The Eyes in the Cellar

It has something to do with the womb, or the tomb. (Who's buried in Grant's tomb anyway?) My head always clears whenever I descend the stairs and come face to fact with the subtle cool that can maintain so much. This time it reminded me of the evening I thought of curling up in my mummy bag in the wine cellar, retending it was a cocoon, and then hoped for a metamorphosis of some sort...but, naw, let's not get into that one. Anyway, there before me in the short, approachable distance was the wine rack holding all my sleeping patience, the matrix of choice. And after I made my slow decision and uncorked one, her face returned to me in all its healthy fullness. On one of the first warm days of the season she had been sitting there at the corner of the Game Room as I walked in. A couple of guys were shooting pool in the corner, but they were not distracted. She looked up from a tray of 50¢ drafts. She struck me as an unpretentious blend of at least two nations that could not be pinned down:
She opened with an unusual smile. "You lookin' for some competition?" I guess she took me for some kind of hustler, which seemed like it could be fun, but I didn't really want to go there.
"Nope. I'm not sure what I'm lookin' for," I said.
"That's the trouble with people these days, so many people don't know what they're lookin' for," she said with a hint of weariness that was not yet tired.
"Well, at least they have an open mind...," I said without hesitation. And she laughed spontaneously, had no cynical comeback, and started talking about her neighbors in Shabbona and how the cold Spring was affecting them. She said it was her first time in this hangout, "Well then it's a first for both of us." And she even accepted that line good naturedly, although we were both a bit confused.... When I returned a little later, she still had that spark in her eye and wanted to talk about genuine things. This kind of face always looks young no matter what. And when I finally cracked my red choice, I remembered the first time I tried to tempt her away from that tray of beer to one of these taller, greener bottles. I could see the glow in her apple cheeks; and when the light caught the contents of the glass, her eyes lit up again, and I was still there, alone.

June 2002