This project is (partly) peppered with swearing and references to sex, so if that’s not your cup-of-tea, then please go in peace.
The Licorice All-Sort & The Bartender Pt. 1
“Dude. Last time I saw you, you talked about Africa like it was a country and called me a lady.”
“I was drunk.”
“Not drunk enough to excuse things like ‘they proved my dumb point in Africa’ and ‘you ladies are all the same.’”
“I didn’t call my own point dumb.”
“How would you know? You were drunk.”
“I’m gonna’ go out on a limb here and assume you don’t want me to see you home?”
“Well, I dunno’ Professor… Did they really prove your point in all 54 countries of the second largest continent in the world? I mean unless you only talked to, like, one guy from each country, that would be a pretty impressive and important study. Maybe I was just thinking too small? – Ladies often do. Or being unreasonable? – Ladies often are.” She sipped at her pint of cloudy, hoppy beer and pushed one of her upside down shot glasses back into line with its brethren.
“I’ll have to report you to your superior,” she whispered to the shot glass, “he should be here any second now.”
“I guess I’ll see you around,” he said.
“Sounds good. I’ll bring some yellow wallpaper to hide in. As ladies often should.”
“Yellow wallpaper to…? Never mind...”
“Indeed.” She said. Shaking his head, he began to walk away from her.
“Quick tip,” she leaned in conspiratorially before he was a full step away, “that fox-faced lass over there looks like she might not know Africa is a continent. Truly great tits, too. I know you like those. Tally ho!” She turned away and dismissed him with a sweeping backhanded wave of one hand while she tapped the bar with two fingers of the other. The bartender materialized, put another shot glass in front of her, and brought the bottle of Jack to fill it. She touched the errant shot glass, pointed to the bottle in the bartender’s hand and said, “your progenitor and superior is now here. Explain why you broke ranks.”
“Your elbow jostled him,” the bartender said as he filled the new shot glass, “he has nothing to explain. The big guy here,” he tapped the bottle with a finger and made a clicking sound with his tongue, “knows what’s what with his people.” He put the Jack away and disappeared down the other end of the bar.
Tell me there’s no magic in the world, she thought, I can conjure a witty man and Jack Daniels with a tap of my fingers. She watched the bartender take money from the couple who’d been hunched together in the back since before she’d even arrived. As she’d periodically watched the two of them, she’d decided that they hadn’t yet figured out they were a couple. For the moment, though, their obviously unexplored chemistry was secondary to the way their bodies were less than capable of straight lines. After paying, they gently swayed their way to the front door. Then, they each ushered the other to go first and bounced off of each other in a slapstick choreography of politesse before they finally made a wobbly exit.
Maybe they’re walking just fine, she thought, and I simply cannot see straight. She laughed quietly to herself at the idea of an entire science-fiction world full of people whose eyes can only see in curves and bends, and then stopped laughing. Her most beloved grandmother had had wet macular degeneration that pretty much obscured all but her peripheral vision, making of her life a constant bend, curve, and tilt to see anything at all. It had not been funny to her, or to anyone who had loved her, and thinking about Grandma made her remember.
She remembered again that her brother was dead. Her lit-from-within-anchor-of-sanity-and-goodness was dead. The one who still knew there was magic in the world but who always tried to help her have faith in other things too.
Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead…
She looked up from her magical drink-bringing fingers and tried, without her brother’s help, to have faith in other things.
“You’re my favourite bartender,” she shouted down to the end of the bar.
“Yeah?” He shouted back, “how many bartenders do you know? And what are the criteria?” He nodded a thank you to another departing customer and came to stand in front of her, “because for all I know it could be a pretty meaningless compliment.”
“Wow,” she tilted her head to an exaggerated flirty angle and began to twirl one of her frizzy bright orange and black curls around her finger. Her voice pitched to breathy-technicolor-ingenue, “I bet you know Africa isn’t a country, don’t you?”
“I do.” He watched her twirl her hair in coquettish farce and couldn’t help but smile, “has anyone ever told you that your hair is the bastard love child of a licorice all-sort and cotton candy?”
“No. No, they haven’t. But, keen observational ability like that is now a criteria for judging favourite bartenders. See that? You tip the scale so far you rewrite the rules.”
“Flattered. You should be flattered. Honour is for suckers. And terrible bartenders.”
“Is that so?”
