She gets served in the traditional fashion; two half pint glass mugs filled to the top with the amber beer. The young bartender takes her cash off the 160-year-old wooden bar and gives her a smile. The glass is slightly chipped and beer foam pours onto the counter. She turns, leans the small of her back against the bar and watches the crowd of late night drinkers.
“Type of girl I’d like to talk to,” flashes in my head. She is only a few feet away, but in these tiny Manhattan bars that is an eternity. Drinking people fill the space between us. She places the glass against her lips catches me in the periphery and we exchange an extended micro-moment of eye contact. A pay phone starts ringing and the lights around us flicker.
McSorley’s Old Fashioned Ale House has been serving double mugs of beer for eternity, a practice that is seldom questioned. Upon the rarity that someone dares to contemplate the two-mug practice, the only explanation given is: “Tradition’s important.” People gather around large wooden tables. The bar is packed tonight, there’s little space to occupy. It’s almost 2am and McSorley’s will be open through the night. The pay phone rings one more time, an empty glass mug slams on the bar.
“Time is very slow for those who wait!” I hear someone in a conversation say.
Her eyes peek over black-rimmed glasses at me. I see her trying to avoid a smile. Her hair is black. I am hoping for some accident, some occurrence that will get me to talk to her. Her eyes dart away, the moment is over and she picks up the antique pay phone. Her nails painted maroon.
“Hello?” she says into he phone. I see how her dark green dress moves around her body as she reaches to pick up the phone. “Yeah… this is McSorley’s… I don’t know… I’ll ask.” She looks at me as if to say, “watch the phone.”
The lights fade like a blackout is coming but return with a new orange hue. She pauses to look at the lights and immediately goes back to her task at hand. Everyone else is too drunk or uninterested to notice the bar’s lighting.
She asks the person next to me “Are you Havel?”
“Havel? Another man downing his drink replies, “That’s not Hyppolyte Havel! That’s Joe Gould!”
To this Mr. Gould makes a seagull-like noise.
She looks over the crowded pub and realizes she can’t ask everyone who they are. She elongates her neck and at the top of her lungs screams, “Havel! Hippolyte Havel! Who is Hippolyte Havel?” I notice a dark read birthmark on her collarbone peaking through her dress.
A hand rises from the back.
“You’re Havel?” She asks.
“You got a phone call.”
He walks from his booth and thanks her as he picks up the phone. “When was the last time someone received a call from a pay phone?” She starts drinking from her second glass mug.
“Time is very fast for those who are scared,” Havel says into the phone. He holds a fedora in his right hand and wears a tweed jacket with elbow patches.
“Why am I not talking to her?” I ask myself while my feet cement into the floor. This fear has always plagued me. I am the only force stopping an introduction, killing all my chances to meet someone. It has always been my fears, my stupidity, my apprehension and nothing else holds me in place. “Do I fear her or fear what I want?” passes through my mind. Every piece of energy in the universe has brought the two of us to this spot at this moment and I cannot manage to take three steps and form words to talk to this beautiful woman. She sips her beer again and looks at Havel.
The wooden bar doors swing open letting in a gust of fresh air. A bagpiper dressed in a kilt, button down shirt and tie and hard-soled black shoes enters. The bagpipe is under his right arm and the mouthpiece sits up to his lips, but he is not playing.
People cheer his entrance forming a clear circle around the piper. She looks at me with an amused smile hoping for an explanation. I wonder if my hair is in place, if my shoulders are sitting straight or any other flaw she could have caught in that glance. I give her a smile and a shrug. She laughs and turns back around. I see an empty millimeter of space closer to her and fill it. I can tell she is wearing light perfume.
The door swings closed and pushes in a second gust of which the lights react to. Shadows move around the walls with the wind. I stop to see the lights flickering flames and the dancing shadows on the walls. Confused I approach and realize that these were not the same lights as when I walked in. They have become old gaslights. There are real red-orange flames inside that are reacting to the breath and movements of McSorley’s.
“What’s going on?” She mouths to me beneath the noise of the bar.
“The lights… I don’t… I don’t get it.”
A man screams to the bagpiper, “We that are true lovers run into strange capers.”
To which Joe Gould replies, “Squaaak.”
People are raising glasses to toast the bagpipe player, as he stands statuesque in the center of the bar. They beg him to play, but his silence is a refusal.
