The Booth at the Emerald Isle Pub - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

The Booth at the Emerald Isle Pub

“So, the new guy?”  Margo leans over the top of my blue cubicle, the rough fabric surface presses into the palm of her hand.

“What do you want to know about him?”  I am bent over my easel, adding charcoal smudges to the whiskey logo.  I glance up at her, annoyed.

“I just thought you could tell me more about him.  You were on the interview panel.”

“He’s not for you,” I am sorry I sound so impatient, but I wave her off.

Margo takes a step back and turns.  Her hair swings and shines as she walks away.  It is so long, black and full.  Beautiful.  I watch her pass by her own cubicle and head toward the restrooms.

I worry about her.  I can see she is hurt, and I want to apologize, but I’m on a deadline.  And she will belabor the point.  She is so intense.  It’s as though she allows everyone else to pass judgment on her, because she can’t seem judge for herself.

I have my own concerns, though.  My wife, Polly left me six days ago.  She took our son, Daniel, and they went back to New York to the Oneida reservation from which I escaped.  The suffocation I still feel about that place actually took my breath away when she told me she was going back.

I’d had my bouts of panic about our marriage before that, of course.  Polly had stopped resting her body along mine in bed.  I ignored her form — huddled in the furthest corner of the mattress — for so long, I forgot when she started sleeping like that.

The pain expanded when I realized that Daniel sensed our distance, too.  He stopped asking me questions like, “Why did the hermit thrasher hide?”   I can visualize his big black eyes watching mine as he quizzed me.  I could not remember the answer to his question about that infamous legend.  It is constant, the ache I feel now at his absence.  I want to cry.

I am weak, ashamed.  A failure.

Polly already knew that, and I confirmed her doubts when I refused to go to battle with her.  I was not a warrior.  That was what she wanted.

In the Emerald Isle Pub, Margo and I consumed a lot of National Bohemian.  I began to miss things.  Daniel’s school recital.  How in the world did I forget that?  Dinner, of course.  I’d come home to a plate kept warm in the oven, and after Polly found Margo and me in the pub, my dinner got dumped in the trash.

Polly had to drop off Daniel, almost a week ago, and she came to the agency, looking for me.  She found us huddled in our booth at the Emerald Isle Pub.

Across the alley from our office, the pub is housed in an ancient brick rowhouse near Fort McHenry.  It has a handful of booths in one corner, furthest from the Formstone framed door.  Margo and I knew what time to go so that we could grab our booth before the place got too crowded.

What were we discussing that day?  It escapes me, but it must have looked cozy.  Margo had stopped talking.  She’d smiled at me.  What had she said?  By then I’d already heard a lot.  We had started with surface things, figuring out neither of us was from Baltimore.  It seemed like everyone else was.  People from Baltimore stayed there, but they were generous with their hometown.

I thought of Baltimoreans as gloriously warm.  I felt at home here, more than I ever did on the reservation.  I tried to share my feeling with Margo.

She saw Baltimore as one big clique.  Everyone knew everyone else and had for all their lives.  I realized she had soured on someone.  When she confided in me, I was glad we had become friends.  She turned to me for a ride to the clinic when she needed an abortion.  The guy had dumped her, and found someone else.

At the pub last week, Margo glanced away from me and I followed her eyes.  My head screamed at me like that painting by Munch with the big black open mouth.  I didn’t actually hear a scream inside my head, but I felt it.

Polly was standing in the triangle of light that seeped in from the front door.  Her black hair, which was not in the sunbeam’s path, was a violet blue in the deep darkness of the pub.  Polly wore a thin braid from her side part.  It outlined the left side of her face.  I watched the braid, and her puzzled expression.  Her forehead crinkled, her eyebrows pulled together and her mouth was a perfectly straight line.

Daniel was holding her left hand. He was standing directly in the sunlight, so I don’t think he had adjusted to the dark.  His face did not show any recognition.  Polly’s eyes drilled into me and she stepped back, still holding onto Daniel.  My stomach cramped.  I started to get up.

“My wife!” I said to Margo, who was watching me with her mouth open.  She did not say anything.  She just snapped her mouth shut.

“Can you get the tab?  I’ll pay you back.”  I grabbed my jacket.

“Go!  I’ve got it!”

-0-

I understand that Margo is curious about the new guy.  But I have my reservations.  His name is Buddy, for starters.  Buddy!  I wouldn’t sign off on his selection after we interviewed him.  He reminded me of a blue jay.  I’d seen all of the bird’s bad traits in our ten minute discussion: arrogant, selfish, mischievous.

Buddy told us he had a good feeling about the job, he was sure he could do it.  I truly believe he was proud of his theory on how to expand the business.

