My Sister’s Keeper
I’m sitting in a bar after work with Beth and Arlene. It was a long night and we’re rewarding ourselves with some post shift libations.
Beth’s drinking a beer. I’m finishing up a dirty martini. Arlene, who is almost seven months pregnant, is sipping her single disciplined glass of wine.
I signal to the bartender for another drink. Arlene looks at me forlornly.
“Hey that’s not fair,” she says, “I can only have one.”
“When you’re in the recovery room I’ll bring a pitcher of martinis instead of flowers,” I quip.
“I still can’t have it. I’ll be breastfeeding,” Arlene replies tartly.
I laugh. “I guess you’re drinking days are behind you Mommy.”
Arlene smiles. She just turned thirty. This is her first child. Her entire life is about to change.
The bartender sets a fresh drink in front of me. I take a sip. Mmmm. Ice cold.
“Hey look over there,” Beth says nudging me.
“What is it?”
“Another pregnant lady at the bar,” she giggles.
A very large pregnant woman struggles onto a bar stool. The bartender goes up to her. She orders a Jack & Coke.
“Jesus – that’s a bit much,” I remark.
The barman deposits the drink in front of her. She sucks it down in under a minute. Wiping her mouth she gets up and waddles outside onto the patio. She lights up a cigarette.
“Can you believe that?” Arlene says in horror.
“I’m afraid I do,” I reply sadly.
We watch the woman as she returns to the bar and proceeds to drink herself into a stupor. Some of her running buddies join her. They start to get loud.
“I don’t think I can see anymore of this,” Arlene says rubbing her tummy nervously.
“Yeah, let’s get out of here,” Beth agrees.
I look over at the woman. She’s having a good time, laughing uproariously at her friend’s jokes, oblivious to the life growing inside her.
“Let’s go,” I say polishing off my drink.
We ask the barman for the bill. He brings it too us.
“Thirty bucks,” he says. I reach for my wallet. Drinks are on me tonight.
“Hey! I want another drink,” the pregnant lady calls out.
“Just a sec lady,” the barman snaps.
As I count out the bills I whisper, “Don’t you think that lady’s had enough?”
The bartender stares at me blankly. “Not my problem,” he replies.
“Yeah, but she’s pregnant.”
The bartender glances over at Arlene. She only drank half her wine. “I’m not my sister’s keeper,” he says shrugging.
I push the pile of bills towards him. “I guess you aren’t,” I mutter softly. The barman snatches up the cash and walks away.
“Ok, let’s go,” I sigh.
We walk out the French doors onto the patio. The air is thick with tobacco smoke. The pregnant woman comes up behind us with her fresh drink and lights up a cigarette. Arlene moves away from her.
The woman goes over to one of the outside tables and sits down. She starts talking to a young girl with dreadlocked hair and arms covered in tattoos. Off to her side is a little girl, maybe two years old, fast asleep in her baby carriage. She clutches a plush toy close to her chest.
My heart plummets. It’s one in the morning.
“Jesus, those ladies are never going win Mother of the Year,” Arlene says angrily.
“Who brings a little girl to a bar this late?” Beth asks.
I look at the little girl. I look at the pregnant woman.
“People who are angry at having kids,” I reply.
Beth looks at me quizzically.
“Sometimes people are angry they have to grow up and get their shit together – so they take it out on their kids.”
“Maybe,” Beth says.
“The funny thing is most of the anger is subconscious. If you asked them they would tell you that their kid is the most important thing in the world.”
“Well they’re not acting like it,” Beth replies.
“Those women shouldn’t have kids,” Arlene says throwing in her two cents.
“Probably not,” I sigh.
We walk Arlene to her car and say our farewells. I go home. I can’t get the little girl in the carriage out of my head.
A couple of days later I’ve got a pregnant woman in my section. She orders a glass of Merlot. No big deal. After she finishes her appetizer she orders another. I bring it reluctantly.
The woman finishes her entrée. The table is cleared. I bring the dessert menus.
The woman waves me off. “No dessert for me,” she says, “But I’ll have another glass of wine.” I notice she’s slurring her words slightly.
I remember the alcoholic pregnant lady from a few nights ago. I think about the little girl in her baby carriage.
“I’m sorry madam,” I reply, “I cannot bring you another drink.”
The woman stares at me in surprise. “Why not?” she asks.
“I just can’t.”
Our eyes lock. A few seconds pass. The woman starts to say something but reconsiders. She knows why I won’t serve her.
“I make a mean cappuccino,” I offer in conciliation.
“That’s probably a good idea honey,” her husband chimes in. Great pal. Now you decide to find your balls.
The woman lets out a deep breath. “Ok. Just make it decaf.”
“Thank you madam,” I reply gratefully.
The man and woman finish their desserts and leave. The tip’s 15%. I’m lucky these people didn’t make a scene.
The night ends. I go into the bathroom to wash my hands and face. As I’m toweling off I look my reflection.
My father once told me that if you’re ashamed of what you see in the mirror you’re in trouble.
I think about my pregnant customer. Sometimes we are our sister’s keeper.
The man in the mirror smiles back at me. I’m not in trouble.
At least not yet.