“Have you ever been on the edge of sanity?”
He asked as he poured me my third glass of whiskey for that night. When I did not immediately reply, he continued,
“Have you ever been backed up a cliff that falls to a pit of madness until the only thing left was a simple whisper of a wind and you’d plummet headfirst into that darkness?”
Of course I knew what he was talking about. I myself have been a casualty of such hangings more times than I cared to remember. And each time there was something different, but equally catastrophic, down that cliff. I took a sip of the alcohol and decided that it was not something I was willing to admit. So I said nothing.
“Well, this place has been building me up for that for ages now.”
Thankfully, the bartender was a chatty one. And he regarded his questions as rhetoric most times. He did not wear a clean three piece –minus the coat- suit, rather he had on a relatively new purple polo shirt with his collars down like a civilised person. And the towel that was draped across his right shoulder was a blend of colours and stains. He had quite a rugged face and an equally uneven face. His eyes were the colour of burnt coal but they gave nothing away. Ironically because the minute he opened his mouth, he said all he was thinking about or feeling at the moment. But he had once called me his friend; I suppose that was why he told me so much. And I always liked to hear what he had to say, on any night.
He was talking again.
“See that old guy at the end? He comes in every Tuesday and Thursday and sits at the same table on the exact same spot. Because it is rarely ever occupied, I’ve never had to think too much about it. Today however, his spot was taken by those two kids and for the first time ever, he said more than two words to me. He said ‘That is my spot’.” And it was not that he said such untoward words but the way which he said them. Like you’d say about a car, or a woman.”
He paused for a while and I glanced back at the displaced old man now at the end table of the pub, still alone. The way the bartender never bothered to check my reactions to his tales always fascinated me. It was like he was back in high school reading some passage out loud for the whole class. I kept my gaze on the man as the bartender finished.
“Well, I couldn’t do anything for him then and kinda thought it was a little bit rude. But now, I think, what kind of loss makes a man that attached to just a little spot in a shitty pub like this?”
I, however, was not to be drawn to the enigma of a mysterious old man as I had my concerns full with this bartender. If he noticed me staring, he did not say a thing but simply opened a beer bottle and moved to serve the girl getting down from the pole at the left end of the bar top. He moved skilfully and served with elegance not particularly usual for such a place. It was either he had been in a line of work that prided in precision or he had been raised by perfectionists. Wherever it was that he had grown up.
Today’s chat had been a little bit different than most and it had me thinking whether he was just as broken as seemingly every other person that frequented this pub. But from the perspective of a mending broken person, he seemed to be the type that bled for other people’s pain.
I noticed him making his way back and quickly drained the glass then pushed it forward for a refill. He took it upon arrival and filled it from a tap, slowly, still looking at Miss Pole Dancer.
“I think Betty’s my most favourite patron in here.” He said and handed me my glass, his attention detour in no way compromising his accuracy. I took it and set it down.
“I couldn’t tell you why because I don’t know myself. We even hardly ever talk. But she comes here almost all the nights I’m in. Always charting the course of that pole like her life depended on it. And it’s not like anyone is paying her or anything. She just does it for the hell of it.
Pretty damn good at it too. Nothing spectacular, but the way she dances to the music makes you listen to more than just the sound. It’s like she tells a story with her body.”
I looked over at Betty at the same time she looked over our way. Our eyes met somewhere in the middle and for a second, I was almost knocked over by all the emotion in them. She did not seem to notice me at all though, and a second later, she was gone, drifting away in the chords and whatever waters she was drowning in.
I noticed the bartender was still looking at her too. Then he said…
“I think it’s she wanted to be a dancer or something.” Pause. “Is it not funny how everyone in here seems to be clutching at the very same past they are trying to outrun?”
I felt the weight of the Rosary around my neck a thousand fold just then.