A figure eight, Dylan traced with his big toe on the pavement next to the late night take-away. Head on the intersection of shame and self-pity, this little retreat of his would intermittently end as he observed his own doing, thinking how the shape looked as much like infinity as it did a finite number. Then again, were he to reframe his perspective, so too could it be a Moebius Strip.
It was Tuesday. Technically Wednesday. Once again, he had succumbed to a night on the beer for lack of anything else really to do. Were he to stay at home, he’d be ridden with the guilt of inertia, the feeling as if he was a piece of stale, but damp bread stuck on a radiator in a brown-carpeted room. When he clocked out earlier, he made straight for his local, knowing this might help forgo the inevitable nightly palpitations, a surge of brutal adrenaline that caused him to jolt upwards as he forced himself to sleep.
He had to knock himself out properly in order to close his eyes, but on this specific evening, he’d actually ended up in a far worse tizz. Somehow he’d fell victim of his own latent tendencies, unearthing a problematic debate with two clear conclusions. It was a lot to consider. The only way forward demanded he reject the thought entirely, trudging through the take-out door, his mind instantly distracted thanks to the full-on thwack of that freshly fried food whiff which told him to gorge.
Cue cards were everywhere though, urging him to lean this way, or that in his private argument. As he studied the vast menu, positioned on the ceiling over the counter, on his level there were images forcing the matter to creep back into his trail of thinking. He could not ignore the garrulous bravado of some boys half his age, ranting on recent achievements; the word “crushed” cropping up quite regularly. To zone out, he scrutinized his own self in a vast rectangular mirror, moulded into the lime green tiles on the wall, its surface smeared by little paws, hungry paws, paws which could get away with a lapse in lucid thinking for at least another three years.
Rubbing the papery hairline he suspected to be rapidly advancing along the path to a shiny pink patch, this brief scare moved his gaze to the door as if it were a well-constructed oil painting, the object of desire yanking his pupils to the very place he imagined the crisis might re-erupt.
“Sorry about last night”, he said then, approaching the bar-counter at a quarter past six.
The two bartenders stared at him a moment, before turning to one another. Both of their faces were fixed with perturbed grimaces as they speculated who this guy was.
“Ehh, s-sorry for what?” the older of the two said, offering a terse, stern and humourless laugh.
“For falling asleep here last night.”
“That wasn’t us”, he replied. “Was it you Mac?”
“Wasn’t me, no.”
“Oh”, Dylan said, embarrassed behind the Budweiser tap. “Well, sorry anyway.”
“‘s fine, wasn’t us.”
Neither member of staff was particularly taken with this topic, never mind the mouth it came from. They might’ve been the two least sociable employees on the rota; the ones who subbed “cunt” for “customer” in conversation. Nodding quietly to him, one raising his eyebrows, the other crossing his arms, they resumed their hot-cloth scrub of the metal shelves.
“Could I get a-”, Dylan began, only to be interrupted by the youngest of the pair, who rapidly shot out: “Bud?”
“Fucker, you were here last night, weren’t ye?”
“No, but you had it the previous night.”
“The previous night, yeah, last night.”
“No, the one before that.”
“Oh… Yeh’ve a good memory.”
“Edi- Photographic memory”, he responded, lying.
“How old’re yeh?”
“I try”, he quickly retorted as he turned to deal with the next batch of customers: a group of young girls who were making a raucous entrance.
There were three of them; in tow a slightly overweight boy, their immediate instinct being to walk towards the beer garden, doubling back upon surveying the outside area. They were clearly between the age of seventeen and eighteen, and this, they probably knew given their effort to convey a sense of familiarity with the place. It almost went without saying that they were going to get ID’d, and the bartender, as Dylan sought to engage him further, walked to the point where they had chosen to congest.
“Hi”, said the first girl. “Can’t I get an Orch-”
“ID? Yeah sure,” he said with an acerbic grin, but no eye contact.
Two of the girls and the boy went for their holsters to produce their age cards, the years relatively inconsistent, though the photos matched up. Ordering three ciders, the fourth saying she was okay for the moment, directly translated as she’s holding a small something she’d bought at the off-license, they took their drinks out to the smoking area hastily to provide cover for their frugal comrade.
