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Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Last Martini at the Bubble Lounge by Margaret P. Cunningham

The whole thing started when my neighbor’s son told me he had gotten a summer job at the Bubble Lounge.

"What on earth is that?" I asked.

"The new martini bar. You haven't been yet?"

"No, I don't believe I have. It's called the Bubble Lounge? Cute name. The last martini at the Bubble Lounge,” I said dreamily. “That would be a good title for a short story.”

"Uh, yeah. Well, I guess I'd better get going," he said, not certain where the conversation was headed, but certain he didn't want to tag along.

Writing a story to fit a title would horrify Rita, our creative writing instructor at the Community College's Department of Continuing Education.

"Build your story around strong characters," she said over and over, "And everything else will follow."

But I couldn't get that title out of my mind. So one evening I drove by the Bubble Lounge. It was the latest addition to the upscale shopping village that had established itself in the heart of our historically significant and recently “discovered” neighborhood. I pictured my neighbors, those endlessly energetic, creative, fixer-upper professionals, behind the bar's frosted glass, sipping elegant concoctions. They would be swapping the latest parenting tidbits, I supposed, or sharing landscaping tips and names of decorators before dashing off to the corner bistro or the gourmet take-out for their dinner.

I imagined it all as I opened a package of pork chops and put potatoes on to boil. It kept coming back to me. “The Last Martini at the Bubble Lounge.” Why the last martini? A story about the closing of a bar? Set in prohibition times? Let it go. But I couldn't.

Rita says to start with character. O.K. A tortured soul's final toot before heading off to A.A. It didn't work. Maybe it was more symbolic and personal. In the Bubble Lounge of life, I was, after all, close to the last round.

I thought about it one whole afternoon as I strolled with my grandchild through the shops, passing the dark lounge that would come alive like a handsome, seductive vampire when dusk settled on the neighborhood. Plots and characters danced through my head as I chatted with some of the nannies in the park near my house. I knew I was getting obsessive when I couldn't remember the bid at my bridge group that evening. My mind was not on cards. It was at the Bubble Lounge! I had to write the story and be done with it.

The next day I called my husband, Tom, at his office.

"I thought you might want to meet me for a drink after work," I suggested.

"What's wrong with the back porch?" he said.

"What's wrong with a little change? It would do us good. We can grab dinner somewhere."

But the basketball game was on T.V. He was tired. Another night, maybe.

Two weeks later, "another night" had not materialized. After dinner, I told Tom about my desire to visit the Bubble Lounge.

"I don't know what you're talking about. You don't even like martinis," he said and disappeared into his new laptop.

I loaded the dishwasher, put on some lipstick and my new black slacks.

"Tom, I'll be back in a little while. I'm going to the Bubble Lounge."

"By yourself?"

"I won't be long."

"Oh, yes, we have drinks other than martinis," said the personable, young bartender who also happened to be my neighbor’s son.

I sat at a tiny corner table by the window, sipping a cosmopolitan (vodka and cranberry juice, in case there’s anyone left who doesn’t know). Cranberry juice for the bladder and vodka for the soul, I told myself. Soft jazz played, candles flickered, and repartee sparkled at the neighboring tables. It was cozy but cool, everything black and glass and retro or deco or something. What a treat to spend an hour or so in an environment completely alien from one's own. And only a few blocks from home. Home. I thought of Tom, happily lost in the world of the wide web. We had once cherished an evening in a place like this, away from mountains of responsibility and interrupting children, where we could just be together and talk. Our mountains were all relative molehills now. We finally had the time to go whenever and pretty much wherever we wanted. A ballgame on T.V., a good book, a drink with friends on the porch - it was fine, very good, in fact. But no matter how nice the ride, take the same route every day, and the scenery becomes boring, taken for granted.

"Excuse me." I didn't realize the waiter was standing by me. "A gentleman at the bar would like to know if he might join you."

"Oh, good Lord," I thought and looked toward the bar. Tom lifted his cosmopolitan in salute, pointed to himself and then to me, his eyebrows raised questioningly.

When I stopped laughing, I motioned him over. My neighbor’s son stood behind the bar, cleaning a glass and wearing a quizzical smile as he looked from my husband to me.

"I like this place," said Tom. "Can't believe it's taken us so long to try it out."

He told me about his boss's flaky secretary. It might have been the drinks, but we laughed and laughed. I told him about Rita getting her book published. We made vacation plans and talked about doing some much needed landscaping.

"Last call, folks. Do you want anything else?" said the waiter.

I looked around, and the place was almost empty. Hours had slipped by.

“When was the last time you had a martini?" Tom asked me. Before I could answer, he told the waiter, "Bring the lady a martini."

I watched the young man fill up his tray and serve the other tables. He put the drink in front of me. I took a sip, winked at my husband, and said, “The last martini at the Bubble Lounge."

About the Author: Margaret P. Cunningham lives with her husband, Tom on Alabama’s beautiful gulf coast. Her short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies, including six Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her first novel, Lily in Bloom, a quirky, southern romance set in famous garden was published in May, 2008 by Black Lyon Publishing.

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