“is this taken?”
A single shake of the head is all the gloomy figure at the bar musters in reply, just for it to be seemingly overruled by a more emphatic nodding motion as its originator shoots back another dose of amber liquid, then sets down the empty glass amongst its numerous kin on the sticky counter top.
I pick up the aroma enshrouding the scene. Brandy, I decide.
“Rough night, huh?” I mumble without making eye contact. Unconsciously I start to count the empty glasses arrayed in a neat half circle.
“A night as any” comes the matter-of-factly reply, as if to deflect my half-hearted attempt at social responsibility. Relieved to be left to my own devices I settle down on the barstool. Twenty-Seven, I conclude, but immediately start over to make sure.
“Next one’s on me” the drinker suddenly proclaims. “What are you having?” Shook from the mesmerizing assemblage of shot glasses, my senses return to the room. I ponder indecisively for a minute, which my benefactor doesn’t seem to mind. Compelled by the evidence of my newfound fellow’s capacity, I finally settle on something I consider appropriate. “Dry martini” I announce, hoping that my choice doesn’t squander the fledgling companionship that the offer implied.
Luckily, I seem to have passed the test as my order is relayed to the bartender in short order.
I notice the bartender eying half the bars stock of shot glasses longingly but warily, like a hyena yearning for the leftovers of a lion’s meal, but with the lion too close for comfort.
Moments drift past in the silence of the bar. The droning noise is too indistinct to amount to any distraction as it pulses in an irregular pattern.
A glass arrives, fogged up and singing its siren song of potent liquor. The olive clumsily tries to draw the consciousness away from the fact that the appeal of the drink lies not in the olive’s splash of color, but the invisible spirit inhabiting its bathwater. The bartender also delivers another shot.
“Cheers” I say and lift my drink, although the word feels almost offensive as it leaves my mouth. The twenty-eighth shot raised to the toast quickly rejoins its predecessors. It has nothing cheerful to it.
The empty glass promptly joins the growing collection.
Feeling indebted, I try to muster a pinch of decency, just as unhealthy warmth starts to spread in my body.
“So, what’s your story?” I ask, already regretting that I gave up my rare-found solitude so easily. Time stretches again. Eventually, the answer arrives through the sweet reek of distilled wine.
“There is no story to be told. I am an agent of sorts, always have been.”
My interest is peaked. “Are we talking spies, or something less dangerous like talent or real estate agent?”
Now regret crosses the features of my interview partner, as if my ungainly question just sparked the memory of a hundred similar conversations going awry in a similar fashion.
“No, no, nothing of the sort. I mean in a more universal sense, think psychology or chemistry. I facilitate.”
I find myself nodding, although I have no clue as what to make of that. Afraid to appear ignorant, I try a different route.
“Do you like what you do?”
“Very much so, actually. I consider myself to serve a noble purpose. To enable the creation of new stuff, namely. But my work is rarely appreciated. Your kind in particular has always been a riddle to me.”
Nothing hints at what ‘my kind’ is referring to. But somehow, I suddenly feel self-conscious about my slurry accent.
“How is that?” I sputter due to the lack of a clever response.
“Your kind tries just as any to make do without my services. But it also seems really intent on making a proper appointment with me, anticipated a long time in advance. And then you have places like this, quite literally my front desk where clients ask to move up their appointed day by a bit. You are one of those, most likely.”
I am confused for a moment, Probably just a drunk lunatic after all, I muse. Not quite willing to leave it at that, I can’t help but establish: “I can’t remember us having met before, much less having made an appointment.”
“As you say.”
The warmth spreads further through my body and suddenly I am again aware of this unsteady rhythm of droning in my ears, suddenly building up to a jolting crescendo. I look up one last time to realize the bar is almost empty at this point. Then my head falls into a semi-circle of shot glasses.
“You are on time” a voice says.