When they returned some time later, Dylan had gone through one and a half pints more of Budweiser chased by a packet of Bacon Fries. He eyed up the petite wan girl on the edge of the group, the one who hadn’t ordered during the previous round.
“You do cocktails?” she inquired.
The bartender let out a sigh of exasperation, tilting his head back to the older guy who was immersed in cutting up limes. Hand on the knife, the serrated edge hacking at the gristly skin, he didn’t look up. He just nodded and the younger guy sighed, dragging his orange Asics over to proceed with the passion fruit daiquiri. The measures were liberal. Little care was taken when it came to calculating measures of rum, fruit mixer and liquor. He simply dumped what he felt like into an urn-sized shaker, only giving the concoction a light quiver, before he spilled it into an ice filled blender, his moment of catharsis coming when he mashed down on the Start key the very second it looked as if Dylan was about to talk.
Dylan however, was not looking to prod at the bartender again, at least not yet. He went to address the girl as her friends emerged from the bathroom to order themselves something new too.
“Ah yeah, y’know, not too bad”, she replied coyly.
“What ye’s up to?”
“Just havin’ a night out. Got the Leaving Cert results tomorrow, so we’re… well y’know”, she laughed again. “We’re nervous”.
The blender stopped. The bartender returned.
“Carlsberg?” He asked.
“How’d you know?” said a new customer with salt and pepper curly hair.
“He’s some memory”, Dylan piped in.
“Have any newspapers?” Carlsberg asked.
The bartender gestured over towards the stack of out-of-date tabloids, supplements, promotional inserts, pamphlets and weekend editions sat on top of the cigarette machine.
Dylan resumed his chat with the girl.
“Shouldn’t be nervous. Ye want to go to college?”
“Don’t need college, y’don’t. Get out ‘n’ see the world, my advice and then settle into a job. That’s what ye should do.”
Of this remark, she took no notice, asking instead, “Where’re ye from?”
“Really, me too. Well, used to be. We moved to Assumption Place.”
“About two years ago.”
“So we’d’ve been neighbours.”
The daiquiri came. She handed the bartender a ten, receiving three in change.
“It’s a nice place,” she said.
“Ah, but that’s anywhere.”
“I’m goin’ for a smoke.”
“You’re a bit young for that.”
“Ah, only do it when I’m drinking.”
“Yeah, but what’s that?”
“Passion fruit cocktail.”
“Oh ho!” The bartender blurted out as he loomed over the register biting his nails. On his CV he was a professional.
They went outside. Dylan offered to roll her a cigarette from his pouch. She grinned, accepting the airy end-result, before trotting over to sit with her friends on the black leather couches, leaving him to lean against the wall sporting a portrait of Colonel Sanders. An active anthropomorphic fly on the wall, capable of chiming in regularly with his own view on topics loosely tied to the anecdotes babbled, his thing was to roll out a number of thirty second diatribes, which they would listen to until he concluded on a vague half-sentence.
After maybe fifteen minutes of this, he noticed himself hitting things off quite well with that one girl. She actually seemed to hear him out with less awkwardness as was apparent in the “uh-huh” acknowledgement offered by her pals.
“So how old’re you?”
“I dunno, I just can’t go to strip clubs, drink in America or kill a man.”
“You can drive a tractor at sixteen. But I wouldn’t want to kill anybody.”
They went back inside once he and the younger boy drained their pints. Dylan thought to himself that he could definitely teach this chap a few sound bits of life affirming advice. Though, he had to admit, for his size, the kid had confidence enough to captivate, even allure these girls. A bit envious of that, since it was never a type of balls he could pull off at that age, still he felt more than a tinge of reverence whenever the kid would open his mouth. Himself over the hump, his skin hardly youthful in its blotchiness, nevertheless he felt an aura of go-getting optimism as he stood in this small crowd. This kid had a strong demeanour, but he didn’t have wisdom, or experience. That was what Dylan saw as his input.
He strode to the bar with the kids, this time his order a bit ambiguous. When the girl ordered a strawberry daiquiri, he asked the now-miserably exhausted bartender about the passion fruit one, deciding promptly to order it. He wasn’t sure however, whether this was for her, or not.
