angelina doing here? And with his dad? Sitting between his mom and dad? Zach steers his mind back to the show. “Thanks guys,” he says to the audience at large. The band transitions into a cover song by Hootie & The Blowfish and Zach concentrates on singing about the girl at the lamppost: let her sing, if it eases all her pain.

An astute stockbroker is sitting next to Garland, eavesdropping, sniffs the possibility of an intergenerational incident, at any rate the chance of picking up some new clients. The stockbroker offers his card, buys a bottle of the best red wine The Blue Dog has to offer, announces the vintage to Garland. His married girlfriend sits on his left, impatiently twirling her wedding rings, eyes flashing emerald. The bartender pops the cork and pours a little of the dark ruby liquid into a stemmed glass. The stockbroker, breathless, offers the taste-test to Garland who willingly takes the glass and sips daintily, declares the wine to be fine. Bartender fills her glass. The stockbroker consults his Rolex. His fidgety girlfriend stands up without saying the words written on her pinched face. The stockbroker, his eyes still on Garland, stands too, helping the girlfriend into her mink-collared coat. “Gotta run. Cinderella has to be home before midnight.”

“What about your bottle of wine?” asks Garland.

The stockbroker winks at Garland, takes his girlfriend’s elbow to keep her from stomping out the door.
Garland has never had to buy her own drink in a bar. The world is filled with gentlemen in Garland’s book. Takes life with gentlemen for granted. She says thank-you just the same, dismisses the stockbroker, and turns to Aaron, “Zach sounds really good tonight.”

Aaron nods approvingly, squeezes Angelina’s hand. “Wait ‘til you hear his latest song. He played it at Wild Bill’s Grill last night.” Aaron thinks Zach wants love because that’s what Aaron himself wants. Looks around at the others. Love him, damn it! Doesn’t say this out loud, of course.

“I’ve heard it,” says Garland. She’s on her feet clapping at the end of the Hootie song.

“Hey, I’m surprised we haven’t run into each other at one of Zach’s shows before. He gets better all the time, doesn’t he?”

Meanwhile the poor little ballerina feels kind of left out, can’t keep up with this conversation, with this relationship. There is no malice in the ex-wife’s words. How can this be? The girl mulls over her life, all twenty-five years of her vast experience. Don’t divorced people speak through court orders? Injunctions? Her parents wouldn’t be caught dead speaking civilly to each other.

And now her date leans over her, happily answers the ex-wife, “He’s our boy isn’t he?” What is a man thinking when he makes a comment like that?

Garland raises her glass to Aaron, their eyes meet. “That’s a fact.”

God! This man just acknowledged having sex with this woman. The ballerina stiffens, if that’s possible with her already ram-rod straight posture. In her mind– the Rat King leaps onto the stage. Angelina clobbers him with one pink slipper. The nutcracker gives her a dirty look. He wasn’t supposed to give her a dirty look. She misses a beat. The other ballerinas keep dancing on their toes, perfectly synchronized. Angelina stands alone. The ballerina snaps out of her reverie, finds herself staring at the tacky pink Christmas tree in the corner of the bar. She didn’t expect to hit a dead end so soon. Maybe Aaron’s not really her type after all. Kind of like her parents having sex, thinks she’s the result of Immaculate Conception. Her apartment is empty. The Blue Dog is too full. Angelina has to get out of here.

Still in the first set, the Band is playing Bob Seger’s, Turn the Page. Zach’s voice fills the room, flowing over the patrons like the warm salty waves of the Gulf, turquoise, luminous, fills their hearts, rounds out the corners of their souls when they least expect it: Oh here I am, on the road again… Sylvie’s violin makes them want to cry.

