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Nothing Good Ever Happens in the Summertime

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It was a relatively cool August night in Washington, or at least he thought it was, being from Los Angeles. It was very late, probably past midnight. Philip was there to see the girl, or so he thought. He knew she was fair, petite, and large in the eyes, had a penetrating and disarming smile, and a voice that was as equally delightful, making the rough, course texture of German flow like. Her name was Emma, and she wasn’t there.

Part of him was relieved. There is nothing respectable about a man who wears denim shorts, Air Walks, and a slim hoodie with a fanny pack as a utility belt. It’s almost a blessing that she can’t see me like this. Nothing good ever happens in the summertime, anyway. He entered his obligatory hotel.

It was nice. Nothing more, and nothing less; just nice. The wood floor was clean, there was an elevator with a semi-shiny door to his left, a bland wooden counter next to the elevator, and a blank space where the receptionist was supposed to be. He looked to his right. He saw a bar. Of course. A bar. He entered the bar. It wasn’t even much of a bar. It was more like a wooden counter with a woman behind it. She seems nice. He noticed her AC/DC t-shirt right away. He had an eye for this sort of thing. Ah, my own people.

Her hair was of an ambiguous length in the dark, as well as the length of her sleeves and the contours of her face. She could be anyone. Hell, she could be Emma. But she wasn’t Emma. “Hi,” she said. That’s all. She turned around and started to wash wine glasses.

Phil sat down at the glossy wooden counter that smelled like something that it shouldn’t smell like. He started to mutter under his breath. “It smells like Emma.”

The girl turned around suddenly. “What?”

“Nothing. Why are you even here? Who comes here at such an ungodly hour?”

“As it would seem, you do. And I am here for the same reason that you are.”

“Oh yeah? And what’s that?”

“She smiled the most innocent smile anyone has ever smiled and said, “We’re both here because we’re supposed to be here.”

Phil couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. He smiled a sheepish smile, and a single pathetic tear rolled down his cheek.

She understood. She knew what a man looked like who was stood up. It’s nothing new for her. “I take it I’m not the only lady who was supposed to be here tonight?”

“Yes. You are absolutely right. Or you’re wrong. I’m not entirely sure.” He looked up and wiped his pathetic tear. “What did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t tell you my name.”

“Okay, then. What is your name?”

“Everyone calls me Helen.”

Phillip looked at Helen, as if waiting for an invitation to speak. Finally, he spoke after seven seconds. “I don’t quite care what everyone calls you. I would like to know what your name is.”

“It’s Helena. People call me Helena because that’s my name.”

“So, it is. I’m Phil but people just call me…Phil.”

Helen laughed her best apathetic laugh. She didn’t care about his name. She just wanted him to get his drink and get out so she could be at the other place she needed to be, which was home, in her bed, with her boyfriend. “Well, Phil, what’ll it be? Gin? Vodka? Beer?”

It wasn’t entirely clear if Phil was smiling or not before she said that, it left his face by that point entirely, and he folded his arms and buried his face deep into the abyss of his inner elbows. He finally said “I don’t drink. Do you have ginger ale?”

The smile now left Helen’s face as well. “Why don’t you drink? What do you have to lose? To be honest, I don’t see much for you to lose.”

Phil looked up at her. “My liver. I rather like my liver.” She grinned a cynical grin.

“You already have a broken heart.”

He stopped to think, and scratched his head. By God, she’s right. “Fine. Pour me a something”

Helen allowed herself a small laugh. “What would you like?”

“Anything fermented.” Helen couldn’t contain herself and let out a thunderous roar of a laugh for no good reason. “What’s so funny,” asked Phil, feeling insulted.

“You are, of course.” She took out two scotch glasses and a see-through bottle with see-through on the inside.

Phil flinched at the sight. “What is this?”

“I’m not quite sure. I made it, though, so moonshine, I suppose.”

“Hmm, classy stuff.” Phil gave a sarcastic nod, and blinked slowly and intently, as Helen stopped laughing and poured them both a glassful of the moonshine. She was very deliberate in her work. As she poured the fermented god-knows-what, she turned the bottle, making sure that there was not a single drop of whatever that was left on the bottle’s rim.

