There’s a self-consciously Irish pub on the north side of Broadway a couple of doors east of the intersection of Broadway and Redondo. The pub is tucked between the Clever Gift Shop that sells clever greeting cards and clever pewter candlesticks and the Narrow Hardware Store that has a wide selection of light bulbs and screws and spackling paste and not much else. The food is good at the pub, as is the beer (the pub doesn’t sell liquor) and there are plenty of TVs tuned in to sports for entertainment. The place is called O’Shannon and it’s a mystery to both patrons and staff who the pub’s namesake is or was, though all believe that there was an O’Shannon in the beginning. There is a Shannon who works at O’Shannon, four nights a week and one weekend morning, but Shannon’s link to the founding O’Shannon is a coincidence. Shannon isn’t even Irish. Shannon doesn’t know what she is.
Shannon stands behind the bar at the end of another weeknight shift when most of the tables have cleared and been cleaned, refilling salt and pepper shakers and bottles of ketchup and bottles of malt vinegar, as usual. She’s thinking about Chris Across the Street. Her love for Chris Across the Street has never gone further than this, and this is how she likes it; the quietest romance, a never whispered secret, so secret she’s safe from knowing herself whether she means for it to exist or does not. She doesn’t know if she pretends she and Chris Across the Street are lovers because she’s afraid they may never actually be lovers (or that one day they will be lovers), or because it’s fun to pretend and look at the world made lavender by pretending. She doesn’t puzzle over it because it’s fun to be in love and that’s enough for her.
She’s also having a conversation with That Guy Jeff, the same conversation they always have at the end of her shift, a conversation she would never have with Chris Across the Street. That Guy Jeff tells her about his commute; about getting quarters from the laundromat and getting caught; about catching his assistant, not really his assistant, the department’s assistant, but you get the idea, catching the assistant reading blogs on company time, regularly it turns out, there are extensive computer logs of illicit blog-reading; about accidentally slipping an inflated expense report past his boss and making up the difference when he discovered the error a week later; and about his upcoming trip to the desert where he plans to camp out and listen to nothing, not a sound, not a peep, only the steady thumping of his heart and that whispering from inside as blood flows through his veins. He pulls off his blue LA Dodgers ball cap, runs his fingers through his hair and says, “What about you?”
Jorge the busboy bustles around her, collecting floor mats and stealing glances. Shannon doesn’t mind Jorge and his glances because it’s fun to be secretly in love.
“Oh, you know. Work” she says. “School. If I go anywhere this year it’ll be San Francisco. Or New York. I’ve never thought that sound was a whisper. I’d call it a ‘shuuush.'” She purses her lips into a delicious kiss to make the sound and That Guy Jeff stares, wordless for once.
Jorge looks over at That Guy Jeff as Shannon shushes and Shannon notices Jorge’s glare. Jorge is a sweetie, Shannon thinks.
“New York’s great,” says That Guy Jeff, regaining his senses. “San Francisco seems too precious to me, if you know what I mean.”
Shannon stops fussing with her bottles. “They’re noisy places and lately that’s what I like.”
“Sometimes noise is nice. Wanna get a drink with me after your shift?”
“A what? A drink? Where?” A guy like That Guy Jeff is supposed to understand the rules of secret love.
“I dunno. Someplace noisy? I’ve been wanting to ask for a long time. For forever, really, but you know, it’s hard, and I think I just decided to follow up finally…”
“You’re such a sweetie. Where then?”
“Across the street.”
“The Wriggle Room is not very noisy.”
“I know the bartender,” she says, “and he’ll turn up the jukebox if I ask.”
She arranges all the ketchup bottles onto a tray and carries them out to the tables, wishing she hadn’t suggested the bar across the street. That Guy Jeff nurses his beer and looks at SportsCenter on the big screen behind the bar. Jorge disconnects a beer keg from the tap and carries it back to the kitchen, returning with a fresh keg loaded onto a hand truck painted red.
After her shift, Shannon and That Guy Jeff cross the street to the Wriggle Room where Chris Across the Street tends bar. The Wriggle Room used to be a real dive, and it used to be called Caroline’s Wriggle Room, but that was long ago when the neighborhood itself was much scruffier, and much dirtier, and when visitors from the Shore and the Heights referred to Broadway and Redondo as ‘iffy.’
“Shannon! The usual?”
“I’ll have a draft beer,” says That Guy Jeff.
Chris Across the Street returns with Shannon’s vodka and grapefruit juice and That Guy Jeff’s draft beer and stands, waiting. After a moment he says, “Cat got your tongue?”
“Something like that,” she says, smiling.
“Goof,” says Chris Across the Street. “Always goofing.” He leans against the bar-back and re-arranges blank lottery slips for a moment then leaves to refill another quiet drinker’s glass.
“The thing about going to the desert…”
“I know,” she says. “‘Shuuush.'” They sit and drink their drinks. She watches Chris Across the Street tend bar while That Guy Jeff looks from television to bartender to Shannon and back.
“Okay,” she says at the end of her drink, “Let’s go.”
“Up the street.”
“The lesbian place?”
“That’s right. Very noisy.”
She waves and smiles at Chris Across the Street, who smiles in return and nods to That Guy Jeff. The Lesbian Place is on the same side of the street as the Wriggle Room, but on the other side of Redondo. Packs of cigarette smokers flank the entrance, engaged in conversation, some quiet, most loud. That Guy Jeff pulls the door open and many, many loud conversations pour out onto the sidewalk. Shannon reaches for him and pulls him back.
“What’s the matter?” he asks.
“Nothing. If you do me a favor I’ll let you in on a secret.”
“When we get inside, pretend you’re him.”
“Pretend you’re him,” she says, nodding east toward the Wriggle Room and Chris Across the Street. “And I will pretend you’re him, too.”
Soon their conversation rises up and joins with all the other conversations muttering through the bar. It is the same conversation she always has with Chris Across the Street, the one she’ll never have with That Guy Jeff.