Garland is turned around on her barstool, watching Zach and the band, at the same time she tries to ignore two women that dropped in after a Christmas party. They’re hard to ignore, two thirty-something socialites from the neighborhood, cutting up, rowdy, singing with the band. Jane, whose perfect page-boy drapes like a curtain over one hazel eye, would be pretty if her features weren’t distorted in drunkenness. Jane is beyond tipsy. She’s soused, zigzagging to the bar as if pulling along the deck of a badly listing ship; she makes her way back to a seat next to the band. Passing Garland, Jane senses some kind of magnetic force; to Jane it feels like a life preserver. Garland looks open-minded, kind. Jane stops and confides to Garland that she would have Zach’s baby.

Before Garland can think what to say to Jane, Aaron comes back after walking the ballerina to her car, announces to the room, “Folks, it’s raining!” He doesn’t really mean to steal the show but the band needs a break anyway. The patrons rise cheering in unison. You see, Atlanta has suffered all year from a record drought. The precious rain seems like a Christmas present for the city. All noses are pressed to the steamy windows, the glass door is thrown open but the patrons aren’t willing to get wet. The parking lot is shiny, slick, puddling in low spots. Before their eyes the rain pours harder as if a pregnant cloud is delivering its contents on The Blue Dog. Happy cars are slowing down, splashing by on the street with windshield wipers beating wildly.

The rain can hold their attention for only so long. A few patrons are dreaming of a white Christmas. Their drinks beckon from the bar and the patrons return to their seats resuming the buzz that sounds like piped in noise.

Hope puts change from her tips in the jukebox, punches some buttons. Elton John’s, Tiny Dancer whirls into the room.

Zach finally greets his parents. “Happy Birthday, Love,” says Garland, unconsciously placing her hand over her perforated heart, like a pledge. Whenever she sees a soldier she does this. Can’t forget her son was in the war. Zach hugs his mother and father. The three of them together. Zach thinks of the sparrows in the oak tree, wonders if they are huddled closer in the rain or if they flew away to shelter.

“Didn’t I see Angelina…sitting with you?” asks Zach.

“I had no idea she’d gone out with you,” laughs Aaron raising his hands like he’s been caught.

“It’s a small world after all,” sings Garland.

“Mother,” groans Zach.

“Don’t worry. I won’t embarrass you by singing along with your band. But you better watch out for that woman. No! Don’t look now.”

Garland adores her Zachary, marvels at how much he looks like his father. She has to take a deep breath — she feels inadequate as his mother. Her happy little boy has grown into such a sad man. No amount of love seems to fill him up. She sees girls throwing their hearts at him; she’d almost rather have them throw their panties at the stage.

Aaron wears his pride in his son like a medal on his chest, slaps him on the back, nods his head with the hard-ass set of his jaw. Garland fancies a single tear in Aaron’s dark eyes but it might be the reflection of the dancing neon dog above the bar.
The moment is broken; any possible tenderness whiffs up, dissipates like smoke in a ceiling fan when Jane staggers into the trio, “Hey!” She says, “I saw him first,” meaning Zach. Jane lifts one drunken brow for an eyeful.

Meanwhile, Jane is getting the once-over from Aaron, who concludes she’s attractive enough and probably available.

Hope has been watching the whole scene. Now she steps in to set Jane straight, “These are his parents. Can I get anyone a drink?”

Jane’s pouty lips form a perfect O, “No way,” she slurs. “You’re not old enough to be his mother. What’s your mommy’s name?”

Zach has heard all this before. Has the same amused manner as his father, the same slightly crooked grin. Zach harks back to his early childhood, when his parents were still married, still living together like a family. Zach’s preschool teacher asked him what his mommy’s name was and he replied, “Sweetheart”, daddy’s name for her. A pang of sorrow, of something missed. Zach dodges the arrow, ducks out of the circle to follow Sylvie and Ronny out the back door for a smoke.

Aaron is asking Jane and her friend what they’re drinking. Jane’s girlfriend is standing beside Jane now, says, “No thanks. I’m the designated driver.” But Jane’s all for another green apple martini. She’s got the cherry from her previous drink between her teeth demonstrating how to tie a knot in a cherry stem with her tongue. Garland can see the whites of Aaron’s eyes grow wider.