By now, Helen was getting annoyed of Phil’s crankiness, was hopeful that the alcohol would mellow him out. When she put down the bottle, it made a thud, and she looked up at her guest. Finally, in a sharp voice, she said, “Just shut up and drink.”

Resentfully, Phil obliged her and cringed his face. “Wow. Strong stuff, that. Thanks for the drink.” She gave him a condescending smile, unimpressed by his low tolerance for alcohol.

What a lightweight. “I know,” she said coldly, picking up her glass. “Here’s to loneliness.”

Half smiling, Phil said, “Billy Joel would be proud.” He took another swig to celebrate loneliness. “You know, I could think of a few ways I’d rather be spending the evening.”

“Yes, but I’d imagine that those ways involve that chick who stood you up…uh…”

“Emma,” he told her.

“Yeah, Emma. She’s not here right now, is she? Nope, you’re stuck with me. Sorry that it had to be that way, but you know, it could be worse. You could, for instance, be outside in the rain.”

“I rather like the rain.”

“Yes, well, do you like pneumonia?

Phil swallowed grimly. “No.”

“Well, then, I suggest you show a bit more gratitude. I can always kick you out for being too drunk.”

Phil smiled and turned around to look at the clock which he presumed to be there, but it wasn’t. He turned back around to look at Helen, but he couldn’t be too sure if it was or wasn’t her face on account of how dark it was. He could make out the general contours of her body but the specific, juicy details were beyond his sight. She seems pretty. She sounds pretty. A lot like…no. I just can’t tell, though. It’d be nice to know, I suppose. “What time is it? And why is it so dark in here? You can mess up someone’s order and pour them the wrong drink.”

“It’s too late for it to matter what time it is, there was a power outage. I take it you took a bus?”

Phil was impressed. “Yes, actually, how’d you know?”

“Well, there was a storm a few hours ago. It knocked out the power. Did you happen to notice how dark it was?”

Phil was beginning to wonder, but the drunkenness that was setting in didn’t allow him to continue for much longer. “So…I don’t know. What are we supposed to talk about?” He poured himself another glass of moonshine, and raised the glass. “Here’s to…what are we drinking for?”

Helen thought about it for a short while, poured herself a glass, raised it and said “Here’s to us not being as miserable.”

They both took a swig. That resonated with Phil. “Why are we miserable?” Helen shot him a look, or at least that is what it looked like in the dark.

“What?”

“You heard me. Why are we miserable? Well, let me rephrase that. My misery is accounted for. Your misery, on the other hand, isn’t. So why are you miserable?”

Helen sat down and poured another glass. She looked at the glass, as if that’s where the answer was. It probably was, too. She started to cry. She wasn’t loud about it. She barely made a sound, but Phil could tell. Embarrassed, she covered her face.

Feeling uncomfortable, Phil reached for his wallet to pay for the drink and leave, but Helen stopped him. “No! Don’t go. Believe it or not, you’re not the only lonely one here.”

“So, that’s why you’re miserable?”

“Yup.”

“Oh. I’m…” He flinched and sighed. “I’m sorry. So, what now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we’re lonely, and we’re together. So congratulations to us. We have achieved this Billy Joel-like cliché. We are sharing a drink called…uh…”

“Loneliness,” helped Helen.

“Yes, loneliness. We’re sharing a drink called loneliness because drinking alone would be implicit of alcoholism. Great, but what now? Surely, getting rid of loneliness would be more than just being together in the same room.”

“I guess. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, Emma.”

“What?”

“Sorry. Helen.”

“You want Emma. Who knows? Maybe she’s in this room, hiding in the shadows. It’s within the realm of possibilities.”

Phil afforded himself a small laugh. “Wouldn’t that be something?” Helen smiled and nodded. Phil began to shout. “Hey, Emma! If you’re there, do come on out! I would like to see you!”

Feeling tipsy, Helen replied “I’m here, Phil!” Phil was not amused. He just frowned and lowered his head.

“Are you Emma?”

“Anything is possible, I suppose. I don’t think so, though. No, or yes. I’m not quite sure.” Though it was dark, Helen, or maybe Emma could see the whites of Phil’s eyes looking at her, confused. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s late. Plus, I’m a trifle bit drunk.”

