One Quiet Night

The air is cold but not quite as cold as Siri had predicted as I step out of the yellow cab and close the door, the graceful click registering that I have neither pushed it too hard nor with too much delicacy. It is not an immense pleasure, but there is satisfaction even in this small act.

In my left hand sits the device that has allowed me to reach this place in the hinterlands of Brooklyn, the screen blaring in its own small waist-level corner of the night. I look up to make sure I am exactly where Google has told me that I am; seeing the neon confirmation that hangs above a dark and hermetic door, we, the map and I, nod our heads in assent; I have arrived.

There is a modicum of noise trickling out of the door but the street is otherwise quiet. Through the two large windows framed by a two-story brick façade I see the apparitions of revelry—dim shapes arrayed and in motion. The image strikes me as odd: the bricks feel puritanical, worn, static, and they appear to tell a story that is at odds with the glow of neon and the swirling Saturday-night crowd within their bowels. How many sober nights were spent in this once placid brick building before the hipsters planted the flag of PBR into the community?

I think to myself that I’m probably too sober for this. I stand for a dense moment, myself mute and unmoving, transfixed by the curvature of the neon emblazoned above the door located fifteen feet in front of me. The name of this place is fashioned in white cursive; underneath the appellation and three times as large is a single art deco all-caps word: BAR. The lambent green of those three letters seems to call to me; I, like a gnat in the night, am borne ceaselessly into its aura.

The door opens out toward me. An acquaintance emerges accompanied by a patchwork humming of voices and a particularly staccato moment in Alt-J’s “Breezeblocks.” She, clearly not sober, beams and comes to give me a hug, asking why I’ve arrived late to my own sister’s going-away-party. I offer my condolences, certainly not certain why I have arrived ninety minutes late and sober at 10PM on a Saturday.

The door is shut now and I can’t hear the song anymore, though I am inhabiting in my head its memorized continuation, and the exercise allows me to feel temporarily cut off from the moment’s awkwardness. I am for a few seconds more relaxed than my imminent entrance into the building—into a new vantage at which point the brilliant neon sign will no longer be visible, into a self-professed dive bar that has as much in common with a dive as a belly flop—would typically warrant.

She begins to smoke a cigarette and I politely take my leave (with, in my own opinion, not a trace of the emotional pacing I’m doing internally). My steps carry me forward, though I steal one last moment with the neon green hanging above the dark oak (oak? was it?) door. I am too busy thinking about myself to pay any attention to the make of the knob, or handle, or whatever it is, and I pull.

I had last spoken to my half-sister two weeks prior, in the days after I had returned from another summer in China. My father and I sat across from each other staring at our phones—a once highly busy clothing designer and a soon-to-be very busy graduate student—neither of us wanting to look at the fact that I had spent yet another spate of days in a place he would never visit, whose language he didn’t speak, and the memories of which he never seemed to be all that curious in exploring. Then the phone rang—his, to be exact—and after a few minutes I was handed the device. The conversation was short, tense. We both seemed to be aware that there had been a change in our relationship.

I walk into a new world. The air is surprisingly cool considering the size of the crowd—roughly a hundred people spaced among the booths that line the wall to my left, sitting at the long bar to my right, or standing in between these two habitats of drunken conversation. The room is much longer than it is wide. While I don’t recognize anyone yet, my gaze is pulled by the red glowing light that emanates from behind the bar. The bartenders are moving frenetically about, and the way their bearded complexions mix with the crimson lighting and the dark hues of their clothing seems redolent of some undiscovered ring of Dante’s Inferno. I imagine Vergil explaining the scene: “these poor souls are condemned to work the fun hours of the night while listening to the same songs on repeat as they watch others luxuriate in the evening liquid; every time they fill up a glass it immediately empties into a stranger’s hand.”

A beautiful woman smiles at me. I stand for another moment because the light is truly beautiful. I notice that the red is emanating from behind the impressive shelf of various liquors—the light carries through the different shades of the bottles and creates a decadent structure that is as radiant and alive as a Gustave Klimt dress. It now seems so obvious: I am looking at a shrine. The men in black are not poor servants paying for past sins, they are priests presenting the most holy of potables. Nunc est bibendum

The point at which our relationship really frayed was the moment I learned that she had told our father that her mother would never set foot in our house again. It was made abundantly clear that this stemmed from her birth-mother’s indignation at my birth-mother. A frequent guest at Thanksgiving and Christmas Day festivities for the last fifteen years, my father’s ex-wife had perhaps manipulated my sister into thinking that my mother—our mother—mama—had somehow contrived to make her wedding a painful ordeal for her. My mother, in spite of orchestrating almost the entirety of the wedding, of laboring for hours over every detail and working tirelessly to make our house nuptiable, did forgot one thing: the wedding bouquet. That in part led my half-sister and her mother to spend the following Thanksgiving in Maine.

I walk toward the back of this mystical room and in its shadowy recesses, removed from the ambient glow of the glass bottles, I find a swell of varying degrees of familiarity. And sitting in a booth near the back corner I find my younger sister and two of my older sisters. They jump up in a flurry of smiles; we hug. They are lovely people, and I am happy. My younger sister slides over and we all sit down. I am sitting across from my sister who is about to move to LA with her husband. She and I have never openly talked about what her mother said to our father; the absence from Thanksgiving; about how I resent the way she chose to handle the situation. She and my mother’s relationship has repaired in the year and a half since the wedding, but it may never be the same. Our relationship may never be the same. The booth is comfortable; we sit on the black leather that is roomy enough for three on each side. Seeing that this is a sibling moment, most of her friends continue to enjoy themselves in various pockets of the BAR.

She is doing this because her husband hates New York, the city she loves and has called home for eight of the last ten years. As we talk about the impending move I start to reflect on how much she hated the two years she formerly spent in LA, how isolated she had reported feeling. I think about the fact that all of her dearest friends live here. I am suddenly saturated in a moment of fear (which I also try to hide, because my sister is an extremely anxious person and to show her that I lack confidence in her ability to make this already-made decision work out is counterproductive). I am worried about her and the awkwardness I felt over the telephone completely dissipates. I notice that she is almost finished with her drink and I ask her what she would like.

For some reason, when I was in late elementary school my sister stopped spending as much time at our house. I don’t remember it being a stark shift; it was more of a gradual transition that some psychologist had probably implemented in order to make the changes in our lives as subterranean as possible. Weekend by weekend, fortnight by fortnight, month by month, my big sister became my half-sister. I leaf through my wallet and grab a $20 a $10 and four $1s, handing them to the bartender. There is no longer any impetus to write about the bar at his back, and I could describe his face but I thank him and walk back to the booth with two Moscow Mules; I hand one to my sister and I sit back down. We all raise our glasses and the clinking sound is enveloped by the warming legato of Odesza’s “How Did I Get Here?” and we joke about things that are profound in their triviality and I think I’ll never come back to this bar and that I want it to always be what it is on this night when the air felt slightly warmer than Siri had predicted and that Claire and I will always be Claire and me standing together on that cold night before Siri existed as a five and eight year old with our matching felt jackets with the leather sleeves and the red C with the yellow stripe running behind it that made me feel like a professional baseball player an image that I would turn to at various points in my later childhood as a symbol of who my sister was before I understood intellectually the concept of what a symbol was and yet it was all there she and I and her height belying the doubts and the anxieties begotten by a messy divorce and perhaps confusion over who her real mother was but one thing always apparent always evident that she loved me ceaselessly and always would

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