FINDING AUDREY • by Jennifer Spagnolo

One night you find yourself in a pub in Dublin, halfway across the world from your wife and son. You’re there because you’re looking for Audrey, your college crush with the green glasses, who always asked you what you were thinking. Your buddy told you that the last he heard she moved to Dublin a few years back to get another degree. You think if you find her, you’d be excited to be awake again.

The library at Trinity College seemed like a good place to start asking around, but the exhibitions catch your eye and open a jar of bees inside your chest.  Sliding to the floor in a roped-off section, your mind starts buzzing with all the information. The sensation takes you to back to a moment you had forgotten until now. Audrey is in your dorm room and your books are open but you’re talking about things that aren’t in the books. The what ifs. You can barely sit still but you’re in control of your mind. Her eyes are sweet like honey and she asks what will make you happy. You think hard because that’s the mode you’re in, and a storm erupts between your heart and your head. The truth is the truth, though. You will not waver from the path carved out before you. You cry right there in front of her, and she climbs over the books and onto your lap. She kisses your mouth so sweet and says, “Someday… maybe.”

When you leave the library it’s dark. You walk into the first pub you see, find a stool, and scan the room for her, your automatic response to any new environment ever since that day you paid attention at church and the priest was talking about wills. He was talking about God’s, but it got you thinking, what about mine? You catch the bartender looking at you, so you order a whiskey neat. He places the drink down like it’s the first day on the job, but you know he’s worked here his whole life. Pathetic.

Your pocket buzzes. What does my goddamned boss want now?

“Hi Daddy! I miss you. When are you coming home?”

These words are like the pangs of a pinball machine running through your body. You remember his face before you left; he was trying to fight back tears. Trying to be a man already? Trying to play football when he’d rather be playing the piano. Trying for you and her. What the hell am I doing? You have a sudden urge to leave. To go to the hotel, get your things, go to the airport and just wait for the next flight home.

But what would change? You‘ll get sucked in again because it’s nice and comfortable there. You know what you have to do each day. People will compliment you about your car and your nice family and that’ll feel good. You’ll buy things because you can get something you want. You’ll make love to your wife because look how lucky you are.

Your knee is a jackhammer and you try to think, but a repetitive, scratchy sound is pinging at your brain. It’s coming from four twenty-somethings with instruments. Lucky bastards. Probably come from rich families and never had to worry about making a buck. Never got the “American Dream” lecture. So they sit here and play us their music, getting shitty tips and happy about it. The girl, though, she’s a beauty. I’m sure her father had higher hopes for her.

Like I do for my son. I can see that storm gaining ground behind his eyes. Breaks my heart.

When Dad found out Audrey wanted to join the Peace Corps, he said she’ll end up dead in Africa. Or, get some disease. Is that what you want? Then you met beautiful Maura, and her dad offered you a top-notch job.

A text message comes in from your buddy. “Sorry, man.  Audrey died last year.” You don’t feel the phone in your hands or the stool underneath you. You stare at that word — died — for a long time because you’re not sure you’re reading it right. The meaning slowly wraps itself tight against your throat, and you imagine the candle you’ve been carrying inside you, waiting to be relit, crumbling and falling all around you.

Another message immediately follows. “Daddy, if you see a band playing Irish music, can you record it and send it to me?”

This goddamned kid. He never stops. You think you just might crush your phone in your palm so you put it down and try to crush your head in between your hands instead. Everything fades away except one thought: Will you be able to move from this stool?

In that dark stillness, something gets inside you.  A sad melody.  You pick up your head and notice a bleach-blond waitress is standing in the middle of the bar, listening. A couple that was fighting the whole time stopped, too. You and some strangers in some bar in Dublin are looking at that painful stuff inside. This song wasn’t made for you or them, but it could have been.  You find something true in it and the world seems a lot bigger and that doesn’t scare you because you see yourself in it. How can you miss the fireworks going off on that wooden stool in that little Irish pub?

The pretty girl in the band is looking at you. You see now that there’s a story of longing behind her eyes, but she’s playing a song that has some hope in it too. That’s probably why she looks like she’s where she wants to be, at least right now.

So, you ended up finding her here in this pub after all. And you realize that you don’t have to stay. Because Audrey’s back home, too. You capture the moment on your phone and attach it to a message: “Here you go, Luke. See you soon.”

Jennifer Spagnolo is a mom and executor of all things domestic; writing keeps her connected to the inquisitive, need-to-think-deeply side of herself.

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