Though his head was still lowered, he still found it in him to smile. “It’s fine. So, who is your Emma, or Emilio, or whatever?”

“He’s a lot like Emma, in that I’m waiting for him.”

“Still waiting for Mr. Right, eh?”

Helen realized what she said. She thought for a while. Then she laughed again. “No, his name is actually Charlie. He was supposed to pick me up and give me a ride home, but he was running late, so here I am.”

Phil was confused and he gazed at her accordingly. “I thought you said you’re here because you’re supposed to be.”

“Yeah. I was meant to be picked up late.” This upset Phil quite a bit. He came to some sort of realization. He wasn’t quite sure what that realization was, but he came to one, and it was sad.

He looked straight at the points where he presumed her eyes to be and asked, “What does that mean, exactly?”

“It means that you’re supposed to be miserable. We both are.”

“So does that mean that trying to be happy is pointless?”

“Quite possibly.”

“Can I ever be happy being miserable?”

Helen gave Phil a look that only a mother can give. Phil understood. “Why the look?”

“No one knows. Well, that is to say, only mothers know why.”

“Are you a mother?”

“Admittedly, no.” She went over to some window and opened it. “You don’t mind, do you?” Phil shook his head, approvingly. “Good. It was getting a little stuffy. God, I hate the humidity.”

Phil breathed in deeply, taking in the humidity, as if to analyze it. “It is quite humid, yes. I am from Los Angeles. It’s quite dry there.” There was silence in the room that kept everything very static. Even the breeze stopped. “Incredible. We’re talking about the weather.”

“Nothing wrong with the weather.” She thought for a moment. “Wait. So, you traveled across the country to see her?” Phil nodded and cried one tear.

“Why did you go through all that trouble?”

“I wanted to.”

“But she didn’t?” Phil shook his head, this time, crying three tears.

“Maybe she is here.”

He wouldn’t have it anymore. “Why do you keep insisting that she might be here? She’s not. We’re the only two people here.”

“Why do you have to be so damn cynical?”

“I don’t know if you noticed or not, but we’re drinking moonshine in a virtually empty bar without any light. We’re not exactly on top of the world.”

Helen sat down on some rickety chair behind the bar, and some light hit her eye. It was almond shaped and gray, with streaks of pale green. At least her left one was. Didn’t Emma have…no. Couldn’t be. She finally spoke. “What do you want from me? Do you want to kiss me?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

“No…no?”

“I think that we’ve established that.”

“So what do you want from me?”

“Another drink, if it’s all the same to you.”

“That’s fine. I got it.” She was confused. Fancy that, a gentleman! She poured his drink, as deliberately as the last time, accounting for each drop. She handed him the glass.

He took it, raised it, and paused. He was thinking about what to toast to. After some deliberation inside his head, he resolved that he made his decision. “Here’s to more toasts to come.”

“That’s good. I like that. Though, it kinda sounds like you’re toasting to alcohol dependency.”

“Just take your own advice.”

“What’s that?”

“Just shut up and drink.”

“Hmm…” She took her swig, and observed the glass, as if looking for something she knew that wasn’t there. A crack, or something. She didn’t find anything, nor did she expect to. They were there, alone, but together, but also alone, stuck in their own personal lonesomeness, but grateful for the company they have. “This is very…hmm…”

Phil turned to her and asked, “What is this very?”

“I’m not quite sure.” Helen took out a cigarette, put it in her mouth, hesitated, and lit it. She took a puff, placed it between her right index and middle finger, and took it away from her mouth. She let out an ominous plume of carcinogenic smoke. She looked at the cigarette with scrutiny, and put it out. “Sorry, what was I saying?”

“You were saying that this is very something. What is this very?”

“Ah, right, well, this is all very something. I’m not quite sure what, though. Perhaps it’s somewhere between pathetic and cliché?”

His face agreed, but his mind wasn’t ready to make a decision. “What exactly is cliché or pathetic?”

Her single visible eye looked right at Phil with enough intensity for two eyes. “We both are. You said it yourself. We’re not exactly on the top of the world.”

