She remembered the feeling, like drinking cold water too fast. Unsure if it’ll come back up, but regretting the indulgence that led to this moment. Gut full of guilt. Why did she always overreact when it came to Liam? Why wasn’t she allowed to be happy? These are the questions ghosts will ask you when you’re down, when you’ve slept the night in your closet then schlepped to work still hungover, eyes weighty and puffed. The haunted body hurts, rumbling in the joints, ice pick in the stomach. Sylvia crossed the bridge and thought of Noah, nice Noah who had thought to invite her anywhere.
She felt the warmth of an approaching bicycle and stepped aside to let it pass. The cyclist hummed by and left a wake reverberating in the dry heat behind them, an absence greater than what had come before. Sylvia felt desperately alone.
And so she went again to the oasis of single-serving friends and thoughtful strangers. Sylvia was propping herself into a stool by the tall windows that opened to the street when she lost her footing on the rung and almost spilled. Forgivable when drunk, but not yet. Not yet. She raised the amber liquid to her lips and blessed it with its healing powers. Tomorrow she could be a better person. Less needy, more focused. She’d name the ghosts and sing a seance to satisfy them all. But not today, tomorrow, day next. The days were multiplying like the heat and confusion around her. Cheeks flushed, a little giddy. Suddenly it was already night, and a familiar shadow crossed the open window.
Noah wheeled an amp out of a van. He swiveled, coiled a cord, kicked his handcart into submission on the jagged concrete. Sylvia stared. He must have felt her eyes because he stopped, looked into the crowded bar and picked her out immediately. She shrunk against his gaze, but he gave her a funny look and a slight wave. So she went, boots shaky, still warm and bright and fuzzy.
“You guys playing around here?” she managed to say in a voice that didn’t feel her own but separate, above her, clearer than she’d ever sounded to herself before.
“Yeah down the street but some fucker parked his bike in the loading zone. So we’re running late. Walk and talk?” Noah asked. Sylvia shuffled along beside him.
“How was the thing?”
“The house party. I was…at work all night.”
“Bummer. Would’ve been great to have you.”
They’d reached the mouth of a venue Sylvia had never entered, although it was popular among locals. She didn’t consider herself one of those, not yet. Maybe never. Belonging is a strange thing, and the ghosts don’t like it much.
Noah grinned. “You could make it up to me with a drink after the set?”
Sylvia felt her stomach lurch at the thought of more alcohol. She imagined a jet of tequila shooting into a bathtub of foaming beer and had to hold her gut. She peered inside the dark bar doors. It felt cool inside, and faintly she could hear Isabel’s clinking coin jewelry without seeing her.
“That’s a deal, cowboy,” she decided.
Fuck. So much for her silver tongue. Goddam, goddam, god- “Mhm. Yeehaw.”
Noah chuckled and wheeled the cart inside. Cautiously, her eyes still searching in the faint light, Sylvia followed into a blast of icy air conditioning.
[This post is part of a series. How’d Sylvia get here?] [Note 9 coming if you’re kind]
The cover image is modified from a photo by Gabriel White.