This is just a short piece of fiction. After reading Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff and having a pint at The Old Toad in Rochester, I felt compelled to write a flash fiction stream of conscious scene. Thanks have to be given to Ken, who is a mentor with improv, because I considered his one-person segment at the last Syracuse Improv Collective open mic Thursday. As the first word was written, the rest was vomitted upon the “page.” The picture features The Old Toad in Rochester, New York, which serves as inspiration as well. The characters are simply characters.
“What do you mean that there are no TVs anywhere in here?” He rubbed the stubble on his chin as he half expected the friction generating spark would blossom the electronic device, or a few of them for that matter. His other hand, the fingers, tapped the bar impatiently. Looking back around to his friends, two of them talked to each other and the others appeared uncomfortable with their hands deep in their coat pockets. One of their friends, a troubadour, carried an uncased guitar.
“There isn’t,” she stated. “I’m sorry.” The second half of the statement came out soft and ashen, and her eyes didn’t make much contact. The time had passed one, and the night was lulling itself to a close. Her returning to stock the glasses gave off a whiff of irritation. She looked up once, catching a glimpse of a small table of three men, who after getting comfortable sat unfamiliarly casual.
The guy at the counter, waiting for a response or tow from his party noticed this and looked over at the three. He shrugged his shoulders at the slightest clue of interest, and raised his eyebrows as a sigh spewed from his pursed lips. Looking around he saw the rest of the crowd: a couple in back of the group sat quietly, another larger group sat behind a stained glass and one was avidly telling a story to compel the rest with smiles and laughs, and more English patrons and travelers crowded the bar on surrounding sides. “Well,” he said to the other bar server, “can I get a light?”
“I’m sorry; we don’t serve that beer here.”
“What? How do you not have that? You call this a bar. What’s with all of the small glasses people are drinking out of?”
“The beer that we have available is listed above your head. Some of the styles we have are crafts, varying in alcohol, so they are served appropriately. This is the reason, or patrons are drinking mixers.” She smirked, her accent hinting at sarcasm. “What kind of place did you expect this pub to be?”
“A bar where they serve affordable and appropriate-sized pints of beer, that’s where.” He turned and nodded to his friends, but one of them had weaseled to the bar to order a pint. Rolling his eyes, he mentioned to the fellow to give any of them a call, or better yet text, when he finished his un-American beer. This beer is American, was the response that he received back, causing the alpha to roll his eyes again. One of them stayed behind, joining his friend in a pint; after they disappeared behind the partition.
As they headed toward the exit, the troubadour played “Her Majesty” by The Beatles upon his guitar.
One of the homely women working at the pub had been stacking the chairs upon the tables and benches next to each other. The alpha commented to the ear of one of his comrades, and the comment generated a reluctant smile. Alpha swatted unsuccessfully at a stacked chair as he walked by and toward the door. She looked at him briefly, shaking the chair toppling attempt off as harmless. He wasn’t paying attention and the once opened door slammed back in his face. He grumbled something incoherent. The group, after pausing in the foyer, coat collars up and hats pulled down, entered into the falling snow.
The three sitting near the bar finished their pints, and one chaperoned the empty glasses back to the bar where new glasses would be filled. The staff thanked him; she thanked him, more gently than quiet, and she served his order, her blond pulled-back hair bounced with each turn. A “Cheers,” escaped her soft strawberry-shaded lips when the exchange was complete.
Upon sitting back down, the returning friend commented to his friends on the bartender’s beauty, her accent being the icing on the cake. They laughed, and some of this response was at their friend sounding ridiculous. “Hey, I’m a sucker for accents. She has polite soft voice, and she’s really nice. She is seemingly quiet, but I’m sure she has personality. Most importantly, there is no ring.” They shared a laugh again. As the friend put the change back in his pocket, he dropped a quarter; the coin rolled over to feet of the couple sitting at the small table.
“Thank you for another wonderful night,” he told her.
She tipped her wine glass inwards after she came back from giving her husband a kiss. “You don’t have to say that. We’ve worked hard at our relationship, and things could not be better. Every wedding that we go to, it’s seems to be a reminder.” The glasses connected. “Needless to say, we should get going. It’s almost one thirty. We’re not as young as we used to be.”
“Take this as practice. Hopefully, our kids will be going through this sooner than later. At least they’re all out of the house.”
“Remind yourself that two-thirds of our kids are daughters; pray they don’t get married any time too soon, or too close together.”
“Yeah, you make a good point.” He took a sip of his beer. “This place gets an interesting crowd.”
“It does, but it’s a nice quiet way to end the evening, and the hotel is just a couple blocks away.” She paused, raised her glass, and she scanned the room from the quiet left corner to the bar and finally the small group of friends to the right caught her eye. As they were talking, one took a sip from his beer as he looked over at the bar. Leaning toward her husband, she—out of the corner of her mouth—said, “I think someone has an interest.”