Phil took a sip from what was left of his Moonshine, and swallowed. “Well, you know, it’s not all that great up on top.”

Helen, now just amused and feeling playful from the alcohol, started laughing. “Oh yeah? Ha-ha-ha! You’re a funny guy! Where did you say you’re from?

“Los Angeles.”

“Hah! Right, right. So, you wouldn’t happen to know any celebrities, would you?”

“Fortunately not. I can’t stand their type. I will say, though, that I would very much like to meet Tom Waits. Interestingly enough, he’d probably show up at a place just like this.”

Helen smiled, and leaned in, moving her eye out of the light. Now, only a small birthmark was illuminated. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He took another sip and finished the booze. “You know, it’s interesting.” He smiled. “I was asked that question only once before, and it was when I began my correspondence with…well, you know.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring this up. I will say, however, that you really need to move on. It’s terribly unhealthy.”

“Nah, you’re right. It’s fine. So what about you? You know any politicians?”

She looked at him with another motherly look. “Oh, yeah. Obama and I have a beer every Sunday.”

“Today is Sunday.”

“Is it? Oh well, he must have been busy. He is the president, after all.”

“Indeed, that he is.” He pointed to the bottle and asked if it was fine if he finished it off. He asked with his eyes.

“Go right ahead,” Helen nodded. He proceeded to pour himself a glassful, but then realized that it would be uncivil of him to do so, so he poured half of the glass’ contents into Helen’s glass. “Thank you, Phil. That’s very kind of you. It’s good, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it sure is. And don’t mention it.” He raised his glass, looked her dead in the two points which he thought were his eyes (it was probably her forehead) and said “Here’s to you.”

She smiled graciously and returned the favor. “Here’s to you, too.”

Then, in unison, they said “Here’s to the both of us.” He drank. Then she drank. They both put down their glasses simultaneously. Then, even though they couldn’t see each other, they both felt the they were looking each other in the eye. What’s more, they felt that they were begging one-another to finish off the contents of the glass. So they did.

Phil took out his telephone. He checked his text messages. There was one from his friend, asking him when he’ll be back in Los Angeles, one from his boss, asking the same question, and a missed call from his mother. There were no text messages or missed calls from Emma. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Helen looked at Phil with pity. She thought if she should come over and hug him, but she resolved not to. She understood. “None from her?”

“Nope,” Phil answered, still looking down at his phone. He looked away from it, cried a few tears, and put it in his back pocket.

Helen noticed that he had his phone one silent. She wanted to ask him about it but didn’t know if she should or shouldn’t. She did anyway. “If you don’t mind my asking, why don’t you keep your phone volume on, or at least on vibrate?”

He turned even farther away from her. “Well, it lets me live in this state of perpetual hope. When I keep it on silent, there is always a possibility that there may be something from Emma. If there isn’t anything from her, that means that she might do so in the future, so I leave it and look later.”

“My god! You are the most pathetic man in the history of pathetic men. I do hope you understand the immensity of how pathetic you are. You are, in fact, so pathetic that you make me want to have another drink.”

A small smile crawled up onto Phil’s face, mainly because he knew that Helen was right. That was okay, though. It was okay because his pathetic nature served him well and kept him humble. “I know. I am intimately aware.” He sniffled a childish sniffle. “Wait, so can you tell me something?”

“What?”

“Why are you miserable if you have someone to love?”

“Who the hell told you that love accounted for all of a person’s happiness?”

“John Lennon, actually.”

“And you listen to that hippie?” She smirked.

Phil was finding this amusing. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Do you have a problem with that?”

Helen’s smile started to melt away. “As a matter of fact, yes, I do. You can’t just think that love will solve all of your problems. It doesn’t make you happy. Do you want to know what love is?”

“Enlighten me, please.”

“It’s when you look at a person and you know that that’s the best you’re going to get. Ever. All that nonsense about finding the ideal person is just something they made up so Lifetime could make movies. It’s called ideal for a reason.

“What might that reason be?”

Helen leaned in closer, still not showing her face. “So that you would never get these delusions that you’d achieve it. Love doesn’t make you happy. It just makes you less sad.”

