written by lauren d. h. miertschin

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Annabel Lee

The pool hall erupted in hoarse laughter, like crackling thunder against a stormy sky. A lone woman center the attention flipped her black curly, unkempt hair. Patrons hushed. Brad’s heart sped. Her head back, she poured down a beer without even taking a breath. She didn’t look at him, but handed Brad her mug, winked at the crowd then bent over the pool table. The embroidered butterfly in the seat of her pants glittered beneath dim lights.

“Eight ball, corner pocket” she said. With one smooth motion she struck the cue in a manner that the eight ball obeyed.

The hall erupted once more, money exchanged hands. And this one woman among the guys began to rack them up again.

They made brief eye contact once. After that she caught Brad staring through mirror reflections. Brad knew just one thing that night: he had never met anyone like her. She was tough for sure, boisterous, a cigar hanging from her lips. Could she be a dude? He batted the thought from his mind. He had never been drawn towards masculinity. Still, there was something irresistibly feminine about this woman, not coming across in the faded blue jeans or the white crewneck t-shirt. The pit bull pup tattooed on her forearm didn’t add much to her femininity either. Except for the pale pink lipstick, she wore no make-up and not a stitch of jewelry. But she smelled of Gardenias, a fragrance that had lingered in the recesses of Brad’s mind since childhood. When she talked her mouth barely moved. And when she walked, her broad hips had a gentle sway that could rock him to sleep.

They were on their eighth beer now. “Last one standing takes the kitty home,” she pretended to slur and put a ten on the table. Her sultry voice caught his attention first – after that, no doubt her eyes. They were brown, an eerie sort of brown with yellowish flecks, and dark, thick lashes.

Of course, Brad put in his ten bucks along with the rest. Two hours later, one guy lay passed out in a corner booth. Another wandered outside. He forgot what he was doing and ended up at a bar down at the marina. Another snored loudly in the parking lot over his steering wheel. And three young men all at once had decided they were finished and attempted to kiss her good-bye. She managed without a fuss to wiggle out of their reach, then laughed about it afterwards.

No one would have thought she’d be the type for Brad. What were the guys going to say? Worse than that, what would Mary say? Heck, Brad knew Mary was bored. He was sure that she’d dump him for someone better. She might even understand, part amicably if she felt Brad really wanted that. Mary would never go for this though – dumped for someone so “uncouth” as she would undoubtedly put it. He could picture her now at their apartment; close up in the mirror he imagined, plucking minute hairs beneath high-arched brows.

“Drink up, Jack,” the brunette elbowed him. She never asked Brad his name. She called all the guys at the pool hall “Jack.” “I’m gonna drink you under the table yet,” she murmured.

“That’s twelve,” she hollered over her shoulder and slid the mug down to the bartender.

Brad watched the dark-haired woman intently. Studied her painted lips as she guzzled the beer.

“Who’s on for a game of darts?” Her fingers drummed the small table. Her nails were short, unpainted.

“Hey do you think,” Brad mumbled just as the jukebox blared. Can’t Get No Satisfaction.1 Hands stuffed in front pockets, he shuffled his feet back and forth like a school boy. “We could get together some time, maybe go for a drink?”

“Whatja say, Jack?” The woman shrugged and pointed to her ears.

“Get together,” Brad shouted. “Sometime? For a drink?”

“I don’t drink, Jack,” she said and threw another dart at the board. Bullseye.

“But . . .”

“What? This?” she said lifting her mug. “It’s nothing,” she said. “Just one of those things.”

“Sure. I get the hint . . . ah, come on though, you gotta have a name?”

The woman took a gulp from her beer, then looked directly at him and stopped, hand poised to throw the dart. She smiled like she knew him, and the way Brad saw it, like she might be interested. “My name? Oh, Jack, how sweet of you to ask.” She whipped the dart across the room. Another Bullseye. With that she turned to Brad and laid a gentle touch to his arm. Her head tilted forward she locked eyes with his. “My name,” she said. “Well . . . I’m Poe’s woman.”

His grip loosened on the beer and he stumbled to catch it before it fell. “Hmmm. Poe’s? Wait . . . was her name Helen?”

“No,” she chuckled. “Annabel Lee,” she winked and threw another dart across the room. “Here Jack,” she said. “Why don’t we split the kitty.” She moved half of the pile of bills towards him.

“No, you take it,” he said. His eyes remained focused on her as he spoke. “I’m Brad, by the way” He said and with one hand fumbled for the phone vibrating in his shirt pocket until the thing flew out and crashed to the floor. “Damn,” Brad muttered as he swooped down to grab it. By the time he stood erect, Annabel Lee was gone, along with half the pile of tens, while her smoldering cigar Smudged with pale pink lipstick fumed.

