Pub Night by Kathy Davis

Pub Night

— Cape Breton

The place is packed, but we finally find a two-top we can squeeze into beside a table humming with four little girls. They probably range in age from six to ten. Wearing shorts and sweatshirts, long blonde hair disheveled, feet sliding in and out of slip-on shoes — they look like they spent this summer day on the water. Now, caught in the net of the pub, they are restless, seem barely tamed. Their parents eat nearby, chairs pulled close, heads together in conversation, taking in the fiddler providing the evening’s music.

We used to do something similar with our boys when they were that age — go to a noisy, neighborhood diner on Friday nights, sit them on one side of an end booth where they could bounce around entertaining themselves (with no one seated behind them) while we sat on the opposite side of the table catching up on each other’s week.

Now, bedlam is beside us. Finger-grazing off each other’s plates, the girls toss taunts and napkins back and forth, mix a concoction of condiments in a glass to see who dares to take a sip. One constantly twirls a limp lock around her index finger. Another chews enthusiastically with her mouth open, lips smacking. Two style and re-style each other’s hair into ponytails, snapping pictures with a cell phone to judge the results. Every now and then, they flit to the adult table, tug at mom or dad seeking an answer, a taste, a referee’s call or some other form of attention until they’re waved back to their seats.

I can’t help grinning at their antics. Back in the day, our young sons’ side of the booth must have looked just as wild. One night, a friend stopped by our table as she was leaving and asked how we could stand it. But we were so engrossed in each other during those stolen moments — sharing the status of projects at work, what was happening in the novels or histories we were reading, or the reviews we’d read of some movie or play we wished we could see — that we had tuned out their rambunctiousness.

The four girls are busy arguing amongst themselves as the fiddler takes up a jig. They don’t notice their mother slip out of her sandals, tiptoe to the edge of the fiddler’s performance space, lift her dress to her knees and hesitate — like a doe at the edge of a road — gathering her nerve.

“Look!” I tell my husband. “Look!” as she casts aside her self-consciousness and bursts into step dance, her face lit with a wide smile.

For the first time, I see how beautiful she is — tall with the elegant build of a ballerina, dark hair pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck, long gold earrings flashing. The flutter, stomp and kick of her bare feet a blur, her head and shoulders flying up over the crowd with each hop. And the room has risen, clapping and foot-tapping with the beat, urging her on as the fiddler plays faster and faster.

Her husband films it on his phone. Her girls stand stock still at their seats, mesmerized.

Cheers as the fiddler finishes and she dances her way out of his space, heads back to her family laughing. Two of her daughters wrap their arms around her waist. One of the others tells a neighboring table: “That’s my mom!” A fourth joins in “and my step-mom!”

When the family heads out, patrons here and there stop the mom to say “well done” as her daughters tug her toward the door. Waitstaff swarms the wreck the girls left in their wake — spilt food and drink, torn and soggy napkin bits, half-empty sugar packets, straws on the floor, chairs askew.

On the walk back to the inn where we are staying, a break in the overcast sky reveals a three-quarter moon, its reflection caught in the mirror of the bay. One moon in air, one moon in water, until the clouds close back, hiding them both.

Kathy Davis is a poet and nonfiction writer who lives in Rockville, Va. Her work has appeared in Blackbird, Barrow Street, Connotation Press, Diode, The Massachusetts Review, storySouth and other journals and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize as well as been a finalist for Best of the Net. Her full-length poetry manuscript, Passiflora, won the 2019 Cider Press Review Book Award and will be released in January 2021.

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