MARTINI. The word elicits a specific image in my head, one of lipstick-stained lips brushing the edge of a glass, sipping timidly, but assuredly.
I think of a diamond brooch below the swan neck of the martini glass, a long, silk dress, framing a small waist.
This waist belongs to a woman sitting cross-legged, fingers elegantly wrapped around the glass, staring into the eyes of a man across the table. She is so cosmopolitan; she belongs in a painting with a chandelier and marble floors.
Such are the types of people who drink martinis.
And yet, here we were, standing at the edge of the bar, waiting for the Ukrainian bartender to pour our Martini Sampler; my mom, dressed in loose, floral pants, her hair tied back in a frizzy bun, and my dad, in his pale yellow shirt and Bill Gates glasses.
We were on our first family vacation in years (oh joy), and we’d chosen a cruise for the occasion.
We watched as the bartender positioned ten martini glasses in a staircase configuration, his blue eyes frosty like the bar made of ice. His white-blond hair appeared frozen in icicles spiking from his head, as though he’d just emerged from the Arctic tundra.
“Look, it’s your boyfriend,” my mom nudged me while we both conspicuously eyed him.
He stared right back at us. Ever since I had mentioned my interest in him (his name tag read Igor) a few days before, she never failed to broach the subject, needless to say without discretion in front of both him and my dad. Consequently, every time I walked past the bar, Igor gave me an amused half smile; I didn’t know if it was a grin or a smirk.
After shaking the contents in six cocktail shakers, Igor combined them into one long martini snake and stooped over the glasses laid out on the bar.
Slowly, he began to spread the shakers apart, dispensing different colored liquids into each martini glass. This spectacle never got old for my dad; he clapped and formed a pronounced ‘Ooo’ with his mouth, eyes bulging.
In between gazing at Igor and anticipating my martinis, I watched the interaction between two women, probably in their early 30s, next to us.
Now they were martini girls.
They belonged on the cover of Vogue magazine, in their sheer, black blouses, tight white jeans, and ironed, long hair. While they spoke in a language that sounded like German, I ogled at their flawless complexions and highcheekbones.
They didn’t notice me staring; they looked at no one but each other, as though nothing else were fascinating enough to pique their interest, to challenge their self-assurance.
I had seen them out the night before in the token club of the ship. (Where else can you go in a confined cruise liner?) They sat on the plush chairs with the Russian aerialist who performed in the nightly shows, sipping on gin and tonic, while everyone else did the limbo on the dance floor.
My attention returned to the six martinis awaiting us – lychee, classic, sunrise, sunset, chocolate, and apple. I sipped the sunset first, which tasted like a gummy worm, and immediately thrust it aside, knowing I’d have a hangover in two hours from the sugar.
I focused my efforts on the classic martini, letting the olive soak in the alcohol. My mom, my dad, and I stood against the bar, languorously imbibing our selection of martinis, watching the crowd around us.
The air hummed with aristocratic sounds, of quiet conversations, glasses clinking, suits rustling.
Halfway down my first martini, a lazy feeling tinged the backs of my elbows, and my legs grew pliant with carelessness.
Each sip of the martini imbued empowerment, confidence, like an athlete at the finish line of a marathon.
I sensed my height, my mother small next to me, and my hair loose around my shoulders. I felt invincible, like a cheetah zipping through the savannah. Everything I could say or do would not be questioned, would not be second-guessed; in fact it would be reproduced by others, admired.
I glanced behind the bar and caught Igor’s gaze; he stared intently back at me, this time with a cautious smile, definitely not a smirk. I did not look away.
When I glimpsed the martini girls near me, they did not appear so foreign anymore; in fact, I wanted to reach out and grasp the moment, savor the common bond I felt with them.
Because now, we were martini girls.