* * *

“Not another minute,” thought Brad. His arm had not moved from Mary’s waist since the first reading. “Not another minute of this crap.” His fist clenched. Mary didn’t flinch. He leaned over and whispered into her ear, “Some hidden joke we’re supposed to figure out?”

She squinched her nose and puckered an air kiss. Her multi-colored blonde weaved hair complemented an uncompromised complexion. The pair of solitaire diamond studs nestled in petite lobes twinkled with flickering candlelight.

Patrons cheered. Mary patted her palm. The stage lights at the coffee house brightened, and the young man behind the mic adorned in black bell-bottoms and a red turtle neck took a seat in the crowd. The audience’s applause crescendoed.

“Now, I wonder if he could tell me what it meant?” Brad grumbled. “Tumbling pansies, sky-high rye.” He laughed. “What the hell is that?”

“No,” Mary mouthed. “Not now.” She knew her fiancĂ© hated this stuff. She wondered why she even dragged Bread along. Sure he looked good on her arm. He had a charming boyish look about him, exotic slightly with his hair cut like a dutch kid’s, skin tanned and tight. But he never said the right thing at her affairs and afterwards they’d inevitably argue.

Mary nudged out from under Brad’s arm. Applaud, applaud. Things sure weren’t turning out the way she had hoped. Brad still hadn’t decided on a career. Changed his major from philosophy to theology, and then now on to history – twenty-nine years old, and her boyfriend hadn’t completed his undergraduate degree. Pretty embarrassing.

Back at their apartment they fumbled around each other in a feeble attempt at routine intimacy. They fell on the bed clumsily. Her outstretched arm reached for the wineglass on her nightstand.

He smirked.

“What?” Mary said.

"Nothing.” Brad caressed her neck.

No. What?” She scooted away.

“Okay,” he hesitated. “Tell me something. What exactly did that poet say?”

“I hate it when you pull this shit. Didn’t you hear anything tonight?” she asked.

“Were you there with me or not?” Mary arched her back and pulled a white lace bra through her sleeve and flung it to the floor.

“What kinda question is that?” Brad took her hand. “I just can’t stand seeing it Mare. You’re way above normal intelligence.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Come on, I hate seeing you bow down before some poet who merely strings together a bunch of words that don’t mean crap.”


“What’s the deal?” Brad chuckled. “Thundering Tigerlilies? Morose Lagoon? Come on. What’s next? Is poetry nothing but mindless jibber? What’s the goal? You, of all people, should realize this, Mare. Where’s the beauty, for goodnessake?”

“Oh Brad,” Mary shook her head. “You have no sophistication. I don’t mean that in a bad way, Dear, but really, how much poetry have you actually read?”

“So that’s how it is.” Brad bounced up from the bed unzipping his pants. “I’m too simple minded to understand.” He let his trousers drop to the ground then kicked them beneath the bed.

“No, Honey, I didn’t say that.

“Ya. I know, I know, you studied poetry in college." Pantless he paused and took a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it before continuing. “That gives you some kind of insight into that junk tonight. Come on, Mare. You know as well as I do, that was meaningless crap.”

“Don’t you see Brad – that’s exactly it. That’s what Timothy’ saying with his art.”


“Come on! The poet! He’s saying that everything is meaningless, Honey. We’re just all so afraid, scared to death really, to revel in the meaningless of it all – so we make up meaning. You make up meaning.”

“Revel in the meaningless?” That’s a stretch even for you, Maree.”

“That’s why you feel so threatened by Timothy’s poetry, Honey. It’s perfectly understandable – his words crush your world.”

“Well, that’s good stuff for you, something to crush your world, No, Mary. My world’s not meaningless”

Or is it? he thought. He left her on the bed for a beer in the kitchen.

“You never like anything I like,” Mary yelled as she hastily dressed.

Brad took a swig of his beer and leaned back to open the recliner just as the apartment door slammed. The television flickered shadows on the wall – a 1970’s western flick with unusually oblong actors dominated the screen. “Annabel Lee,” Brad whispered. He took another swig.

“Thundering Tigerlillies.” Brad chuckled, took a gulp, leaned his head back, and with a faint smile upon his lips, dozed off.

“It was a many and many, a year ago, In a kingdom by the Sea That a maiden there lived whom you may know By the name of Annabel Lee.”2

* * *

Mary lay sleeping in their bed when Brad woke in the recliner and slipped out the front door. The pool hall had not yet opened when he arrived. He took a brisk walk down to the marina then went for a run, something he hadn’t done in over five years. His calves ached back up the hill to the pool hall.

He recognized the waitress in the parking lot and picked up his step to catch her. She looked behind her shoulder for a glimpse of the heavy-breathing guy moving in on her. Then finally she bolted and ran straight toward the pool hall’s doors.

"Ah, crap,” Brad said. He sat curbside and waited until the hall finally opened.

