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A Regular Day (behind the bar)
Jeffrey Beyl


It was three-forty in the afternoon. The old man wouldn’t be in for twenty more minutes. The bartender wiped the slate bar top again. He wiped in circular motions along its shiny, black length down and back. He leaned over into the line of light to see it from a different angle making sure it was absolutely clean. He looked at the clock on the wall. Three forty-three. He had already polished and re-polished the glasses. He had stocked the garnishes; sliced the lemon peels and lime wedges and cucumber spears. He had pre-mixed a Bloody Mary concoction. He reached up and pulled a stemmed wine glass from the overhead rack. He breathed on it to fog the crystal then rubbed a clean, white cloth around it. He held it up in the light to inspect it then slid it back into its slot in the overhead rack. He grabbed another, fogged it with his exhale and began buffing it as he looked at the clock.

The bar stretched from the highway to the beach overlooking the pier. It stood on pilings out over the sand, as did the pier, and during high tide the ocean rolled up under it. The bar shook when a wave crashed into the pilings. The bar was long and bright surrounded by windows looking out toward the ocean.

The bartender began to polish the shiny brass railing surrounding the bar itself when a tall man wearing a baseball cap walked in, leaned his fishing rod against the wall and set a rusty tackle box on the floor. He sat at one of the stools with his back against the windows. The bartender slapped a napkin down onto the bar top in front of him.
"How’s the fishin today?"
"Lousy! What kinda beer ya got?"
The bartender told him and the man ordered a draft. The bartender stepped over to the beer taps and drew a beer into a thick, sparkling clean, glass mug and set it down onto the napkin in front of the man. "Here ya go. That’ll be a buck."
"How much?"
"One dollar," said the bartender.
"One dollar? Jesus, what’s the world comin to? One dollar for a damn beer?" The man pushed his baseball cap backward on his head.
"Goes up to a buck seventy-five after four o’clock," said the bartender.
Baseball cap reached into his jeans, pulled out a wrinkled wad of bills, straightened them out and set one dollar bill onto the bar top. "Here," he said. "But don’t expect a tip."

The bartender could see that his fingers were cracked. The man took a gulp and set it down hard onto the slate. "I tell ya, inflation hits everything. Ya know it’s bad when a lousy beer in a cheap beach joint costs a buck. This country’s gonna be a wasteland soon. A buck!"
"A wasteland?" repeated the bartender. "You ever read T.S. Eliot?"
"What? Who?"
"Never mind," said the bartender. He went back to polishing the glasses. He pulled another wine glass from the rack and exhaled onto it. He looked out the windows at the ocean. He could hear Baseball Cap mumbling "A dollar a beer, Jesus!" The bartender rubbed the glass with the cloth. He looked around at the clock. Three forty-eight. Almost time. He looked back at the ocean. The ocean was turning a dark grey color with whitecaps forming out beyond the breakwater.
"Excuse me. Two margaritas please, with salt." The bartender turned to see that a man and woman had entered the bar and sat down at the far end near the front entrance. The bartender cocked his index finger at them and went about blending the two drinks. He mixed the shaved ice and the lemon-lime mix in the blender. He reached down in front of him without looking for the tequila bottle from the well and poured it in with the other ingredients. He had already pre-dipped the margarita glasses into the bowl of salt and had the glasses laid out in a row on the bar top near the garnishes. He poured the drinks into the glasses and sat them down on two fresh napkins in front of the people. "Here y’are." He nodded to the woman. He could smell her perfume.

She was smoking a long, skinny cigarette. She held it in her right hand as though she were gesturing with it, her fingers pointed outward from her body. She took a puff of the cigarette, inhaled deeply and blew the smoke out in a thin stream back and forth as though she was writing something in the air with the smoke. The bartender watched her. He thought she was pretty but she wore an over amount of makeup on her face and he could see the line of it running down along the angle of her chin like a mask. Her eyes were very dark and he could smell her perfume. The perfume was strong but he thought it was nice. It reminded him of ripe fruit.

The man she was with looked older. He had a round bald spot on top of his head and his jowls hung a little at the edges of his face. He wore a thin moustache and his hair was well groomed and coifed. He wore a dark suit and his tie was neatly and tightly knotted at his neck. "That’ll be five dollars," said the bartender.
"Can you break a fifty?" The man was holding a billfold open showing several bills inside.
"Can do. You want a tab?"

The man set a fifty dollar bill on the bar top. He snapped his arms out straight in front of him then adjusted the cuffs of each sleeve with the opposite hand. The bartender went to the cash register and rung up a tab then slipped it, along with the fifty under an ashtray in front of the man. He went back to his polishing. He looked at the clock. Three fifty-five.

He began mixing an Irish Coffee. He put a teaspoonful of brown sugar into a white porcelain mug, and then filled it half with hot coffee and half with Irish whiskey. He topped it off with a swirling mound of whipped cream. He set it down on a new napkin in front of the last seat at the end of the bar near the big windows that overlooked the ocean. He took a glance at the ocean then turned and watched the door.

