Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Five

It was about 4:30 and her shift was almost over. She had just filled up the well with ice and was standing there listening to the news on the TV set behind her when a customer she recognized only slightly. The man walked up and stood right in front of her, where the CW’s came to pick up their drinks. She knew him through Pete; they’d come in together after work when Pete was still employed at Boeing. Bill, if memory served.

“Diana, right?” She knew right away from the tone of his voice that something was wrong – the only question was how wrong. She put off saying anything for a second as her mind raced ahead to several possibilities. In the meantime she had to answer him.

“Yeah, that’s me. What’s up?” How serious was this? she wondered.

“When was the last time you saw Pete?”

“Day before yesterday, around 5:00. Right before I left. What’s wrong?”

“Was he alone?”

“Yeah, like almost always, but what about telling me what happened?”

“Pete was in a car wreck last night.”

“The Mustang?” This, she already knew, was irrelevant, especially after her own insistence. She knew from the look on Bill’s face that it wasn’t just a matter of a wrecked car. Pete himself would be here to tell her about that. The only question was how bad the accident had been, and she’d asked about the car only because she realized she wasn’t ready to hear the rest of it – knew, in fact that she would never be ready to hear what she was about to hear.

“Yeah, well, that’s the least of it…” He snorted as he spoke, obviously sharing her opinion about the irrelevance of the car. Diana began to tremble, suddenly feeling very alone and exposed behind the bar. Before he could say anything else she started shaking her head from side to side, both from the awfulness of what she suspected, and as a desperate protest against the sensation that the world had stopped turning. As if a river had very suddenly run dry.

“No, no, no, no, no, no . . .”

It was then that she lost it. Bill stood by silently for a moment as Diana fought for control of herself and looked down at the ground. After a minute, she wiped the tears from her cheeks and looked up towards the far end of the bar. A cocktail waitress had noticed that something was up and was already stepping underneath the drawbridge to start pouring drinks.
“Thanks Rachel,” said Diana, and took a few steps toward the other end of the bar. What she wanted was to be even more upset about Pete, but now she was trying to figure out what seemed wrong about Bill. He seemed oddly unaffected; even angry. She had no choice but to face the inevitable.

“Well?”

“Yeah. It was pretty bad. He died before he got to the hospital.” Although she’d expected it, she was still trying to get a fix on something she felt she could only ever dimly understand. It was like trying focus her eyes in a room that was pitch dark. She didn’t know where to begin, and waited for Bill to start talking. Bill waited a moment himself, as if he were trying to let what he had said sink in.

“So I’m trying to trace the steps he took after work, and I know he was almost always here . . .” It seemed to Diana that he was trying to put her on the defensive and appear almost casual at the same time.

“Well, yeah, he was here, but would you mind telling me what the time of the accident was? I mean I think I know where you’re going with all this, so why don’t you just drop your shitty little CSI act and get to the point, Bill.” This, though spoken in a hushed tone, was angry enough to attract the attention of some customers at a nearby table and of one of waitresses at the other end of the bar.

“Everything alright, Di?” she asked, doing her best to offer protection.

“No Cindy, it’s not, but I’ll be okay.” She now had a hard stare fixed on Bill, and she asked through nearly clenched teeth, “When did he. . . when did it happen, Bill? Would you mind telling me that?”

Bill himself seemed more comfortable answering questions.

“Just after 10:00 last night. He drove into the loading dock of the old Safeway up on Broadway.” He paused for a second. “The police are saying he never even hit the breaks.”

“Great. Thanks Bill, and now I’ll tell you what you want to know. Yeah, he was here last night, and yeah, I served him about four beers, and the last one was almost empty when I walked out the door at about 5:00. Steve comes on in a few minutes, and he can tell you how many he had after that. So yeah, yeah, I’m responsible, at least partly. I know all that and I knew it before you or even he ever walked into the place. Knew it whenever I served a beer.”

“Take it easy. I didn’t mean anything.”

“Oh forget it,” she said, shaking her head from side to side, now looking up at the ceiling rather than at Bill trying to make nice. She started crying again. Looking back down and wiping her eyes with a bar rag she’d picked up from the counter, she took another minute to collect herself. Then she asked him what arrangements were being made.

“He has a sister over in Spokane. She’s flying in tomorrow, I guess. Other than that there really isn’t anybody. Except us from work. Where he used to work. He hasn’t had much to do with the wives and his kids lately. And there’s you, I guess.”

“Thanks, Bill. Thanks a lot.”

“What I mean is, I’m not sure what she’s going to do about it.”

“You’re going to talk to her?”

“Yeah.”

“Would you tell her to call me?”

“Yeah.”

They stood there silent for a while, nearly half a minute. After they’d taken turns shifting their weight once apiece they each began feeling their way towards a change in mood for the parting. Diana shook her head as a show of resignation, said “Christ, it’s just so sad” as she ripped off a piece of paper from the receipt roll in the register and wrote down her number.

“Have her call me,” holding it out while still looking down at the counter.

“Yeah.”

“Thanks, Bill. For coming to tell me.” She looked back up at him with something between a grimace and a smile.

“I’m sorry, Diana.”

“I’m sorry too, Bill.”

When she got home about 45 minutes later she stretched out on the couch and stared out the window at the lights on Queen Anne. She didn’t call any of her friends, didn’t call up her family, but just lay there looking at the city. She woke up about four hours later, a little after 10:00, and got up to use the bathroom. She’d been a little nervous about standing in front of a mirror when she first got home, but it really didn’t give her much trouble as she’d thought. She opened up the medicine cabinet and took a vicodin, left over from a wisdom tooth extraction about a year earlier. Just for insurance, she thought to herself, and because she could. Then she grabbed the comforter from her bed and took it back to the couch, where she stayed until morning.

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