Dubonnet, by N. West Moss

I’m a very private person, which some people might find hard to believe considering I live in the same apartment with my son and his wife and their two children these past three years. But Neil says I shouldn’t be on my own, although I don’t see why. I can more than dress myself, and by that I mean I have style. I feed myself, and I vacuumed every Saturday and cleaned both toilets every Sunday, like clock-work for thirty-five years.

But you know how it is, your kid says to you, “But Ma, you’re seventy-plus, and I got two little kids now, and when you need to go to the doctor or something, I can’t just drop everything and come out to Queens to get you, you know?” Blah blah blah. If his father was alive, he’d have a heart attack, me having to leave our home after all those years.

My son can be very judgmental, and what I mean by that is that after my husband died, yes, I spent some money on TV things, you know, what you buy through the TV, but I was my husband’s beneficiary, which means he left me his pension, and I figured (I still figure) that if I wanted to get a figurine, whose business was it but my own.  And so, yes, I got several, but there’s no law against it, and I love those things, so beautiful, real porcelain all of them, that pale milky white, like they were made out of snow … no, like they were made out of cream. That’s it. Cream.

I don’t see the point of getting old anyway. You don’t get to do what you want like everyone promises, and you have to throw out all your stuff except for what you can squeeze in your own bedroom. For about half a minute after I moved in, I believed my daughter-in-law when she said that sure, my figurines could be out in the living room, but those kids of hers are a mess, and my son’s wife, I don’t even like to say her name (which is Cynthia), she doesn’t even stop them from running around like maniacs.  I’ll even say, “You shouldn’t let them run around like maniacs,” but still my porcelain angel got chipped, right on her wing, and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out how. I got down on the floor and looked for the piece that got chipped off, but no luck. So I brought them all back into my bedroom and put them in my drawer with my pajamas so they would have cushioning.

I asked Neil to put up more shelves in my bedroom, and he said, “Sure,” blah blah blah. An entire month went by and no shelves, so I started mentioning it at breakfast, and then I was annoyed because almost another month went by. I started to up my campaign. I’m no fool. I mentioned it at every breakfast. It’s not like I ask for a lot from him. And then I guess things were not going well between Neil and you-know-who, because he snapped at me one morning.

“Can’t you ever shut up about the shelves? Can’t you ever just ease up?” he said, and too loudly too, so everyone got quiet, except for the little devils, who are going to be in jail by the time they’re seven, I swear it, but his wife and Neil and I all got quiet anyway. ‘Ease up.’ Where did he learn that? His father would of killed him for saying a thing like that to me.

So I said, “Well I ‘m sorry to be a bother to you.” And I very quietly pushed my chair out, like a lady, and went to my room and wrapped all nine of those figurines in Saran Wrap and then put them in the kitchen garbage can, making sure everyone saw me do it so that no one would put something in on top and break them or anything.

The next day was a Tuesday, and when I got back from the park in the afternoon, there was a shelf up in my room and my figurines all lined up very nicely there, all of them unwrapped and in good shape, I might add, except for the angel with the chipped wing who won’t ever be whole again, but what can you do?  I never mentioned the shelf. I never thanked Neil because I didn’t want to start trouble.  So I just pretended the shelves were something that happened by magic.  And I never asked for another thing from Neil, or from her either.

I always liked to go to the park up by my old place in Queens. But now I was stuck in No Man’s Land in sort of mid-town only way over east and down a little, in the middle of nowhere with just a dry cleaner on the block and nowhere to get anything normal like a peach or detergent. And my ankles get swollen if I walk too far, so I figured I’d have to make do with the nearest park, which was Bryant. I’d heard it was a mess, but that was years ago, and no, it turns out it was alright, maybe better than alright. I hadn’t seen it in a lot of years, and things change, as I know all too well.

So I decided I needed a routine (I’ve always liked routines as they calm my nerves) and I head there on Tuesdays, to the park and sit and have my lunch by the music. Anyway, the park on Tuesdays is my excuse to get out of the house. Only when I came back one Tuesday afternoon, a few months after I’d moved in, (I know this because the shelves were up by this time), it looked to me like someone had been in my room. I can’t say how, but I just knew. I could feel it, like the air had been disturbed.

