A chai martini tastes like chai. Perks and Corks, a cozy spot, is part of downtown Westerly’s Renaissance. Thom McCann used to be on this block. But now, it’s breweries, bars, restaurants. This is my first time out in my own hometown. I’m fifty years old.
But this is not my first time out with my cousin Sue. The year after I graduated from college, I moved home and, though we pledged to stay home a night or two, we never did. There were discos to stroll through and beachside cabanas to drink Bartles and James at. And when the night ended, there was always IHOP. With our history, you’d think I’d be careful, but she says we should try the place on the river. Sit outside. Watch the swans. And I say, “Sure.”
It’s a beautiful night. My daughters are sleeping over their cousins’ houses after dinner with Nana. The girls and I are here visiting family (and there’s a lot of it) for a few days before heading home to pre-season workouts, captains’ practices, before my own school year gears up again. I dread September, so why not indulge August?
At the next spot, that patio we sit on juts out into the Pawcatuck. Sue and I have nothing to do but talk, and we never run out of that. The swans glow in the dark on the black river. A Lemincello martini tastes like lemons.
I don’t remember what kind of martini I order next. I do remember trying to stand up and thinking the river is a lot closer than it had seemed.
Sue, like the underage disco queen she used to be, bounces up from her seat, and says, “We need to get together more often.”
I say, “I can’t go home yet. I need to walk.”
When we were kids, our mothers warned us never, NEVER, go into the park at night. There’s still a little of their warnings with us, but we go anyway. Except for its ancient beech trees, its well-spaced lamp posts, the fish pond, the place is empty. I strut and fret my hour upon the stage that has been constructed for the annual Shakespeare in the Park. Sue climbs barefoot into the fountain behind the library. I think one of us takes pictures.
The next morning, my head pounding, I slink out into the light of my mother’s already busy kitchen. She has a visitor. She almost always does, and we are in the middle of an important conversation with this one when my mother’s phone rings.
My god, I think, has it always been that shrill? It announces the caller: Dennis Donoghue.
“Ignore it,” I tell my mother. Her visitor’s story that requires our attention and I am already struggling mightily not to puke. I’ll call Dennis as soon as I can move my jaw without the pain ricocheting through my skull.
Again, it rings. Dennis. My mother picks it up this time and, after several confused seconds, hands it to me.
Dennis says, “Why would someone from George Mason University be calling you?”
George Mason University?
I take the phone outside. Sit on my mother’s sidewalk. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, I think.
“My god,” I finally say. “I think it’s AWP.”
This flight is crowded with writers. Minneapolis-bound Bostonians on their way to the biggest gathering of writers in the world. 10,000 plus people just like me, people nursing this stubborn dream, or – maybe — people celebrating this dream come true.