by Don Osborn
At the back of the bar the band played with a consistent sadness, almost detached from their songs of heart break and harmony. They were the last band of the evening at the Turf Club, and Allen was wondering how the rest of the night would go. "What do you think of these guys, Beth?" Allen asked.
"Eh. Not bad. But good Lord, take a Prozac or something. Just because you're called Ashtray Hearts doesn't mean you have to give the impression that you heart is actually an ashtray... filled with... ashes." It was meant to be a humorous quip and the playful way she said it was cute, Allen thought. He liked her. They'd been introduced earlier that evening. They had shared a couple pitchers of Summit and were hitting it off well. Their mutual friends thought they might.
"No shit. They're good, but let me ask you something. Take a look up there. Do you see one guy smiling on stage? Have you seen any of them smile even once the entire evening? If I was headlining the Turf on a Saturday night you can bet I'd be smiling. I'd probably be yucking it up, up there," Allen said. Beth smiled.
"What's your band like?"
"Oh you know, a little of this, a little of that. Basically we're rock but we aren't really just one kind of rock. We're a little 'bar' rock, a little country, a little indie, and a whole lotta bullshit!" This made her laugh. Man, she had a cute smile, Allen thought. It was a little after 1:00, and with the new laws allowing bars to be open until 2:00, it made for a long night of drinking. His head was pleasantly pulsating now from the beer he had drank. He just lived up on Charles and Snelling so it didn't matter how drunk he would get. He just walked home from the Turf, his local watering hole. Beth must be at least as drunk as I am, he thought. Maybe that's why she seems to like me. Looking at the empty pitcher Allen asked "what do you think? One more?"
"I don't know. It's starting to get late. I mean, I have to drive home. I might have to switch to water," Beth said as she rolled her eyes in self-mocking.
"I hear ya," Allen said. And then he got an idea. It was the kind of thing that could either prove Beth was at least a little interested in him, or it could immediately send her running in the opposite direction, as if from an electrical fire. But, being a little drunk and feeling in a "what the hell" mood, he thought he'd take a chance. "Hey, I have an idea. It might sound kind of weird, but I'm going to try to get your number later anyway, so here it is. Why don't we get our photos taken in the booth? The way I look at it, the best case scenario is we have a record of our very first meeting. The worst case scenario is we never see each other again, and you have a small souvenir of a pretty good winter night at the Turf club with good-ol-whats-his-name. What do you think?"
Beth smiled and only took a second to say "sure, let's do it." They got in the booth and, as always, saw the one and only stool. Allen sat down and Beth sat on his lap. But while they were adjusting their position, the first flash went off. They started laughing and looked at the camera. The second flash captured that. The third flash caught Allen sneaking a little peak up to Beth to see what she was doing. The last flash caught them, now a little weary of trying to smile, with slightly uncomfortable smiles on their faces.
"Whew we made it. That wasn't so bad?" Allen asked.
"Not at all. Hopefully they'll turn out." In 4 minutes the pictures dropped out of the machine. Shoot, Allen thought. The chemicals or whatever must be getting old in this machine. The picture was slightly faded, as if it was already 20 years old, and there was a mild white streak faintly running through the height of it. Still, they were pretty good and it would make a nice bookmark.
"Hey I have another wacky idea," Allen said. "My place is just a couple blocks from here. Now I'm not trying to freak you out and I don't have any mischievous intentions or anything, so don't worry about that. I was just thinking I could play you some of that crazy electronic music from France I was telling you about. And if you like Donkey Kong, I have the full-sized arcade game. Plus if you are still good to drive, I have this cool beer from Colorado my friend brought back for me." This was perhaps asking for too much but, hey, if it's meant to be it's meant to be. He was pretty sure she knew he wasn't a creep.
"Yeah that sounds like fun. Let's just say goodbye to Mari and I'll grab my coat." Mari and the other friends gave them both some semi-suspicious looks, but Allen and Beth knew nothing was meant by it.
They stepped out onto the bleak, frozen tarmac of University Ave at about 1:20 in the morning. The winter wind came whipping down this main artery road, and pierced cold into their faces. Beth and Allen pulled their hats down tight and quickly walked the two blocks to Allen's apartment.
Because Allen's place was half below ground, he always loved how it was advertised craftily as "garden view," he could see his window shades from the sidewalk. But something seemed a little strange as he went towards the front door. He usually left a lamp on to make it look like someone was home. Oh well, he thought. Maybe he forgot or maybe a light burned out. "Here it is," he said to Beth. He walked down the short flight of stairs, she followed.
He opened the door to his apartment and immediately felt the strange sensation of cold air, as if he was stepping outside. He flicked on the light and knew something was wrong, very wrong. The window was open. His TV was gone. So was his stereo. So were hundreds of cd's. From somewhere behind his ribcage, probably near his heart, he felt a sinking pit, and it grew. "Fuck," he said. "Oh shit." He had completely forgotten about Beth and was somewhat startled when she spoke.
"Allen? You were robbed? Do you want me to do anything? This is awful." Beth said about the only thing she could to a nearly-complete stranger coming upon a disaster in his house at 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday night.
"Um. I don't know. No. I guess I... should call the police. You might as well get going."
"Are you sure? I can wait with you," she offered one last time.
"Thanks but I think I'd like to just be alone and figure out what is missing. Then I'll deal with the police. So, I'll see you later."
"Ok. Good luck with everything. Bye." Beth was a bit shaken up herself, having gone from a happy, semi-drunk state to a cold burglarized apartment. She began the short walk back to the Turf, felt the wind whipping in the winter night, and made her way back to her cold car.