Whenever I had a problem, he always said to me: ‘Go tell it to the bartender,’ in this really off-hand way, as if he couldn’t be bothered to listen.
‘Last night, I dreamt you were a bartender.’ I had intended this as a joke, and so I was confused when he replied: ‘Colleen, I am a bartender.’
It’s a shame when you can’t recognize a genuine bartender.
The House of Sparkling Glasses seemed mysterious and exciting to me when I was a child. Its windows were high and small, and the interior was smoky, so I couldn’t see inside from the street. The front door was made of red vinyl padding, and I supposed that only the most interesting things must happen in a place requiring a padded door. I couldn’t imagine what those things might be. As soon as I was old enough to drink, the House of Sparkling Glasses was the first place I visited. And then I learned the disappointing truth: that nothing extraordinary ever happened there, but there were, in fact, rows of crystalline glasses reflecting infinitely in a gilt-framed mirror spanning the length of the bar.
‘Do you think there are whole worlds we’re unable to experience through our five senses?’ I asked him.
He flipped a bar towel over his shoulder. ‘If you say so, you’re crazy,’ he said. ‘Or religious.’
‘Or a mathematician.’
‘I’ve never been any good at math, so I wouldn’t know.’ Refracted light glinted off the river of mahogany gleaming between us; he flicked his towel over its flawless surface.
‘There’s no reason why alternate realities can’t exist in the same place, at the same time, all at once, but we only can perceive one of them at a time,’ I said, watching him buff up the lacquer.
‘Maybe each of us experiences a slightly different version of the same thing, but we aren’t able to communicate the subtleties that distinguish our world from someone else’s.’
‘Or even more than that.’
‘I guess we’ll never know.’
When I viewed myself in the mirror behind the bar at The House of Sparkling Glasses, I was as I always had been, despite my age. I seemed a bit wide-eyed and credulous, although nothing could be further from the facts. I wondered if the person who presented herself to me there would ever recognize my true nature, or confront the disappointing realities of my interior world.
Nothing ever escaped him. ‘You always take it on the chin, dontcha?’
‘I just want to know the truth,’ I said.
He held up a glass to the light and scrutinized it with one eye closed. Carefully, he polished away some blemish only he would have noticed. When he set the empty glass before me, I couldn’t recall what it was I had wanted. I wondered if I had come to this place seeking anything other than his approval.
‘Well, if it’s the truth you’re after, then, “What’s wrong with me?” is what’s wrong with you.’
Some statements of fact are epitaphs.
You never know when the last time you see someone really is the last time. Had you known, you might have lingered a bit longer, said all of the right things for once, told them how much you cared. But if you follow that line of thinking, then every separation presages a kind of death. Better to move blithely forward, pretending it didn’t happen, and continue your relationships with the people you love through your memories of how they used to be.