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Starry Night
Diane Simmons

At five I go to the address on Lafayette Street. It's a cocktail bar Kim read about in New York magazine. It doesn't have a name and there's no sign; you just have to be in the know. That's the kind of thing she loves.

I find the number on a big black door. It's a horror movie type of door, the kind that the girl always pushes open and walks through anyway.

I push it open and walk through anyway, past the dark, shiny bar, lime-colored lights shooting up behind the bottles. Then, into a darkish room. Hundreds of tiny hanging lights are supposed to look like stars in a black night sky.

No Kim or Christopher yet.

Well, I certainly don't mind sitting here alone. I order a Jameson and sit back. I'm almost the only one here. Maybe they should get a name and a sign.

But no, it looks like a lot of people have been reading New York magazine, because soon the place starts to fill up.

The little tables are so close together you've got to listen to everybody's conversation. On my right are two girls with a bottle of white wine. One of the girls has a big secret that she can't tell her friend. On my left are two other girls drinking orange martinis out of glasses the size of soup bowls. One of these girls has something she just has to tell.

I like New York and I'm not sorry I came, but I have noticed, it's nearly impossible to drink in peace.

The girl on the right who has something she can't divulge, does, at least tell how she'd gone on a business trip and met somebody famous. Really famous. And now they are lovers. She simply can't say who he is because he is too famous and important and if it came out it would be a scandal. An international scandal probably.

"Is he married?" her friend asks.

"Of course."

"Would I know who he is if you told me his name?"

"Oh yes. God yes."

"He's in the news?"

"Yes. All the time."

"Where did you meet him?"

"I can't tell you that."

"What country?"

"Here."

"What state?"

"Oh god."

"That's not going to tell me who it is."

"OK. DC."

"Is he in politics?"

"Yes. Oh my god, I don't know if I can handle this. He's big, very big. He wants to set me up in an apartment here for when he's in town. He doesn't like hotels—people recognize him--and of course he couldn't come to my place with two roommates. But, I just don't know. Do you think I should? Let him get an apartment for me? "

"He's really big?"

"Really big."

"Is he old? "

"Yes. Kind of. But not too old."

"Like a senator or something?"

"Bigger."

"Oh my god."

"Yeah."

"It's not, like, Bush?"

"No."

"Clinton?"

"No."

"Cheney?"

"No. Not that old."

"You're sure I'd know who he is."

"Oh my god yes."

The girl with the lover starts to cry a little into one of the midnight blue, star-sprinkled cocktail napkins.

"It's so stressful," she says.

Now I'm listening to find out who the famous guy is; I figured it's going to come out in a minute. But I am distracted by the girl on the left who is crying into her napkin.

That's another thing I've noticed. You see a lot of people cry here. At home, if people want to cry, they do it in bed at night. Or they go in the bathroom and turned on the water. Or like me: driving drunk on the interstate with Tom Waits in the CD player. Alone. That's the point. Here, people just walk in to any public place, sit down, pick up a napkin and start to bawl.

So what this girl has to tell is that her ex-husband and his new wife are having twins.

"Why twins?" she says, sobbing.

"Well," her friend says. "They'll probably regret it. It's probably going to be so much work that they'll. . ."

"No! I wanted twins," the other one wails. "I wanted twins. And he knew that."

"Well," the friend says. "I mean, it's just an accident; you can't decide to have twins to get back at someone."

But the girl says it's like he did, it's like that's exactly what he did, and she cries and cries. They order another round of martinis.

Just then Kim and the guy who must be Christopher walk in.

"A bottle of champagne," Christopher tells the waitress. "The best."

They slide into the booth beside me. We are celebrating the fact that Christopher is leaving his wife for Kim. It's something Kim's been working on for six months.

They sit clinging to each other with both hands. Christopher breaks free to pour the sweet champagne, then they go back to the clinch. When he drinks he lifts his hands and hers as if they are handcuffed together.

It's suicide to drink champagne on top of whiskey, of course, and I don't even like champagne. But I'm here to toast them so I toast away.

We drink the champagne and they talk about what destiny their love it.

Their destiny, I happen to know, kicked in a few weeks ago when Kim persuaded him to sneak away to Mexico with her. Christopher made up a story for his wife.

