“I think we’re alone now,” he said softly. “Do you have it?”
Tiger shifted to light a cigarette. She still smoked the same clove cigarettes she had in college. Djarum Specials. They smelled sweet and spicy, as if they were made from her very essence. She didn’t answer him.
“Come on, Tiger. I know we’ve got,” Mentsh shifted uncomfortably. “We’ve got some shit between us, but it’s not his fault.”
He wasn’t sure if the sweat on his forehead was from exertion or nervousness, but the sweat running down his back and into his ass crack was pure flop sweat.
It had taken him nearly an hour to get from his apartment, down to the first floor to borrow a portable record player, and then to race across San Francisco by bike.
More than once, he had nearly crashed. At least one of them would most likely have been fatal when a furniture truck had made an illegal left turn in front of him on Market Street just before he’d gotten to The Den, Tiger’s club.
A thin and scantily clad pale woman walked past the booth they were in pulling him back to the present. Time was running out. Was she Russian? She looked good enough that she didn’t need to dance on the stage. Men must just thrown their money in her directio
“I see you’re just as easily distracted as ever. More so.”
Tiger waived at someone and a waitress brought over two glasses and a bottle of maple-colored liquid. Mentsh’s mouth watered as she shifted a full glass across the table to him. He waived his hand in a negative gesture, but his fingers shook slightly as the passed the glass, as if they could sense the alcohol.
“It’s not you,” Tiger was saying as she exhaled smoke. “It’s her.”
“Jack’s sister. The blue-eyed whore. Why should I do anything for her?”
Mentsh’s phone lit up as he checked the time. Less than fifteen minutes until he had to meet her and Tiger was still stalling him. Did she even have the record?
Jack and Mentsh had both heard the song – Elegia by New Order – at different times before they’d ever met each other, but it was probably the one connection they had immediately, which cemented their friendship.
It was a song written by the members of a band as memorial to a lost band member. The original album cut was only about four minutes long. It was beautiful but fleeting.
When they’d both gotten into the college radio station and spent hours – days – in the record stacks, they’d found a dusty but well love-worn vinyl pressing of the original version of the song. Over seventeen minutes long and full of the compressed sorrow and longing of four friends who missed the fifth.
Tiger had come into their midst later. Before she had become the scary presence she was now, she was small, insecure, dramatic, and still full of sweet and spice.
And they had both loved her.
Mentsh’s melancholy was threatening to overwhelm him again, but he could practically feel Tiger’s skin. Her lips. The way she would flinch when he exhaled smoke on the small of her back or just below her stomach.
She stared into Mentsh’s eyes now, through the haze and dark of the club. The DJ started playing something in preparation for the doors opening soon. Some modern rap-rock mash up. Garbage but popular.
“He’d have hated this,” she muttered and then smiled. She flicked her wrist with a flourish, depositing ash into the air where it dispersed until it was invisible. Then she slipped around the booth until she was next to Mentsh, her thigh against his. He was suddenly embarrassed at the way he must smell. When was the last time he cared about something like that?
“Why do you hate her so much?” he asked bluntly.
Tiger turned to him and he caught a glimpse of the small girl he remembered before shadow played across her face again.
“What do you need it for?” she asked, trying to redirect the conversation back to the original topic.
“It was his wish. I fucked up. A lot. I know it. The least I can do is play his favorite song as Jane spreads his ashes into the bay.”
“I hate her because she took you from me,” she whispered as she lit another cigarette.
He didn’t hear her over a crash as a busser dropped a glass while setting up the bar.
“Here.” She reached behind the booth and slid a sheathed record across the table to him. His heart actually stopped for a fraction of a second as he recognized it the label immediately.
When they’d left the radio station, left college, and both moved west to San Francisco, Mentsh had pilfered the record, but he hadn’t seen it since his break up with Tiger. When he’d left her for Jane.
He started to say something. Should he hug her? Kiss her?
“Don’t. Just take it and go.” She waived her cigarette vaguely toward the door. The glowing coals traced a line through the air and back again.
Mentsh started to get up when Tiger added, “But don’t come back.”
He turned to face her, the record clutched close, as if it were a small child being shielded from harsh wind.
She had already stood up and was facing away from him.
“You heard me. If you go, don’t come back. Ever.”
Tiger dropped her cigarette into her glass and gracefully walked away, past the bar, and disappeared down a hall.
Mentsh stood where he was. He could practically hear the record through his skin. The soft melody and heavy base notes. He could feel the years of friendship with Jack, his love of Tiger and later of Jane.
“Jane,” he muttered and turned, racing out of the club. She was waiting. Memories were just vapor, but she was waiting for him.
Week 4 Assignment: