I came back to myself sitting under a streetlight, staring out at the street. It was nearly eleven o’clock, and I was alone. So many times before, I’d been in the same situation. Only now it was different.
Only a week ago, eleven o’clock on a Friday night meant partying with my boyfriend. We would stay at the bar until early in the morning, then take it back to his place, which soon became ours. Sex happened, but it wasn’t all. It wasn’t as important to us. Love was our relationship -love, not sex.
Sighing, I picked myself up from the bench and turned around. There, hidden between two buildings, was a tiny bar. It was the laziest nightspot in the whole city, but my favorite.
A minute later, pushed open the door and emerged into the dim lights. This place was never open, except for Friday and Saturday nights. It would probably close down soon. The bartender -an old man who’d lost all his hair- ran the place by himself. He wiped the tables down every hour or two, prepped the one pool table, and constantly poured the drinks.
“How are ye?” he asked as I sat down in one of the bar stools.
I shrugged, and he knew what I wanted. The same thing I’d wanted last Saturday. Anything but the usual.
“You seen Mike?” he said, turning his back to fill up a shot glass for me.
“No” was my frank reply.
“You, um…” He bit down on whatever he’d been thinking and put the glass in front of me. “Here. Whatever you need, it’s on the house tonight.”
I smiled at him, genuinely, as the nice old man gave me a knowing look and turned away to the next customer.
There were only four of us at the time. Me and a middle-aged woman sat at the bar, while two men in factory uniforms occupied a table. From the corner of my eye, I saw the woman give me an interested look, then turn back to her phone and beer.
She was wearing a neatly pressed, dark outfit, something a lawyer or therapist would wear. Judging from the briefcase beside her stool, I guessed the former. Downing my shot, I turned in her direction.
“I haven’t seen you before. Come here often?”
Her eyes flitted up from her phone. After a moment, she turned it off and gave me her full attention. “You lesbian?”
“Not in the least.”
She turned the phone back on.
“You a lawyer?” I asked, wanting to confirm my suspicions.
“You must be working a case to be this down.”
She granted me a quizzical stare. “Who are you? Sherlock Holmes?”
I shrugged. “Just wanting to talk.”
“I don’t have time to talk.” Hopping off the stool, she grabbed her briefcase and slammed a ten on the counter. “See ya.”
Walking briskly, she disappeared into the night outside.
“What was that about?” the old bartender asked. He was wiping the insides of a glass as he approached me.
“I don’t know. She’s…” My voice faded and I held up the empty shot glass. “You sure you don’t want me to pay for this? I’ll be in here a while.”
He grinned widely. “Fine with me. It gets lonesome anyways.”
“What time you closing up?”
“Whenever you leave.”
A few seconds later, he returned the glass to in front of me. “I hate selling drinks to people like you.” He sighed.
“I’m not buying, so you’re not selling.”
“All the same. Makes me feel bad. That woman who just left… I don’t care about her. But you… It’s different.”
I shrugged. “Can’t say I understand.”
“All the same.”
I heard a pitter-patter as rain blew against the glass windows at the front of the bar. Looking out on the downtown street, I saw lightning in the distance. A few seconds later, thunder roared and shook the ground.
“Nasty storm out there,” I muttered.
“I’ve always thought you should get a piano in here.” I gestured to the empty space behind the pool table. “Maybe over there.”
“I’ve always liked sad piano music.” I downed the second shot.
“Want another?” he asked gloomily.
As he picked up the glass, he set his phone down on the table and pressed a few buttons. Melancholy, soft piano music began to play through the speakers. I looked up at him, feeling suddenly very emotional. He smiled and set the glass down, now full.
“I’m deciding whether to cut you off at five or not.”
I shook my head. “Please don’t.”
“You’re gonna feel it tomorrow,” he warned.
“I’ve drank before.” I sighed, remembering the long nights and bad mornings of the past week. “Not as much as now, but still.”
Disappearing into the back for a few minutes, he reemerged with a wet cloth. “If you wanna wipe the tables down, I can pay you something. I’m guessing you don’t have much.”
I nodded. “Nothing. Right now, I’m at my mom’s. Mike didn’t leave me anything, and whatever I left at his house probably got set on fire.”
“So you wanna wipe some tables?”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
He held the cloth towards me. “All the same.”
“Nope.” I took a deep breath and downed the third glass. “Go wipe ‘em so you can fill me up again.”
He grunted and walked around the counter, heading over to where the two men still sat. I followed the bartender with my vision and noticed the two workers were getting ready to leave. Maybe I should follow suit and head to my mom’s. It wasn’t really a home, but at least it was a bed.
As they left, both men tipped their ballcaps at me. I gave them piercing glances, which they promptly ignored and headed outside into the storm. Now, it was just me and the old man.
“Lazy night?” I knew the answer.
“One of the laziest.” He wiped filth from the newly vacated table into his hand.
“You think this place will ever kick up again? I remember it used to be really booming.”
He ran a hand over his face, sighing. “Doubt it. What you remember wasn’t that great. It was better, but not great.”
“You know how you could really pick this place up?”
“How?” he asked, looking at me amused.
I nodded towards the phone still playing orchestral music. “Get a piano.”
“Unless Billy Joel’s willing to play it, I doubt it would make a difference. I’d be out of a few hundred bucks.”
“Few hundred? Why don’t you try Goodwill?”
He threw the dirty cloth into the back room and dumped the contents of his palm into the trash. “They don’t sell pianos at Goodwill.”
As he walked back over, I gave him an expectant look. He understood and grabbed the glass, filling it up. Then he handed it back and I immediately downed the fourth shot.
“How do people get by without alcohol?” I wondered out loud.
“Religion.” He chuckled to himself.
I felt a gust of wind and turned to the door. My heart sunk as Mike and his new girlfriend walked in, arms wrapped around each other and sharing a soaked umbrella.
“G’day, Mike,” called the bartender. “Have a seat. I’ll be right with you.”
Mike gave me a devil’s smile, which I returned with hatred. He led his new lady to the table farthest away from me, over against the wall and by the window. This wouldn’t end well.
To be continued…