Stevie lit the last of her cigarettes and expelled a blue haze of smoke up towards the ceiling, watching the green, red, and blue lights mixing the colors of the hazy atmosphere that hovered over the bar. The thick smokey haze hadn’t dimmed to volume of noise from the Wiritzer in the corner as the contents from it’s bowels bellowed off the wooded walls and dance floor. She watched Ryan as he drained another bottle, he almost fell off his stool with the effort of a man one bottle short of a twelve pack. “Hit me.” Stevie yelled to the the bartender as she placed a five on the counter. A tumbler with gin, tonic and ice was pushed before her a minute later, the delay caused by last minute orders before closing time.
Dan was efficient behind the bar, doling out the drinks, collecting the cash and making change. As the evening wore on he went from good listener to a mechanical ear that heard grunts and groans, responding in kind. The patrons tipped, the boozers didn’t, he could live with that. “Just another fact of life.” Dan would say to those who cared to listen. “My feet ache, I think they’re swelling.” the comment was said to no one in particular.
“Soak them in hot water for ten or twenty minutes.” The voice came from the general direction of Stevie. She was looking at him with that basic concern women tend to have in general. The mother hen instinct. Dan smiled and looked in her direction.
“Thanks for the tip, I was going to do that after I close up. Got a new box of Epsom Salts.” He never figured Stevie as one who might care if his feet hurt or not. Delores, the redhead at the other end of the bar, was more worried who was buying the next round. These thoughts were whirling around his head as he picked up the empty glasses and placed them in the sink. He would wash them later. The empties he threw in the trash, that would be emptied after he closed the doors. Closing time was always a bigger chore as the bright lights he turned on hurt his eyes and his feet felt swollen, stretching his shoes to the straining point. “God, I wish I had a woman to help close the place.” His outburst had become part of his closing routine.
John, Dan’s partner, had opened the cafe at six for the breakfast crowd. His wife, Jan, did the cooking and by the end of lunch retired to her home while John tended the early crowd. Usually these were men stopping in for a beer after work before heading home to wife, family, and dinner, not necessarily in that order. Sometimes Big Jim, the sheriff, would stop by with one of his deputies and sip a bottle of beer together while discussing the general social and criminal situation of the county. This was a small town and off the main route, a man could have a sense of privacy here and Big Jim expected it so. Dan came in at four. Together him and john would check the stock and accounts although the formal accounting was reserved for Sunday when the cafe and bar was closed. The two local ministers of the baptist and congregational churches would object to any extension of business hours into their day. Parishioners were expected to refrain from strong drink on the sabbath.
By seven that evening Delores had come in and perched on her stool. Dan would have to listen to another variation on her problems and the husband who didn’t understand and the children who wouldn’t mind. Come eight and most of the thirty or so regulars would be in residence as there was very little to do in town and any other form of entertainment was over two hours away. Outside of religion there were only three forms of entertainment in the town. Dancing, pool, and skee-ball, all held in the bar. Dan never considered drinking a form of entertainment, at least not after his teenage days of obligatory beer guzzling and whisky foolishness. Fact now was that Dan never touched a drop. For ten years he had watched people pour alcohol of one kind or another down their throats and had seen the results first hand. As he has said to one patron who asked why he never drank, “Serving drunks has taken all the enjoyment out of it. It just don’t seem important anymore. Hazard of being a barkeep, I guess.”
Meanwhile Dolores as drinking more heavily than usual. She was also more animated and inclined to talk to herself, raising her voice with each drink she threw down. Jeff came in and shouted, “Hey, whose suitcase it that outside?” Delores raised her head and in slurred speech yelled back, “It’s mine, asshole. You got a problem?” The conversation stopped immediately. If it weren’t for the jukebox the sound of silence would have been heard for the first time that day. All eyes turned towards Delores. “What are all you looking at? Huh? Why are you staring at me? Why?” Her defiant stare tried to shield her from the prying eyes of the crowd. Then she nestled her head into her arms on the bar and started sobbing. “Richard threw me out. That pompous bastard! He threw me out. He said I had to straighten myself out.” Delores was sobbing harder now. The people in the crowd were looking away, embarrassed to watch a woman suffering in public.
Dan picked up the receiver from the cradle and dialed his partner’s number. “Hello, John? Would you call rev. Hightower? Yeah, we got a problem with Delores. I think she’s going to need some help.” He put the receiver back on the cradle and looked over at Delores. One of the woman, Janey, was trying to sooth her, whispering something into her ear. Once you cross the line in a small town there is no where to go but the big city. “Well, I won’t miss her.” Dan said quietly to himself. He filled three orders, took the cash and gave back the change. It was still early and his feet were starting to hurt.