There’s a tavern at the top of the mountain that was forgotten by time.
Snow-capped roof defying the summer heat and in disharmony with its surroundings, like a Christmas decoration in June, overlooked by a lush housewife, collecting dust and waiting for December to come ‘round again.
The trees, bristling toilet-brush pines sticking out of the green-green ground, wave a fierce greeting as I pass. They’re loyal that way.
Slender steel-grey trunks bursting from the earth in perfect little man-made lines, always so ready and proud, knotted branches flapping an enthusiastic hello each time I visit.
When I’m back in wherever it is I’m supposed to call home, some place with dull walls and a sterile smell, the trees tickle my thoughts. Do they miss me too?
The door is already open, pleasant chit-chat leaking out like a car radio at a stoplight, the clinking of glasses like a rattling chain.
If the trees could uproot themselves they’d follow me inside. But I walk past them and they stay put, prisoners to the ground.
“You’re back,” the barman says with a shallow nod of his bald head. It’s reflecting the flickering old lantern lighting like the watery eyes of a frightened horror movie damsel.
The people, they’re sitting alone at tables for two. All lined up in their chairs, eyes wide and staring up at me, a shell-shocked Guess Who? game board. This is my addiction.
This tavern on the mountain, filled up with the people I’ll hold onto like the last snowfall of the season.
In the heat of my palm, the snow melts and drips away, leaving my damp hands grasping at memories that don’t want to stay put. Anxious pictures, screenshots, screaming free me.
“Joan,” I say.
The air conditioning kicks on, sputtering once before settling into a persistent rattle, becoming ignorable.
I plant myself in the first seat, the rest of the room playing the role of tepid audience, frozen and vaguely watching the the wall. I smile.
She’s just as she was the night we met, somber faced and tired.
“Tell me about you,” I ask.
“Five foot six inches, blonde hair, blue eyes, one hundred and forty pounds. No husband,” she’s saying, like baseball card statistics, “No children. No family in the area.
Local bar: The Fox and the Hound. Social media oversharer.”
“Tell me about us.”
“I was drunk,” Joan replies, “Walking down South Street, you said you were my ride. Collin. Collin.”
She’s saying, over and over again in a voice that’s just so annoyingly not hers, “Collin.” A patient, mocking, “Collin, Collin.”
“Collin,” the woman says, hands folded into a little lump atop a manila folder. “Where were you? Just now, where did you go?”
The cold metal cuffs rest too casually against my skin, rattling as I sit back and say, “There’s a tavern at the top of the mountain that was forgotten by time.”
The air conditioner clatters and then shuts off.