"I don’t know. I’m drunk. But I would hate for you to fall in the rankings.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Which? That I’m drunk or that I care about you and want you to succeed?”
“Obviously.” Head back to a normal angle, hand back down on the bar, she leaned in and whispered, “that man is actually quite intelligent in a lot of ways,” she pointed her thumb over her shoulder to where her pseudo-ex was indeed chatting up the big-titted fox, “and he actually is a professor. Sober, he probably knows Africa isn’t a country. Honestly, it all boils down to the fact that he just sort of hates women and doesn’t know it.”
“For women everywhere,” she sat back again, “And, as it turns out, I truly loathe being called a lady. Being called a ‘lady’ is even more offensive to me somehow then his lumping all women together like we have regular meetings and a misandrist fight song.” Her whole face actually twisted with derision each time she said the word lady. The expression reminded him of how it feels to accidentally wind up tasting hand sanitizer, something which has happened to him more times than he would like.
“I would imagine Charlotte Perkins Gilman didn’t like the word ‘lady’ much either,” he said.
“Sweet jumping beans on toast! Are you kidding me? You got the reference to The Yellow Wallpaper?” She bent her elbows to the bar so she could rest her chin in her cupped hands and look up at him.
“Bless you – May I ask? Were you crafted directly by God or did he have a woman do your hands and feet like Camille did for Rodin?”
“I’m pretty sure my mom made all of me.”
“Seriously. Is that really your response?”
“Well, there are a few bumps at the seams,” he said, pointing to a rather impressive birth mark on his neck,
“but she baked me up right, fed me Jell-O, made sure I went to school.”
Something in her shifted. Through the soft cloud of booze quickly becoming a room-swirling special effect, she felt one of her many strange certainties.
Other people’s certainties suddenly broadcast.
Visible to her.
Felt inside her.
Even when those certainties, and the people they belong to, had absolutely no intention of turning on their antennae and beaming signals anywhere. And. Of course. She was too drunk not to blurt it out.
“You truly, deeply, all-the-way through to bottom and back up again, love your mother. More than that, you like her. She’s your best friend. And it’s been you two against the world hasn’t it? For a long time? And some heavy stuff has gone down more recently so she’s even more on your mind than usual.” The bartender looked somewhat startled and uncomfortable and she was absolutely sure she’d ruined it. Whatever this tiny little oasis of bartender banter and Jack and hoppy, cloudy beer had been – it would be no more.
It’s what she does.
Especially when her brother isn’t around.
Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead…
Instead of the duck-and-cover conversational mushroom cloud she expected, however, and though the bartender did not quite regain full composure, he did hold way-the-hell on.
“You got all that from Jell-O and bumpy seams?”
“Through the beginnings of a vestibular temper tantrum no-less,” she rallied back from the ghost of the imagined mushroom cloud and pointed at the last three shot glasses in her row, “these three are kicking in and I am probably going to have stop asking for more which is very, very depressing.”
“More depressing than whatever is making you drink this much to begin with?”
“Oh. I see. It’s your turn now. Yes. I guess that’s fair.” She looked up from her menagerie of glasses and made full eye contact with her favourite bartender. She noticed that one of his eyes was lighter toned in colour than the other. Here was a man of strong features woven indelibly with kindness and genuine presence.
“Do you really want to know?” With the question, she felt her energy slip irretrievably from vaudevillian firecracker to cement-booted-sad-sack teetering on the edge of a pier. The bar lighting applied fragility to her features, he noticed, but he’d already seen her strength even through the fluff and bounce of her repartee and the veritable flood of beer and Jack.
Do I want to know? He thought.
THOUGHTS ABOUT FICTION & FEEDBACK: My human child and my fiction babies are the softest parts of my soft underbelly. All I want is for them to find good ways to be out into the world. I am also, always, at least a little terrified when they do. My teenager gets to make a lot of his own decisions about this process. My fiction must always wait for me to do the legwork.
Parts of this particular project began in a political place, so in addition to more garden variety fears about writerly suckage, I wonder if I have – in any way – overstepped my cisgender, straight whiteness, and/or relative financial securities in a haze of myopic privilege. My underbelly is always afraid I will offend people.
BOTTOM LINE: I will delete hateful comments without compunction, but I welcome meaningful, educative feedback, ideas, suggestions, and dialogue. Best, S.