When it came, served in a large fishbowl glass, he allowed it sit a while, taking only the first sip once it became clear she was content with strawberry daiquiris. The gang, now five, went back out to their slot in the smoking area, but within the space of ten minutes, Dylan decided to slip back inside, a rare chill in his legs taking swift hold of his pelvis. It was an exciting flush of pleasurable, tangible white noise. That kind of sensation he hadn’t really experienced since he was her age, first becoming aware that a girl in a bar was interested in him. That said it was way too early to make any major judgements. A cooling period was perhaps a good way of keeping him in the zone, and so he sat in silence a few minutes between the daiquiri and pint of Bud, four fifths finished, the remainder of the white head hardening around the rim.
He snapped his fingers to get the younger bartenders attention.
“Here, how old’re you?”
“Twenty-three, it’s young.”
“Listen… If you were thirty-five, and y’know, over it a bit, and you knew you could take home someone who was eighteen, would you do it?”
There was a long pause, a very long pause.
The bartender, with a forced laugh, fought to dismiss this as best as he could.
“Not sure if I’d have a problem, I mean, I’m twenty-three, the gaps not so big, but still, uh-”, and he trailed off, knowing full well his response was never going to work.
Unsatisfied, Dylan leaned over to Carlsberg.
“Carlsberg, what about you? Would you do it?”
Carlsberg shuffled about, the slight adjustment of an inch his drastic effort to get as far away from Dylan as he could. But since Dylan’s gaze stuck like sarin, he knew he too was expected to provide a response. He inhaled slowly, preparing to step into this frying pan of boiling hot sugar.
“I don’t know.”
All Carlsberg wanted to do was read his paper. He tried to stay true to that objective, staring down at the photograph of a Kilkenny hurler embroiled in a game of dog-and-bone with a Waterford player, but in order to return to this act, something had to be put out there.
“If you’re right for each other… If you’re like that, then go for it. If you THINK you are right for one another. If, but… But, if you’re doing it for the other reason, then- then- then it’s just wrong.”
Dylan kept his eyes locked on Carlsberg.
“It’s up to you, but if it is the second, then it’s wrong.”
Everybody endeavoured to convey the impression of normality having resumed. Yet, as he followed suit, Dylan discovered his steering wheel had locked.
He stared at the passion fruit daiquiri as its ice melted.
Eventually each ingredient separated, the borders gaining greater definition as he turned to look over his shoulder, peering through the window to glimpse the girl. Back and forth between daiquiri and her, he sat stewing.
However long he repeated that motion, the clock had to boot him out eventually, and the first sign of this arrived as he heard a meek voice say “goodnight” to the staff. There was a small pat on his slouched back. “Good luck”, Carlsberg mumbled, set on never returning to the premises at the same time for at least two months.
Nodding, but never turning, he remained fastened to the stool until a few minutes prior to close. The kids were still outside smoking sociable cigarettes, drinking cider and whatever they had snuck in. Meanwhile, he was being shown the door, not a single word offered as the lock clicked behind him.
Maybe he might go get a burger, linger outside a while in the event of her showing. That was an option.
Out onto the shadowy footpath, his mind wracked by Carlsberg’s point, he thought, maybe they were good for one another.
There were a load of kids around the same age outside the chipper.
He stared at one young boy, well-built and clearly armed with the physique of a hurler.
No, he’d leave it, he told himself while getting into the queue. It wasn’t right, he said twice in his head, looking back towards the door in the hopes she might be there any second. He imagined what his friends would have said to that question. He imagined doing things to her, bringing her into his bedroom and covering her in his own filth, an erotically debased holy communion. He wondered what they might talk about in bed afterwards, or would they just lie there. He imagined a lot of things and then again, he imagined what he’d do if she joined the queue. How would he get the ball rolling? Touching his hairline, he wondered if she would care about that. Maybe she hadn’t noticed, or cared. Maybe she liked him that way.
They would be leaving the bar in a few minutes. There were two routes home, the bar being the more scenic of the pair. Maybe he would just take that route again? After all, what was the harm in saying a goodnight if they bumped into each other? He took a bite of his cheeseburger. This cheeseburger he would remember. Even if he tried to brush his teeth, likely was it that the taste would linger on his tongue in work the next day, clocking in and out simultaneously. Huddled over the steaming late-meal, he took another bite, chewing slowly.