I got some pretzels from the vending machine, then went to the hotel lounge and ordered Chardonnay. The place was full of drunk men. A group was next to me, talking about the celebration of a 40-something birthday. After they started saying things like pussy, I got up and got in my son’s new car and looked for somewhere different.
The next place was pretty empty. I sat at the bar and ordered a salad and chips with spinach dip and a Pinot Grigio, started sipping. I’d been hoping for more action. I watched the TV, something sports related.
A guy sat next to me. He’d been at the table with a group of other people. He said hello. “Hello,” I said. He didn’t look too interesting to me, but I guessed he was someone I could talk to.
He gave me the usual: how are you and what’re you doing here alone, stuff I’d heard before, but at least this time I was trying to be honest. I told him I flew in with my teenage son to pick up a car from my ex-husband. “It was his wife’s old car,” I said. “Mine’s dead. My son’s sixteen and the car’s officially his once he gets his license.”
This guy was gray and smiley. He sipped a Michelob. The bartender brought my food out. “Oh,” he said. “I’ll let you eat.”
“It’s a lot,” I said. “Have some.”
I ate my salad and he took some chips, loading them with dip. He said he was from the area, D.C., installing alarms in people’s houses.
“Nice,” I said. He talked about his kids. They didn’t live with him. The mother got custody.
It was a decent salad, but I was hoping for better. I ordered more wine.
A woman from his table threw something white in his direction. “Someone’s calling you,” I told him.
He turned around, telling me that was his sister. I was hoping for a man. It was getting late, and this wasn’t the man. He seemed sort of flimsy, or not screwed up enough or something. He went on to tell me about going to the movies with his kids, a Santa movie, and we talked about movies. He didn’t know the ones I mentioned.
I started going for the chips and dip. It was better than the salad. I told him about my car’s slow death, how I’d run it to the ground, although I didn’t tell him that I’d put on all those miles on the trips to see my guy. I lived in Michigan and my guy lived in Illinois and I drove to see him on the weekends. I couldn’t afford to buy a new one.
“My son’s new car’s nice,” I told him. It was a Chevy Berlinetta with two-hundred-thousand miles, and I was driving it back tomorrow. Maybe I’d let my son drive. He’d flown in with me, complaining about a crying baby two seats ahead.
I told the man I had to go, wished him luck with his alarms. I remembered eight years before, the last time I’d flown into Baltimore for a conference, bringing my son with me so he could visit with his father. I stayed at a hotel and met a man who bought me drinks and then well, you know. He was a nice man, maybe.
I drove the car around. I didn’t know the area. I didn’t remember where my ex lived, where exactly my son was. After my ex had picked my son and me up at the airport, we went back to his place to get the car, and there I saw his brother who I hadn’t seen since I was twenty. The brother was wider, fat, with long hair, sitting with my ex’s sleeping baby, since the new wife was a nurse and working. The baby was six months and looked like his father: his squinty eyes, pouty lips, skin. He looked like my son had as a baby.
On the ride, my ex said he was glad to help me, that he wanted me to be happy, that he wished he’d been better to me when we were married. He said he learned from me, and I wondered if he was still a man who cheated. A man who drank and beat. “That guy you’re with,” he said. “I hope he’s good to you.”
I watched the things we passed, not recognizing anything.