“Here’s a sure winner!”  he boasted.  He’d double or triple the billing figure, in an informal conversation with prospects.  “Your company’s profits are protected by confidentiality.  It is privileged information.  So the ‘little white lie’ should not be detected.”

I could not believe Sid, our company’s owner, thought he’d be an asset.  But I could tell he was determined to hire the guy.  He’d be our new account rep.

Margo is also an account rep.  Basically, she baby-sits clients.   Makes sure they are happy, their campaigns go off as planned and are successful.

There are maybe a dozen of us in our agency.   Mostly, we handle media placements, marketing.  I work in the creative division.

I’ve known that I wanted to draw since I was able to hold charcoal in my hand.  Daniel, my foster parent — after whom I named my own son – was also an artist.  He wove beautiful wampum belts.  For the Oneidas, the wampums are sacred.   They represent truth, usually in the symbols they portray with purple and white beads.

Even though I didn’t deserve it, Daniel made me my own wampum after my warrior initiation.  It had two eagles woven in it and he told me that was my name, Two Eagles, because I had lost my mother and father.  “The world is a great mystery,” he said.  “It can not be easily explained.  We need help.”  The eagle is a symbol of the Great Spirit.  Daniel often wore an eagle feather in his own ponytail.  He’d slick his long hair back – though it got whiter and thinner as he grew older – and tie it with rawhide.

I don’t wear any adornments, now.

When I was seventeen, Daniel walked onto the railroad track not far from our back yard, and let the afternoon freight train pulverize him.  My wampum is hidden in the cedar box I have of Daniel’s things.

Polly helped me heal.  We had grown up together on the Oneida reservation.  But I wanted blond haired, blue-eyed Brea.  She was in my art class in high school.  I was foolish enough to invite her to a pow-wow, thinking I could show off my grass dance.  I had it all figured out.  But Brea, shallow, light skinned, hadn’t a clue.  She was all worked up over some red headed basketball star, and I didn’t dance that day.

The day after we buried Daniel, Polly brought me another wampum she told me he had made.  She cut a thread from the weave so his spirit could be released.

“There’s a wolf on the wampum,” Polly said.  She sat down next to me on the cement steps at the back of the house.  It was mid-September and the air had already gotten cold.  I was huddled in a faux leather jacket.

“I know Daniel’s Indian name was Lone Wolf,” I said but I did not look at her.  My head ached and my eyes were puffy, red, tired.  I’d been crying, and I was ashamed.

“It’s a good sign, Wyatt, intelligent, strong and mysterious,”   Polly placed Daniel’s wampum on my crossed arms.  “The wolf clan also represents a strong sense of family.”  Her face brushed mine, and she kissed my cheek.

As she started to get up, I grabbed her arm.  Polly’s straight, dark hair hung loose except for the thin braid she fashioned from her side part.  Her hair swung with her as she turned to look at me.  She smelled clean, and the scent reminded me of Brea.  I recognized it: baby powder.

Polly put her own hand over mine, and smiled at me.  Her lips didn’t part to reveal her teeth.  I leaned over and covered them with mine.

A sigh escaped from deep inside me.  I relaxed and Polly hugged me.  I kissed her over and over, eventually parting her lips, her teeth and pushing my tongue inside her mouth.  I tasted warm, salty saliva.

-0-

  “She’s perfect for you,” Polly spat at me.  I had caught up with her on the asphalt alley between the pub and our office building.  Our son, Daniel was silent, and he still held onto Polly’s hand.

“Polly, please,” I spoke in a whisper.  I did not want to argue in front of our seven year old.

“Half and half is my guess,”   Polly added.  “What is she?  Irish and Indian?  You can’t find whiter skin than that, Wyatt!”  She yanked on Daniel’s hand.  Her slim braid swung like a leather whip as she walked away from me.

When it was time for my ritual passage into manhood, I cheated.  Polly is the only person who knows.  Four of us, each fourteen years old, underwent the warrior’s initiation of staying in the reservation’s wooded acres for one full day and night.  Of course, we were to stick together, depend on our wits. We were supposed to sever our old selves and become men.  We had to sleep in the woods to obtain our spiritual guidance, which would be revealed to us in our dreams.  I was terrified.  We had built a camp fire, but I could not sleep.  I was afraid of the bears, the snakes and all the night noises.  I left the other three sleeping in their home made blankets, and ran hard for the railroad tracks and the clearing near Polly’s house.  It took me almost ten minutes to reach the aluminum sided rancher, which was identical to Daniel’s and mine about a block away.   I knew which window was hers.  My hand trembled as I raised it to the glass and tapped as loudly as I dared.

