Saturday 16 June 2018

'Ladies Only' by Alicia Bakewell

Music helps you remember, wine helps you forget. You take a sip, turn on the radio. She’s still got the same slot, Sunday night lonely heart o’clock. Jazz, on the slow side, ladies only. It doesn’t seem she’s added to her record collection recently. She used to say all the good stuff’s already been made. You take a sip, try to pretend you’re hearing her for the first time. The on-air voice, syrupy and self-assured. Can’t help remembering how quickly it turned to a naggy mezzo-soprano when you came home too late or mentioned another girl. Names roll off her tongue – Billie, Sarah, Nina. Now who’s mentioning other girls then? She always loved them more than she loved you. You take a sip, smile in minor key.

They don’t know her like you do, the other half a dozen listeners. They don’t know that she doesn’t play much jazz at home. They don’t know that she sleeps in an old Patti Smith t-shirt with a hole over the left nipple that you tore with an errant fingernail. They don’t know that she won’t speak in the morning until she’s had two cups of coffee, no milk no sugar. Not a word. They don’t know that she tripped and broke her arm once, as you both ran through the city just before dawn, a couple of drunks singing that song about being hit by a double-decker bus. They don’t know that when it rains, her arm still aches. You take a sip, consider covering the mouthpiece with a handkerchief and requesting some Alice Coltrane.

She says there’s time for one more request. An invitation, a tease. You take a sip. She wants to hear from you. You take a sip. She doesn’t want to hear from you. It’s the daisy game in a glass. She loves you not, of course. Music, remembering, wine, forgetting. Tears, and you always expect them to be Cabernet coloured. Your hand inches toward the phone and you knock the bottle, just as Alice starts to play. Damn that sixth sense that doesn’t become null and void when the marriage does. Now the tears are Cabernet. You drag your fingers through them, paint a little tragedy on the tiles.

The wine you want to remember, the music you want to forget, because the music is her and she is the music and it’s so quiet in here now you’ve turned the radio off. It would take her about an hour to gather up her records, exchange a few words with the country and western fella on the next show, walk to her car in the dark, hit the back roads, come over here and tuck you in. You kiss the air, kiss her goodnight.


'Ladies Only' was previously published at the Australian Writers' Centre website in March 2018.  


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