Four nights, three days in Isla Mujeres to seal the deal. But Christopher didn't like Isla Mujeras—too many tourists—so they went to the mainland, rented a car and drove around looking at Mayan ruins. The ruins were broiling hot, though, and crowded with even more tourists. They got tired tramping around and Christopher was getting crabby. Even though they'd said they'd both turn their phones off, she noticed him checking his.

Kim saw six months of very exacting effort dripping right down the drain.

Then a Mexican kid offered to guide them to a place that tourists didn't know about, a cenote, it was called, an underground cavern with a pool at the bottom. The Mexicans went to swim there on Sundays, the kid said.

Christopher was skeptical, but Kim begged to go.

The kid turned out to be confused about where the cenote was exactly, and they spent half the afternoon trying to find it, driving through the motionless little hamlets, where children with eyes still and black as birds' watched them pass. It seemed they would drive around lost forever and when forever was finally over, Christopher would be glad to get back to his nice sensible wife who also happened to be a big shot lawyer and to make a lot of money.

Finally, though, in late afternoon they found it. Kim and Christopher walked carefully on the boards that made a rough pathway, winding down and down into the cool darkness to the flat cave floor. Then there it was: a deep pool of crystal clear water, the center spot lit by a ray of sunlight that shot down through a round hole, three feet across, in the roof of the cave.

Alone except for the kid, who sat and smoked, and except for a couple of little boys in wet underwear who were looking under rocks in a far corner, they took off their clothes and slipped into the water.

They swam into the spotlight.

"We're in a movie," he had said. "We're lovers in a movie."

Naked and spot-lit in the cool clear water they swam and kissed. Remembering, they kissed again.

Remembering everything, they order a second bottle of the most expensive champagne.

I keep drinking; don't ask me why because I'm at that holding-onto-the table stage already.

What'd they do—turn up the music? Frank Sinatra is singing way too loud, all slick and preachy, telling you what to do on every damn issue. Love. Luck. You name it. I hate goddamn know-it-all Frank Sinatra; I know I'm practically alone in this.

"These goddamn phony stars," I notice myself saying. "Kind of pathetic if you ask me. You've got to come into some little black room and sit under some fake stars. I know they've got all this stuff here in New York, a lot of stuff. I know that. All the buildings and the lights, a billion lights. I've seen them. I've been up on top of the Brooklyn Bridge and I've seen all these, these..."

I try to think but I've lost the thread.

I can tell by how they are both watching me that they are waiting for me to finish what I was saying.

"Yeah," I say. "Sure. My husband left. Went off with our dental technician. She looked into his mouth and saw his soul."

I laugh, but nobody else does.

"Never mind," I say. "I just made that up."

I drink more champagne to stop talking. It's one of those choose-your-poison type of moments.

"You made up what?" Christopher says. "That he left?"

"Oh no. He left alright. It was at night. I know it was at night, because after he told me he was going, I went outside. I remember, I looked up. And there were the stars. A million stars. This is out West. But I'll tell you something; you live here in the city you don't see a real star. I know it's winter now and I guess it's cloudy, but, frankly, I have my doubts as to whether you are going to see a real star here, even in the summer. What with all the lights, and, and just the glare. Yeah. But that night. The one thing I noticed, was that the stars were still there. You know, you think, for a minute, maybe they won't be."

"What did you make up then?" Christopher asks.

"Honestly," I say, "I don't remember."

I decide that the moment has come when I have to get up and find the bathroom. I manage to get out of the booth and stagger off toward the shooting lime-colored lights; some adorable little guy in a bowtie catches me and turns me toward the bathroom. I go in there and barf up all the expensive champagne.

When I get back out Kim and Christopher are gone.

I don't mind too much but I am sorry to see that the girl with the famous lover is gone too. Now I'll never know.

The girl who wanted twins is still there, though, alone now, crying and drinking a brand new martini.

Overhead the fake stars spin.

Contributor's Note
Diane Simmons' short fiction has appeared in Northwest Review, Fiction, Green Mountains Review, Local Knowledge and Hamilton Stone Review and Spindle. Her novel, Dreams Like Thunder (Story Line Press), won the Oregon Book Award for Fiction. "Starry Night" is an excerpt from a novel in progress. See links to other of her stories at freezeinthedark.blogspot.com.



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