She moved as if she were visiting from a planet with a less dense and restrictive atmosphere; gravity seemed to affect her less and air could not gain purchase on her surfaces. With elegant terpsichorian grace, she leapt and whirled about the room, stopping now and then to chat. I could hear her laughter occasionally which sounded like multicolored gems falling into a crystal goblet of fine champagne. Her hair tumbled like soft liquid anthracite about her shoulders, throwing sparks of reflected light as she tossed her locks to and fro. When her gaze landed and remained on me I was just drunk enough to accept it as my due and I locked on with a challenging one of my own.
It was New Year's Eve 2003 at the Ledford House and my introduction to Albion society. I had arrived in the County only weeks before and my experience of the local social world was so far limited to the front porch of the Albion store and Rick Redfern's hot tub. I hadn't been real excited about the prospect of a party, but it was that or sit and drink with a one eyed, three-legged cat. The cat, Mrs. Stellington, had a way of fixing you with its one gimlet eye that made you feel guilty, as if you were responsible for the absence of its missing parts. So I said, What the hell? I got myself nicely oiled and tooled down the ridge in the rain. (Kids: driving drunk on dark country roads in inclement weather is best left to experts) which is how I found myself helplessly locked into the tractor beam of this lissome vision now coming my way.
"Hi," she said. "I like your shirt" It was a black T-shirt with the words "Someday I…" across the chest, in reference to a friend's band back home but also useful as a conversation starter and declaration of open-ended aspirations. "Thanks," I said. "Some day I hope to be dancing with you." She tilted her head back and dropped that mellifluous tinkling laugh on me, causing a seismic shiver throughout my internal mechanisms. I offered my arms and off to the dance floor we went.
If her walking was ballet, then her dancing was poetry spelled out with a body that was all alphabets at once.
It was like watching otters at play. She shimmered in a vintage coppery sheath, smiling at me as I tried hold up my end. Occasionally stray dancers wondered or stumbled into our orbit and I despatched them with a hip or an elbow. The song ended and the band went on break. "Drink?" I asked and led her toward the bar. "You're kind of an aggressive dancer," she said. "Punk rock genes," I said. She looked down at me. "They look like regular Levis to me."
"No. I mean I've spent so much time thrashing at punk rock shows that when I get on a dance floor and there's a live band sometimes instinct will kick in and I will forget I'm among civilized people. I'm getting better, but there have been some injuries in the past."
"Punk rocker, eh?" she said. "I suspected there was something dangerous about you."
"Man, I'm the totally sweet kind. Pure honey, it's just muscle memory kicking in."
We drank and chatted and danced some more and there were no casualties and along about 11pm the heat and the alcohol and the situation had me feeling a little out of sorts. I contrived to go outside to get some air by telling her I needed something from the car. "I'll be right back," I told her, clasping her hand. "Don't go anywhere."
The rain and cool night air felt wonderful but were not enough to keep me from hurling violently which I did after getting about ten steps from the back door. After the initial expulsion I decided to find a more secluded place to void myself and reeled off into the rain. Something went awry shortly and I tumbled base over apex down a small hill and into a bush, collecting upon my person a great deal of the local topsoil and flora, the latter being in the way of sharp stickery things puncturing my skin in various places. On hands and knees, in a position I now know as the "cow" half of "cat/cow," I completed my evacuation. "Moo," I moaned.
I stood a bit uncertainly and took stock of the situation. Back at the party there was a fascinating, beautiful female who, unless my instincts were seriously malfunctioning, was planning to usher in 2004 lip-locked with yours truly, at least the version of me that she met inside. Perhaps not the besmirched and bestickered vomitron I had become. I didn't think our short association could bear the sight of me and still continue kissward and so I resolved to remedy it. This was no sneak-to-the-bathroom paper-towel fix; this was a haul-ass up the ridge, shower and quick change fix. I could do this. 15 minutes, max, boom, I'm fresh as a daisy, Auld Lang Syne-ing like nobody's biz and puckering up for a smooch that may just be the first of many.
The first problem occurred looking for the car. It wasn't so much that I couldn't find it, more that it didn't exist — not on this plane anyhow. I was looking for a green Jetta when in fact I had arrived in a maroon Camry. Apparently I hadn't driven the Toyota long enough for it to maintain a hold on the "my car" slot in my brain under the combined pressure of stress, vodka, and the overriding possibility of those sweet, sweet lips.
It was only when I stopped to get my bearings and found myself actually leaning on my car that I realized my mistake. I leapt in and took off, throwing up a big muddy rooster tail.
Visibility was poor and getting poorer. The rain was turning to mist and the mist was turning to fog at ground level. I couldn't see the road at all and any features I could see ahead were indistinct and ghostly. Eventually I saw foliage poking up through the fog and realized I had left the road entirely. I took a random turn and proceeded. The way got bumpier, the greenery taller. I reversed direction. No road. In frustration I spun the wheel hard to the left, tromped on the gas, and started spinning donuts. After about two and a quarter revolutions I straightened the wheel and shot forward, thinking one direction as good as any.