“Sorry guy,” the bartender told him. “Ain’t seen no broad looking like that.
Believe me, I’d remember. Annabel Lee you say?”

“That’s what she said.”

The waitress barely made eye contact with Brad. He called her by name, Amy, he gathered from the tag. But familiarity did nothing to disarm. She said she didn’t know Annabel Lee. He didn’t believe her.

Brad skipped his afternoon classes, instead settling back in front of the television. It aired a recolorized Doris Day flick where the women wore blue dresses and neatly combed hair.

He met Annabel Lee in his dreams that night. She wore a sky-blue dress, her wild hair tamed. It was only a fleeting moment, enough though that when he woke he turned over, aching for sleep’s return. He carried around that ache in his gut all morning and didn’t notice the apartment’s utter silence. Mary had not slept in their bed. He shrugged it off and dressed with no real plans, drank a cup of black coffee, then headed off for the pool hall once more. For the next week he skipped classes and hung out there. Amy still refused eye contact, and the bartender learned his name. Brad questioned newcomers and old-timers alike over games of casual pool, until finally his first break came.

“Annabel Lee, you say?” The tanned muscle builder rubbed his chin. “You bet, I think I do know. She hangs out at the lanes.”

Brad dropped the cue stick “You know her?”

“Don’t say I know her, if know what I mean. But, hey, to each his own.”

“These lanes,” Brad fumbled in his pocket for a pen. “Where are they? You’ve seen her there? Are you certain?”

“Ya sure – just like you described.”

Brad wasted no time making his way to Hitherto Lanes, a rundown bowling alley up the street from the county jail. His step had a spring to it, his whistle a chirpy tune. He sprang through the doors, scanned the bar, then the lanes. And there she stood, her back to him at the far end, the last lane. She wore a dress, red, above the knees, her calves like those of a runner’s – lean and strong. She turned before he reached her. Their eyes met. But not a shred of recognition shone in hers.

“Sweetheart,” she said. “To what do I owe this great pleasure?” She reached out her hands.

Brad took her hands in his. Nails painted red, the heart-shaped rhinestones attached to them seemed so unlike his Annabel Lee. He kissed them anyway, paused for a moment before looking up into her eyes. They were different somehow. Perhaps the lighting didn’t bring out those yellow flecks. He followed her eyes to her cleavage, more than he thought she would show, then back up to lock eyes again.

“Cat got your tongue?” She squeezed Brad’s hands.

Brad studied her neck, thicker than he remembered. Her eyes, where were the flecks? And there was rouge, green eye shadow. Where were the flecks? A dimple he hadn’t noticed nestled in her chin, and then . . . stubble. This woman had a five o’clock shadow. He yanked his hands from her firm grip and stumbled back.

“Annabel Lee?”

“I’m whoever you want me to be Sweetheart.” Gold fillings from her back teeth glistened under the lane’s fluorescent lights.

Brad’s heart sped up into his throat. And as the lights overhead flickered he turned and ran out of Hitherto Lanes. He never looked back at the woman in red. A longing for the scent of Gardenias overwhelmed him as he felt an end of his search for Annabel Lee.

His was one of three remaining cars in the lot as Brad dug around his pockets for keys. Amy approached from his side. “What is it?” Brad cleared his throat, but didn’t turn to face her. The woman in red at bowling alley came to mind. He shuddered.

“She’s in a committed relationship now, Annabel Lee. I just thought you should know.” With that, Amy walked away.

* * *

Brad returned to classes, largely behind in his studies. He spent late nights at the apartment, alone. In his spare time he caught old movies, did some running, and in the early morning hours wrote poetry. He had grown accustomed to this routine and turned out about twenty pages a week.

He made the trip up north one weekend to see the house his grandmother lived in when he was a child. Hopefully somehow her garden, spotted with Gardenias, had survived. Not even the house remained, in its place a myriad of self-storage units. Back at home he purchased a potted Gardenia to place on the kitchen counter. He wrote a touching piece about the plant that his college published, surprising some readers that a male had written it.

And then when he least expected it, Brad caught the strong scent of Gardenias while on his usual afternoon run. It struck him while crossing at the marina intersection opposite half a dozen nuns dressed in full habit. The scent didn’t fully penetrate his senses until after they passed each other mid street. He abruptly turned, tempted to run after them. But what would he say? Start sniffing the nuns like a dog?

From behind he could not make out one nun from the other. He resolved to let it go, as he had come to realize that it didn’t matter whether he found her. Her small presence in his life had filled him enough to last a lifetime. An SUV roared by, blaring its horn at Brad. He chuckled and waved at the car. Then he noticed while still standing in the middle of the street, that one of the nuns had a gentle sway, a sway that he was sure could rock him to sleep.

(C) Lauren Miertschin
1 “Satisfaction,” Rolling Stones
2 “Annabel Lee,” Edgar Alan Poe

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