She looks back at me and asks, “So is he going to play or what?”
“Time is very long for those who lament and very short for those who celebrate.” A voice yells at the bagpiper.
She looks back at the lights, takes a step closer and says, “What is… what’s…” Her sentence dissolves.
“Come on Old John, empty the keg!” someone in the corner screams. I look at the bartender behind me who is stone-faced at the requests of the drunks. He is an old man who has New York City history stamped on his face. He wears a white oxford shirt with a black rubber apron; he looks like a combination of a bartender and butcher.
“Yeah! Old John! Empty the keg!” Joe Gould says in a birdlike voice.
“Keep dreaming!” the old bartender’s Irish accent yells back.
A man gets on top of his chair and yells to the bar, “Invisible sprit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee Devil!” He comes back to the floor and bangs on the table yelling, “Empty the keg! Empty the keg!” Immediately others join in the chanting.
The air feels different now. There is more sawdust on the floor, more flavors in the beer. A very real change in the bar has happened and is visible on the faces of its patrons. She remains the same, fully integrated into the atmosphere, like she has always been here waiting for me.
“Where are we?” she asks. “This is someone else’s past.” She just stares at me. I do not feel shy; I do not avert my eyes. Her beauty is classic. We neither speak nor acknowledge that we were staring at each other but rather revel in the moment. A man on my left lights a cigarette. I smile when my self-consciousness swoops in to remind me that I am staring at a person I do not know. She starts to laugh and somehow moves a little closer to me.
“Come on I want music… empty the keg!” another voice says loudly.
I open my mouth to say something and nothing comes out. No need to try to figure out why we are looking at each other, no need for analysis or control. She has a scratch next to her nose. I give myself to this crescendo and let the ambiance tell me what to do. There are no questions to ask. I feel only this. I lean in closer.
She turns towards the crowd, throws her fist in the air and screams, “Empty the keg!”
The bagpiper stands still.
“Come on! Music!”
“Empty the keg!” She yells again.
“Music for the soul!” Hypolite Havel screams.
Lights flicker, boots stamp the ground, the door swings open, people yell for music.
I touch the tip of her smallest finger. She lets me. Her hand moves closer to mine. I feel her index and ring fingers. Then our thumbs touch. She has no sharp nails or rings. “Empty the keg!” we holler in unison. Our palms touch and fingers interlock. I squeeze her hand and look at her flame-lit face. The cherubs in the bar push our bodies together and our lips connect.
The bar explodes in cheers as we kiss. People still yell, “Empty the Keg!” but much louder. People slam on the tables harder than before.
“Fine!” Old John screams. “Empty the keg!” he says in biting voice.
People start cheering. Some volunteer assistants come behind the bar and lay every glass mug on the counter. Each is filled to the rim with every last drop of beer in the keg. We still kiss.
“From now till closing all beer is on the house!” Old John says.
The bagpiper looks to the heavens and yells, “For those who love time is eternal” and immediately plays. Everyone cheers. All these people, from the fringes of history are finally getting a free round. They stamp the ground to provide rhythm. We kiss as the characters in the bar brush by us each grabbing a mug. Joseph Mitchell is in the corner writing this all down.
“You’re amazing,” I say. “What’s your name?”
A stranger hands us each a beer.
“Parker,” she responds banging her glass into mine.
“Isaac,” I say back. “I’m Isaac… and you’re Parker. Nice to meet you.” Silence, “So… what brings you to McSorley’s tonight?” I ask.
Parker stops and looks almost confused then suddenly laughs to herself. “Isaac?” She looks back at me and kisses me. “It all comes together.” She laughs again. “It’s all made…?”
“I don’t get it.”
“You don’t have to.” She’s smiling. Thoughts go through her mind about this night that just makes her keep laughing. “I can’t even begin to describe it.” She smiles and kisses me again. “Isaac?”
“I promise this will all make sense… just give me some time.” She looks at the bagpiper still playing near the door.
I look down and see she is barefoot. “Your shoes are missing.”
“I know… it’s all part of it.” She kisses me again. “It was all made…”
André M. Zucker was born in the Bronx. His works have appeared in And/or, The Associative Press, Blaze Vox, Danse Macabre, South Jersey Underground, Structo and many others.