The thing about being a con artist is to be in it for the art. Not for the swindle or the cash payoff. I conned the older ladies at that new wine bar just last night. They bought me dinner, yes. But that wasn’t all. Part of the role I was playing was that I didn’t wear glasses. I subordinated myself to them. Had to, because I really couldn’t see! So I had one of them reading me the list of sandwiches while another waited to resume the story she’d started telling me about her trip to Austin, New Orleans and Memphis. I am old enough I don’t care about looking cool. I told her I wouldn’t mind heading off on one of those senior citizen trips. I don’t know about yours, but in my town, you only have to be 50 to get in on those classes and movie nights and trips.
How old do you think I look?
No mirrors in this jazz bar, which is more of a restaurant. They have a hundred types of wine there. Pictures of Django Reinhardt everywhere. Red wallpaper. Gypsy jazz, or Jazz Manouche, playing all the time. None of the ladies were ordering up any wine, so I asked for water. I’d been heading into the main part of the place to see if my girl Conchett’ was there. But I saw a side door open. I’ve always been like that. If I see a side or back door propped with a chair or a matchbook; I have to take a look.
What kind of sandwich? BLT. But without the T, because I can’t stand tomatoes.
So in this side room, there are two dozen older ladies. A club. Retired, most of them, from the looks. And in the door I pop, right when they are winding down the flag salute. And the head lady waves me over. She’s in a cream colored turtleneck and plaid slacks. Those crinkly eyes from smiling a lot. And the ladies at this short side of the table all have name tags and are all standing. I am with them, so I stay standing, too. And then one of them says they are all sorry as can be about Diane. I look around and some of them have their eyes all shiny, thinking about their friend.
“I can hardly think about it,” I say, and I hang my head because I don’t know why I need to con these nice ladies who end buying me dinner and letting me mourn Diane with them. And all the while, I’ve got money in my pocket. A sweet smelling Sicilian girl waiting for me in the main bar.
But my first love’s name was Diane. English girl. I don’t mind telling you I was already in my twenties when she and I met at the bank. The bank where she was working. Younger people don’t believe we used to smoke everywhere back in those days. Supermarkets, movie theatres, banks. But it wasn’t a regular cigarette I slipped to Diane. It was a joint. And it wasn’t a slap on the wrist she got when her boss found it in her cash drawer. I’d long since gone home by the time Diane got shit-canned.
The women are all going around the table telling me the things they liked about their Diane.She’d drive you places. Always brought a pie to their parties. Loved old movies. Cute things like that.
My Diane rang my bell at ten that night. I was painting. My heart racing, the room awash in the stink of gesso and paint and a body revving. Diane had been drinking, for sure. She was a nice girl, but had a taste for the wilder life. Well, she and I dove for each other like…like Stanley and Stella in Streetcar named Desire. You know that scene where he is hollering for her in the rain and she runs out and he picks her up high against him and she runs her nails hard on that wet skin? Diane and I didn’t leave my room for four days. Her daddy came out from Pleasant Hill and fetched her home pretty quick after that.
I give Conchett’ harder things than old school marijuana. And she doesn’t have a dad; at least one that would come and take her from me.
I knew my Siciliana wouldn’t wait for me long. But still I stayed there in the side room, enjoying my sandwich and water, sharing an hour wIth those wholesome mothers. Their grief was a thing of great beauty to me. The pantsuits, the not drinking. All of it. Remembering Diane. It was the oldest one of them all who held me when I cried. Like I was her son, and just as pure as he must have been.
Bidar means awake. Patricia Bidar is a writer and California native looking forward to life’s third act.