I couldn’t sleep that whole night, and I got up twice to check my figurines and they were ok, although I thought maybe that one had been turned, the little girl who was kneeling in prayer, a very holy figurine with a little cross hanging around her neck that someone must have painted gold with a teeny tiny paint brush, and I swear I had put her on the shelf facing sideways so I could see her praying hands in front of her face in profile, but when I turned on my bedside light and looked up at her from my pillow, I swear she was facing a little bit more toward the wall with her back just a tiny bit to me.  I got up and moved her back to profile, but I gave up trying to sleep after that. It made my stomach hurt to think of whoever, the little devils or that woman, or God forbid a total stranger maybe, in my room, the only space I can call my own anymore, when I wasn’t even there.

Well, the next morning I went to the phone book and called a locksmith.  I have my own money.  It’s not like I need Neil for money, and I told Neil several times I preferred to live on my own.  But you know, blah blah blah, he had a lot of reasons why it would be better for both of us if I moved in, although I’m pretty sure we both regret it now, or at least I regret it, and probably he does too.

Anyway, I got all dressed up and sat at the kitchen table waiting for the locksmith, facing the front door, not even saying a word to the wife. I didn’t eat my breakfast – I was too sick from worry.  And then a knock came on the front door, and I jumped and so did she.  Neil was gone by then, off to his job with the telephone company, and I went right to the door and let the man in and showed him to my room and told him what I wanted. I could hear what’s-her-name on the phone to Neil.

“She called a locksmith,” I heard her whisper. She was never good at whispering as she lacks subtlety. “Uh huh.” I could just picture her looking at her nails. “She better pay for it herself.  We’re not paying for that.” That annoyed me, for obvious reasons. She kept pausing and I peeked out and I could see she was hunched over the phone. “Whatever,” she said, and I was right, she was looking at her nails “What does she think she is, Fort Knox?” I thought, screw you. If you ever kept an eye on your filthy kids they’d have a chance in life and I wouldn’t have to lock everything up and she wouldn’t have to become familiar with the juvenile courts, as I was sure she would eventually.  But I didn’t say anything.

“OK,” I told the locksmith, “so I’d like two things – a doorknob that locks and then on the inside, one of those hook and eye things that I can latch when I’m in bed at night.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but you want to be locked in there?  It’s not exactly safe.” He paused as I tried to figure out what he was referring to. “You know, if there’s a fire or something, you want people to be able to get in and help you.”

I snorted. “I’m not so worried about people trying to help me.” That was a laugh. “Don’t you worry about my safety,” I told him. “These locks are going to make me plenty safe.” I started to feel defensive, like if he didn’t want the job, there were other locksmiths I could call. But he turned out to be nice and he wasn’t judging me, he was just advising, so to speak. He had kind of a gentle look on his face, which was big and round, harmless looking in a reassuring way.

“Sure,” he said calmly, “sure, whatever you want. I just wanted to mention the fire thing to you.” He shrugged. Nice man, really. I sat on my bed all dressed up and watched him work. I chatted with him a little, while not being annoying like some people can be. I always liked the mechanical stuff. I was the one who changed the washers in our faucets every year for instance. I was the one.  So the locksmith, his name was Primo, it turns out, Primo!  So Primo and I chatted, and it took him a few hours because he needed to do drilling and hammering, and he gave me a new doorknob that a key could fit in from one side and he even had two different ones for me to pick from so I picked the brass-looking one as it looked sturdier.

I will say that when he first came into my room I was aware, unexpectedly, of how full it was getting in there, and that no one had been in for a while (as far as I could be sure), so I opened up my window nice and wide to let in some fresh air, and I took the figurines off the shelf before Primo hammered and drilled so they wouldn’t get rattled. He asked me, “What’s your name, anyway?”

