December 11, 2014: Vodka

2 a.m. Sitting at the counter at Pravda, off of Lafayette, sipping vodka.

Next to me sits a woman with long, strong fingers making little birds out of napkins. Then lighting them on fire.

Na Zdarovye

She lifts her vodka towards me and then knocks it back.

She lights more paper birds on fire, leaving them to burn and smoke in an ornate ashtray.

Sometimes, you just have to keep legend alive, even if it’s by yourself.

Next to her on the counter is a worn Bible and a wooden rosary.

Have you ever just taken charge of a situation? Just said, fuck it, and done what you thought was best? You hesitate to answer, I understand. I lost my first husband. Never remarried. Never needed to marry again. I had my sons…but that was a strained relationship.

I order us two more drinks.

Look at these birds…one little match and poof! they’re gone…like so much, no? But that’s life, and love, and life and love, and life and…na zdarovye.

We drink.
She thumbs the rosary.

The bartender nods at us, turning off the lights, all except for the one over my head. He gives a wave and leaves through the back door.

A queen left alone in her castle of vodka. Vodka…such a cliché.

She lights three paper birds on fire and tosses them into the air where the twirl and swoop and spiral into ash.

I’m not much these days…but I used to be fierce. Feared. Respected. A queen and a leader. I’m still those things, really…my subjects are little fire birds and little glasses of vodka. I’m too old to play with anything else, just leave it to the younger girls.

She drinks one more vodka, grabs her bible and rosary and heads for the door.

Time for a bath and a long sleep. Get home safe. Here, this will guide you.

One last paper bird flutters from her hand and sparks into light and hovers in front of me.
Like a queen, she makes a royal, elegant exit.

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