“Huh?” He pulled a strand of his wife’s blonde hair away from her mouth.
“Watch the young man over there. He’s checking out the bartender.”
“As you check him out,” the husband jokingly said. “I knew you were ready to trade me in for a younger model.”
“Oh, hush. I should be saying that about you. I saw you eyeing her here and there.”
“She’s pretty. No need for you to be jealous; I’m not hitting on her. Perhaps he’ll have some luck. We just came from a great wedding; you should send him some vibes. I have no idea how to do that.” He paused, and she elbowed him. He saw him look over again. “Yeah, hun, I see that you’re right about that. Cross your fingers.”
A scruffy fellow wearing a leather jacket walked in, passing the couple’s table as he headed straight to the bar. He spoke to the bartender in question. They simultaneously took a sip of the beverages as he placed his elbows upon the counter.
“He’s screwed,” the husband abruptly said.
“Now, why would you say that? He is not her type. They probably work together.”
“Well, it is a fight or flight situation. He’s either got to step up and talk to her, or he’ll simply leave. It’s giving up or giving in.”
“Well, I think he has a chance at this. This guy probably works here. Listen to his accent. All of the workers have one, I think. Trust my intuition in this. I think she thinks that guy, not the one at the bar, is an attractive guy. She can’t do or say anything because she is working.”
“If not, the guy has a chance with the other bartender.”
“The one with messy hair and bad roots? No way.” She finished her wine. “I know the cuter one got a few unnoticed looks over at him. He has to say something.”
The husband said slyly, “It will be a most romantic story.”
“Excuse me?” She glared at him, and the intent was one notch away from instantaneous death. “What about our story?”
“I said nothing against how we met, my dear. We met romantically.” He smiled. “Granted, it was through a friend, but it was—”
“That has romance!”
“I never said it didn’t!” He gulped the rest of his beer. “Well, hun. We unfortunately cannot stay to watch this scenario unfold. It’s getting late, and we’re not as young as we used to be.”
“Oh, fine,” she replied with a smile. They saw him look over at her again.
“He needs to man up. Christ.” He helped his wife on with her coat. A piece of fuzz flew from the arm, and it sailed to settle upon the brim of the hat of the guy at the bar.
“Oh, why don’t you walk over and tell him that. Now would be the perfect time to intervene with your dues ex machina.”
He leaned over and kissed his wife. “No, my dear. Not for this situation. This isn’t it; they aren’t meant for each other. You know this as much as I do. Intervening now would fuck everything up for lack of a better term.”
She looked down solemnly. “You’re right. There are too many guidelines. These aren’t for us to fix, of course, and complaining about them won’t change anything. We can make a promise for dreams.”
Without saying anything else, he locked arms with her and walked her out the door.
At the bar, the guy in the hat was sucking a piece of food lodged in his teeth. It was loud enough for the person next to him to ask him if he wanted a piece of gum. “Sorry,” he pardoned himself, “no thanks. I’ll get a toothpick.” He smiled, and faced forward.
The bartender had left, but appeared as quickly as she disappeared. “Yeah, I can take your shift the following weekend. Thanks so much, for covering for me.”
“Not a problem. May I have a pint of the stout, please?”
“Of course,” she said with a smile.
The other bartender approached her. “You do realize that he’s going to be a pest until you agree to go on a date with him.”
“He hasn’t been much of a pest. He’s sweet and helpful.” She flicked the handle and looked back to her coworker. “In the grand scheme of things I’d never date someone I work with.” The pour was complete, and she walked the pint over to the guy in the hat, who was still sucking at the scrap of food lodged in his mouth. “Plus, he has brownish-green fingernails and stained teeth.” While en route, she snuck a glance over at the small group of friends, looking until she had to hand over the stout.
He said, “Thank you!” The pint was gazed at with starving eyes.
“Not a problem.” Looking over at her messy-haired coworker, she said she’d be right back, and she walked through the door to the back room. Thoughts and confusion clouded her head from the secrets of the one-night affair from earlier this week. She wasn’t proud to have slept with him. Granted the satisfaction–as temporary as it was–there was regret and anxiety that followed. The sickness in her throat was swallowed again as she debated when to go back out to the bar.
The small group of guys since finished their pints and picked up to leave. The one guy in particular brought the glasses to the counter. The bar worker picking up the chairs stood at the counter and thanked him, and he replied, “Not a problem,” with a smile. The bar lacked beauty, and he turned away slowly. He put on his coat slowly to buy time, and as the company walked to the exit, he took a last glance back with hope of catching her one last time. However, she still had not returned.
After she came back, she talked briefly with her coworkers before looking aside and over to a vacant table. A breath escaped her, and she bit the inside of her lip. She looked over at her friend in the hat, who smiled at her. She smiled back respectively, but turned back for a very brief once-over. She tossed the towel aside and proceeded to clean up.