I told him, “Dubonnet,” which was a lie, but so what? I always liked that name. When I used to get too worried over things, my husband would pour me a drink, and it was usually that Dubonnet with the screw off top, which is now a fancy thing, the screw off top on wine bottles, but back then it was unique. A half a glass of that would do the trick, make whatever I was worrying about move back a little, out of my face. I always thought it was a nice name, Dubonnet, French-sounding, and it wasn’t like I was planning to say it to Primo, but when he asked, that’s just what came out.

“Dubonnet,” he said, keeping on working, “wow.”

“It’s French,” I told him.

“Primo’s Spanish,” he said.

“Look at us,” I said and we smiled at each other.

I could see his belly hanging over his pants as he knelt at the door-knob and I thought of my husband, who was always so skinny. Seeing Primo there I realized that I probably wished my husband had been a larger man. It was very reassuring, is all I’m saying, to have such a large man in the house helping me with my locks when it felt like everyone else was whispering on phones about me and chipping my angels.

Anyway, I turned on my CD player, which I never listened to but I listened to my Chopin sometimes and my Bach, as they calmed me down. Truth is it was my husband who loved the music, so the CDs were his. He had very good taste, my husband, classy. When I’d get nervous, like if he was late coming home from work, and I’d be all riled up and sometimes even crying by the time he got home, wondering what might have happened to him, he’d pour me a glass.

“It’s not strong,” he’d say, unscrewing the Dubonnet bottle. “It’s not like what I drink. This is a drink for a lady,” and he’d hand me my glass and he’d pour himself some scotch, and then, if I was particularly in a state by then, before we said a toast or anything, he’d say, “Let’s see,” and he’d pore over his CDs and say things like, “Bach’s Goldberg variations, that’s the thing for you,” and he’d put it in and hit the play button and then he’d pause, just stand there with his glass in one hand and his eyes closed, and the cello would kick in, and he’d open his eyes and say, “See?” and then, “Cheers.” He always knew how to calm me down, how to help me see right.

Anyway, I saw Primo’s belly and I put on the CD and I said, “Bach’s Goldberg Variations.” Then I added, “On cello,” because it said that on the cover.  And then I was just quiet. I watched as Primo finished up everything, and then he asked for a dustpan and cleaned up after himself, like a grown-up. I don’t know where I went wrong that I have a son who doesn’t even put his own dishes in the sink after dinner. My heart would go out to her but she doesn’t even say anything, just cleans up after him. Women must be desperate to marry someone like my son and then let him walk all over them like that. Can’t even put his own dishes in the sink. What ever happened to woman’s lib?

That night at dinner, you-know-who asked me for an extra key to my door in case she had to get into my room, but I didn’t want to give it to her. What’s the point of the locks if she can still get in whenever she wants?  “So I can clean in there, at least,” she said over dinner, giving a look out of the corner of her eye to Neil. Thick as thieves, those two.

“I clean my own room,” I said.  Neil took her side, and so I gave her a key from my drawer, I don’t even know a key to what, but I didn’t care. She wasn’t going to get into my room without my permission, and she could fight me or whatever, but I wanted my privacy, and more than that, I didn’t want to be up in the middle of the night wondering if anyone had moved my stuff when I was out. I needed my sleep or I’d be a mess for the whole next day, no kidding, crying over nothing, or shaking even sometimes just because I didn’t get enough sleep.

So, like I said, the locks made me feel better for a while, but not for forever, and I began to realize that maybe she could have had someone in when I was out on Tuesdays at the park and had a key made. I think you can do that, and she’s nothing if not stealthy. So I had to begin worrying all over again with no one to turn to, to help ease my worries like my husband had once been in charge of doing.

So when I went to the park one week, I decided it was best to bring the figurines with me. I took my rolly suitcase out of the closet and wrapped each one in kitchen cellophane that I bought myself, by the way. I wrapped them up so that if there was even one chip on them, I’d have the piece so that I could re-glue them and they could be whole again, unlike the angel who would never have her wing complete, and who I had to turn a certain way on the shelf so that I couldn’t see the chip which was too upsetting for me.  And I brought them with me to the park in my rolly bag, along with my sandwich, which I ate at one of those little green tables they have there near the piano music. That was Tuesdays for me. That still is Tuesdays for me. My husband, it turns out, would have loved that park. I’m just saying.

