by Katherine Hubbard
The wife lets me come here on Friday nights. The other nights are too fraught, what with the little ones and getting them in the bath and bed and stories read. And the wife, she’s a great one for sitting with a glass of wine after the kids are down; sometimes she likes a show on TV, but a lot of nights she’ll want to hear about the day, then she’ll talk about hers, and for that I’ll want another drink.
But on Friday they have these happy hour drinks, two for five; not the top shelf, of course, but it’s not the rotgut. The Guinness is cold but you can’t have everything in this country. At least it’s draught.
The guys come straight from the lot. I let them go early on Friday, the bulk of our work being Monday through Thursday—the dealership doesn’t send us much over the weekend. The ladies from the office come on occasion, always much later than the boys; they’ve got the paperwork to finish up and all, and often there’s something more to sign, but the ladies know I’ll sign at the bar as long as they bring it before the bartender hands down the Jameson’s.
And there’s a girl who comes in Fridays, too, on her own, not too old, maybe not thirty. Always here when I’m here on a Friday, could be here other nights—bartender seems to know her; she has a martini with an olive, which she fishes out with her fingers once the gin’s gone. In this light she’s blond but it’s dark, and after a few most girls look blond. The kind of girl I’d have gone for years back, before my young wife. The girl comes in after everyone else is already several drinks in, and often one of the boys gives her his seat at the bar, but the ladies from the office never do; they stand at the other end, sending her the snake eye over their Cosmopolitans and their frozen margaritas.
It’s a small bar, this one; don’t like it, the layout’s messed up, and the bar itself is stainless steel, not wood, and it’s cold under the elbows. The guys from the office stand outside for a smoke before they come in, and when the door opens they bring in the scent of snow mixed with tobacco, which makes the place smell almost like a pub, but not exactly; it’s missing the stale beer and the peanuts on the floor and the Scotch eggs in a jar on the counter by the register. The ladies always waft past on the cloying scent of hairspray and perfume, not at all like the one the wife uses, which is expensive because I buy it for her. Theirs is an assertive scent that contends with the Clorox the bartender sprays on the rag he uses to wipe down the bar. The girl sits in the far corner, away from the activity. She leans against the wall.
A man at forty shouldn’t marry. You put it off long as you can, the wife, the babies, because you believe that’s the real life and once you’re started on it, there’s only one road. But about that you’re wrong. This is the constant, this is what’s real: a bar, some mates, a girl at the other end.
After a while the music gets turned up—always something from the ’80s, Prince, throbbing, gasping, but if there’s a lot of guys, then Springsteen, which gets the boys singing. “Thunder Road.” Sometimes the ladies dance, try to get the guys to come up, put hands on their hips. The girl never moves, just drinks. Before the music gets too high, she might talk to the guy who gave her the seat, and she often talks to the bartender; she won’t look over here to my end of things, you know, not anymore.
Category: Short Story