I hadn’t seen Pistol since people still called him Pistol; the name connoted a roughened danger that was as familiar to me then as it was foreign to me now, as a family woman, older and more sophisticated than I was as a young stupid girl. He left town but returned on his way to British Columbia. He called me, somehow knowing I would still be right where I was. We agreed to meet for a beer.
I wore my best sweater — a violet cashmere cardigan — and when I looked in the mirror before I left, licking the lipstick residue off my two front teeth, examining my eyes, the deep crowfoot wedges pressed into their supple corners, I asked myself when I became a woman who wore cardigans. Strands of my hair were finely painted a moaning-wind gray and my skin was roughened with age and smoking and divorce. I reached for my toque but second-guessed myself and opted to let my hair free, allowing its dull coarseness to taste the wild autumn wind.
I showed up first; Pistol was always fashionably late, still was I supposed, as I sipped the bitter froth off the top of my glass, leaving a lipstick mark, an imprint of conspicuous crimson wine. My rings clicked against the glass when I reached for it, the wedding band being the most conspicuous at all, binding my finger, its tip slightly blanched. The bar was playing an obscure Rolling Stones song and I continually glanced towards the door, anticipating Pistol’s self-described “asshole smile”.
He was the James Dean figure of my high school; rebellious and cocky yet oddly tortured inside, though I was the only person to see that, to peer beyond his torn-up denim jackets and childish retorts. His face was always mean and angular, turned down into a conspicuous frown. He was diamond-hard and pinup-gorgeous and everyone was in love with him except myself, until he made love to me.
When he arrived in the bar, my whole body — nerves, heart, brain, eyes, limbs — were turned to him, watching him come in, examining his differences, focusing on his eyes and mouth as the rest of the bar faded away. Despite being married with a child, my body suddenly felt 16 once again, seeing Pistol walk through the halls, his boots pounding on the floor, his gaze, dazed and self-centred, ignoring the following pupils of every girl around him. Now, he looked humble and feeble and beaten-down. His skin was pocked, his eyes were tinted a veiny rose, his eyebrows bushy and unkempt. There were streaks of white in his obviously-dyed hair. He had aged, somehow more than I had.
“Rebecca,” he said calmly, sitting down. I looked into the face of the matured, aged man across from me and could still hear the voice of the teenage rebel lurking beneath his leathery surface. A glint of mischief silently winked at me and despite the frightening slathering of age that coated him — particularly his face. It’s a funny thing when you revisit someone from the past; you desperately seek signs that they are the same person, and when you spot those similarities you cling to them like a life belt, in hopes that they will save you from what you must face as the cruel, inevitable truth.
“Becky,” he said.
“You’re the first person in just years to call me that.”
“Go by your ‘real name’ now, I guess?” she asked. There was a flirtatious cackle in her voice that rose at the end of the sentence like smoke rising from an ashtray.
“Rob,” she said. She felt the name in her mouth and suddenly found the idea of this man referring to himself as a violent weapon when he was a teenager laughable, and not sexy and vulnerable at all.
“When did you stop going by ‘Pistol’?”
“Not as long ago as you’d think. When did you turn into a middle-aged woman?”
“I didn’t. The world got younger.” Sassy comments like this were foregin to her now. She was tamed, she was a child’s caretaker. She had no desire anymore to be wild, to deviate. That life had evaporated from her soul and was lost somewhere in the atmosphere.
“My world got younger too — fancy that!” He looked deeply into her. “It’s weird,” he said.
“You really don’t look different,” he said. “You’re still beautiful and wild, as much as I remember you to be. It’s wonderful to know that some things don’t change.”
They talked a bit more, about nothing really; discussing her ‘beauty’ was standard playboy flattery, but even the most feigned of flattery, even when seeemingly thrust through the eye of a needle, it was still flattery, from the most popular boy in school, the James Dean lookalike. And it still worked on Rebecca.
“I’m so glad you saw me,” he said. “I was worried you wouldn’t.”
“After what I did?”
“What did you do?”
“I was a player.”
“All men are.”
There was silence, the kind of silence that told Rebecca the ‘date’ was over. And without hope, expectation or closure, she would leave an uneventful drink with an eventful person from her past, and return to her life of boredom. She had half-expected she would run away with him or ride away on a motorcycle (though, he got into a hatchback Sedan on the way out). Instead, she moderately smiled at him, listening to his talk about the “last few years” of working and dating and nothing in particular.
“The world’s different now,” he said to her as he stood beside her with his car door open. “You can’t get away with being as young as we were, doing what we did anymore.”
“Even if you could, age will get the best of you,” she laughed. He laughed too, and their laughter lingered until it transformed into two exhausted sighs. “Let’s see each other again sometime,” he said.
“Alright,” he agreed. “For now though, Becky, take care.” He kissed her on the cheek and the two of them went their seperate ways.
On the way home, Rebecca listened to the static cling of the radio and imagined how things could have been, if… if… if… what if?