Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cigarettes and Champagne

When Chelsea left work early she always went to the bar under the El tracks and bought a glass of champagne because she liked the narrow shape of the glass and that it was called a "flute," which she thought went well with the tickly way the bubbles made her throat feel. She liked to light a cigarette and then take a sip of champagne and hold the smoke in her lungs until the fizzing went away and then blow it out her nose while looking up at the ceiling, which made her feel cultured in a black and white movie kind of way. On those days when she was supposed to be at work, and she was sitting instead two seats down from a family of tourists who had stepped off the Magnificent Mile and couldn't find their way back to the TGI Fridays and so had stopped in a bar to cool off, she would tap her unmanicured fingernails on the bar and wish she had a cigarette holder so she could wave it around while deep in conversation with the young blonde bartender with tattoos on his neck. But, even though she often ate her lunch in a booth in the corner and came in for happy hour an hour early nearly twice a week, she had never learned the regular bartender's name, and he didn't seem to recognize that he had greeted her with a nod at least one hundred and thirty three times.

And so Chelsea sat on the fourth stool from the tap, as usual, tapped the ash from her cigarette into a glass tray and worked on a crossword puzzle that one of the regulars had left behind under a plate. When she didn't know the answer, Chelsea would put in swear words because all she had in her purse was a pen and so she knew she wouldn't finish it right anyway, but it turned out that matching up five and seven letter curses at right angles with the names of Shakesperean plays was harder than it seemed and she gave up on even that with ten blocks still unfilled. Unfolding the paper she looked for the comics, but the Tribune didn't have Garfield, which was the only one she really liked because she read once that Jim Davis wrote the strip about bugs, but was told that no one wanted to read a comic strip about bugs, so he changed it to cats.

When she left the bar, Chelsea took the paper because she thought it would make her look busy on the train, and just as she pulled the door open she turned toward the blonde bartender and waved, but he was filling a beer and probably didn't see her, but either way he didn't wave and Chelsea thought maybe tomorrow she would try the Bennigan's on Michigan Avenue instead.