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The Side Door

January 12, 2010

I’ve always known it’s there, I’ve glanced in the windows but never gone in.  I pulled around the back and began walking toward the neon lights. Opening the door, I slipped quietly inside. It only took a moment to take in the small room where the bar was the center of the world. Those closest to the door turned to stare and quickly I moved down the line until I stood by his side.

He turned, surprise on his face. Then he leaned and pressed his lips to mine, “woman, you look good tonight.” A stranger standing close by slipped his arm around my shoulders, leaned his face toward mine and mumbled what I can only assume was an off color compliment. The alcohol on his breath was overpowering, I turned away and slipped out of his hold.

While the bartender poured my drink I looked around. Beside us sat people hardened by life, known to each other only by first name, learned as they sat together day after day at a bar forgotten by those who had homes to go to. The bartender looked up for only a moment when I insisted he pull a better quality rum from the shelf behind him, not a regular his look seemed to say, a silent moment of understanding passed between us.

When I looked back he looked older to me, set in this scenery. I have never met his father but I fear the picture I saw that night, is one he may recognise from his childhood.

For months now work has been slow and he had finished by noon. What started as lunch with his apprentice had turned into a drinking binge and by the time I arrived at his side he could no longer remember how many bottles there had been. I asked the bartender for his tab and signed my name to his receipt.

The stranger returned to ask me my name. “I don’t really have one,” weary of the look of recognition in his eyes. “Don’t be like that. This is Elisabeth. Just who you think she is – Daddy’s little girl.” With those words I began moving, easily leading him in the direction of the door. 

I glanced back for just a moment, catching the eye of the stranger. On his face was a look I couldn’t quite read – jealousy, dejection, hopelessness. Or maybe a little of each. This is a world I have never seen up close, a world I have seen only in TV or movies,  a world I assumed existed but my sheltered life never led me to experience.

Yet it’s a world very familiar to him. A world he was thrust into at an early age by circumstances over which he had no control.

I was angry. I was angry he was there. I was angry the state he was in. I was angry I had to confront the darkness with him.

But the next day. When he called. When we talked, understanding dawned. He needed me to see the darkness. He needed me to know, that just under the surface lies a past, a life I have never come close to experiencing. He needed to know that I wouldn’t run back to my sheltered life, shutting the door to him when he began to revel what lies beneath.

It scares me. But it doesn’t make run. Not yet.

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