It was as dark as a movie theatre. She had forgotten bars, except for the pub up the street from their house, where they sometimes took the kids for french fries and burgers. This was not that kind of a place. You would never bring a kid in here.
The Silk Route, it was called. Deep plush divans were tucked into the corners. I’ll get used to the dark, Eliza thought, trying to keep her breathing steady. My eyes will adjust.
She twisted between the jumble of crowded tables, chairs draped with women’s coats and bags, thirty or forty faces floating in the air, animated, talking above glowing candle holders. the light flickering across those faces, men and women who looked soft, anonymously young. A jazzy, drunken buzz animated the air; the music was Arabic pop.
What if Shar didn’t come? And what were all these young people doing out on a Sunday night in early February? Didn’t they have to work in the morning? She shrugged off her coat and stood up, swaying in the too-loud music. Aisha Aisha, ecoutez moi, Aisha Aisha t’en vas pas. She went toward the bar, feeling disoriented in this old world of young people. The red-haired bartender approached her with a grin on his fox-like face; tattoos encircled both his arms. Eliza thought he might be, at the outside, twenty-three. Twenty-five? She couldn’t tell their ages anymore, except younger than me. She ordered the most expensive wine they had on their chalkboard wine list, a shiraz, then turned to survey the avid faces again. Half of them were busy on their phones. Did they know they were there, at the crest of the hill? Their twenty-five or twenty-nine or thirty-two years would click over soon into thirty-five, forty. The dazzling rush down the other side of life would begin. They couldn’t see it coming. The joy and the fear was in not knowing how everything would change, and change again.
She steadied herself against the bar and lifted her glass. Put her lips to the edge. But did not drink. Someone had come up behind her. He was too close. He felt as tall as Andrew. Her husband. She half-turned, slowly, the wine glass still in her hand.
But it was Shar there, behind her. “Bonjour, ma belle amie,” she said. “Madame Fleur, comment ça va?”
Eliza turned around. Shar didn’t step away; they stood face to face. Eliza kissed her on the cheek, a hello peck to the Bonjour. When she drew back to kiss her on the other side, Shar moved forward and caught Eliza on the lips. The women kissed, to the surprise and delight of the bartender and a few people who happened to be ordering drinks. Four full lips. What else could they do, but invite tongues to join in? At such close quarters, what could the bartender and the customers do but watch? Then glance politely away. When the customers moved off, the bartender continued to stare with frank appreciation.
Eliza drew her head back and answered with a decent accent, “Ca va très bien. Et toi?”
“Waa-ooow,” Shar said, en français, which turned the retro wow into a word of sensual pleasure. She took a big theatrical step backward to look Eliza up and down—her black knit dress, her thigh-high boots, surreptitiously put on in the car—and said, “Yeah, I see you are well. Nice boots.” Then, taking a step closer, whispered, “And I think you must be very horny.”
Eliza fell up into the large, deep-lidded eyes. Actually, she had been wet since she left her house. No, it had started when she replied to Shar’s text. Ridiculous. It was like really bad erotica, the old Penthouse Forum: Eliza’s pussy was dripping wet. She put her hand on her forehead. Did she have a fever?
At home, this would be just another quiet Sunday night.
They went to sit down on the divan, facing each other. Suddenly it no longer seemed dark; Shar’s wrist and inner arm glowed pearlescent. The long hand spread open, with its knobby opposable thumb, always separate from the other fingers. Working with flowers, cutters, and glass made Eliza conscious of the extraordinary machines she used every day, two hands, ten fingers, hundreds of interlinked bones, woven tendons, the skein of fascia overcoating and connecting all, that net of skin inside the skin. Her hands were work-hard, her skin calloused.
Every hand should come with a label and a manual. Miraculous hand, treacherous hand. Press here. Go on, do it. You know you want to.
Go ahead. Blow up your life.
Who is thinking this? Both of them. Eliza touches the tip of her middle finger to the centre of Shar’s palm.. Shar’s long strong fingers close over Eliza’s. One palm presses greedily against the other palm, pushes, insists the hand is the body in miniature. Their hands writhe naked on the sofa, over and under, as their bodies hover above their hands, and their minds flicker through and around their bodies. At different moments the thought floats from one mind into the other until they are both thinking, like a Greek chorus: I will have to lie about this.
Press here. You know you want to.