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April 15, 2024

That Happens Sometimes

By Jerry Seeger

The tram had two cars. I was standing at the front of the second car, idly watching the needles on the gauges move in the unoccupied cockpit, when I looked ahead into the front car and saw her there.

She was bundled up against the cold; her long blonde hair flowing from under her cap and over the furry collar of her long white coat. She was gazing unseeing out the window at the passing traffic. I wondered what she was thinking about, what place she was seeing with that sad gaze cast far away. Some place with sun, perhaps, or the arms of an almost-forgotten flame. I had the feeling I had seen her before.

We reached the stop at I. P. Pavlova, a busy place with many connecting trams. After the bustle and confusion as passengers got off and on, I looked back between the cars. She was gone. That's to be expected, but I felt as if I had lost something more than just a pretty face in the crowd.

I watched the space she had been, somehow still empty on the crowded tram, as if the other passengers felt she might reappear at any moment. Perhaps she was there, but she had made herself invisible to me.

"What's up, Doc?" came the voice from behind me. When she said my name with her accent it came out "Doke". I turned and there she was, smiling at me with full lips and white teeth. From this distance she was both sadder and more frightening. "Doctor" was the name I had been given by the regulars at the bars and pubs where I played. It was a night name. She was young and pretty and didn't carry the desperation of the night with her. She expected me to know her; it felt like I should, but looking into her blue eyes I could not place her. Perhaps she was from my life before I had become one of the night people. My memories of that time seemed like a lost dream now. But she'd called me "Doc".

"Hey," I said.

"How have you been doing?" Her English was good, with that formal textbook construction.

"All right, I guess. How 'bout you?"

"Good." She was looking down, now, blushing a little, waiting for me to say her name, knowing I wasn't going to. The tram lurched and she grabbed a handrail before she fell into me.

"You do not know me," she said.

"I'm sorry."

"No, no, it's OK. That happens to me sometimes."

"You seem familiar. Where do I know you from?"

The tram stopped and the doors pulled open. "I have to go," she said, and I saw the tear in her eye. She turned and fled. I didn't follow.

* * *

It was perhaps a week later, as I was sitting in for the regular keyboard player in a popular music spot, that I saw her again. She was with friends, laughing and smiling and drinking colored cocktails. I watched her as she danced in her sweater and little skirt and I wondered how I could forget meeting her. Certainly I had not been able to forget our last meeting, however hard I tried.

She danced with her girlfriends, and sometimes some of the guys in the place, and she seemed happy. She seemed younger without the sadness in her eye I had seen the first time. No, not the first time, I reminded myself. She had known me. I wanted to talk to her again, but I still didn't know her name, and I didn't want to reopen that wound. She paid no more attention to me than to any other band member.

The band is a good one, local guys with a tight sound. It seems like everywhere you go these days it's all dj's, but tonight was a chance for some good 'ol Rock and Roll. "It ain't music unless you have someone hitting things with sticks," a friend of mine once said.

Somewhere in the second set I hit a groove. I was taking a solo, starting shaky, looking for room to work in the formulaic music, when a memory hit me, an echo of something I had never known, and it was her. Her music defied the bright flashing lights and the glittering people; it was music freighted with a sadness while it cried against the unjustness of life. The room grew dark, lost in a haze of doubt, but where she danced there was light. It wasn't really dancing music, not the kind of music the crowd came for, but at that moment I owned them in a way I rarely do, and when I moved my fingers they twitched like marionettes.

As I played it seemed the room turned inside-out, as if the universe flipped and we we on the bright outside of a dark world, the lights of the dance floor stretching farther than the stars, the sound of the band echoing across eternity. The feeling was over before it began. I'm pretty sure the band gave me some extra bars to work with, but I ended uncertainly, much the way I had started.

The set ended and I stood in front of my keyboard, sweaty, trembling, out of breath, as the band members slapped my shoulder enthusiastically.

"What's up, Doc?" I turned to see AJ standing there, grinning. Next to him was the girl. "I want you to meet Adrianna," he said. "She really liked what you did. So did I. Haven't heard anything like that in this glitter palace in a long time."

Any hope that hearing her name would spark a memory was lost. "Adrianna," I said as I took her hand. I didn't try to pretend I remembered her. She smiled shyly. Her friends were at their table, watching us and giggling behind their hands. "Listen," I said, "maybe after the show I can buy you a drink."

"Damn, Doc, you're not wasting any time," AJ said with a grin. He turned to Adrianna. "You should be flattered. Normally you have to sit next to him on a bar stool for a few days before he'll even talk to you." I didn't want to explain to AJ about the last time I had seen her. Just buying a drink was not going to make up for that. If she was willing to give me another chance it was more than I deserved.

"All right," she said, dimpled, dazzling. Unforgettable.

* * *

The bar was nearly empty; the last of the night's crowd was staggering out into the coming day, feeling pleasure turn to regret. I sat with her, the blast of the big last number still echoing in my head. She sipped her beer, watching me, giving and taking, smiling and thoughtful, sometimes the hunter, sometimes the hunted. We didn't say much for a while. We sat the way old friends sit.

Finally I had to say it. "Listen, I'm sorry about the other day."

She froze. "Do prdli," she said, surprising me with her harsh language. There was white all the way around her eyes. After a moment of terrible uncertainty she looked away and said, "That happens to me sometimes."

"I'm just sorry."

She smiled weakly. "It's all right." It sounded like goodbye.

She didn't leave, however. We asked for another round and sat in silence while the smoke cleared from the deserted bar. Gradually she relaxed again, and as we fell to discussing inconsequential things her smile started to show again. The feeling of familiarity clung to me. I knew I should know her, but whenever I felt a memory coming to the surface it vanished again. I had never suspected the water in my head ran so deep.

We fell into silence again. I saw in her eye the sadness, the look she had when I had seen her on the tram. I wanted to understand that sorrow, to compare it to my own, to see how the two fit together. I could feel her loneliness now. I could feel the way it resonated with my own, and I felt the intoxicating promise that perhaps loneliness could be shared.

Even as I felt the fit, even as I felt the rightness of my being with her and I became more sure she felt it too, she grew sadder.

Eventually there was nothing to do but move on. We stood. Marek, the club's owner, waved off the bill, inviting me back for another gig. Adrianna and I started bundling up to meet the cold morning, she wrapping herself in the white coat, flipping her hair out over its furry collar. We hesitated as we faced the awkward uncertainty of parting. I had to say something, but not too much. But not saying enough might be even worse. I hate that moment. Heart pounding I looked into her sadness and asked if I could see her again.

"I will see you again," she said, "but for you it won't be 'again'. I will hope that you remember me, and I will speak to you, and you will remember me from someplace. And then we will meet here, and I won't remember you. And that will be all. That happens to me sometimes."

Article © Jerry Seeger. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-04-17
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