When I first moved in with Neil, it was winter and the park was only alright, but when spring began to roll around, well that’s when it got good, in my estimation.  They put out these little catalogues for free that were full of stuff you could do in the park for no money at all, like French lessons and yoga classes and chess games – you could just ask for a chess set, for instance, from a very nice, skinny young lady who didn’t look at me funny, even though I wear a rain hat that I know looks silly on sunny days, but it keeps my hair in place, and some people judge, but the girl who gave out the chess sets did not.

I took the chess set she handed me and sat down at a table rubbing the pieces between my fingers, thinking of my husband who had liked a game of chess.  But I had no one to play with, so after a while I boxed the pieces back up and gave them to the skinny girl, who Neil’s wife could take a page from.  And in summer the lunch-time piano concerts start up, and that’s where I like to settle with my sandwich and my bag.  And I might even go on a day that isn’t a Tuesday, only that hasn’t happened, but the park’s there, is the point, if I need it.

Tuesdays were my day because that’s when “she” was out of the apartment for part of the day at school doing something like lunch monitor, although I never asked her what.  And so I felt alright leaving some of my stuff there.  And I’d make myself a sandwich, and wrap up my figurines and put everything in my rolly bag with some of my hand towels for cushioning, and then, because I invested in some of the larger rolls of kitchen wrap from the Ninety-Nine Cent Store, I’d wrap up the rolly bag too so I didn’t have to worry that someone in the park might get into it. I mean, I’m not naïve and what with the tourists in the park, there would be criminals too, and I just wanted to be able to relax.

And so I’d go a little bit early, maybe eleven or so, and find a table in the shade and wipe it off, and then I’d wait until the music started at twelve and eat my sandwich, and it was just heaven, even if the pianist was doing show-tunes or sing-alongs, which were not my favorites, but I tolerated them because it was so relaxing to eat my sandwich there, surrounded by all of those people, listening to music together, with my important stuff with me and nothing to worry about, I had to remind myself.

Neil came home one day in the middle of the afternoon, and he and “Cynthia” stood in the kitchen whispering, and it turned out he had lost his job, which I could easily hear because of her volume-control issues. He said he was down-sized, like it wasn’t his fault, and maybe it wasn’t, but Neil could have a temper, and he never put his dishes in the sink so I could imagine how other people saw him. I tried not to let that show in my eyes since it was a hard thing to lose your job.

When Neil explained it to me, he said that he’d have severance and then unemployment, but I could tell by the way those two were acting so calm and saying, “There’s nothing to worry about,” that there was, in fact, plenty to worry about.  And I worried about all of it, including that they might ask me for my money, which I wasn’t going to give to them. I mean I contributed to the rent and all, but I wasn’t going to do more than that, and I had sometimes wondered if they had me move in with them to get my money, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t at least in the back of their minds all along.

So I wrapped up my check-book and my bank statements with so much plastic wrap that they looked like caterpillars in cocoons. I went to the bank and made sure with the teller that no one else had access to my account, and then she made me nervous because she said, “You might want to consider giving power of attorney to your son, in case something happens to you.”  Well, I closed my account about five minutes later. I don’t think she even knew what hit her, that teller.  I moved my money over to the Chase on the corner and I never told Neil or the other one, because why would they need to know, not that I trust Chase with all of their trickery in the news, but I’d never be sure if Neil had gotten to that teller and told her to get power of attorney from me. I’d never rest and I knew it the second she suggested it, and that was all I needed to know. I can be very decisive that way. If something’s going to keep me up at night, I nip it in the bud.

I knew they were strapped, Neil and the kids and her too, and after thinking about it long and hard, one day at breakfast (may I just point out that Neil stopped shaving, which I didn’t think would help with interviews, not that I said so, because I didn’t) I said, “Would it be a help if I paid a little more rent?  I could go up twenty-five, if that would be a help.”

