The International Writers Magazine: Bar Stories
Another Drink or Two...
Paul Weiss went into the bar. It was seven o’clock on an unusually warm weekday evening in San Francisco. The bar, a neighborhood one, was almost empty; too early for the regulars. Paul sat on a stool. Jim the bartender came over. “Long time no see,” Jim said.
“Yeah, long time. Been pretty busy.” Actually, he’d kept away since that winter night when he and Carol had their last drink before she flew back to Minnesota to care for her ailing father. A month or so later, he’d received the letter. She was staying, had gotten a job in the local hospital (Carol was a nurse), she was sorry. Paul had wondered if she’d hooked up with the old high school boyfriend that she’d told him about. Well, it didn’t matter. She wasn’t coming back.
Jim had brought him a whiskey sour. “So you remembered my drink?”
“Sure. You and Carol had them all the time. You hear from her?”
“Yeah. She’s not coming back.”
Jim shrugged. “Well, we didn’t figure she was. She was really kind of a Midwestern girl, wasn’t she?”
“I suppose so.” He tasted the drink, icy cold, good.
“How’ve you been?”
“Okay,” Paul lied. Since Carol had left he’d been miserable.
“Still at that ad agency?”
“Yeah, even got a promotion. Been working hard. A big campaign.”
“That’s good. Keep your mind occupied.” It hadn’t kept him from thinking about Carol.
Another customer had come in, one of the regulars. Jim went down the bar to serve him. Paul looked into his drink. It couldn’t help but remind him of all the times he’d come in here with Carol. Maybe coming back was a mistake. Then someone else came in, a girl, and sat a stool away from him. Jim came over to the girl and said, “Hi, Maggie. How you doing?”
The girl said, “I’m hot. Give me something cold.” She was a petite girl with dark hair and eyes, attractive, nice legs. Paul smiled to himself at how she was almost the exact opposite of tall blonde Carol.
Jim gave her a whiskey sour. “Hey,” he said. “You work in an ad agency, downtown, don’t you?”
“Paul here works in one, too. Maggie Miles, this is Paul Weiss. Maggie’s out here from Chicago.”
They said “Hi” and told each other where they worked. It turned out they were at different ad agencies but in the same building. “Small world,” said Paul. “I’ve probably seen you. I’m in research. What about you?”
“I just started a few weeks ago. I’m only a secretary. But I want to get into the art department. I have my degree in art.”
“Couldn’t find an art job in Chicago?”
“I didn’t look. I didn’t want to stay in Chicago. To tell the truth, I broke up with my old high school boy friend and wanted to get away. An old story, right?”
“Yeah.” Just like Carol. Only now Carol might have gotten back with hers. “Think you’ll ever go back there, to Chicago?”
She smiled, an attractive smile that brightened her face. “Back to the snow and ice? Not a chance.”
“I know what you mean. I came out here from New York. So, have you met anyone in San Francisco yet?” It was presumptuous to ask, but he felt he had to.
“You mean a guy? I told you, I’ve only been here a few weeks.”
“I forgot.” A few more people had come in and sat at the bar. Almost without thinking Paul stood up, took both of their drinks and led her to a table in the back, just as he’d always done with Carol. They sat down and he said, “This is better.”
“Do you come in here often?”
“A few times. I live pretty close by. I like it in here. It’s usually dark and quiet. And Jim’s friendly. Tonight I just felt I had to get out of my apartment. It was so hot.”
“Yeah, I felt the same way.”
“Have you known Jim for long?”
“About a year, I guess. My place is also pretty close. Are you ready for another drink?”
“I think so.” She reached into her purse but Paul said, “It’s okay, I have it. Call it a welcome drink.”
Paul walked to the bar and ordered two more whiskey sours. “How’s it going?” asked Jim.
“Maggies’s a nice girl.”
“She seems so.”
Jim waited, as if expecting Paul to say something more, then handed him the drinks.
Back at the table, Maggie said, “Thanks. These are good.”
“So, have you had a chance to see much of the city?”
“A little. I’ve been to Golden Gate Park. It’s nice there. And I like the museums.”
