the power of black beans

My hands carefully wrapped around the blue ceramic bowl and brought it close to me so I could breathe in its divine aroma. The steam rose up to greet me and I closed my eyes, savoring its comforting properties before even tasting.

To many people it would just be what it was, a bowl of black bean soup, rich with bell peppers and riddled with corn kernels. But for me, it was heaven, brought to me by James, the cute boy with the horrible date I met just weeks ago.

Last night I had finally summoned the courage to dial those ten little numbers. And he was both happy and excited to see me.

It was a quarter to ten when I arrived at the sunken in, sort of hidden dive bar down the street from my house. It was small, smelled of stale beer and menthol cigarettes, and regardless of its empty parking lot, was usually pretty full by eleven. Tonight there weren’t that many people there yet, just the normal Thursday night crowd, tuning their guitars and getting pumped up for the open mic event, which usually started between ten and ten thirty.

This evening, the bartender, Elena, had an acoustic guitar around her neck while she was working. I took my usual seat, a stool toward the back of the house with a good view of the stage. “Hey, lady,” she said to me, smiling, gesturing at her instrument. “I’m playing tonight.”

“Awesome,” I said, offering an overly enthusiastic grin.

Elena was a lesbian. She had curly, dirty blonde hair that was often pulled back in a bandana or ponytail. She wore ripped jeans and dark, ribbed tank tops that almost always revealed the bright orange or yellow of her bra straps. Anytime I had ever come in with a male, she spent a good chunk of the evening explaining the faults of men in general, and when my companion would exit for a smoke or a bathroom break, the faults she suspected he especially carried. I suspected she had a bit of a crush on me, as I only paid for about half my drinks usually.

“I just wrote a new song yesterday,” she squealed, sort of doing this little jumping-up-and-down dance. “You like Ani, right?”

It was true, I liked Ani DiFranco. But she was the epitome of lesbian rock. I knew where this was going. “Sure.”

“Then you’re gonna love it!” She strummed at her guitar a couple times. “Oh, I’ll save it,” she decided, stopping. “You need a drink, love?”

Did I ever. “The usual, ma’am,” I said, checking my cell phone for the time. If he were punctual, he would be there in 10 minutes. Punctuality was important to me. If I told someone I would be there at nine, I would probably be there at ten till. But boys were boys, boys were different. I have never known a habitually punctual male.

She poured me a Guinness, and started strumming again.

He was five minutes late. He blamed ‘band practice’ for his tardiness. It was alright, considering he was doing open mic, for me, on our first date. I knew I had seen him somewhere before. Turns out he was a regular at my neighborhood dive. I had probably drunkenly played pool with him before, not caring, my mind filled with other silly unmentionables.

He was attractive, tall, thin and sort of pale in comparison to others I had dated, but he had jet black hair, long, neat sideburns and these piercing green eyes that just sort of grabbed you on contact. I discovered during our phone conversation that he was younger than the people I usually dated as well. He seemed to have this sort of emo rocker thing going on. He wore a spiked belt and low rise jeans, with a bit of his boxers peeking out. He played bass. He got big points for that.

“Hey,” he said, setting down his guitar case and winking at me. He sauntered over to give my shoulders a squeeze and to peck me on the cheek.

“Hey you,” I replied, poking him in the ribs lightly.

He lingered in the side of my face for a moment. “God, you smell amazing.”

I smiled. He walked back over to his guitar case and opened it. Along with his precious bass guitar, there was a single white rose. A bit cliché, but he was smooth. I was a little worried where it was going. I gave him a sideways look.

He lifted it out of the case and gave me a suspecting look. “You don’t think this is for you, do you?”

I rolled my eyes amidst my obvious blush.

“Oh no, babe, I brought it for my favorite dyke bartender,” he said pointing at Elena, who was humming to herself and practicing.

She didn’t even bother looking up, flipped him off and went back to strumming.

I grabbed it from him. “Jerk,” I said playfully, smelling my gift. “Thank you.”

“Don’t go getting gushy on me now, girl,” he said, lifting his guitar out of the case now. “I’ve got some rocking to do before we get sexy.” Another wink.

He was kind of cheesy in a sleazy way. Or maybe it was vice versa. However, there was something attractive about it. But I imagined it getting old, grating on me. At this point however, I had a flower in one hand and a Guinness in the other, plus a cute boy making eyes at me playing bass. Things weren’t so bad.

There was usually a pretty good-sized list of people who signed up for open mic. There were a few guys, probably in their fifties, who came in and did covers of classic rock songs, and, depending on how drunk they were, sometimes were pretty decent and made for a good show. There was also an older blonde lady that came in and did everything acoustic, mostly folk songs, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell or sometimes Janis Joplin. And Elena, of course.

And then there was Blank Stare, the trio that I had come to see. It was basically James playing bass, his best friend Jonathan sort of flowing, and another friend of his, a shy, quiet guy whose name I didn’t remember, playing guitar. I had heard they were a decent act when they had practiced, and when the rhymes were written well. I figured a lot of it had come from drunk and stoned conversations and I couldn’t decide whether it was to their advantage or not. I guess I would be able to tell soon.

The rest of the players pretty much changed every week. New people would come in and try their hand at an original song, or attempt a karaoke-like vibe and just do a cover or two. But regardless, people were usually a few beers or cocktails deep by showtime, which always made for an interesting set.

Open mic had officially begun. I was halfway through a Guinness, James’ fingers were playfully stroking my lower back. He whispered in my ear something dirty, which I couldn’t fully understand on account of the first performer. I smiled and stuck my tongue out at him.

It looked like it was going to be a pretty good night. Nobody had done too bad of a job and it looked like the whole house was in good spirits.

