On the House

The bartender wore the moodiness of the low lit bar in the threads of his jacket, the cut of his beard, reeking of a past with no future, like those towns with historical settings — all guides and reenactors.

Spiced with hops and the tacky scent of rag water from mopped tables, the ruby red room hung like an old portrait in a gilded frame, crooked and matted in oiled color. When stepping in, one had the sense it was best to wade through the thick air and carry the heaviness upon one’s back, for the stools were lined with slouched souls staring into amber ales with a comfortable dullness, a purge of everyday worry and care.

He perked up at the sound of the open door, the whine of hinges in need of lubrication, pouring drinks with a hand that shook with its own controlled temptation, smelling his demons, filling his throat with a blade, afraid of the pierce.

“What can I get you?” he asked the stranger who had entered, standing with rain in his hair, disheveled, as his eyes adjusted to the light.

“How did I end up in a place with no roads?” the man said in earnest, holding his hands out as if he were waiting for communion.

The bartender threw his rag over his shoulder, nodding with compassion. He gestured for the man to sit, pushing a drink in his direction.

“First one’s on the house.”


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