Neil snorted and said to his wife, “She’ll go up twenty-five.”  I could feel his anger like an earthquake way down deep under the floor. Even though it was a Tuesday when I would normally go out later, I decided to get out early.  So I made my sandwich (my hands were shaking by the way), and I packed up my suitcase with the wrapped statues, which I didn’t unwrap anymore so much because why bother. I got dressed in a hurry, and just as I was about to leave, several hours before I normally do, I decided to bring some other stuff along, seeing how angry Neil seemed. It wouldn’t hurt for me to be out of his way, not that any of this was my fault no matter how you sliced it. But anyway.

So I took a few of my pocketbooks from the closet and in one I put my check book, then I wrapped some around the purse itself, a nice green purse which I’ve kept spotless, by the way. And in another purse I put my medications, which I’d been doing anyway since I didn’t want to worry that anybody had tampered with them. By the end, I had several purses, each with something important inside, like an oyster with a pearl. I put them on top of my rolly bag, and off I went with my rain hat on to keep my hair nice.

After that, from then on, that was the routine.

Then, maybe a month later, the other shoe fell. I came out to breakfast one morning in October I think, and Neil wasn’t there, only her and the two kids, one of whom was throwing Cheerios all over like he was a monkey in the zoo. Who can eat around that?  I immediately noticed how bad the wife looked, worse than usual.  She looked at me from where she was standing by the sink like she was saying, “Help,” and I whispered, “You ok?”  She shook her head “no” and started to cry, and those ratty kids didn’t even notice their own mother crying by the sink two feet away. She motioned for us to go out in the hall, where she started to whisper too loud as usual.

“He’s gone,” she practically shouted.

“Who’s gone?”

“Your son,” she was upset. “Neil, for chrissake.”

I was stupefied. I said, “He didn’t take the kids with him?” Which was a statement of the obvious, as I noticed a lone Cheerio stuck in Neil’s wife’s hair, but it was just a thought that came out. She rolled her eyes. For a minute I couldn’t remember why she annoyed me so much.

We stood there staring at each other and I started to get nervous thinking about all of things that might happen to us a long time from now. She busted out laughing, which made me more nervous, although I could see her point. I mean, why not laugh?  “Where’d he go?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” she said. “It’s not like he said goodbye or anything.”

“Shhh,” I said. She was so loud all the time.  Then I asked, “Now what?”

“I have to get the kids dressed for school.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but after that. Then what?”  She stood there looking at me with her mouth hanging open. “You can’t raise these kids alone,” I said, trying to be helpful.  “And the rent, for one thing.  How’re you going to pay the rent?”

“Could you possibly just give me a minute to figure things out?” she said, snapping at me unnecessarily, I thought. I could see I wasn’t helping, and I felt very anxious, like I was about to be asked for help that I couldn’t possibly provide, and that terrible feeling that comes over a person when she realizes that no one, no one is in charge, and just how close to actual doom she and everyone else probably are, just like when my husband would be late home from work.

So I went to my room and began packing, even though it wasn’t even eight a.m. yet, but it was a Tuesday, and I just wanted to get out so that I could maybe breathe. My hands were shaking and I tried not to think about Neil, and what an ingrate I had raised. I was looking through one of my bathroom drawers and found an unopened tube of lipstick that I had ordered who knows when on QVC. I had a lot of unopened lipsticks in there, and well, it just seemed a good time for new lipstick.  So I put it on and it was nice, very pink, like it could give a person an air of confidence.  But still my hand was shaking as I tied on my plastic rain kerchief over my hair, and so I did what I hadn’t done since my husband had died, which was, I took down the bottle of Dubonnet which was wrapped up on the third shelf of my bookcase. I began to unwrap it, but of course Saran Wrap is hard to unwrap (which is the whole point), and I finally got out my nail scissors and cut it free. It took a second to unscrew the top and then I just took a sip right out of the bottle, and took a long deep breath. That was better immediately. I carried it with me into the bathroom to see if my lipstick had been affected, and it hadn’t, so I figured, why not one more sip, and I took one, and just felt like my husband was right there with me. It was nice.