“What do you have to drive, a whole block? You could walk home.” Aaron’s trying to keep his cool by making small talk to the girlfriend. “We used to live around the corner. When we were together.” Aaron gives Garland a knowing look.

Hope brings fresh drinks. The bartender swabs at the empty space on the bar, keeping watch over Hope. The rest of his flock are on their own as far as he’s concerned.

“How can you two be so nice to each other?” Jane says this so loudly even the wise men lend an ear.

Aaron answers for them both, “We’ve been apart for twenty years. Everyone’s happy. The most amicable divorce on record.” The ever vigilant wise men overhear and discuss the possibilities of such an oxymoron amongst themselves.

“We both love our son,” says Garland.

Jane can’t stop to concentrate on any one subject. “I wanna dance,” warbles Jane. Weaves her way to the jukebox. Punches up Aretha, Chain of Fools. A bluesy beat. Chain, chain, chain. Comes dancing back.

Garland loves this song but thinks Aaron will dance with Jane.

“I mean all three of us. Come on you two.” Jane puts her arms around both Aaron and Garland. They sway together in an awkward triangle. Jane’s girlfriend slides onto a barstool to watch, her arms folded.

Garland’s being polite, but this Jane-chick is getting on her nerves, and she has no sense of rhythm whatsoever. Garland breaks free, dances on her own.

“Do you ever miss each other?” yells Jane. Any inhibitions Jane might ever have possessed have been washed away in the deluge. She kisses Aaron on the lips, lingers there. She has to stand on tippy toes to accomplish this as Aaron stands a head taller than both women.

Garland thinks Jane should sit down.

Jane wobbles on her designer heels, leans down slips them off. Now she’s three inches shorter, looks up at Garland, “I make you nervous, don’t I?”

“No,” lies Garland, still dancing.

“I don’t want you.” Jane stands too close to Garland, weaving more than dancing. The girlfriend is frowning. Aaron’s about to burst out laughing.

Garland’s mouth opens but no words come out. Her second attempt to speak is successful. Raised eyebrows give her away when she says, “It didn’t occur to me you might want me.”

“I’ve had a lot to drink,” garbles Jane.

Obviously, thinks Garland.

Jane cocks her head, drunken chicken style, doesn’t seem to care what she says, must be conducting an experiment that’s gone bad wrong. “Kiss your husband,” she says with a double-dare-you glint in her eyes.

“He’s not my husband,” says Garland.

“Yeah right. Why are you here with him?”

The “Him” in question is totally amused.

“You kiss him now,” says Jane. Garland’s a good sport, kisses Aaron on the cheek for the first time in twenty years, really just a quick peck on the cheek.

“Did you have drinking problems?” asks Jane. Straight out of the psychology textbook—Jane projects her own problem onto others.

Aghast at the audacity of this woman, Garland’s looking for a way out now, wondering how she gets herself into these stupid fixes.

Aaron’s holding onto both women again, relishing the spectacle he’s making.

Jane makes a move like she’s going to kiss Garland on the lips but Garland recoils. Jane refuses to let it go, flares up in Garland’s face, “You’re damn uptight. I told you I wasn’t coming on to you.”

Garland would love to have the touch to soothe angry beasts, she wants birds and butterflies to land on her wrists, like in Snow White. A skill like that would come in handy in this situation. “I’m sorry Jane. I can feel you’re in pain.” says Garland, sincerely, scraping the bottom of her heart.

“You don’t know me!” shouts Jane. She would’ve fallen over if Aaron hadn’t come to her rescue. Everyone in the place is watching them now, including Zach and the band, who’ve come back in. Aaron guides Jane to her seat and tries to hand her a bright green martini which she paws away, spilling half of it.

Zach is scowling, hates drama of any kind, leafs through his music book, punishing it. Bad music book. Zach didn’t see his parents dancing together, didn’t know Jane caused all the problems. Zach can’t remember his parents ever being together except at Disney World, thinks he knows why.

