I should have known the sweet sound of jazz music wafting from a town all-but closed up for the night would be trouble. I should have made Lizbeth walk to the next town when our car engine refused to turn over at the gas station. I should have got down on one knee and slipped that damn diamond ring onto her finger right there in front of the ninety year old deaf gas station attendant. What I did instead was let her lead us right into our last moments together.
“What are you thinking about?” Lizbeth purrs at me now.
‘I hope you can’t read my mind,’ is what I’m thinking. I glance at her. She isn’t smiling. I don’t bother answering her. What’s the use? Instead, I think about the last time I saw her smile.
“Oh, come on. It’ll be an adventure.” She had said, pulling at my arm.
“I don’t know. What about the car?”
“Well, it’s not going anywhere tonight, obviously.”
“Fine.” I wasn’t too upset. I enjoyed giving her what she wanted. In exchange I got her smile.
As we walked down the sidewalk, hand in hand, passed the closed shops, palm trees swaying above us, I began to think maybe this was the universe…fate or whatever giving me a romantic place to pop the question. I stroked the ring in my pocket, feeling good about my secret.
Warm light, cigar smoke and jazz poured out of the opened door. We stepped in and glanced around. The place was cozy. A couple of tables with red velvet table clothes, flickering candles, a long bar with a few patrons grooving along with the music. The bartender watched us take a seat at an empty table and nodded at the waitress.
We were huddled together with a small paper menu in front of the candlelight. I had never heard of any of the wines on there.
“Evening, folks. What can I get you?”
“What do you recommend?”
“Well, we have a good honey wine if you want simple.” At this point I saw her eyes dart to the bartender. “Or the raspberry delight is good if you want something frozen.”
Why did she seem so nervous?
“I didn’t know you could make wine out of honey,” Lizbeth said.
“You can make wine out of things you wouldn’t believe,” the waitress mumbled.
“Well, I’ll try the honey wine.”
“And for you, sir?”
“Water, please.” I don’t know why, but I was suddenly feeling like I needed to stay on my toes.
Halfway through that glass of honey wine, Lizbeth gasped. “Oh, isn’t that just exquisite!”
I was still thinking about the fact I had never heard her use the word “exquisite” before as she got up and lifted a black and gold mask from the corner of the bar. She was turning it back and forth, admiring it as it glittered in the candlelight. I stuck a finger in my ear and shook my head like a dog. What is that? Voices? It sounded like thousands of whispering voices entwined in the music and they were getting louder.
“Liz?” I called. The bartender was standing in front of her now. I thought maybe he was going to tell her she wasn’t suppose to be touching the décor, but instead he motioned to her and she lifted it to her face. “Oh, Lizbeth.” I stood up, feeling anxious and realizing that the voices had stopped, but so had the music. I glanced around and everyone was smiling at Lizbeth.
She suddenly whirled around and my heart skipped a few hundred beats. The mask was moving, molding itself to her face. It didn’t seem solid, more like gold and silver threads as fine as spider webs spreading in waves over her face. Her eyes were closed. My feet felt like lead. I watched helplessly as the bartender came around the bar, kneeled down on one knee before her and held up a glass of red wine. Without opening her eyes, she accepted the glass and titled it toward her lips.
“She has been chosen.” The waitress was standing behind me. Her words knocked me in the back of the head like a baseball bat and I fell forward, my feet suddenly free.
I pushed the bartender to one side and grabbed her by the shoulders. She dropped the empty glass and her eyes popped open. I fell back. Her eyes were slick black orbs, shiny and wet.
“Oh my god.”
I watched in disbelief as they began to dull and shift to a cool green.
She smiled at me then. “I accept. I will be your god.”
The mask seemed to lose its shine, too and she reached up and plucked it off her face, tossing it back onto the bar. I couldn’t stop staring at her mouth, stained red, a stringy chuck of something stuck in her tooth.
“You have something,” I motioned to my own teeth, “stuck…”
“Enough,” she hissed. The music started back up and she walked to the door. “Come, I’m ready to see the world.”
She stepped out into the moonlight. The waitress slipped in front of me and placed something hard and warm between my palms.There were tears in her eyes. I moved toward the door on shaky legs, glancing at the tiny glass perfume bottle in my hands. As I slipped it in my pocket, I heard it clink against the ring and almost broke right there.
I didn’t. I’m being strong.
“Oooo,” she gasped, placing a warm hand on my leg. “Pull in, over there. I want to try one of those.”