The Olive Room

        By Liz Green

did not have a sign—you simply pushed on the outside wall, vaguely discernible as a tall, heavy door that swung slowly inward. Inside was romance and cool, outside was downtown Montgomery: hot, silent streets, a fountain where a slave market used to be; the sense of inhabiting a Twilight Zone episode of the kind my then-husband might remember on TV, but I wouldn’t, not having been born yet when he lost his virginity. 

Trips to the Olive Room helped us imagine that our marriage might thrive among impossibilities—the restrictions of small-town Alabama, where toilet-papering an oak, or attending an Auburn faculty cookout at Chewacla State Park, were the only social outlets. So we had to escape in his Honda to this nearest city, an hour away, which even on a Saturday looked dejected, with vacant storefronts and hulking pickups parked in odd places, in the middle of the street, as if abandoned. 

Interpose into this setting a thrillingly romantic, glimmering restaurant with a whiff of Mafia about it—plates of caprese, yellowfin tuna and field greens, globes of Sangiovese, and dozens of candles set on a ridge in the wall encircling the room, the wax melted into strange shapes. Even the bathrooms were hip and seductive, marked only by a lit-up M or W visible in the floor and, when you groped your way inside, feeling a bit stupid, lit by a black light under which a crystalline-black toilet and sink glowed purple. At our candlelit table, we sat thigh to thigh on a bench seat and were waited on and drank our wine and talked about the life—the child—we hoped to have, somewhere else.  

A couple of years later, a thousand miles north in a town of blazing fall leaves, anti- George “W.” Bush bumper stickers, and plastic baby swings hanging in trees on the strip of grass bordering the sidewalk, on streets with crisply flowing names, Tioga, Cayuga—I would live alone in a half-submerged “garden level” apartment. I’d taken our cat with me, and my family furniture. 

Those first weeks of the separation, in the early dark, I huddled in front of my TV as if before a little fire and watched films rented from the library on Green Street. The tall, dark-bearded man in Claire’s Knee reminded me so much of my husband as he had looked young, in pictures, before I knew him, it saddened me with desire as this actor, this French man in 1970 when the movie was made—on the lush Côte D’Azur even more distant than Alabama—clumsily wanted a girl, and she was indifferent. Above me, high, wide windows seemed cut into the bottom of a hillside. The windows opened sideways so that my mother, helping me move in, away, had instructed me to lay a long wooden dowel on each sill, in the groove where the glass might slide open at some outside man’s touch. 

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Liz Green is completing a PhD in creative writing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where she received the Dr. James H. Wilson / Paul T. Nolan Creative Writing Award in Drama, and performs as a member of The Milena Theatre Group. She holds an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. Liz works as a licensed mental health therapist (LPC) in New Orleans. Her work has appeared in journals such as Forklift, Ohio;; H_NGM_N; The Hunger; Fourth Genre; and Bending Genres.

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