Jackson peered at the object from behind the refrigerator door where he was grabbing fresh oranges. “A muddler,” he replied.
“What’s it for?” Heidi moved to the living room couch, it’s back facing the kitchen, and turned her body to watch him.
Jackson set the oranges down on the kitchen counter and began shaving strips of rind off the fruit. He looked up from his task, pleased that he had finally invited her back to his apartment.
Heidi ran her hand along the stiff threads of the fabric couch, fingering a loose strand along its edge. She admired Jackson from where she sat, aware that his charm was in-part due to his playacting of good company, as one would for a casual date. She glanced about her surroundings, inhabiting the role of detective, pretending that she could deduce Jackson’s true character and personality by the contents of his apartment. Jackson’s bookshelf, replete with literary novels, must have meant that he was an intellectual. His television was set askew of the couch, so his free time was not spent lazing about. Rather, the wear on his running shoes and the ragged gym bag by the front door must’ve meant that Jackson lived dynamically, in constant motion. She already knew that he was handsome and well-dressed, so she convinced herself that he was exactly what she was looking for in a partner.
Jackson glanced up occasionally from his makeshift cocktail bar, a tray on his kitchen counter, and watched as Heidi scanned his apartment, quietly hoping that he had not left anything out that would undermine her perception of him.
“What are you making?” Heidi asked.
“Old Fashioneds,” Jackson replied, still working the orange.
“What’s in that?”
“Whiskey, bitters, maraschino cherries, and orange peel.”
“So what’s the muddler for?”
Jackson laughed, “You sure do ask a lot of questions.” He began crushing the maraschinos in a glass tumbler. “This is what a muddler is for,” he said.
“That’s all? Why can’t you just use a spoon?”
Jackson paused and thought for a moment, “Well, you probably could. This exists for just one reason, not that it makes it any less important, but it means it must do that one thing particularly well. And this,” he held up the muddler red with juice and the pulverized bits of cherries, “exists to muddle.”
Decades later, after Heidi had settled down with Dr. Anson Maguire, a podiatrist from Westchester, and after she had reared their two children, Alex and Morgan, when all she had left to do was reflect on her life, she remembered with surprising ease that first date with Jackson and the conversation about the muddler. She remembered the unnatural heat of that Indian summer and the oyster bar he had taken her to in the East Village. She remembered the briny shellfish and glasses upon glasses of white wine they had enjoyed together on the narrow outdoor portico. She remembered how lightheaded she felt, either from the wine or from the date, as they made their way to his apartment, hands clasped tightly together. She remembered the bright sunlight of the early evening hour and the way it had illuminated the entirety of Jackson’s studio apartment, its windows facing due west, directly in the path of the setting sun. Heidi smiled in her waning years, bemused by the fact she was able to recall such unremarkable details of that relationship, though she could recall little else about it. She thought it curious how complete that memory was, and how much she truly loved Jackson during their brief affair.
Jackson handed Heidi one of the glass tumblers, moist with condensation. He held his own tumbler close to his face and inhaled deeply before taking a measured sip. Heidi observed him from the corner of her eye and followed suit, unaccustomed to drinking with someone who appeared so self-assured in his ability to do so. Jackson later confessed he had been terrified that she would not find him interesting and had been deliberate in his every action. He had been so preoccupied with impressing her, exerting so much energy in being impressive, that he had not realized how little they had in common.
“You know, this isn’t bad. I don’t usually prefer whiskey cocktails.”
“Why didn’t you stop me when I told you what was in these?” Jackson shook his glass lightly, the ice clinking against the inside surface.
“I don’t know, I guess I wanted to try something new.” Heidi smiled as she said this.
“I’ve got a bottle of gin. If you’d like, I can make you something else.”
“No, honestly, it’s wonderful.” It would be the only time Heidi enjoyed a whiskey cocktail.
“Why is it they call them that?” Heidi asked. “Old Fashioneds, why are they called that?”
“There was a period of time where it became unfashionable to order the drink, so it was ‘old fashioned’ to do so.”
“How can something so simple fall out of favor?”
“The tenor of human fancies is a fickle thing.”
“So what were they called before?”
“Old Fashioneds, before they became old fashioned.”
“That’s a good question. I have no idea.”
There was a break in their conversation and it was silent for a moment inside Jackson’s apartment. His wall clock was broken, the second hand shifted back-and-forth perpetually on the fiftieth second.
“Jackson, do you like me?” The dark liquor had emboldened Heidi.
Jackson was slightly taken aback by the bluntness of the question, but answered truthfully, “Of course.” He took advantage of the moment and leaned in for a kiss. Jackson wasn’t sure if Heidi was the one. What he did know was that, at that moment, she was all he wanted.
They went to bed together that night. When Jackson woke the next morning, Heidi’s scent lingered on his bed, though she had not, and the glass tumblers he had set on the nightstand were gone.
Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: James Mo