The Bartender

By Robert Russell

 

Daunting beauty drifted behind the bar, short but not so short, late twenties maybe, wearing something of a black sundress with gold buttons stitched down the front, the kind of black dress that was not too formal, a casual yet subtly sensual black dress. It followed flowingly as she danced behind the bar, accenting her soft features. Her hair danced too, shimmering silk, auburn as autumn leaves falling into the sunny wind with each step. Against the dim, lambent light, her eyes coruscated in a deep hazel complemented by her pale, white skin. Her cheeks, a light rose with faint freckles shrouding her nose and scattering abroad. A smile that would make her cheeks rise in such a way that those hazel eyes would squint up just enough to let escape a tiny glint, a twinkling scintillation that could only be described as alluring with a hint of whimsical. Her dress was cut on the back exposing a large, inked mural of a tree silhouette with small birds, some flying and some perched on its stark, leafless branches. She spoke with eloquence in a calm voice, unique timbre, lines imbued with tiny quips, witty and clever. And her laugh, a fluttering, warm birdsong that, for a second, seemed to transport Our Patron to an island dreamscape far away from reality.

            A bare, brick-walled underground pub, new, uncharted waters. A Tuesday night. There were never any specials on Tuesday nights. When he arrived, there was a small handful of people there, some in booths, even fewer at the bar quietly chattering with their seemingly significant and insignificant others. However, Our Patron arrived alone, hoping to numb himself the best way he knew how, a meager attempt to drown away his day working a menial, dead-end job. A job he loathed as it precluded his pursuits of being a writer, his real passion and dream in life. Upon entering, Our Patron pulled a seat out at the far end of the bar secluding himself from the others, sat down and proceeded to survey his surroundings in silence, summoning his thirst. The bartender was missing, no doubt out back having a cigarette break. It was a slow night anyway. He glanced at a beer menu for a moment. Fuck it. As he dismissed the menu tossing it atop the bar, a door closing with a loud waft of air sounded from the back of the house. In rushed the bartender immediately over to a couple seated opposite end of the bar, “You guys doin’ alright?” It was then when he first saw her. His pupils dilated and his muscles constricted as a shock of euphoric electricity flew down his spine. He was instantly entranced.   

          For the next hour and thirty minutes, Our Patron sat nearly motionless, a war raging inside his own mind, all the while slowly contemplating if he believed in that noxiously curious notion of love at first sight. In the meantime, his only contact with her was ordering drinks infrequently, the whole time trying his very best to play it cool.  

“She’s busy, she doesn’t have time to talk.”

“Yes, she does, there’s hardly anybody here.”

“Yeah but I don’t want to bother her.”

“How could you bother her with small talk?”

“What if she doesn’t like small talk?”

“Only one way to find out.”

“You doin’ alright, dear?”

“Yep, thank you”

“Good job, idiot, you just missed your chance.”

            Much puzzled, as he hadn’t felt this way in what seemed like forever, that nervous pit in his stomach, inching its way up into his throat, threw him completely off-balance. Perched upon his barstool with his feet resting gently below on the bottom rim, his nervous knees bounced incessantly as questions like a deluge began to flood into his mind. What am I afraid of? he asked himself probably a hundred times within this absurd interim. Why am I afraid? It wasn’t like he hadn’t done this kind of thing before. There had been ladies that had come in and out of his life. Our Patron was gregarious and not indecent-looking, perhaps not debonair but also not sinfully plain either. Somewhere in between that split difference. He was not a ladies’ man or anything of the sort but he certainly thought that he should not be struggling this hard to strike up a small conversation with a woman. And instead of focusing on the task at hand, a task that Our Patron estimated was tantamount to climbing Mt. Everest or perhaps diving down to the furthest reaches of an ocean trench, he decided then it would be a good time to analyze himself in hopes that he could ascertain what was so wrong with him that he couldn’t perform such a meaningless and mundane act as to just saying “Hi” to a fucking bartender. Self-deprecating imbecile, Our Patron.

            Alas, he finally emerged from the black hole consuming his thoughts to notice it was fifteen minutes to last call. By this time, the place had mostly emptied out save a couple sitting down on the opposite end the bar conveniently across from Our Beloved Bartender who was elegantly counting cash and depositing bills into the cash register. The couple at the other end, laughing loudly, evidently enthralled in the funniest conversation, drunkenly decided to rope Our Beloved Bartender into whatever topic was at hand; she looked askance at the two and politely gave in to their folderol. Our Patron, arms crossed, hands in fists, heard bits and pieces of their chatter but tried his best not give in to the little voice in the back of his conscious clamoring at him to eavesdrop. He didn’t give in as he was too taken aback by the sheer luminescence of this being before him. He studied her and turned his ears to her voice as she spoke lackadaisically, clearly indulging the couple. At one point, he was able to decipher a subtle reference she made to “Portnoy’s Complaint” which seemingly went unnoticed to the oblivious and somewhat uncultured couple. Her little allusion only amplified the amount of shock and awe that had completely submerged Our Patron under a tidal wave of wonder. She’s brilliant and funny too? Christ! he thought silently to himself. He continued to sit in admiration and silence, paying no direct attention to the conversation happening over yonder until eventually the insistent, loitering pair finished their drinks, closed out their tab, and proceeded to exit, thus leaving Our Patron the last sole person in the bar. It was now past last call and ten minutes to close, and also it was right about then Our Patron realized that he had no place else left to run. Our Beloved Bartender sauntered slowly over to his side of the bar, staring directly into Our Patron for the long-stretch of the seemingly infinite distance. All the blood in his body rushed upward and erupted in his face, fulminating bright like a bloody exploding tomato. He adjusted his posture and accepted his fate.  

“Another one?”

“Yes, thank you.”

            As she quickly made him another Bourbon Coke, Our Patron, completely out of breath, tried to visibly conceal what he could only guess was either cardiac infarction or pulmonary embolism. He squirmed in his seat.

“This one’s on the house”

            “I don’t mind.”

“Oh, thank you very much.”

            Now surely on the verge of myoclonic convulsion, Our Patron drew the shaky glass to his lips, nearly dropping it but managing. He took a small sip and suppressed a wince. Infected with an unrelenting torment ridden with anxiety and fear damn near rendering his body immobile, he began analyzing again. This time, however, the focus was on Our Beloved Bartender rather than himself.

“Why is it on the house?”

“Why would she give it to me for free?”

“Could she possibly, maybe, plausibly, possibly, perhaps be into me!?”

“My God! I think I may have a chance!”

“All I need to do is ask for her number. Please God, let me just do that.”

            These thoughts amongst a thousand more flashed through his mind as she took into her hands her phone. She stood close. The bar, a thin partition, divided the stagnant space between them. He could almost smell the daisies. The soft light shown through wispy strands crowning her head like a solar eclipse and with his smitten eyes Our Patron scanned the shadowed curvature of her frame as she slowly scrolled through a playlist, finally settling on some Sinatra. Good choice. She turned and faced him.

“So what’s your name?”

“Matthew.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Eileen.”

“Nice to meet you.”

            “So what do you do, Matthew?”

“Oh, um, I’m a writer.”

“Oh, that’s awesome.”

“My husband’s a writer.”

            The words struck hard and red as he blushed and feigned a quick, undoubtedly sullen smile. As he turned his green eyes downcast disguising despondent defeat, a subtle diamond’s glare from a shiny silver ring suddenly caught the corner of his gaze. 

“How’d I miss that?”