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July 04, 2022

Another Christmas Eve at the Bar

By Dan Mulhollen

A large stone near top of the building bore the date 1894, and during most of that time it had been a bar. Some joked about the stone, saying that they build the bar first, and then the neighborhood around it. This made sense of course, back then there was no television, no Internet, even the phonograph was still a largely experimental device. A bar was a place where a man could spend his evenings commiserating with kindred souls about the drudgery of their day.

The building itself has not changed much. Nor has the inside, other than a few more recent electronic innovations; the pair of 1980s vintage video games next to the pinball machine in the corner about the only ones.

The people have changed, as this former bastion of male superiority is now patronized by a nearly equal number of women. The regulars' ages range from about 30 to 60, weighted slightly more heavily towards the older side. If there is one standard demographic with this group, it is loneliness. People finding comfort in each other's company as a brief escape from the emptiness they find at home.

Even among a group of outsiders, Anthony Driscol is an outsider. Thin, chain-smoking, a tight coil of a man who seems always ready to explode. Most evenings, he sits alone in a booth scribbling in a small spiral notebook he takes everywhere with him. Some say this tall, dark haired man is a poet, others wonder if he's not making a list of people he plans on murdering.

Keri Sherwood is something of the opposite, a leader in a group of outsiders. Everyone there knows this short, constantly dieting woman's life story. A string of unsuccessful relationships, the latest being a brief but disastrous marriage.

"Karl", the bartender was born on the West Bank, 50 years earlier, his given name Kahlid. His parents moved to the United States when he was a teenager. After working several years at other family-owned stores, he bought the bar, planning on turning it into a grocery store. But once he got to know the regulars, he had a change of heart. Remaining faithful to the Qaranic prohibition on drinking alcohol, he sees no conflict between that and selling beer and mixed drinks to his customers.

There are a few others, men and woman, faces that seem to melt into the background.

And so they all congregate at this bar, Christmas Eve being just one more disappointing day. Anthony, back sitting quietly in the booth. Kerri leads a gloomy chorus of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", this version showing far more desperation than religious devotion.

Keri spent a while sitting on a bar stool, watching Anthony. His writing seemed less patient than ever before, with him often tearing out a page, ripping it apart, and slipping the shreds into his pocket.

Keri leaned forward. "What do you make of him?" she quietly asked Karl.

"I get a bad feeling," the bartender replied. "He is different tonight. Grim, more determined."

"Maybe I can help," she said standing up. She walked over to his booth. "What ya writing?" she asks, her ever-present flirtatiousness toned down a bit.

"Is it any of your business?" he asks, firmly but showing a little warmth. "I might ask about the large envelope you kept looking into earlier."

"Oh those," she replied, her enthusiasm slightly damaged. "Letters, pictures, print-outs of chat logs. If my boss got a hold of these, I could imagine myself getting fired."

"Personal matters?"

"Personal enough for me to agree to my soon-to-be ex-husband's terms to get them back.

"That bad?" Anthony asked with a slight chuckle.

"If I still had the body I did at 18, such pictures might bring a smile. As is I'm planning a ritual burning tonight." Then she smiled, "Okay, I told you what was in the envelope. Your turn."

He shook his head. "You might not like what you read."

"Try me."

Anthony handed her the notebook and began to read.

"Dear Mom and Dad," it began. "I realize your distress and truly am sorry. You both should be living in some warm-weather state, enjoying your golden years, instead of being stuck here caring for me. You have both been far too kind in supporting me for so long. That will no longer be necessary. I have studied the matter and have found the most painless way to end this burden. Please do not feel guilty, for you have done all that two people can. The fault lies entirely with me. Your loving son, Anthony."

"You're not serious," Keri said, shocked by what she had read.

"What's the point in continuing?" Anthony asked, softly. "In the end, we all die. Why should I outlive two good people who have always deserved better than what they got?"

"But there has to be hope," she said, almost as a plea.

He smiled and shook his head. "They'll never leave here as long as I'm alive. And with my dad's asthma, staying here is shortening his life."

"I wish there was something I could say," Keri said, somberly, agony showing on her face..

"Don't let it bother you," Anthony replied.

She shook her head and looked at him. "I wish," she said, stopping right there.

***

That night Keri arrived home and immediately went to a small table she used as a personal altar. She reached in her purse for the envelope and pulled out Anthony's notebook. She ripped the suicide note from the wire binding and set those pages on the charcoal.

"I wish you to find pleasure in this life," she said, watching the pages catch fire.

A few blocks away, Anthony was planning to leave the note on a small table in the living room . But instead of his notebook, he found Keri's envelope. Curious, he went upstairs and opened it up.

The letters were from past lovers, some admitting breaking up was a mistake. The pictures showed a still attractive woman in poses suggesting strong artistic sensibilities. And Anthony read the print out with great interest. The nine pages of letter-sized paper showing a conversation in which a man and two women shared their sexual fantasies; sides to Keri's inner life most of those at the bar would never guess were there.

Anthony would sleep well that night, and awake on Christmas morning confident that his situation had a much better solution than he had planned.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-12-17
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