“How about Tommy’s Joynt? Everyone goes there.” Tommy’s Joynt was a San Francisco institution, a hof-brau famous for its roast beef, beers from all over the world and Irish coffee. The last time he and Carol had gone there they’d shared a table with some Irish guys. It had been a cold foggy night, the usual San Francisco weather, not at all like tonight, and one of the Irish guys had bought them all Irish coffees. They’d had a good time.
“I’ve heard of it but no, I haven’t been there.”
“You have to sometime. How about Sausalito and Tiburon? Over the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin.”
“No, I don’t have a car. I’m saving up to buy one.”
“No one in New York has a car so when I came out here I didn’t even know how to drive. I took three lessons and got my license. I think the driving school had some kind of deal with the DMV. I bought an old Chevy and practiced in Golden Gate Park. It’s a good thing you weren’t out here then or you life would have been in danger.”
She laughed. “Do you know how to drive now?”
“I think so. I try to stay away from those hills though.”
“I’ll remember that.”
Paul looked at his watch. “Well, I better be getting back. What about you? I can give you a ride.”
“No, I’m only a few blocks away. I’ll just finish my drink and walk back. Thanks again for the drink, by the way.”
As Paul went out he saw Jim look at him and mouth the word “Well.” Paul shook his head and went out the door. It was still hot and there was a breathless feeling in the air as if something momentous was about to happen. He knew that some San Francisco natives called this “earthquake weather.” Was an earthquake coming? It was possible. He took a few steps toward his car, then turned abruptly and went back into the bar. He went straight to the table where Maggie was still sitting. She looked up at him, seeming a little startled.
“Look,” he said. “You really have to go to Tommy’s Joynt. How about Saturday?”
She hesitated at first, then said, “All right. Fine.”
Paul wrote down her name and phone number on a napkin Well, it wasn’t as momentous as an earthquake, but it was something. For the first time since Carol had left, he’d be going out with a girl.
“Sounds good. You live around here?”
“A few blocks away. I had to get out of my apartment, it was so hot.”
“Me, too. Strange weather. Where are you from?”
“Chicago. How about you?”
“New York. I’ve been here a couple of years. How do you like San Francisco?”
“I think it’s great.” Paul noticed that she had a quick smile. He suggested another drink and almost without thinking he carried their glasses to a table in the corner. “Easier to talk here,” he said.
“Yes. How long have you known Jim?”
Paul told her he’d been coming into the bar since he’d moved to the neighborhood. He didn’t mention Carol, but she was on his mind...
Paul Weiss glanced at his watch and lit a cigarette. He was sitting at the bar. It was almost eight on a January night in San Francisco. Outside it was cold and foggy. The bar was a small one, a neighborhood place where people stopped in for a drink after work. Right now Paul was the only one there.
Jim, the bartender, brought Paul his drink, a whiskey sour. “Since when did you start smoking again?” he asked Paul
“She’s late, huh?”
“Yeah, women are always late.”
“Not Carol. Seems to me you’re usually the one who’s late. She working today?”
“Yeah, you know her. She had to go in.”
“How long you two been coming in here?”
“I don’t know. About a year.”
“Too bad about her father. Is he still in the hospital?”
“Yeah, but he’s out of danger now.”
Jim swabbed the counter with a towel. “What was it, a heart attack?”
“How old’s he?”
“Not that old, about sixty.”
“Well, I can see why she thinks she has to go back home.”
“Yeah, but he’s better now.”
“Still, who knows. Anyway, she’ll be coming back.”
“You think so?”
“Sure. What the hell, either he gets better or he dies, right? Then she comes back.”
“Yeah, then she comes back.”
Paul heard the door to the bar open. He turned around and saw Carol coming in, still in her nurse’s uniform, carrying her coat over her arm. As always when he saw her, he thought, What a great-looking girl. She was in her late twenties, blonde and fair-skinned, with flushed cheeks. She seemed to bring with her a glow that lit up the dark bar.
She walked quickly up to Paul and gave him a light kiss. “Hi,” she said. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Had a long day?”
