Happy New Year
“Oye, chica, come estas,” she said into her black leather encased smartphone. For another minute or less, she spoke at the ubiquitous device with whom I assumed was another human-being that had picked up her unique converted radio waves. She sounded happy, a bit giddy; I had no clue what she had said. I had assumed it was in Spanish, or maybe she had spoken in Portuguese.
From time-to-time in St. Petersburg, Florida as I walked near the harbor, or as I sat in the restaurants, I had listened to people speak in some Russian like language, as we were a sister city to St. Petersburg, Russia. Or, I had heard many other languages from European to Asian.
She had carefully set her smartphone back down into her black leather purse, and she snapped the gold clasp tightly shut. She set her purse on the bar in front of her, safely set between here hands.
“What you having, sweetie,” Edwina asked. She smiled at her; Edwina pushed her glasses up her nose with her right hand forefinger. “Happy New Year.”
“Champagne, of course,” she said. “Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year, all I have to say tonight,” Edwina said. She laughed as she made a pirouette as she backed away.
And then it had occurred to me she had easily switched to English, as if she were holding court at the United Nations. I had not heard an any strong accent, but she was likely from one of the five Burroughs. I had heard that sophisticated sound before, each word clear, precise, and intended at its target.
“Here you go dear,” Edwina said. “Cheers.”
“Happy New Year,” she said. “Cheers.”
I had glanced at the side of her pretty face, I checked out her left hand fingers. She wore a wedding ring, actually, it was more like a clear, large rock clasped to thick gold.
“Pardon, what does chica mean?” I said. I honestly had not known; But I had heard it many times. “Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year,” she said. “It means, hey girl.”
“Got it,” I said. I nodded. “I don’t think it would roll off my tongue quite so well, I’ll store that word into knowledge.”
“That might be the worst line,” she said. She slightly twisted her head, as she glanced over at me. “Of all time…”
“It’s my gift to women,” I said.
She turned to look directly at me, she was Cuban, I was positive. I had lived in Florida most of my adult life; Cuban women, with those big brown eyes, those intense eyes, they instantly sized you up. She made all the decisions, if the patriarch was not on board, she would have taken the helm.
“New Yorker? Slumming in St. Pete,” I said. “Cuban?”
“How’d you guess that?” she said. She suspiciously stared at me.
“Lucky guess,” I said. “I’m Rob.”
“Simone,“ she said. She smirked. “BS, how’d you guess that?”
I was past her guard gate; I had gotten her first name, otherwise, I thought the smartphone would have reappeared.
“Your clothes, the understated but expensive hand-bag, you don’t have a strong accent, but its there, a New Yorker,” I said. “And, you’re not Miami flashy, you have classic Cuban features, eyes, cheek bones, lips, and the thick brown hair. And your posture, self-assured, but reserved.”
“I could have been from the PR?” Simone said. She laughed.
“Nice try, I know my islands,” I said. “You’re to reflective, now Manhattan island, a lawyer? Something professional…”
“Am I getting a palm reading, next?” Simone said. She savored the champagne. “Rob, did you say?”
“Yes, I don’t know, cheers,” I said. I sipped the Guinness.
“Guinness for New Years?” Simone said. “That’s an awful decision, Champagne my dear.”
“Creature of habit,” I said. I touched my nose. “My former wife liked champ-pag-na, its okay, I like it, but the bubbles, they made my nose moist.”
“I’d never noticed,” Simone said. She tested my theory. “You are a strange man to have noticed that.”
“I’d like to think, an interesting man,” I said. “People think the same things, I seem to lack a filter.”
“That can get you beat up in my hood,” Simone said. She smiled.
“You, don’t live in a hood,” I said. I pointed upwards toward the ceiling. “Live high-up?”
“True, not here,” Simone said. “Used to, in the city, but we had to find a safe neighborhood for my girl.”
“Smart Cuban,” I said. “It’s genetic, dodged Castro’s thugs, you become careful, observant, like you, how old?”
“She’s four, actually, I was born on that island,” Simone said. She shifted the fluted glass between her fingers. “I was maybe four, ever heard of Mariel?”
“Yes, vaguely,” I said. I stared up at the twenty-inch bar television screen showing the lit-up ball over Times Square. “A President Carter deal, Castro emptied his prisons. I don’t really know, it’s like some Scarface characters to me.”
“Well, I lived it, I remember those men, men my father watched,” Simone said. She stared at me. “And I’m alive, somehow, drinking champagne in St. Petersburg, Florida, with you.”
“Wow, never met anyone that was there,” I said. I looked back over at Simone. “But, you must have been a kid?”
Simone intently stared over at me for a moment.
“I don’t remember a lot,” Simone said. She sipped her champagne. “It was a big wooden boat, it was packed with way to many people. I do remember the foul smells, the salty water taste from waves that got into the boat.”
“That must have been scary,” I said.
“Not really, I was four, funny thing, my daughter’s almost four,” Simone said. She gripped the glass. “It was my mother, she kept me calm. We were in open seas for twelve hours, or so, I’ve been told. A trip that’s normally 90 minutes. My mom made it feel like all was normal, I still can’t believe it happened. I’m alive.”
“Cheers,” I said. I glanced over at a couple that had sat behind Simone.
“No kidding,” Simone said. “Cheers.”