Even so, James got nervous before he played. When the person before him started, he grabbed his guitar and go outside and strum a little to himself to get motivated, pumped, or just to see if he still ‘had it.’ He looked mildly stressed, mostly because there had been no serious flops. I understood the concern; nobody wants to be the worst up at an open mic night. But I was relatively confident that Blank Stare wouldn’t be. At least I was hoping.

He blew me a kiss, grabbed his guitar and ran out the door. I chuckled to myself. Then again, by this time I was three beers deep and nursing a vodka soda, so my sense of humor had definitely been tampered with. But I still found it adorable, the beads of sweat forming on his forehead while he paced through performers, and the look of sheer panic that washed over him at this point.

While he was gone I ignored the performers and thought about him. I didn’t know if he was a good person, but he was certainly making me happy, happy in a non-committal way. I wasn’t thinking about him the way I thought about Drew, I wasn’t worrying what he was thinking about me or what I should say or do. He seemed to be doing the same. I was surprised about the flower, surprised about the touching already, surprised about the kiss. It seemed natural, like we had known each other for a long time. I felt like I knew him. I just didn’t.

I sighed, again berating myself for dating someone who was, in most senses of the word, unavailable. I thought of Shawna, his older, alcoholic girlfriend, the redhead I had detested at Slice, the one whose grubby red nailed hands pawed and clawed at Evan like a cat in heat. From what he had mentioned about her, she was probably out with the girls at a club or by herself at home killing a few bottles of wine, smoking a pack or two of cigarettes. I wondered if ever she wished that she were here, out at a dive bar with her sexy green-eyed boy rocking his bass. I wondered if she ever thought about how different they truly seemed to be. Then I wondered; what if he was lying to me about it all?

Would there be a reason to? Did I have a reason to trust him in the first place? My trust wasn’t easily earned but I had believed everything he had said so far, about everything. Until this point I hadn’t even doubted it. “Silly rabbit,” I said to myself.

He had confessed that she had only ever come to see him play once. He seemed depressed when he spoke of her, and that depressed me as well. Not that I wanted to hear the good stuff per se, but he seemed so unhappy that it literally hurt me. This band seemed to be very important to him, one of the only things he seemed to clutch desperately to. And it seemed she couldn’t have cared less.

But I was there. Playing my usual role, the woman who is and does what the girlfriend cannot. It was a sad story. Even I knew it. But this was not about me.

Before I knew it, Blank Stare was up. James shot through the front door, his cheeks pink from excitement and adrenaline. The three headed over to the stage, instruments in hand. James’ eyes were sparkling in my direction as he lifted the guitar strap over his shoulder.

He started playing, occasionally turning his back to the audience for whatever his own reasons happened to be, closing his eyes, getting lost in the melodies. Jonathan was belting out a slough of rhymes about relationships and politics and what have you, and the unremembered band member was impressing me. I wondered about jamming with them. Would that be weird? I felt like I wanted to see more of him. But I wasn’t sure. But I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. From the way he was acting it seemed that he would want me to go home with him. I decided I was going to tell him no.

He came to my house instead. We drank much too much lager and cut up seven limes. He perused my bookshelves with silent envy, which made me cross my arms and bite my lip in happiness and pride. The more I drank, the more my mind pushed forward with an insane energy about it, making me want to go do something, something far from the empty bottles and cans that had flooded my small apartment. I wanted to taste the ocean. I wanted to taste my own tears. I wanted to get lost in the forest; I longed for him to eat me for survival, thinking about how good I tasted and taking his time, lingering over my most tender bits, savoring me.

He spent a long time looking in my kitchen, the way he was looking at my books. I eyed him carefully. Finally, the pieces fit together. “I’m a chef.”

I laughed, then thought ill of myself for doing so.

He just smiled. “Well, an aspiring one. I’m going to culinary school.”

He gave me kudos for my avant-garde kitchen items, my love of garlic and shallots and black beans. He told me he made the best black bean soup I could imagine.

And then there it was, in my unworthy hands. My headache was ravaging me, holding onto me for dear life. It was a morning shift I was not looking forward to. We fell asleep together after nothing more than a few kisses, on the floor. I don’t remember the last bits of our conversation, but I was pretty sure I was drunker than he. And when I woke up, the pounding at my temples had begun. Which was a pretty big deal for me as I’ve become accustomed to not ever being hungover.

But nevermind that. The soup was there, and my stomach was gurgling with regret and emptiness. I completely stopped everything that I was doing and sat down to indulge in its goodness.

I didn’t care about how I was eating it, because I was a girl and he was a boy, because we hadn’t slept together yet, because he didn’t even know what color underwear I had been wearing. My soup spoon was full and soon my mouth was too. The heat was comforting and I was basking in it like children do ice cream cones, melting down their arm in the dead of summer.

I couldn’t bring myself to stop, to tell him thank you, to explain how delicious it was. I was not enveloping it with my mouth or tasting it with my tongue, I was devouring it with my soul, and it felt like it was transforming me into something better, stronger. My eyes met his with glee and gratefulness and regret altogether. For those few moments, the headache was gone and the world seemed like my oyster. James, labret, green eyes, black bean soup. The world was beautiful and bright, stinging my eyes with its glory.

Soon enough it was gone and when I tried to tell him my opinion on it, he shushed me and smiled. I don’t think he needed me to tell him how good it was. The empty bowl, my brown tongue and the relief in my face had been enough, and now my day would be fine, just fine.


1 Response to “the power of black beans”

  1. March 3, 2008 at 1:15 am

    IF I could steal your literary powers, I would. If I could be a fly on you wall, I would. If I could steal that soup, I would. If I could play my bass for you (though I’m not what most would call talented or good), I would.

    Jolie, I am forever yours and all I desire is that you keep writing, writing, writing.

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