Marks of history

The walls of the bar had long since been marked by the consumers, those who stayed and those who left. The boy stared at some of the gouges and asked the bartender why he didn’t repair them.

The bartender’s best customer laughed and responded instead. “Because that’s when Ku over there proposed to her wife. The fight beforehand sort of preempted it. Good memories.”

The boy didn’t understand that and said so.

“Eh, you’d have had to have been there. But I could tell you all about it anyway, if you’d li-”

He almost missed it, looking away, but at the corner of his eye he saw the bartender shaking his head. The customer paused, then shrugged.

“Nah. Maybe when you’re older.”

The boy was older than he was a minute ago. He said that too.

The customer laughed. “You’ve really got a keeper here, keep.”

Confused, the boy looked at the bartender, catching his smile.

The the boy and the bartender looked away from each other, embarrassed.

Attention returned

The bartender was shy. That was the only explanation.

He’d seemed so certain, standing behind the counter. With the orders coming in and out, with the crowds giving their stories. He stood there, face like a stone that somehow was welcoming to all who knew him.

But now the child stood in the back with the bartender as the older man showed (mainly through gestures) how to use the stove. The child watched with awe- both the usage of the appliance and how the walls of the man, once so sturdy, shook when faced with being the one scrutinized.

The child listened and then reached for the spatula, only for the bartender to shake his head. The child found himself wearing an apron. The cloth had been hastily tailored, fixed for his height. Just for him.

A small smile rose on his face, looking up at the bartender.

The bartender smiled back.

Drinks on the house

The bar was empty.

The bartender finished wiping off the last table, leaving the bar in the very condition he had opened it in. The cleanup, no matter what all had happened during the evening, had the same monotonous fix to it. He enjoyed the repetition, as much as he enjoyed the unexpected events that sprung forth from the patrons during the rest of the evening.

The bar was empty.

The small assortment of items that were left behind, as there always was. He put them in the same cabinet as he always did, recognizing some of them as belonging to regular clientele. No matter how careful anyone was, how drunk they weren’t, this always happened. Though he was certain one of these was done on purpose, though it appeared the person it was always left for would never notice who was trying to pick him up.

The bar was empty.

He sat down, alone, and poured himself a drink.

A good night’s work.

Accept the faults

He sat there, in front of the bartender, with his usual order. The bartender knew that wasn’t all. He was regular enough that the bartender knew better. This would be the last one though, he knew when to cut this man off and it was at this point. He wasn’t a good drunk when he came in depressed.

The next glass the bartender set down was water. The drunk was still enough there to know what that meant and still sober enough to appreciate it. The bartender shifted his glasses on his face.

“Did I screw up?”

Of course the bartender didn’t have an answer for that. His friend knew that too. The fact he asked was sign of how far drunk he was. The bartender leaned forward on the counter and fixed him a look.

“I probably did, yeah.”

The bartender waited. The story eventually spilled forth.

Where everybody knows your name

They stopped at the bar, surprised to see the owner actually there. Making their way to the counter, they sat down on the far right. “I didn’t know you were back from your honeymoon. Have a good time?”

He nodded, the only response they expected to hear.

“Good you’re back. Your daughter did well enough in your absence, but she lacks the… experience, I suppose.”

The bartender shook his head, almost as though he said flatterer in his usual fond fashion, without giving mouth to the word. Only then did they notice his work, culminating in the chocolate shake placed in front of them on the counter. A cinnamon stick stuck out through the whip cream.

“How did you do that?

He looked back at them, quizzically.

“I don’t always ask for cinnamon. I was going to, this time. How did you know?”

“…you like cinnamon when you’re down.”

How he could see that, when they had done such a good job pretending otherwise, baffled them. Nevertheless, they took their drink and slipped at it, not getting in the way of the bartender and his other customers. They felt included, somehow. Despite the exclusion they had always taken for granted. Everyone greeted them, but didn’t push it when they didn’t do more than return the greeting. As they wanted, today. How did everyone know?

“Is it okay that I come here?”

The bartender paused, looking at them.

“Is it okay? Without anyone else… that it is only me.”

“You are always welcome here. With your friends and siblings, without your friends or siblings.”

It was true. When had it become true? They didn’t know. Somehow, sometime, they had just belonged. They hadn’t noticed, but it had happened.

They hid their eyes behind their bangs and regained their composure. Then, smiling, they greeted the next person to say hello.