I got out the wrap and took one more drink before re-wrapping the bottle, and then when I did wrap it, I wrapped it a bunch of times, so that I’d need the scissors again if I wanted to unwrap it. I was feeling pretty good. My heart was slowing down, so I put on my Bach CD and sat on the bed to do my socks and shoes, and I left the CD playing as I locked my bedroom door behind me and headed out past her who was getting the kids ready and acting brave.  I noticed how, with Neil gone, I had trouble disliking her, like we weren’t fighting over anything and the air was kind of leaking out of my annoyance, like we were on the same side of I don’t know what.

The park had a different look to it in the morning. I saw some people I recognized, but mostly it was strangers. My chest felt warm from the drink, and it was easy to not to think about things. As my husband used to say, “Worrying doesn’t solve anything,” which is so true. I set up my bags on chairs and watched the life in the park sort of wake up, as if it was far away from me, like I was a pigeon or something watching it all from up on a branch.

I saw this derelict guy climb into the fountain and steal the change. Typical. It made me wonder where I had gone wrong with Neil, that he would abandon his family. His father would never have done that.  We had hard times, but my husband always came home. Neil, however, had never been right that way, had never respected the right things, and now here we were with Neil just like this loser in the fountain filling his pockets with wet change belonging to someone else.

There’s a woman I’ve seen before at lunch time, always has her hair curled under, looks nice. Well she was there by the fountain, and it was seeing her that practically did me in, because she looked at me, her eyes starting at my hat, which I know isn’t a big hit style-wise, and this woman, older than me, but still, she knows style in my opinion, but she was fine with the hat. Her eyes went right over than, but then they swept down and I thought she’d approve of the lipstick (that’s the type of stylish she is), and I’ll say this about her, her eyes weren’t mean. They just kept going down and then, well she got to my knees with her eyes. I saw her lean over to the woman sitting next to her and whisper something, and the other woman looked me over very casually like she was looking at something else, and despite the Dubonnet my heart was pounding and I just got very still, like I’ve seen a marmot do on the Nature Channel when it doesn’t want a predator to notice it. I just sort of moved my own eyes imperceptibly and realized that I had two totally different socks on, both white, yes, but one short and one long, all the way up past my knee.  And I was so distraught over this, maybe because I hadn’t meant to do it. Like with the hat, I mean to do that, but with the socks I hadn’t, and it sort of reminded me of how Neil and that wife of his and his rotten kids, and his lost job, and the apartment and the angel with the chipped wing, that everything was threatening to fall apart, and I was the only grown up in the room, so to speak, God help us, not that I’m religious. And like I said, the panicky-er I get, the more frozen I get to avoid detection like a marmot in a tough spot, but my heart was pounding to beat the band all because of my socks. I was so ashamed.

I remembered then that I had a twenty in my jacket pocket and I did something I’d never done before.  I packed up all my bags, slowly so I would appear calm, and it was early, not nearly twelve yet, but there I was about to fall apart, and look, I didn’t know if they’d let me in with all my stuff (some places are not that friendly if you bring a suitcase in with you, I’ve noticed), but I had to try, so I wheeled everything to the restaurant there and dragged my bag up the three front steps.  There was this tiny, very chic little girl working the door, like she was eleven years old with short hair like a boy’s, and I leaned over and whispered, “Do you think I could just sit at the bar for a quick drink?” This other woman who looked like a giraffe with bracelets up and down her arms came striding over and made a face like something smelled bad (which I did not), then she and the eleven year old leaned their heads together. The giraffe said, “You have money?” She had a British accent. I showed her my twenty. “And you’re not staying too long, right, love?  I mean, we’re just opening for lunch.”

She had some nerve, but I didn’t want a fight, so I said, “Right. Maybe just five minutes, until the piano music starts outside.”

“Right then,” the giraffe said, and walked away on her very long legs like some kind of wild animal. I think her accent was fake.

So I wheeled my stuff over to the bar, which was pretty much empty, although people were beginning to line up by the front door. I had to sort of hop up onto my barstool, as I’m not that tall, and the bartender came out and looked uninterested, which didn’t help my nerves. I tried to pull my skirt down a little bit to minimize the difference between the socks.  But anyway, I acted confident. “May I have a Dubonnet?”