Sylvie is standing next to Zach, holding her violin limply, trying to conceal her own feelings with a glued-on gothic smile, chugs her beer with the thought of her raging alcoholic mother, who’s probably out tonight making a similar scene in another bar. Feels sorry for Zach having to deal with all this B.S. with his parents. Thinks Zach’s like one of the lost boys in Peter Pan. No. Zach is Peter Pan and wouldn’t she love to stitch his shadow to his feet.

Ronny has no clue, taps lightly on his drum set, just trying to stay a beat ahead.

The magi pretend to talk amongst themselves and before long the other patrons resume their gratis background noise.

Hope straightens the napkins and little dishes of limes on the bar even though it’s not her job. Asks the bartender, “Don’t shepherds herd farm animals?” Hope thinks Jane is a cow. They discuss cutting Jane off.

The awkward situation all but forgotten; the hitch in the night for the most part smoothed over; the gap in the air fills back in. Zach’s tired from straining toward his parents and his voice feels tight. Asks Sylvie and Ronny to do a couple numbers on their own.

The rain subsides into a misty drizzle. The temperature is dropping. In the glow of the streetlamps the wet road glitters like coal. If you were a little match girl looking in the windows of The Blue Dog you would see the die-hard patrons still hanging in even though it’s half past eleven on Christmas Eve. Actually the magi have left to follow their stars in three different directions.

Zach is sitting between Aaron and Garland at the bar, his expression revealing nothing. The three of them are having trouble making conversation—small talk is all they can muster. They’re sipping at their drinks more than talking.

Zach wears his emotion in his gut, wonders if he has an ulcer. He’s feeling like a powerless kid. He used to dream about his family—the three of them, whole again. When they split it took a big piece out of him. At the time it would’ve been easier for little Zachary to rewrite the ending of Romeo and Juliet, than to get his parents back together, but he felt responsible, should’ve been able to fix things. That’s what little kids think. Zach can smell his mother’s perfume, can feel his dad’s aura of physical strength, knows they both love him, and for the first time in his life maybe he sees that he can’t make them love each other.

Garland knows her son. Imagines she can feel his thoughts as she sits beside him. She remembers asking Zachary if he knew what divorce meant when he was seven years old. In a tiny voice he said, “It means I’ll never see you again.” Garland pulled her little boy onto her lap, told him she’d never leave him as long as she lived. He’s a man now; takes more than sunny words to warm a frozen heart.

Aaron would hug Zach and cry like a baby if he could. Here sits his son, his blood, the man who’s witnessed war in first person. Aaron can’t feel what his son feels, can’t get inside Zach’s nightmares. There must be something Aaron can do for his son. Certainly doesn’t need any help in the ladies department. Aaron sees the way Sylvie watches Zach. Hope, too. Aaron has never seen a woman that didn’t knock herself out trying to get Zach to notice her. And now Zach is a musician, a rock star. Aphrodite couldn’t have blessed him more. So that’s cool.

Suddenly a crash is heard coming from the ladies’ room. The bouncer stands up, chest puffed like a bull. But it’s the ladies’ room. Hope to the rescue, tries the door. It’s locked. Hope taps on the door, “You okay in there?”

The bouncer prepares to bulldoze but Hope stops him. The whole place is involved now. Jukebox stops. Jane’s girlfriend stands up, starts for the bathroom calling Jane’s name, Garland and Aaron at her heels, like a dynamic duo.

Garland makes her way through the pack, ear to the bathroom door says, “Jane? Hey Jane, unlock the door.” Waits. Feels the doorknob click, slowly opens the door enough to squeeze in. Smells like vomit but the floor and the commode appear clean. Jane is sitting on the floor in her panties, crying. With mascara all over her cheeks she looks about sixteen, helpless, troubled, needing a mother.

Softly, Garland asks, “Where are your jeans?”

“In the trash,” is what Garland hears. She’ll leave them there.

Garland tries to help Jane to her feet but she can’t manage it, Jane is too heavy, too slippery. “Are you okay?” Dumb question.