“Life can be so random,” I said. I pointed up at the television screen. “You could be a tour-on up there, what are you doing in St. Pete?”
“No thanks, my old man surprised me, he’s taking care of my girl,” Simone said. “With, my mother.”
Her words had a hot intent behind them, I thought.
“Take a break,” I said. “Otherwise, well, like me, you end up divorced, living alone downtown.”
“Sent me, mind you, to the Vinoy, not a bad spot to go slumming,” Simone said. She sighed. “But, I’m meeting up with some girl friends that live down here during winter. I was just walking past this joint, it looked like a real bar, but safe.”
“It is safe, a little pre-game buzz?” I said. Simone just grinned, and she emptied her glass.
We quietly gazed up at the television screen.
“Why do people still do that?” Simone asked.
“It looks cold,” I said.
“It is,” Simone said. “But, New York City has an electricity.”
“I get it,” I said. I raised my glass. “Happy New Year, to new beginnings, but, you need a refill.”
“Well said,” Simone said. “I’m having fun down here, but, it’s the first time I’ve been away from my girl.”
“Bothers you?” I said.
She stood up off the bar stool.
“It does,” Simone said. “She’s my everything.”
“She’s your only one?” I said.
“Yes, she’s my miracle,” Simone said. She waved her hands. “I had a genetic thing, I didn’t think I’d ever be a mother.”
I crossed my arms and leaned back against a square bar column as I searched for Edwina. If life had twisted my route, I thought, I could have easily been a father, and now a grandfather. But when my life had headed out to open seas my true north had been money and devotion to my career.
“Life can be so cruel,” I said. “And beautiful, at the same time, you survived Mariel at four, and she’s four living in a safe neighborhood playing with her Christmas toys.”
“Don’t think I’m not aware how lucky I am,” Simone said. She gripped the empty glass. “It was hard for us, we were rejected by Miami, and ended up in NY.”
“You all could have ended up in Tampa,” I said. I grinned. “Just made your way up Tamiami Trail, could’ve been rolling cigars over in there Ybor City.”
“It’s true, I guess,” Simone said. She gave me a curious glance. “I never got to blend-in, I have always felt lost between cultures. You know?”
“No, I don’t,” I said. I waved over at Edwina. “I’ve been lucky, but I’ve seen it. It’s the look in the eyes. I would imagine it’s like being a tourist and permanently lost in Tokyo.”
“Yeah,” Simone said. “Kinda, sorta, I figured out I had to out work everyone, I was devoted to my work.”
“And now,” I said. “By some miracle, you’re a mother.”
Simone resisted her happy tears.
“I swore I’d not waste my life,” Simone said. “And I haven’t, but until her, I never really understood love.”
It was a sensation I could not have understood. I respected that some humans get an easier path toward happiness, because someone before them fought for their freedom. Edwina had reappeared behind from behind the bar.
“Another?” Edwina asked. She drolly pointed at me. “I know he’ll have another Guinness.”
“Nope, how about a good Pinot Noir,” I said. I looked over at Simone. “But not champagne.”
“I love Pinot,” Simone said. She looked at her watch.
“Edwina, you in?” I said. “Pick us a great New Years Pinot.”
After a few moments, Edwina returned with a opened bottle that had started its journey from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
“Nice choice with the glasses,” I said.
“Thank you,” Edwina said. “I hide these from the savages, note the slight tulip shape, perfect for Pinot Noir.”
“I’m impressed,” Simone said.
Edwina carefully poured the wine into my glass.
“If you’re buying,” Edwina said. “How’d I do?”
“Of course,” I said. I grasped the delicate wine glass near the base of the stem with my thumb and forefinger. I brought it up, closed my eyes and sniffed the contents, and I took in a modest sip. “Edwina, I thank you for this, it’s perfect, and I’m happy to share it with you, and our new friend, Simone.”
“Ah, so nice,” Simone said. She grasped her wine glass, and held it up with Edwina and I.
“To a happy new year,” I said. “To new, and to all our old friends wherever they are tonight.”
We delicately clinked the glasses together, then we drank the fine wine, and we each savored the finish. I thought it reminded me, like a fine bourbon from my birthplace in Kentucky, it took patience to understand life.
“This wines a lot like St. Pete,” I said. We sipped the final contents. “It might appear obvious, but it’s a lot more complicated than we might imagine.”
“Thank you,” Simone said. She had checked her watch, again. “I guess its time, don’t want to keep my girls waiting.”
“Where’s the next stop,” Edwina asked.
“I’ve got an address,” Simone said. “My girls want to meet at a nightclub, up Central Avenue?”
Simone had retrieved her smartphone, she tapped at it, and showed Edwina the address. Edwina leaned across the bar.
“Oh, honey, gay bar,” Edwina said. She waved me away. “Take an Uber ride, you’ll have loads of fun. But he can’t come.”
“I hadn’t invited him,” Simone said. She grinned at me. “But maybe? I’ve got some single girlfriends.”
“Oh no,” Edwina said. “That’s a girls only place, and he’s not a queen, so, he’d not blend in.”
“Have fun tonight, thanks for saving my pride, Edwina,” I said. I chuckled. “Happy New Year, blah, blah, blah, but do us a favor, come back and visit us, again.”