A moment later an old man walked into the bar. He was walking with the aid of a cane that had four little rubber tipped feet. He stood very tall and upright yet leaned with his right hand onto the cane. He walked slowly and with effort and carried his head so as to almost point the path with his chin. He wore a brown, tweed jacket that had leather patches on the elbows and a red handkerchief in the breast pocket and a black beret on his head tilted to cover his right ear. He had a shock of longish white hair hanging out from around the beret. He took his seat at the end of the bar and nodded to the bartender. He set his cane between his legs and took hold of the mug that the bartender had set down and raised it to his lips. He took a slow sip then stretched his lower lip up to suck the whipped cream from his moustache. His moustache was white and wispy and covered his upper lip completely and hung loosely down the sides of his mouth. He nodded again, slowly, to the bartender then he turned and looked at the ocean.
"The fog’s comin in," said the bartender. "Funny how the fog muffles the sound of the waves."
The old man took another sip of the drink and again sucked the whipped cream from his moustache. The bartender reached under the counter for a wet towel that was hanging on a hook. He began to wipe the bar top again. He did it without looking. He was watching the old man who was looking at the ocean.
"Don’t you love the sound of the rocks rolling against each other when the waves come in?" asked the bartender. The old man was sucking whipped cream from his moustache.
"Bartender, may we have two more of these lovely margaritas please." The man, whom the bartender now thought of as Slick, called from behind.

"Excuse me a minute," the bartender said to the old man. He blended two fresh margaritas and served them on two fresh napkins. He rung the drinks up on the tab and slipped it under the ashtray with the fifty. He looked at the woman. She smiled at him and he could see her makeup was very heavy and was beginning to dry on her cheeks and forehead. He could smell her perfume. She had her hand on Slick’s thigh. He heard a tapping and knew that the old man was rapping his empty mug on the slate bar top.
He began to make another Irish coffee and as he did so he asked Baseball Cap, "one more?"
"Still a buck? It’s after four."
"Yeah, what the heck. One more?"
"You’d think the second one would be cheaper," said Baseball Cap.
"Sorry. Still want it?"
"Yeah, hit me. But Jesus, a dollar a beer.
"Management sets the prices, not me," said the bartender. He drew another beer from the tap and set it down onto the wet, soiled napkin. "That’ll be…"
"Yeah, yeah, here ya go," said Baseball cap laying a wrinkled bill on the bar top. The bartender rang it up on the register then finished making the Irish coffee and as he was applying the whipped cream to the top he could hear the old man tapping his empty mug on the slate. He took it over to the old man and set it down on a fresh napkin. He set the empty mug in the sink behind the bar. The old man slowly nodded his head, took a sip and stretched his lower lip up to suck the whipped cream from his moustache.
"You ever read poetry?" asked the bartender. "The way you rap your mug on the bar top somehow reminds of a poem."
The old man looked at the ocean. He sipped his drink and sucked the whipped cream from his moustache.
"Just the other day," said the bartender, "a guy caught a baby blue shark right off the end of the pier there. Said he was going to have it mounted. You ever see anything like that?"
The old man sipped his drink and looked at the ocean.

The bartender wiped the bar top with the wet towel. "One day I was standing right here behind the bar and when I looked out toward the ocean I could see three big black humps moving in the water. Turned out to be three Killer Whales. Quite a sight. They swim in a very up and down manner, like a horse on a merry go round, up and down, up and down. You ever see anything like that?"
The old man sipped his drink and looked at the ocean.

"Sometimes in the winter, before the Steelhead make their run up the river they’ll hang around out in front of the pier there. I guess they feed off scraps from the boats and the fishermen on the pier. You can walk out onto the pier and look down and see them. From the bar here you can see them jump. It’s quite a sight. They lift their whole bodies out of the water. They’ll spin and sometimes land back into the same hole in the water they came out of. Quite a sight."

The old man sipped his drink, sucked the whipped cream from his moustache and looked at the ocean. Out over the ocean a group of pelicans flew in snakelike unison along the water. They rose up and over a swell one by one then back down to skim the surface when suddenly they flew higher into the air, hovered a moment and arrowed down into the water.
"They’re after baitfish," said the bartender. "I love watching them fly like that. You know the pelican has the slowest wing beat of any bird?"
"Speaking of birds, in spring," said the bartender, "you can watch the pigeons mating on the railing out there. The female always plays it coy for a while. But she finally gives in. Sometimes you can watch the stray cats come hunting. Those pier cats are really something. They’ll crouch along, you know how cats do, and sometimes if a cat is very tough, he’ll get both birds at once. That’s a sight to see. One cat trying to kill and drag two dead birds down the pier while fighting off the other cats at the same time."
The old man looked at the ocean.

"Bartender, two more margaritas please." Baldy called again.
"Excuse me a minute," the bartender said to the old man. He blended two fresh drinks, served them on fresh, clean napkins and rang them up on the tab. He slipped the tab under the ashtray. The fifty was still there. The bartender looked at the woman and she smiled at him. He looked at the man. He noticed that the man’s left eye looked a little to the side on its own. He could smell the woman’s perfume.
The bartender looked at Baseball Cap. "One more?"
"Not at your prices."
The bartender turned back to where the old man was sitting and noticed that he was gone. He must have gone out the side door, thought the bartender, and then he saw that the old man was walking slowly out along the pier. There were three dollars under the empty mug and fifty cents beside the bills. He set the dirty mug in the sink and wiped the bar top with the wet towel. He rang up the three dollars on the cash register.
Fifty cents. Not much of a tip but it was regular. The old man was gone but he’d be back tomorrow at four. Now the bartender would have to put up with Slick and the perfume lady until more customers came in. The fishing boats should be in soon and business usually picked up then. He grabbed the wet towel and began wiping the bar top again. Oh well, he thought, the old man wasn’t much of a talker but he listened well. He’ll be back tomorrow, thought the bartender, and then I’ll tell him about the time that sloop came in too close and beached out front and how the waves beat it to pieces.

© Jeffrey A. Beyl - March 2003
jab168@yahoo.com
Dreamscapes Fiction

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