XIII. Little Worlds
Thirty minutes later Cait and I were back in the front lobby wearing the panthette outfits and galoshes. We carried our dresses, and Cait dripped sweat all over the power bars on the counter. She had successfully exploited the situation. She sprinted briefly on the treadmill, screamed in anguish while bench pressing, and invaded the personal space of several emaciated men. I spent the half-hour on a stationary bike, flipping through a fitness magazine and observing Cait's antics.
Claire was folding a pile of white hand towels when we walked out.
"So ladies... did you find everything satisfactory? You built up quite a sweat out there!" He eyed the droplets on the glass in disgust, picked up a Windex bottle and gave the mess two squirts.
"I hope you found everything you needed out there girls. Deodorant...Towels...I have the paperwork all ready for you to sign," he said. He was balancing weight on his right leg and pronouncing an attitude with his hip.
"Actually," said Cait, catching her breath, "if Clark and I plan on being seriously competitive for this iron man, we're gonna need to find a gym that really... cares." She looked down, almost panting.
"Cares? Panther Gym cares. How can you say we don't care?"
"I didn't feel cared for, and neither did Clark.." I put my arm around her for drama.
"Panther Gym does care. I've taken the time to show you around and give you the outfits and..."
"The answer is no Claire!" said Cait. She put her head down on my shoulder.
"We're going to need those outfits back then..." He folded his arms across his chest.
"Is that necessary?" she said.
"You can throw them in the hamper in the locker room after you've changed." He walked us back to the Panthette room.
"I'll wait right here for you." The prospect of earning commission was now clearly gone, and the pep in his step, and that bizarrely charming demeanor he'd employed earlier had died. We closed the Panthette door, leaving an angry Claire in the wayside.
I knew Cait would now be up to something. The girl hated a quiet exit.
"We're climbing out the window," she said.
It was a relatively low building so an escape wasn't out of the question. A simple boost from the changing bench and I was back out into the shockingly gray afternoon. Cait had a bit of trouble squeezing out of the glass, but eventually she popped out too.
"Let's go," she said. "Fit and fury is a bad combo. I don't want Claire to chase us down..." She started jogging down the block and I trailed behind.
The street was a silent juxtaposition to the gym. I had no idea where we were or what Whim Day had in store for us, and the adrenaline from it all was intoxicating and horrible.
The sky had transpired into a heavy grey fog, and it alone could not encapsulate the all encompassing greyness of that neighborhood. Grey as an actual feeling, not just a color, or a post-storm pigment, but an ugly heaviness. I could almost feel it on my shoulders while we ran. The afternoon was palpably bogged by the colorless concrete and sky. This animal feeling of fading warmth pelted down on me from the awning of perpetual telephone wires, brick buildings, and smog. It felt as though God was a bit too far from town.
We came to a cross street about three blocks west from Panther Gym. Cait put her hands on her knees and coughed into the ground. I could see a bar on the corner with imperfect royal blue stars painted on a dim window. A sign hanging in a tilt above the front entrance read, "Moon Saloon".
We walked inside and the room was a mess of old wood. The floors and tables and walls and swinging doors to the kitchen, all wood. I felt if I tripped I'd die from a splinter. When the grey creeped inside to the dark old wood mess, the bartender looked towards us like the light was a sudden attack.
Now we were both sweating from the short jog, and Cait lead us over to the bar. We sat down on the tattered leather stools and the ripped fabric scratched my naked thighs. A few seats over from us a few women, also grey, were drinking beer from large mugs. They looked like blurry midgets.
The bartender walked over to us and stood in silence like, 'we don't have any fruity specials. Just order a damn beer.' He was, well.. grey, actually.
"We'll have what they're having," said Cait, motioning to the irregular regulars near us.
"We come in peace," she whispered to me so noone else heard. I was relieved.
The beer was heavy and hoppy and I couldn't tell exactly what it was. It was cold though and it tasted like genuine relaxation. Cait belched and belched and yawned. She wiped the sweat from her face and onto her shirt. She sniffled and sniffled.
