The New Startby Sandra Kolankiewicz
"We shouldn't be here," said Susan to Mary, eyeing the bottles on the shelves behind the bar and seeing in the mirror's reflection the long view out the window toward the deep blue northern Atlantic. "We said we wouldn't drink."
Mary shrugged in response. The woman bartender slid a small snifter of brandy across the bar to her and set beside it a neon-colored piece of double thick cardboard that offered a row of pull-tabs.
"Open one of these," the bartender said, "to find out what you pay." The bartender then turned expressionlessly to Susan, who sat with an empty seat between herself and Mary. "Want anything?"
Several locals hovered over their happy hour drinks in what appeared to be regular places at the bar.
While Susan considered her answer, Mary pulled the tab on her card. The space revealed the words, "Full Price."
"Cripes," she moaned "I've can't win even a lousy drink." She swirled the liquor in her glass, the cubes tinkling, and took a brief sip.
Susan exhaled as if she had been holding her breath for a long time. "I'll have a vodka on the rocks with a lot of lime," she said. She stretched out a leg, dug around in the front pocket of her jeans, and offered the bartender a five-dollar bill. "Do you have change for the juke box?"
"Nope," said the bartender. She set another neon ticket besides Susan's glass and turned to ring up to the Grand Kaseyner on the cash register. "Not allowed to."
Mary and Susan glanced at one another and made faces. Then Susan picked up her drink card. "Let's see what I owe," she giggled and tore off the middle tab. The space underneath it said, "Ten Cents."
"Hmmmmpf!" sniffed Mary and took another sip.
Clearly pleased, Susan plunked a dime on the counter.
"What town do you suppose we're in?" asked Mary a little while later, lighting a cigarette. She exhaled into the air above Susan's head.
"Somewhere above Bath," said Susan.
The man on the other side of her leaned over and said, "You're in Searsport." He took a long swig of beer. "North of Belfast." He mumbled something about tourists and turned away.
"What did he say?" whispered Mary, looking across Susan's lap at the man's back, pointedly turned toward them.
"Who cares!" Susan said. She ordered another vodka, and the bartender gave her another neon card.
Several hours later, when the late news was on the television up above the bar, that the Princess of Wales had died in an accident became apparent. The room watched the replays of when Prince Charles and his young new bride had waved to the world, brushing rose petals off their laps in an open carriage. Riding beside them, out of complete view of the television camera, headless men on white horses posted up and down, crimson torsos, the tails of their red jackets bouncing. The room sat in silence through the cigarette smoke.
"Imagine," sighed Susan, finally.
"I know," said Mary. "It makes me sick."
The bartender came out from behind the bar and stood with the two women then, her arms folded across her chest. "What a fairy tale," she said, her face pock-marked in the television light. She pointed at the figures on the screen. "Look at her face! She looks so happy!"
Susan threw her head back and snorted.
"Her girdle," she said wickedly, "was probably killing her."
For the first time the bartender laughed with the two women. "That's right," she said. "Unfortunately, her eighteen hours are up."
"We're looking for land," Susan confided in the man sitting beside her, the one who had considered her and Mary to be tourists. The clock said nearly one in the morning, and he had suddenly become very friendly. Susan tore the tab off another drink ticket. "Fifty cents!" she called out to the bartender, who snuffed out a cigarette before she stood up to mix the drink. "This is my night!"
"Land!" said the man, shocked, signaling another beer for himself. "Why!?"
"Because it's beautiful here!" Susan answered. She rolled two quarters across the bar, and they landed right in the groove on the edge.
"Beautiful!" exclaimed the man. "It's lonely as hell up here. And what would you do for money?"
"Who knows!" said Susan, squeezing a lime into her drink. "We'll think of something."
Behind her, Mary was talking to a man who was in port that night on a schooner from Halifax. She pulled a tab on her ticket: Full Price.
"Damn it," she said. "I haven't won yet." She plunked her money down.
"Keep trying," encouraged the sailor from behind his beard. "It isn't last call yet."
"You intrigue me…," the man beside Susan began. She glanced down at his wedding band, and he removed his hands from the bar.
"I'll bet," she said. An advertisement for the late show, a John Wayne movie, came on the television screen, and the bartender reached up to switch it off.
"You're too serious," the man observed to Susan, lighting another cigarette with his disposable butane lighter. She drained the last of her drink, and he signaled the bartender to get her another one.
Suddenly, Mary, flushed and excited, plunked herself onto the stool between Susan and the man, separating them.
"That man I was talking to is a great human being!" she said, ordering another drink, last call. She leaned on her elbows, ran her fingers through her hair, and looked at Susan. "Do you know what he told me?!"
Susan and the man listened expectantly. "Well," said Mary, sitting up straight. "He said there were good people all over the world." She pulled the tab on her ticket: Twenty-five cents. "Bingo," she said.
The first noises Mary heard the next morning were a van door sliding closed outside their hotel room and Susan throwing up in the bathroom. The engine outside coughed and roared; inside the musty room, the toilet flushed, and water splattered in the sink.
"Feeling rough?" she croaked to the pale-faced Susan who emerged from the bathroom carrying a towel.
"I haven't been this sick in months," said Susan, wiping her mouth. "So much for starting over."
"Well, we weren't going to get there today anyway," said Mary. She ran her tongue over her teeth, sat up slowly, then flopped back down on her pillows, pressing her temples between the heels of her palms.
Susan moaned in reply. She lay gingerly beside Mary on the bed, trying to keep her stomach together. They were silent, listening to the water in the toilet refilling. After awhile, Susan said in a tired voice in the darkened room, "Remember Priscilla from Priscilla's Diner where we ate yesterday morning?"
"Yes," murmured Mary. "She weighed 350 pounds."
"Do you know what she told me when I said we had driven up here to start a new life?" said Susan, rolling over into a fetal position.
"No," groaned Mary. "What?"
Susan rubbed the sides of her head, grimacing. "Priscilla said, 'There's nothing here. All that's here besides a few tourists in the summer is a mountain, and you can see a mountain anywhere. People don't come here; they're stuck here.'"
Mary sat up for real then, mascara under her eyes, and her short hair wild. She reached for her flattened pack of cigarettes on the bedside table and searched among the covers for some matches.
"I will never," she emphasized indignantly, "never ever be stuck anywhere." She glared across the room at no one, cigarette smoke swirling about her head.
Watching her, Susan felt warm, safe, and at peace, the way she used to feel when they were together. She didn't care that she was sick again, that they had smoked so many cigarettes, spent nearly the last of their money, and drunk so many drinks. They hadn't fought last night. They would never be stuck anywhere. In spite of how Mary looked, her rat-tailed hair and the defiant purse of her thick lips as she pulled in on her bent cigarette, Susan believed her.