I was bumping along at a pretty good clip when I noticed the air ahead of me had cleared somewhat but I still couldn't see anything. No Ledford House lights, no passing cars, no trees, no nothing. I slammed on the brakes and got out of the car to try to ascertain my position which as it turned out was about 10 feet to east of the Pacific Ocean. Directly in front of the car and a hell of a long way straight down, the waves were crashing violently against the huge rocks. I do believe I swooned a little, observing my almost fate down there in the briny, but a miss is as good as a mile and standing there pondering my mortality was not going to get me kissed. I had a definite direction to head in — away from all that water — which I did post-haste.
I found the road in short order and proceeded very cautiously up Highway 1. Why I turned left and crossed the Albion River Ridge I don't know, but I did realize my error before too long and spun a Uey. I hit the Ridge Road and let them horses fly. Those who live on the Ridge and in similar places understand that feeling of freedom one gets leaving Highway 1 and entering privileged airspace. It's a copless, libertarian, free fly zone, or at least that's how I interpreted it. I'm not sure if I came closer to death nearly plunging into the storm tossed sea or hurtling drunkenly through the night at 90+ miles per hour using both sides of the road indiscriminately. But it was a near thing either way. Again, kids, don't try this at home. I'm a professional.
After overshooting H Road twice, once going east and once west, I homed in on it and bounded into the homestead. Two minutes in the shower, brush my teeth, and change my clothes, back into the trusty Toyota, the one that never stops running or get flats or runs out of gas, right? Please! She turned over cleanly and we were shortly humming along westward. It wasn't until I was about 5/8 of the way down the ridge, down by the A-frame, that the big ass thorn I'd picked up when this misadventure began started to assert itself sufficiently to allow the tire to start going blappety-blap, but it did and I was forced to pull over. I did have a spare, but no way was I going to start mucking about on the side of the road. I said. Screw it and started jogging down the road.
Now I'm no track star, but if I didn't set a new record for the Desperate Dark Drunken Dr. Morton Holiday 1000 yard Dash/Stumble, then I suspect collusion and favoritism on the part of the judges for I was as fleet as the very wind that that sodden night. Like Mercury himself I sped, cleaving the mist before me as I hurtled toward destiny. I crossed Highway 1 and headed toward the light and sounds of music and merriment except — no music. No merriment. Substantially fewer cars than there'd been when I left. My heart was passing my knees on its journey to my feet as I opened the door to see maybe 8 or 10 stragglers milling around. Pilar and the band were winding cords and casing instruments, the bartender was doing post-last-call stuff and she was nowhere to be seen. I walked up to the bar. "Happy New Year! Any chance of a drink?" I said.
"Sorry, I'm shut down here, but feel free to finish any of those," he said, indicating a cluster of champagne bottles sitting on the bar. I picked up one about three-fourths full, waved off his offer of a glass and upended the bottle disconsolately. "Say, you don't remember a woman, maybe 30, dark hair, copper dress, Roman sandals, looked like Cleopatra, maybe?"
"You know, I do remember her. Great dancer. She danced all night, left a little while ago."
"You know her? Her name?"
I sat down and reached for another wounded soldier.
If this were a romantic comedy — and those of you conversant with the genre may have noticed in my bumbling efforts some of its time-tested tropes — right about now she would be coming out of the bathroom, putting on her coat, saying goodnight. She would see me at the bar, walk over, tap my shoulder and I would turn around and she would softly say, "Happy New Year." We would kiss to the strains of some surging ballad and walk out the door hand in hand. Alas, this was real life and I had blown it for real.
Over the next few months I made some inquiries as I met more of the locals. But I found as time passed I was holding in my memory more of her essence and less of her corporal actuality. Hence, my inability to describe her in human terms. I would say things like, "She looked like, I don't know, a dragonfly or maybe a wood nymph. She smelled like an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem. She was in the the key of C sharp Major, definitely."
So, really, no help at all, and to this day her identity remains a mystery. The moral of course is to modulate your alcohol consumption and when you meet someone who sets things all atingle with her gaze: DON'T LEAVE.
Stony Lonesome Update: In re last week's oyster question. I was right, it was Shakespeare. The Merry Wives of Windsor, specifically Pistol asks Falstaff for some money and Falstaff says, No way, Ray, to which Pistol responds: "Why then, the world's mine oyster / which I with sword will open."
Seems to me this Pistol's up to no good. I found a much more interesting quote in my search, from Sheridan: "Oysters are more beautiful than any religion. There's nothing in Christianity or Buddhism that quite matches the sympathetic unselfishness of the Oyster."
Which just goes to show you: Writers be crazy.