Whisky needs a chaser

Friday nights,
I find myself planted
belly up to the bar at
Morrow and Bakers.

The bartender's name is Jacky,
at least that's what her name tag
tells me.
She works weeknights, so I
only see her once a week.

Jacky's an older lady,
perhaps in her sixties,
old enough to be my mom,
so I can't help but think of her that way.
Usually, our conversations
don't extend past
niceties,
but I've been coming in here a while,
though it's a dive,
and Jacky's become a friend of mine
and this bar is our treehouse.

I always wonder why it is I come here,
come back Friday after Friday,
and I think it's the way
Jacky hears the bell
above the door and
her eyes turn to
face the draft,
her lines seem to disappear and
for just one moment
her hair hints at a
luscious brunette,
and then she shadows over,
face back to the brew,
eyes back to grey.

I asked her about it once.
She said she hadn't had enough
drinks.

The next week, I asked again,
because now that I noticed it
it has become like a secret,
a silent nod
that her heart skips a beat every time
the bell above the door rings.
She glances sidelong at me,
sighs,
puts down the glass she was drying,
and says,
"I guess we're friends now."

She starts by telling me she
inherited the bar from her dad,
Max Sewell,
the same Max Sewell who ran
the electrical company and owned
nearly half the city.
Her mother died when she was 14.
Robbery.
The guy got the chair,
but it did little to bring back her mom.
So, her dad gave her the bar as her
23rd birthday present,
thinking it would be a great distraction.

"You see all types," she says,
and she dips a pint glass into the
sanitizer water.
Some twenty years ago,
she noticed one corner of the bar
was shadowed over every Friday night.
There was a magnetism hidden
under the dark brim of a
black cowboy hat.
She was scared at first to
refill his whisky,
even though she couldn't believe
how stereotypical it was,
and she couldn't remember filling
his glass in the first place.
It wasn't until he looked up at her and
her eyes met his
that she realized she made a mistake.

Contrite and contrary,
she folder up into his
pocket.
She didn't know his name,
she didn't care to,
she just wanted to
be his whisky chaser.

The bar closes at 2:00.
The time is 1:50.
My wife would be worried.
The bell above the door rings
and Jacky looks up,
then down.

She walked over to him one night
as the bar stools dangled
helplessly from the bar
and chairs
built artifact forests.
She tells me he said one
word,
but it was the only word he needed.
I try to imagine Jacky as a young woman.
I can find traces of hips and waist.
I can see the deep blue eyes and
plump red lips;
and for a moment I forget that
she is a bartender and is a
woman,
kind and successful
with a book of secrets, that she
would rather throw into a furnace
than read over again,
and a parchment of desires.
I wonder if she chose to smell like
beer and drunken declarations of love
after the doors are locked, or if she
wished she could smell like
lavender and
pot roast.

"I ain't going to tell you what
happened next, only that I have never
been in a gentleman's arms again."
She said she never married.
She said he never said another
word, never promised anything,
never made a sound as he left her
with a cloud kiss on her forehead and a
full pot of coffee and his
lingering scent of
perpetual
antagonizing
aftershave.

She looks up to the
corner where he sat.
"I keep thinking one of these
days he's going to stop running
and walk back to that corner,"
which I notice, for the first
time, just how empty that
corner is.
I reach out and grab her
arm to give it a squeeze and
she pats my hand.
"You're a good man," she tells me
and her eyes glisten. "Now get home
to your wife.
You've listened to an old woman
prattle on long enough."
I stand up, pay my bill, and
leave.
There's one car left in the parking lot
when I leave, and I know
Jacky doesn't drive.

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