Grey Goose Chandelier
creative nonfiction by Mandi Fugate Sheffel

I'm in this bar to pick up dinner. The cash register is in the back and I am now officially in the bowels of someone's Saturday night. It used to be my Saturday night—TVs of all shapes and sizes playing the Kentucky game and Johnny Lang's “Lie to Me” is just loud enough. There's something about the pain in his voice that cuts deeper than it did when I was seventeen. Did I have an appreciation for the blues then?  The crowd is mostly men, but it's not uncomfortably full, especially given that we are deep in a pandemic with the country in its grips.

A woman is sitting at the end of the bar where I'm paying. She is slightly overweight and appears to be alone. The men sitting closest to her are having a conversation about losing the sense of taste and smell and how that has affected their affinity for food and drink. The bartender laughs and asks, "Can I get you another one?" The man nods his head as if they have developed their own language. The woman's demeanor doesn't change. I can smell the Michelob light she is sipping on. I have a gut reaction to a smell I know so well. One that only comes my way on occasion but remains ingrained for a lifetime. Waiting for my order, I try to focus on anything but the voice in my head telling me it's ok for me to drink now. I'm almost forty. It's been sixteen years, and I'm different, more responsible. I could control this if I wanted to. I look at the chandelier, crafted from old grey goose bottles. I look at the bottles of liquor that line the shelves. She leaves the comfort of her barstool to go to the restroom.

I watch a bead of sweat slowly glide down the front of her bottle. I can see its path as it reaches the bottom.  Singing behind my mask, the memories associated with this song flash through my mind like slides from a lousy vacation. Memories of holding a bottle and not holding back. Drinking way before I was twenty-one, crowded around the kitchen table at a house party. Filling some hole inside of me that I couldn't bear witness to at such a young age. Doing it out of necessity, not because I thought I looked cool. Doing it because it's what my family did. I made trips to bar rooms just like this as a kid with my dad. I see a vision of him taking over the room. By the time we left, he had made friends with everybody he had come in contact with. A voice jolts me back, "Ma'am, your card." Back to the present and out of the past. I grab my order, and I leave, but it's not without an alteration to my core. Is it the pandemic that has me longing for a connection? Has this longing for a connection always been there? Is that need for a connection the ultimate reason why? In the car on the way homehome to the life I've made, safe and secure without the trials and tribulations of addictionJohnny Lang sings “Lie to Me.”

Mandi Fugate Sheffel was born and raised in Red Fox, Kentucky. She is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University. She owns and operates Read Spotted Newt, a bookstore in Hazard, Kentucky.