“Yes. There were a lot of good-byes.” She looked at his cigarette, burning in an ashtray. “You’re not smoking again, are you?”
“Because it’ll kill you, that’s why.” She picked up the cigarette and ground it out.
Jim asked Carol if she was ready for a drink. “Whiskey sour?”
“Yes, thanks, Jim.”
They took their drinks and sat down at a table furthest from the door. Paul said, “I’m glad you came.”
Carol gave a little shrug. “Well, one last drink,” she said.
“I didn’t want you to leave without seeing you after last night,” Paul said.
“Last night was something, wasn’t it? Our big fight.”
“Look, whatever I said, I didn’t mean it.”
“Yes, you did. But it’s all right.”
“Have you heard anything new about your dad?”
“Yes, this morning. They think he’ll be able to go home in a few days.”
“That’s good news. But I suppose you’re still going.”
“Yes, I told you. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t go.”
“Yeah, you told me.”
“Someone will have to be there to take care of him.”
“And it has to be you.”
“Paul, I’m going. Don’t make it any harder.”
“Okay, you’re going. Have I told you I’ll miss you?”
“You’ve told me. I’ll miss you, too.”
“Well, watch out for the bears.”
“Sure, the bears. Don’t the bears come down from the hills in Minnesota when it’s winter?”
“Yes, I forgot about that.”
Paul looked down at his drink, as if the answer to some important question was contained there. “You know,” he said, “about getting married. Well, I could think about it.”
“Wow, you must really think you’ll miss me. But you know you’re only saying that because you don’t want me to go.”
“You’re right. I don’t want you to go. Don’t go.”
“Paul, you know I’m going. Maybe you’ll be relieved when I’m gone.”
“Well, you won’t have to worry about getting married.”
“I told you, I’m willing to think about it.”
“And moving out of the city?”
“Why would you want to move out to the sticks?”
“The suburbs, not the sticks. And what about having kids?”
“Maybe there won’t be any kids.”
“Then why get married?”
Paul shook his head in exasperation. “Christ, why can’t you be a self-respecting feminist like everyone else? How did I find the one girl in San Francisco who wants to be married and have kids?”
“Just your luck, I guess.”
“Well, look. We can talk about all those things when you get back, right?”
“Yes, when I get back.”
Paul didn’t like the flat tone in which she said that. “You are coming back? I mean, when your dad’s okay. Then you’ll be coming back, right?”
“I told you. I can’t give any guarantees. I’ll have to see how he does. Don’t let’s argue over this again.”
Paul was ready to resume the argument but she was giving him her level look, mouth and chin stubborn. “Okay,” he said. “No guarantees. “ He saw that she’d finished her whiskey sour. “How about another drink?”
She shook her head. “No, I better not. We’ve had our one last drink. I should go. I have to finish packing. “ She stood up and went to the bar. Paul followed her. “Well, goodbye, Jim,” she said to the bartender.
“So long,” said Jim. “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”
“I won’t.” She put on her coat.
Paul said, “You’ll call me when you get there?”
“Are you going to be worried?”
“Yeah, I’ll be worried.”
“And you’ll write? Tell me all about life on the farm?”
“It’s not a farm, just a place out in the country.”
“Okay, write me about life out in the country.” He took a step toward her and reached for her arm. “Come on, I’ll walk you to your car.”
She took a step back and said, “No, it’s right outside.”
Paul stopped abruptly. “Okay. How about tomorrow? Do you want me to drive you to the airport?”
“No, you’ll have to go to work. I’ll take a taxi.”
“Okay. Well, good-bye then.” Before she could say anything, Paul moved quickly forward, embraced her and kissed her on the lips. “Christ, I’m going to miss you,” he whispered in her ear. She let him hold her for a moment, then she broke away and went to the door. Before she went out, she turned and waved,
“So long, kiddo,” said Jim.
“No wooden nickels, Jim.” Then she was gone.
“I guess she’s not coming back,” said Jim.
“No,” said Paul. “I guess not.” He lit a cigarette. “Better give me another drink.”.
More life stories
© Martin Green November 2012
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