Sarah was forlorn. And when one was forlorn, it was always comforting to copy the behaviors of great forlorn people throughout history. So she wandered the midnight streets drinking whiskey from a bottle. Sat at a bus stop watching packs of frat boys going by, girls in party outfits, happy couples holding hands.
She stumbled through the all-night supermarket, hoping someone would kick her out, but no one looked at her. She bought a protein bar and more whiskey. She searched the eyes of the cashier—can’t you see I’m buying a protein bar and whiskey?—but he just stared at his screen, even when he took her driver’s license and then handed it right back to her.
She walked by twenty bars, but they were all showing baseball or blasting techno music. That was not the right vibe at all. She wanted to sit in a dark corner, drink shots of whiskey followed with beer chasers, watch seedy characters make shady deals, watch slick operators try and fail to take home slatternly ladies.
She walked all the way to 98th, which was way farther than she had ever walked. She didn’t know what happened when you got past 99th. Did the streets turn to 100th? Or just stop? Anyway, she didn’t find out, because at the corner of 98th, there was a bar called Desdemona’s. She knew (from English class) that Desdemona meant ill-fated, so she went in.
She sat at a dark corner of the bar, ordered a whiskey and a beer, watched middle-aged people slow dance in the middle of the bar. Maybe it was the alcohol, but she was pretty sure she saw Billie Holliday dancing out there. With—right?—William Faulkner, silver-haired and dark-mustached. And Vincent Van Gogh with Frida Kahlo. Anne Sexton, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Tennessee Williams, Edith Piaf. Radclyffe Hall (Sarah recognized her from Women’s Studies class, the suit, the tie, the cropped hair and spit curl).
She stood up to get a better look, and then they saw her. Get out! they yelled. Get out! You have no business in here!
They lurched towards her, not agile or athletic but furious, shaking with drunken despair. She ran for the door, pushed past Sylvia Plath who was leaning against the wall with her arm over her face, made it out into the chilly night air.
Oscar Wilde was sitting outside on the sidewalk wearing a purple velvet jacket. He was sharing a cigarette with a kid in all black with tattoos on his face.
“Have a seat,” Oscar Wilde said. He pulled out a little flute, began to play. The guy in black had a ukulele. They played a song, kind of a ditty, cute but in a minor key. She could only partially hear it over the music blasting from inside the bar.
“Here, take these.” Oscar Wilde handed her a small set of bongos.
“I don’t know how to play,” she said.
“That’s okay, we don’t either,” said Oscar Wilde. “Just empty your mind and find the rhythm.”
She tapped her foot, slapped her hands against the skins of the drums. Soon she was part of the music, a quaint, sad song that drifted down the alley and into the dark blue night.