He sighed and said, “I don’t know what that is.” He did not smile and kept looking around to see if there was anyone else more worth talking to.

 I said it again, smiling, “A Dubonnet,” but his face stayed blank.  How did people stay so unmoved?  It was beyond me, like I was a fly or something. Couldn’t he see that I was a person?  Anyway, I changed tack. “You have red wine, right?”  He nodded.  I felt I had to hurry as his attention seemed fleeting.  “I’d like a glass of red wine please.”

He said, all strung together, “Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah-Malbec-Pinot Noir,” again hardly even looking in my direction.

My panic was rising again and I didn’t want to start to cry. “Whatever you think. Whatever is the sweetest.” My husband used to say that Dubonnet was sweeter than most wine, but what did I know?

“Merlot, then,” he said, and then, “trust me.” He put an enormous wine glass in front of me with what looked like a tiny little bit of wine in the bottom, but it must have been an optical illusion, because when I finished it and paid (twelve dollars, by the way), I felt just right, light-headed, fuzzy, like I was wrapped up in a down comforter and nothing could touch me. The funny thing was, as I sat there finishing my Merlot I was just staring at all the bottles lined up against the wall, and there in plain sight was a bottle of Dubonnet. I was going to say something, but I was feeling so good, and it was too late anyway. I was just happy to see it there. Jerky bartender though.

I was a little late to the music, but the pianist hadn’t started. There was a table free, not exactly where I like, but the wine made it not matter so much that I had to set up my stuff with a lot of people around, which isn’t that easy, but finally, I was sitting down, and I bent over to roll down the longer sock so that from a distance, at least, it might look normal, you know. And as I was rolling it down, the pianist guy sat at the piano and tapped on the mic and said, “I don’t know about you folks, but I’m in the mood for some Bach.  Whaddaya say?” A few people clapped, and I just got very still, bent over my sock, like a marmot hiding from a predator. I held my breath and I waited, and then there it was. It was one of the Goldberg Variations. I felt my breath get all caught in the back of my mouth, and I felt terribly lonely, like I had been stabbed with a loneliness icicle or something and it was thawing into my heart.

I sat up slowly and kept my face very still, but I couldn’t stop the tears. I just had a feeling it was a sign from Harry, the music I mean, and I know, I know, that’s sort of crazy, to think dead people are giving you signs, and I’m not crazy, and I’m not sure I believe in heaven, which I don’t. I mean, I knew it wasn’t literally Harry, but I’ll just say this, that I knew somewhere in me that it would all probably be ok, and I knew this because of the Merlot (which by the way was delicious) and because of the Bach, like it was all a reminder that the world was pretty much on my side after all, which I tend to forget.

I saw that lady again, the one who had noticed my socks, and she smiled and I could see kindness in her eyes.  She found a table a couple away from me, and smiled a second time, and what the hell, I smiled back, as kindness is not repaid often enough in this world. I only wished it had been a cello playing, instead of the piano, even though it sounded pretty nice just the way it was, with cars honking in the background and everything.

I remember thinking that the kids and Cynthia would need me now, like I could be of use maybe.  The piano player hit a sour note, which I could detect because I know that piece forwards and backwards, but even the sour note I liked, like it was meant for me. And it’s not like anyone else noticed the sour note except for me, and by the time I had noticed it, he had moved on anyway.

“Dubonnet” is part of an (as yet unpublished) collection of short stories called Bryant Park Variations.
N. West Moss’ work has appeared (or will shortly appear) in The New York Times, The Irish Times, The Saturday Evening Post, Hospital Drive, Prime Number Magazine, and elsewhere, including on Radio France International.
Her work won 2015’s Great American Fiction Contest from The Saturday Evening Post, She has also won the Diana Woods Memorial Award (2015) for creative non-fiction, and two Faulkner-Wisdom Awards (2013 and 2014).
Moss has been a fellow at Cill Rialaig in Ireland, at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and at MacDowell.
In addition to her collection of short stories, Moss is finishing her first novel, set in New Orleans in the 1870s, and is working on a middle grade novel, as well as two non-fiction books about her great great grandmother’s artwork.

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