“Chrise-sake.” Jane sniffs, wipes the back of her hand across her nose; tries to focus on Garland, “Do I look okay?” Jane’s eyes are barely open.

“Not really,” admits Garland. Says to herself–God this girl is hard to like.

“Wanna love,” slurs Jane. Her head wavers to an upright position. She looks almost sober for a fleeting moment. “My husband’s a prick. I stay for my kids.” Garland’s heart grows two sizes bigger.

“Oh man…oh God.” Garland helps Jane to her knees, has to look away when Jane ralphs, but she keeps Jane’s hair from falling into her face as she hangs over the pink porcelain bowl. Jane flops down, bare thighs on tile floor. She leans against the bright purple wall, eyes closed, mouth open. Garland flushes the commode, wipes Jane’s face with a damp paper towel.

In the interval Garland surveys the room. A large black and white photograph of a tattered homeless man hangs on the wall, it’s for sale, a signed photo, a local artist, Garland wonders who would want such a print. Doesn’t connect it at all to the homeless hearts that frequent The Blue Dog. “Do you want me to get your friend?” asks Garland. Jane doesn’t answer.

Garland suspects the others are still waiting outside. Opens the door a crack.
Jane’s girlfriend is the only one standing there. “How is she? I really hate to leave but my husband called, I gotta go.” She bolts for the glass door. Apparently she forgot Jane rode with her this evening. Hope and the bouncer roll their eyes. They’ve seen it all before.

“Some friend,” says Garland to nobody in particular. Calls Zach over from the bar where he sits with his dad. “Do you still carry that old wool blanket in your car?”

Zach looks over his mother’s shoulder, sees Jane sitting there bare-legged. “Friggin-A,” he says. “Yes Mom I have the blanket.”

Moments later a knock on the door. Garland opens up to find Aaron standing there with Zach. “This place emptied out like rats leaving the ship,” says Aaron. “Even the bouncer baled.”

“We’re still here,” says Garland. Her son hands over the blanket Garland had instructed him to keep in his car for an emergency when he first got his driver’s license. Same old wool blanket.

“What can I do?” asks Aaron. Garland smiles, though she could’ve wept.

“It’s going to be okay,” Garland whispers to Jane as she folds the blanket around her.
Jane sighs, says something unintelligible.

“No worries,” says Aaron. He lifts Jane up like a child who has fallen asleep in front of the television. Garland picks up Jane’s purse. Zach holds the glass door open to the night.

Zach glances back at the dancing blue dog that illuminates the bartender, still wearing the towel on his head, still making random swipes at the bar. Hope’s blonde hair looks blue reflected in the mirrors; she’s leaning both elbows on the bar thinking Zach and his parents are nice people.

Zach hasn’t thought about it for years but he played Tiny Tim in fourth grade, “God bless us, everyone,” he says.

“Later Dude,” replies the bartender. Thinks this Jane-chick is lucky she’s not being dumped in a cab.

Outside the rain has turned to snow, flurries gently whirling in the glow of the street lights, dusting the parking lot with a clean white luster. Zach can see his breath, and his mom’s and dad’s, and the comatose Jane, he can see her breath, too. Zach holds out both hands, catches the silent snow flakes, smiles at the absurdity of the world. Zach hasn’t felt so light in a long, long time. For his parents the smile is a lovely gift.

Together, Zach and his parents will drive the errant Jane home to her house in, strangely enough, their old neighborhood. A bright star has been hanging over East Cobb the whole night, but nobody noticed because of the clouds.

The Blue Dog is empty now, except for Hope and the bartender, who still wears the towel on his head. He will wipe at the same spot on the mahogany bar a few more times before he throws his rag in the sink and starts switching off lights. When he reaches the switch for the blue neon dog Hope puts her hand on his arm, gently as a lamb.

“Hey,” says Hope. “Let’s leave it on for a while. I love that dancing dog.” She smiles with the joy of giving.

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