Phil just sat there, looking at Helen while shaking his head, his jaw wide open. He finally closed his mouth and said, “What did he ever do to you?” Helen pulled away quickly.

“It’s not what he did. It’s what he didn’t do, or rather, doesn’t do. He never shows me any love, but that’s the best I can do, so why not? It’s not so bad, actually.”

Phil leaned in a bit closer, putting his chin in his hand and his elbow on the table. “I’m listening.”

“If you know that you have reached your full maximum potential, there’s far less pressure to perform. When you know that you’ve done as well as you ever will, all you have to worry about is not being any worse.”

“What?” That’s all he could say.

“I don’t know. Perhaps I spend too much time here. All the great philosophers went to this pub.

“Aristotle? Plato? Who?”

“No, actually. There’s Joey, Sam, Franks, Ernie, and Old Blind McJohnson.”

He was intrigued. “What do they do?”

“Joey, Sam and Frank work construction. Frank’s an accountant and McJohnson’s a retired firefighter. At least by day. By night, they are philosophers. En Vino Veritas.”

“Correction: En moonshine veritas.”

Helen had a short burst of laughter, though she quickly gained her compuser.. “This is all very true.”

“Moonshine…looks like we’re all out. Damn shame, that.” She took the bottle and threw it in the recycling bin.

“And you’re calling John Lennon a hippy.” Phil teased. Helen shot him a dirty look from the shadows which he felt. He anticipated her response and that it would be something along the lines of “shut up.” He preempted by telling her that there is nothing left to drink. “Do you want to call a cab?”

“I think that would be for the best.” She called a cab and told him to wait outside. “How much do I owe you for the drink?”

“It’s on the house. Miserable losers drink for free on Sundays.”

Phil smiled his last smile. “Thank you for everything. Thanks for the loneliness.”

Helen, with her warmest voice, said “You too, hon. And remember that there’s always a little corner in the world right here just for you. I’ll save you a seat. She blew him a kiss. “Don’t listen to any more of those damn hippies.” She gave him a wink and wondered if he saw it. He smiled at her, wondered the same thing, and went outside.

There was a bright red pickup truck parked right outside. It was shifting stiffly from side to side. A young man, about 25 years of age was with a girl, kissing every part of her. Feeling awkward, Phil decided that the best course of action would be to just wait for the taxi and not pay attention to them.

The man did not seem to mind much. His only concern was pleasing his mistress. The girl, on the other hand, had reservations about her public display of affection. She got out of the back of the truck and yelled to Phil in the most beautiful voice he had ever heard. In the light, he could tell that she was fair, petite, had large eyes, and lips that would make a penetrating smile. It was Emma.

Phil was petrified, not knowing how he felt. He was probably upset, but he wasn’t sure. He trembled, his face freezing in a cold, dead position. His bony cheeks were protruding and his eyes were bulging out. He wanted to cry, but he couldn’t. He simply couldn’t bring himself to cry. He couldn’t even speak. He could only breath her name. It rolled out of his throat. “Emma…” Her name left his lips like a dying breath.

She understood. She stood there with the same look on her face. Never before had she looked so ugly to him. “I’m sorry, Phil.” It was all too much for the man, so he got in his truck and drove away.

He turned around and walked back into the bar. Very slowly, he walked in and said hello to Helen. “What are you doing in here? The taxi should be here any minute!”

Phil sat down where he was sitting. “You know, I don’t feel drunk enough. I think I am going to get rid of every last screed of sobriety in my body. What else do you have?”

Helen sat down next to him. He didn’t look at her. “What happened? Did you see her?”

“Yes. She was in the back of a pickup truck, giving some brown eyed pretty boy a dental exam.”

Helen’s voice changed from comforting to concerned. “Wait. What color was this truck? Was it red?”

“Yes.”

Helen’s face turned to stone. She went to the back of the bar, got out a bottle of Jack, and joined Phil at the bar. The both just sat there for a moment.

Finally, Phil spoke up. “Charlie?” She nodded. He gave her a masculine pat on the back and said, “I’m sorry.” They drank their Jack.

Helen looked out the door, examined the tire tracks from the truck, and looked back at the empty glass. They were both thinking the same thing. Nothing good ever happens in the summertime.



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