Happily Ever After

There were only so many small bars in the area, only so many places that would keep serving you gin and tonics even though you were so drunk you couldnít tell a cigarette from a tampon and tried to smoke the latter. So Pearl often ended up Stickmanís Bar & Grill, also known as Stickyís - which had more to do with the condition of the floor and seats rather than the ownerís nickname.

Sticky was good to her in all the ways she needed. He kept her glass filled, didnít ask prying questions and discreetly called the right people to pick her up whenever she passed out in one of the famously sticky booths. There was no press at Stickyís. No gossip columnists hanging around, waiting for a good story. They were all at the big, trendy places, the ones that changed names and themes so often that it wasnít unusual to see a starlet type woman emerge from her limo decked out for Disco Revival Night at Xanadu to embarrassingly discover that itís Bang Your Head Night at Hardcoreís.

Pearl had been there, done that, had the permanent bags under her eyes to prove it. Over the past year, as things with her and Chaz descended to some unknown level of hell, she had deftly slid away from that crowd. They were so self-involved they barely noticed she had stopped hanging out with them and Pearl only knew what was going on in the lives of her former friends from reading Page Six.

On this particular Friday Pearl found herself once again perched on a sticky barstool, watching hockey and staring into her sixth gin and tonic. As always, her eyes drifted from her drink to the mirror behind the bar. She stared herself down again, noting with bemusement that the gradual progression from black hair to blonde had finally stripped her of the last thing of her former life she had clung to. Gone was the pasty skin, replaced by hundreds of dollars worth of bottled tan. Gone were the rosy cheeks, which had fled town along with the sparkle in her eyes, right around the same time Chaz asked for a divorce. And gone was the bird-like demeanor that once defined her - the delicate steps, the gentle chirping of her sweet voice, the flighty way in which she danced around the house while cleaning or taking care of their charges. She had become a buzzard, all sharp-beaked and cackling. No, what had Chaz called her just yesterday? A hag. She chuckled out loud. The irony of him calling her a hag was completely lost in Chazís simple mind.

Pearl took another sip of her drink and looked back toward the bar wall. Mirror, mirror.....No, she wouldnít go there.
Mirror, mirror....

"Are you still hung up on that Ďfairest of allí crap?"

She hadnít realized she said the words out loud. She turned slowly, even though she recognized the voice and knew who was standing behind her.

"Chaz. How nice to see you."
"Your voice betrays you, Pearl."
"Would you like me to sing it for you, Chaz? Maybe a little ditty about how thrilled I am to see the husband who left me for some fat little bakery girl? Shall I gather the birds and the bunnies? Throw some flowers at your feet?"
"Shit, Pearl. How many drinks have you had?"
"I donít need to be drunk to be bitter, Chaz. "
Patrick let out a little snort. "Donít I know it."

Pearl clumsily slid off her stool.

"Where are you going?"
"I donít want to be near you."
"I came here to talk to you, Pearl. I want to make things right."
"Oh, look, my Prince has come to save me!" She waved her hand theatrically towards her husband and raised her voice a notch. "Oh Prince Charming, thank goodness you are here to make everything better! Kiss me now and save me from a life of treachery! "
"Pearl..."
Sticky and the rest of the foosball players stared at the couple, eager for some prince-on-princess excitement. It had been a long time since a good domestic squabble broke out a Stickyís.

Pearl grabbed Sticky by the arm and swung him around to meet her. She launched into an awkward waltz, dragging the barkeep across the floor with her as she sang.

Someday my Prince will come
Someday we'll meet again
And away to his castle we'll go

Chaz came up behind them, grabbed Pearl by her waist and dragged her back to the bar. The foosball players applauded and Pearl tried to curtsey while her husband pushed her onto the bar stool.

"Is this a regular thing, Pearl? You come in here, get drunk, tell a few good tories about our marriage?"
"Marriage. Hah. More like a business agreement."
"I donít want to have this conversation again, Pearl."
"Why not? Letís have it for the hundredth time and for the hundredth time we will resolve absolutely, fucking nothing."
"Pearl, please. Language."
"Iím not your child, Chaz. Stop telling my how to behave."
"I'm just saying...."
"Oh, thatís rich. The guy who ran off with Gretel the Baker after he got her pregnant is telling me how to behave."

"Sticky, could I get a Guinness, please? Pint?"

Chaz moved his stool closer to Pearlís so he could talk without having to raise his voice above the clacking of the foosball table and the dance hall techno coming from the jukebox.

"Pearl, I want to apologize. I want to come back."
"Oh, did Gretel kick you out? Is the love affair over?"
"I donít love her. I never did. I was just trying to rectify what I did wrong."
"Rectify a wrong? By leaving me to fend for seven incontinent, senile midgets by myself??"
"I didnít really have it easy, Pearl. You know what happened to mine and Gretelís baby."
"Hey, everyone knew Hansel needed professional help. It wasnít the first time he tried to stuff a kid in the oven. Some people never get over things that happen in their childhood, you know. They act out on them later in weird ways."
"Yea, like trying to give your husband a poison apple?"
"It wasnít poison, it was just a laxative. I was just trying to humiliate you."
"Yea, well mission accomplished. My chain mail still smells like diarrhea."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, each sipping their drink and thinking of what to say next. Pearl wanted to tell Chaz to leave her alone and never come back, but as soon as she opened her mouth to say as much, she shut it again, not sure if thatís what she wanted at all.