She let me crawl in the window and nodded at the floor.  I slept on the off-white and tan rag rug by her bed.  Sleep came quickly after my panicked race to her house and I felt safe inside her walls.  But I didn’t remember any dreams.

When the sun warmed my face in the morning, I woke and climbed back out the window.  I ran quickly through the clearing, over the tracks and strolled back to camp.  I acted like I had only been gone a few minutes, to pee.  All three of them believed me.  I made up a fabulous lie about my spiritual guide.  I said Daniel’s lone wolf came to me in my dream, that I was truly now a member of the wolf clan.  What I did not know was that the wolf is disobedient and vindictive when it is left alone.

-0-

Buddy wears a pinstriped three piece suit with a vest and a watch on a chain in the pockets.  The watch does look old, if not odd.  He strolls with a swagger on the carpeted hallway of our offices.  Blue jay, I think, beautiful bird with negative power.

I can see Margo watching him approach.  Her cubicle is caddy corner from mine, and she is standing just outside of it, near my entranceway.  Her head actually follows his movements as he walks past her.  She does a one hundred and eighty degree turn, her arms are folded over her chest, and she has a smile on her face.  Is she mocking him, or does she like him?  Why in the hell do I even care?

“Hey!  How ‘ya doing, guy?”  Buddy flashes me a smile of teeth too white to be natural.  He’s bleached them, probably.  His hand is outstretched to shake mine, and I take it.  We pump each other’s grip, once, twice.

“So, welcome,” I say.  “Have you met everyone?”

Margo is standing right behind him.  She has on the palest blue sleeveless dress.  Her fair arms, slightly sun burnt, are bent at either side of her waist, wrists clenched on her sides.  She looks ready to fight, but her expression is softer, open. “Margo, your fellow account rep,” I say.

Buddy turns around to face her.  All I can see is the back of his head.  His circular bald spot is about the size of a half dollar.  It pleases me.

Because she is facing me, I watch Margo looking at him.  She looks down quickly before I catch her eye.  She likes him!

“So, what accounts do you handle?”  Buddy is leaning on my cubicle, at almost the same spot Margo had stood the day before, asking about him.

“Oh, well.  I’ll show you if you want,” Margo tilts her head back toward her cubicle.  I feel my head explode in bright colored streaks of pain.

-0-

I wound up telling Polly all about Brea.

After Daniel died, Polly came to me — in the middle of the night – throughout the rest of September and into October.  I never locked the back door, and would fall asleep, hoping she’d wake me up.  I could talk to her.  Others tried to comfort me, but I turned away from them.

I was neither strong nor brave.  I cried, and I was lonely, afraid.

Daniel had needed me.  I had begun to drive him everywhere, since I had just gotten my driver’s license.  He’d become forgetful, after the stroke he’d had the year before.  Sometimes I try to believe that he didn’t know he was walking on the railroad tracks.  I block the note he left me out of my mind.

Polly would climb silently in between the sheets, and I’d be instantly awake.  I’d feel her soft fingers trace my chest, travel down toward my leg, and slip under my shorts.  What we did with each other was all new to me.  I had never had such freedom.  Daniel had slept in the next room.  Neither of us had ever invited anyone else into the house.  But I forgot about him, while I licked Polly’s neck and breasts.  She’d move under me and guide me into her before we’d rock together.  Polly would raise her ass and let me hold onto it as we explored the sensation of orgasm together.

We’d talk when we needed to rest.  I’d listen to her voice and the sound of my own heart beating as it slowed down.

“This Brea?  Did you ever do this with her?”  Polly asked.

“No.  Never.”

“Good.  I haven’t done this with anyone else either.”  Polly lined her body up against mine.  One arm covered my chest and one leg crossed over both of mine. “What does she look like?”

“I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Why?  Is she blonde?”

“What does that matter?”

“Is she?  She’s fair skinned, isn’t she?”

“Polly, Brea doesn’t matter.”

“Liar.”

I really didn’t know what I felt.  All I thought of was the ecstasy whenever Polly slipped into my bed.

By November, Polly was pregnant, and I left her, the Oneidas and everything that reminded me of Daniel.  As it grew dark one afternoon, I packed up Daniel’s old car.  I grabbed his cedar box from the shelf above his bed.  Inside, I knew were all his World War II papers, yellow and creased.  He served in the Marines and he placed his insignias from his uniform inside the small box.  His wolf wampum was also in there, with the broken thread Polly had cut to release his spirit.  I had placed my own eagle wampum in there as well.

By nightfall I was headed down Route 81.  The car died in Baltimore, so I figured that was where I was supposed to be.  I’d never been south of the New York state border.  By early December, it snowed.  I didn’t know places like Baltimore even got snow.

