April 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
It happened at least thirty times a day, but it always startled Margaret without fail. The train rumbled overhead, and the room began to shake. Behind the bar, pint glasses began to clink wildly. She feared for the Martini glasses every time, swinging precariously from their hooks above the counter. In the corner of the lounge, the lamp bobbed its head, making the light flicker on the walls as if it were the flame of a torch.
It was so quiet. Outside, the harshest snows for a decade still blanketed the village, making the roads icy and treacherous. She didn’t blame tourists for not venturing out tonight, but even her regulars had not braved the weather. It was only her and her cook, Steven, rattling around in the kitchen at the back of the bar, trying to sound busy. He wasn’t fooling her. He hadn’t needed to make anything all day, except a tuna and cucumber sandwich for her. He couldn’t even claim to be cleaning – he had done that yesterday, in a whirlwind of nose-burning chemicals and elbow grease. The kitchen was the cleanest it had ever been, and ever would be. She was thankful to the snow for that, at the very least.
She rose from the chair and made her way behind the bar. Jack had always tended to the drinks. He had been mighty fine at it too. He had specialised in cocktails, of course, particularly Old Fashioneds and his own favourite, a Manhattan. She had always favoured white rum, though. Whiskey had always been too strong for her. One particular night in her early twenties had illustrated that beyond all doubt. She gave a small, dry chuckle at the thought of that night as she slid the bottle of Bacardi from the shelf and set it on the bar in front of her. She poured herself a good glug, before topping it off with a half-empty bottle of R-Whites she retrieved from underneath the bar. She served her customers from the tap, but it was too syrupy for her. She always favoured R-Whites for her own drinks.
The door to the kitchen swung open with a squeal, its ancient hinges screaming in protest. I must oil that, she told herself, for perhaps the thousandth time. Just another chore to add to the list. Jack would have had it done months ago, she knew. He had always been on top of things; bustling around in his overalls, a dirty bar towel folded over in the front pocket, always wearing his faded old flat cap.
“Mind if I join you?” asked Steven, wringing his hands nervously in front of him. “Not much more I can do back there tonight.”
Margaret favoured him with a smile. It was a tired one, but it put her young cook at ease, she noted. “What do you like to drink, Steven?”
“Er.. I’ll just have a pint of lager if that’s okay? Fosters.”
She regarded him coolly for a moment and tutted softly. “No, no, no. You’re getting too old for that rubbish now, don’t you think? I’ll pour you Jack’s favourite.”
Steven fell silent. As Margaret turned back to the liquor shelf he crossed quietly to the bar and pulled out one of the stools. “Ok, Mrs. O’Toole.”
“Oh, please. It’s Margaret. You know that.”
They were quiet for a time. Steven watched her assemble his drink, with more confidence than he had expected. As she finished off the Manhattan with a few dashes from the crumpled old bitters bottle, Steven asked, “So, do you think we’ll have any customers tonight?”
She sighed, and pushed the drink over to him. “I shouldn’t imagine so, do you? We haven’t had a single person come through those doors in three days now. I have ten rooms, all empty. And even my deliveries aren’t risking the trip because of the roads.”
Steven took a sip of the Manhattan, and then tried really hard not to show the wince. He wasn’t used to whiskey either. Margaret saw anyway, and she broke out in a chuckle so loud that it surprised him. He smiled back at her. “Sorry,” he said.
“Oh, don’t be. Jack used to be exactly the same. Do you know he ordered one of those on our first date? Oh, he hated it. He tried not to show it, like you just did. I guess he wanted to impress me, but yes he hated every single drop of it.”
Steven was hesitant. He hadn’t seen her like this since she had hired him. But he knew how difficult it must be for her to talk about Jack. He took another sip while he deliberated on what to say next, and instantly regretted it.
“He finished it though, and then he ordered another. He was the nervous type, you see. Always making sure his hair was in place, always staring into the bottom of his glass. I guess he needed the stiff drink to calm his nerves.” She paused, and took a sip of her own drink. Her eyes were glazed over, staring into space over Steven’s shoulder as she remembered.
“He was sick as a dog that night, he told me on our next date. Oh how I laughed. He tried to impress me, and I found that very endearing. It’s not like how it is with you kids these days. All crash, bang, wallop. Drunken nights out, whirlwind romances, that sort of thing. Back then, it took a long time to get to know each other. But that was the best part, you see. It meant we learnt to really cherish each other. And, you know, he ended up loving those Manhattans.”
Steven felt a brief urge to defend his generation, but decided to let it pass. This wasn’t the time. Instead he took another sip, slowly this time, really tried to savour it.
Overhead, another train coursed across the tracks. The room shook once more.
“I miss him so much.”
Image is for illustration purposes only. Photo credit: Amy Massey.
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