There were a few people in the shadows at the back of the bar, and I shuttered at the realm of possibilities of who they were and what their lives consisted of. The urchin faces, dull and dark and fading behind the wooden decor, breathed and watched us, maybe hoping to add us onto a sordid list of vices and crimes. If evil could radiate from people like stench, the world would stink and I would too, sometimes.
"Man this city is a million worlds, isn't it?" said Cait.
"Yeah you're right, it is."
"I haven't found one of them that I'd really like to be apart of though. It seems like every time we walk into a room everyone inside has literally sprung from the walls and will be buried in the back yard. You know? Like that anorexic mesh dude belongs in Panther. And you've gotta smoke a pack a day to be regulars here. And those stiffs waiting for donuts? You've gotta be two faced and pious. It blows my mind, all the little worlds.."
"I mean, people are sort of inclined to glob onto things that make them feel normal."
"I don't do that," she said. She was drinking the beer as if it were water.
"I like to go places that accentuate my abnormalities." She smiled, which was nice, because for a moment I was sensing a bit of sadness in her tone. I'd rarely seen her sad. Sadness is a truly ugly emotion. It is the natural disaster of human emotion, and the more it is felt and expressed, the more difficult it is to escape as a permanent state of being.
I smiled back at her.
"We have our own little world I guess."
"And Bushy, and Mother...some stray cats too from time to time."
"It makes me feel so small." She made a motion of holding something small between her fingers.
"Well.. you're big in quality."
"I always have thought of myself as more than 1 person. You know what I mean?"
I did. I felt like a different person in each room I was in.
I felt small too, admittedly so. Everyone is the center of their own world, I suppose. But the amount of worlds are infinitely growing in every direction. The circles of life and loves, the relationships and emotions and jokes, the purchases and mistakes and achievements, the plans and obtuse stresses, the regrets and the outfits, the self-deprecation and the narcissism, each treading sustaining circles in rooms and rooms and cities upon cities. Well, the idea makes me feel small. It really does, dammit. I was taught that everyone has purpose. Everyone has grand and outstanding purpose, and the world smiles when we arrive and cries when we die. But each year the world is a bigger place. I wonder if we matter less and less and less and less and less as legroom decreases.
The bartender set a second round down on the bar. He didn't make eye contact.
"What a happy little man," Cait whispered.
We cheersed, "Cheers to..me. Every one of me," she said.
Cait really did have a lot of unusual skills. She was sort of brilliant in a useless way. Even without direction, she held an outlandish ownership over a variance of interests and opinions. Some were frustratingly extreme. Some were outright crazy. All the absurdity was sort of hypnotic though, and she was honest in the most brutal capacity. Me being a fortified liar made her integrity even more alluring to me. She had none of the conventional charms, but she was actually good. She didn't sit with her legs crossed or watch the evening news, but she was good.
The toast turned into a chug, and afterwards we were both ready for another round.
"I'm hoping to not lose the rest of Whim Day in Moon Saloon," I said.
"I thought you hated hope. You told me that once."
"I hate a lot of things that I need..."
My phone had been vibrating all throughout Whim Day. Wheeler had texted me a handful of times, and I had a few unplayed voicemails, which were both likely from him. He texted me Saturday too, but as I tried to delete the memory of my fight with Lindy, I'd cleared my inbox before returning any texts.
One said, "Paigebrook, I still owe you for spilling a drink on your butt, and your butt owes me for wasting my drink. Call me back."
I texted him. "Hey." I said.
In just a few seconds he replied, "Where are you?"
"I'm at Moon Saloon somewhere far west."
He didn't answer.
"This music sounds like something people die to. Only out west though, and only in the 1960's," said Cait. The song was a banjo and an indiscernible voice on a muzzled microphone. She waved over the bartender.
"So how about changing this music, huh? Any way a few bucks could make that happen?"
"We gotta jukebox but it ain't been used in a while," he said. His voice was dusty and I suspected moths were hanging beneath his larynx, waiting to break free.