I wanted the comfort and familiarity of the one person who had been there for me.   I got a roll of quarters and placed a long distance call to Polly on a pay phone.  It was located outside, next to the liquor store on the corner where I’d found a room to rent.  The silent, white flakes swirled around me, and my heart pounded as the snow coated me.

“Polly?”  I asked when I heard someone say hello.  I imagined the snow was probably on the ground there by now.   Polly might be looking at it through the large, clean window by the phone.  A dream catcher hung from the curtain rod over the window.  Its lone feather would move slightly in the heat wafting from the radiator under the window.

“Just a moment, who’s calling, please?”

“Wyatt Thunderfire.”

Polly’s voice was strong, but she didn’t sound angry, “Wyatt?  Where are you?”  My mood lifted.  I hadn’t broken anything, yet.

“Baltimore.”

“What?”

“I’m in Baltimore.   It’s snowing.”

“What are you doing there?  Why did you go there?”  Her voice raised a bit, and I shivered, gripping the phone’s cord with fingers that were tingling.  Flakes stuck to me, stinging my skin.

“I’ll explain it all when you get here.”  I felt the cold in the soles of my shoes, seeping into my feet through the freezing pavement.

“What?  I’m not going to Baltimore.”

“Please, Polly, please come!”  I leaned into the phone booth’s meager shelter.  The quiet in the air was shattered by a siren screaming behind me.

“Wyatt, come home.”

I looked up at the bare branches of a slender tree near me, growing out of the sidewalk.  Its roots were encased in a square of dirt that was covered with a thin coating of snow.   “This is home to me, Polly.  I can’t stay there.”

“Why?”  Her voice had a sadness in it that I remembered from the day we sat on the cement steps after Daniel died.  The connection I felt that first time we kissed surged inside me.  We had a new bond, and I wanted to embrace it.

“Just come, Polly.  Please.”  I thought of her lips.  How they always tasted clean to me.  I wanted to see her face and I craved her thighs.

“You know I can’t do that, Wyatt.”

“Marry me.”  My back was cold, wet.  The snow had soaked through my sweater and I thought of running my hand over her smooth belly.

“Marry you?”

“We’re having a baby, aren’t we?”

The silence between us was being pelted by tiny pieces of ice that were mixing with the snowflakes.

“I need to think, Wyatt.  Call me in a few days.”

-0-

Buddy stays in Margo’s cubicle most of the morning.  I pass by as often as I can.  I go to the front desk to check the mail, then to the rest room.  I even stand at the opening to her cubicle to see what they are doing.  Folders are spread all over her desk, and she is chatting about radio and television media buys, the range in commissions we charge, and the number of spots that run gratis.

She looks up when I cast a shadow over them in the fluorescent light.  “What, Wyatt?”  she asks me.  Her voice sounds annoyed.

“Say, Wyatt, Margo tells me you all like to hang out at the Emerald Isle Pub after work.  What d’ ya’ say we all go there today?  Celebrate my arrival?”

I want to slug him, but I am desperate to hold my ground, “OK, 5:30.”

“See you then!”  The back of Margo’s hand is dangerously close to my nose as she waves me off.

Margo is already cornered in our booth with Buddy when my eyes adjust to the dark.  I can smell the stale beer that has spilled on the floor and the acrid stench of the cleanser they use to wash the surfaces of the tabletops and the bar itself.

I slide into the seat opposite Margo and Buddy.  I feel sick.  I am invading.

“Hey!”  Buddy looks at me and slaps the table.  “You need a beer!”  He turns to the bartender.  “Another Heineken,” he shouts.

“Natty Boh,” I correct him, and see two green bottles are blocking my full view of them on the other side of the booth.

“So, Margo tells me your wife and son left you.  Tough stuff,” Buddy says.

I look at Buddy, and move my head slightly to glance at Margo.  She stares back at me.  “I didn’t think it was a secret,” she says.

“Well, it’s private,” I say.  I get up.  “I’m getting my own beer.”

I think of the phone call I made to Polly this afternoon.  It didn’t go well.  It was the first time I’d tried to talk to her since she left.  It was a stupid thing to do.  I’d realized the symbols I’d been drawing — into the whiskey logo I’d been creating for a client — were eagle feathers.  Eagles got me thinking about my Native American name, and the Great Spirit, and suddenly the legend I’d been unable to remember came into my mind.  The voice was Daniel’s, my foster parent:

The thrasher cheated. He stole a ride on an eagle to get the Great Spirit’s best song.  When he was discovered, he hid under the biggest trees he could find in the forest.

