'Into the Light'

Michelle Reale

      We perched on stools. The cracked leather pinched the back of our soft, pink thighs.   My friend felt proud of the bar, as if her father owned the small dark room and had given birth all by himself to the sad men than lined up at ten in the morning for their first drink of the day.   “Cherry coke, straight up!” she would say, each and every time and as young as I was, I knew that we shouldn't have been there, shouldn't have enjoyed the smoky, laziness of the place, or the way the men eyed us with curiosity, sadness then, inexplicably, anger.   Her father would swipe the bar with a soft cloth, back and forth, as if he were stuck in a milky-white dream. My friend lazily blew bubbles in the short thick glass, even after the soda had gone warm and syrupy.   Every once in a while, the door would crack open and a man would lumber in as if the place was his home.   I'd see the crack of light, which made the curtain of smoke undulate in the air, all lit up like something to celebrate. Suddenly I'd feel like something sore inside of me had left and gone on a journey all its own.   When my friend began to whine, her father lifted us softly from the stools and I wobbled.   He'd give a small salute and then expect us to find our way home. We linked our small hands and emerged from that other world into the light. It felt like being born for the first time.   As if we could have a memory of anything so momentous.    As if anything at all still mattered.