"I'll give it a go," said Cait.
She walked over to the jukebox, which was covered in debris and particles of time. All of the animal eyes in the room followed her panthette outfit and galoshes.
Cait bumbled with the chalky buttons and kicked the bottom of the machine. Patsy Cline's, 'Walkin' After Midnight' came on, and she came back over to her seat.
"Now this song should really be Moon Saloon's anthem," she said to the bartender.
"We ain't got no an-thumb," he said.
"Well I'm just saying you know, a few minor details, a bit of PR, and this place could be a hot spot..." She surveyed the room.
"Don't start..." I whispered to her.
She winked back.
"I stopped to see a weepin' willow...cryin on his pillow, and maaaaybe he's cryin' for meee... and as the skies turn gloomy, the night winds whisper to me, I'm lonesome as I, can be..!"
Caitlin sang boisterously. The song reminded me of my grandma. She'd loved Patsy Cline, and we used to listen to the tape when Lindy and I were kids and spent nights at her house. I rarely thought of these times anymore. Lindy and I were close with her though. She was actually a lot like Caitlin, not in practice, but in ideology. She was good inherently, but she didn't care about what anyone else thought of her. That was sort of the catalyst to all of her other admirable qualities.
I was inherently the opposite, and had spent most of my life obsessing over the most minute facets of my persona. Nothing had to be perfected in actuality, but everything had to appear to be in tact. That mentality had begun to fade when I met Cait though.
'Crazy' by Patsy Cline came on next.
"Two Clines in a row?" I said.
"There are others on the way too! It's a steal of a jukebox," she said, "A quarter a song! Gotta love old shit."
She stood up now.
"You've gotta dance with me.." She said to the bartender. She walked over towards him.
"I don't dance!" he said.
"Come on, Ralph."
"Ralph? The name's Don."
"Well ya look like a Ralph!"
"You look like a nut," he said.
"Fine, call me nut. Dance with me though!"
He laughed and it was like hearing a language for the first time. He walked over to her.
"I'm callin' you Don Juan!" she said. He laughed again, and particles of spit dashed quietly onto her face, and others coiled into the dark silence of the room to become apart of it forever.
The song 'Crazy' took me back in time. After my grandma died, I packed all of the details I had of her into a compartment of my brain that hid beneath new things. Sometimes when I'd smell different florals or eat a certain type of butter I remembered her. I'd remember her laugh, or the way she said my name. Memories are fickle little buggers. They can just dance in and out of view without warrant or want. Sometimes I get a glimpse of something from my life and I try to catch it and feel it forever. Other times different moments of the past will creep into my mind and I must always run from them, or else.
I must take a moment to acknowledge the fact that my brain is my master and it walks me like a dog. I can only hope it will lead me to good things, to flourish and be wise, but if suddenly I were to become insane.. well, I must follow my master. And frankly I wouldn't be surprised.
Cait and Don danced, and visually it was odder than many things I'd seen her do. She sang too,
"Oh crazy... for thinkin' that my love would hold youuuuu, I'm crazy for tryin', and crazy for cryin', and I'm crazy for lovin' you..."
She dipped him.
"Paigebrook..." I turned to see Wheeler standing behind me.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"I Googled Moon Saloon and walked over. I actually live a few blocks away. I've never been here though. What a random place for you to go." He looked around the room.
"So you just show up? That's creepy," I said.
"Yeah well, then I'm a creep! I owed you a drink," he said. He was wearing a green vest with a white collared shirt underneath and crisp looking black dress pants.
"I was about to say I was overdressed, but look at you!" He laughed at my outfit.
"It's a long story..."
"Is that your break dancer friend over there? Twirling that old dude?"
I looked over, and Cait was indeed twirling Don.
"Yeah that's her.." I said.
"Look at your life right now. And I'm a creep?" He smiled. I expected to feel awkward and annoyed, but I felt fine. There was something funny about him, something I didn't immediately hate.