I picked up the receiver on my office phone, and dialed Polly’s parents’ home.  I felt nauseous.  I thought of our son, Daniel, and how much I missed him.  The sound of the phone ringing on the other end made my heart beat faster.

Polly answered.  “Wyatt, please leave me and Daniel alone for awhile.  We aren’t ready to talk with you yet.”

“I should be able to talk to my son, Polly.”

“I agree, but he’s not here right now.  It’s a school day.  I’ll call you back in a couple of days and will negotiate a time.”

“Why a couple of days?”

“He’s having a tough time, Wyatt.  We need to give him some space.”

That stung.  I had pierced my son’s heart and the pain scorched my own chest.  “Oh, Polly …”

The shame of all the late nights with Margo poured over me.  Polly was right.  I’d let her and Daniel go, and waited six days to call.

A flash of movement catches my eye.   Margo’s hand is up and her palm is open. All her fingers are spread out.  I turn to watch Buddy’s bald spot up against Margo’s head.  His hand has disappeared under her pale blue dress.

“Hey!”  I shout, sliding off the bar stool and take three long strides to the booth.  I grab the back of his pinstriped jacket and yank as hard as I can.  Buddy snaps off of Margo.  Her dress rips from the force of his hand being pulled so quickly out from under it.

I watch Margo’s face as she emerges from behind Buddy’s.  She is white/gray in the dark pub.  Almost iridescent.  She looks pathetic.

“WHAT THE FUCK?”  Buddy is shouting at me as I fling him out of the booth. “YOU ASSHOLE!”  he continues, and I step closer to him, which gives Margo enough room to slide out of the booth.

“ASSHOLE?  YOU SHIT!”  I scream at him and fold my hand tightly.  I surprise myself by throwing my strong, clenched rock of a fist at his face.  I aim for his nose and feel the crunch of the cartilage beneath my curled middle and ring fingers.

“HOLY CHRIST!”  Buddy screams.  He covers his face with both hands as he collapses to his knees.

The bartender has jumped over the bar and grabbed me from behind.  “Take it easy,”  he speaks directly into my ear.

I nod and shrug and feel his grip on me loosen.  I turn to look at him, and he motions with his head toward the rest room.  “She went in there.  I’ll take care of this guy.”

“Margo?”  I push the rest room’s door open.  Its deep brown stained wood is sticky.   Margo is kneeling in front of the toilet.  Her fingers are inside her mouth.  I watch her as she makes herself vomit.

“Margo!”

I am more frightened by her vomiting, than I was of her face when I pulled Buddy off of her.  What in the hell is she doing?  My eyes burn as I watch her hold onto the sides of the toilet with both hands.  Her beautiful black hair hides her face from view and I cringe at the awful sound of her retching.

She sweeps one hand up the side of her face and rests it on top, holding back her hair.  Margo turns to look at me, her navy blue eyes wide with contempt.  “Go ‘way, Wyatt!”  she screams at me.

I step back, let the door shut softly and turn around.  I walk out to the bar again and see that the bartender has Buddy on a bar stool.   His is holding a dish towel — which looks like it is chunky with ice cubes — to his face.   He doesn’t see me as I slip out the door into the brilliant sun of the late afternoon.

The air is thick with heat.  I have never gotten used to the hot fall weather, and the long delay of the brilliant colors Baltimore does see, but not until possibly Halloween.  In Oneida, the air is already crisp.  The nights will require an extra blanket.  I round the corner and find our rented rowhouse, brick, with a front door painted Williamsburg blue.

I unlock it and step inside the empty house.  The silence overwhelms me.  Under the side table is a shelf with Daniel’s cedar box.  It looks sort of like a casket, in miniature.  I pull it out and open it.  The white circular whelk shells stand out against the background of purple quahog clam shells on a cummerbund shaped belt.  I tie both wampuns around my waist.  The lone wolf rests on top of my two eagles.  I head up the stairs to pack a suitcase.  I’ll call the office in the morning.  They will need to know that I have gone home to Oneida.

 


About the author

Caryn Coyle

Caryn Coyle writes about arts, culture and food for the websites CBS Baltimore and Welcome to Baltimore, Hon. Her fiction has been published in a dozen literary journals including Gargoyle, JMWW, The Little Patuxent Review, Loch Raven Review, Midway Journal, The Journal (Santa Fe) and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore from City Lit Press. She won the 2009 Maryland Writers Association Short Fiction Award, third prize in the first Delmarva Review Short Story Contest, 2011 and honorable mentions for her fiction from the Missouri Writer's Guild (2011) and the St. Louis Writer's Guild (2012). Contact the author.
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