Chaz had come to Stickyís with a prepared speech, but found himself unable to recite it. He was going to beg her forgiveness, promise to make things good again, sweep Pearl off her feet with words of romance and love. But as he watched his wife lift her drink to her mouth and miss, letting the gin and tonic dribble down her chin and neck, he remembered why he slept with Gretel in the first place.

"Iíll tell you why I slept with Gretel."
Pearl stared at Chaz. She wasnít sure she really cared why he did it.
"Oh, please. Regale me with your tales of justified adultery."
"You let yourself go, Pearl."

The foosball players stopped mid-play. Sticky, who had been washing glasses, paused and turned his head toward the prince and princess. The jukebox stopped on its own volition. Every other patron turned their head toward the couple, their mouths agape and their eyes wide in fear.

"I....what?" Pearlís voice was shrill and loud. Somewhere, a glass burst.
"You...you......," Chaz stammered a bit but went on, oblivious to the fact that he was in the midst of making the worst mistake a man could ever make. Yet everyone else in Stickyís knew it and watched the drama unfold with eager anticipation.

"You let yourself go, Pearl. What happened to the beautiful princess I found in the crystal coffin? What happened to your ebony hair and fair skin and slim figure?"

The anger that soared through Pearlís blood could not be contained. She reached for an empty beer bottle on the counter and hurled it at Chazís head. In her drunken state, her aim was way off and the bottled sailed over Chaz, smashing against the wall in a clatter of broken glass and splintered wood. The patrons gasped in unison, their mouths still hanging open like cartoon characters feigning surprise.

ďI let myself go? I. Let. Myself. GO?Ē Pearlís voice had almost reached dog whistle levels, it was so high. ďI spend all those years cooking for eight of you, cleaning up after eight of you, doing your laundry and making you fresh pies and shining your shoes and cleaning your filthy work clothes with absolutely no time left for myself and you have the nerve to say I let myself go? Where was the time for me, Prince Charming? When did I have time to exercise or get some sleep? WHEN??Ē She was screaming now and one of the foosball players ran out to the door, knowing that the gossip columnists gathered next door at Xanadu would pay him handsomely for the tip off that there was a royal fight going on in Stickyís.

The door burst open just as the fight was going into fever pitch. The foosball player breathlessly led the charge of celebrity gossip mongers into the bar, pointing at Pearl and Chaz, who were all red faced and gritted teeth.

"You owed us, Pearl. If it werenít for me and those incontinent midgets, youíd still be passed out in a glass box!"
"My god, Chaz. Itís 200 years later. Do you think Iíve maybe repaid you and those batty old men for your kindness already? How many years of slave labor do I need to do to satisfy you all?"
"Oh, please. You had your fun. How many nights a week did you go out clubbing with your friends? How many times were you on Page Six, Pearl? While I was in the mines, you were at some oxygen bar getting Botox treatments."
"Oh, well excuse me for trying to have a life besides getting mine grime off of your tunics and entertaining the little woodland animals. It got really fucking tiring, Chaz. You try spend 200 years knee deep in dishes, with insipid little rabbits and skunks following you around all day."
"That was your job, Pearl. Is it so fucking hard to just be a proper wife?"

Bulbs flashed. Camcorders whirred.

"You bastard. You misogynist, sexist, ungrateful bastard. Why donít you go back to that little piggie Gretel? How can you yell at me for being out of shape when you fucked that cow? What does she have that I donít???"
"At least she was willing to sire me a child!"
"Ohhhh. So thatís what this is about? That I didnít want to have children? I had eight people to take care of, Chaz. Were you going to help with a baby?"
"I did. I helped Gretel. Ask her. I was a good father."
"And thatís supposed to make me feel better? That you changed shitty diapers and burped your bastard kid while I was home wiping your piss off the toilet bowl? "
"Thatís what a wife does, Pearl. You have these ridiculous modern ideas of what a womanís role is. Thatís why I went to Gretel, because she knows a womanís job in this land is take care of her man! Especially when her man is a PRINCE."

The crowd that had gathered in and outside of Stickyís held their collective breath. All you could hear was the scritching of a pencil on pad as the Page Six columnist recorded every word.

Pearl eyed a broken beer bottle on the bar and grabbed it. She menaced her husband for a few minutes, waving the bottle around like a ninja showing off his nunchucks. She charged across the room towards Chaz, arm outstretched, jagged bottle pointing towards the princeís stomach.

A reporter snapped a picture and the flash went off, temporarily blinding Pearl. Her lunge towards her husbandís mid section struck only air and she flew off balance, landing on the parquet floor. The bottle skidded across the bar and stopped at the feet the prince. He kicked it aside and bent down to help his wife to her feet. They stared at each other for a few minutes before heading back to the bar counter.

The gossipers, realizing their story deadline was approaching, ran out of the bar. The royal spectacle had ended. Bar chatter started up again as if it never stopped, people picking up conversations where they left off before the fracas began.

Chaz pulled a stool out for Pearl and she sat down, picking up her warm gin and tonic. Chaz asked Sticky for a shot of Jack and then changed his mind and asked for the whole bottle, which he began to gulp down in earnest. The couple sat in thick silence for a while, rehashing in their minds what just happened. Above them, Channel Five News flashed a breaking news report on the screen - Royal Couple in Bar Brawl, Film at 11!

Chaz raised his bottle to Pearl and she responded by lifting her glass towards him.

"To Happily Ever After."
"Yea, to Happily Ever After."

All the text herein is copyright © 2004 Michele Catalano. All rights reserved.


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