Tuesday, March 22, 2011

MILES: Chapter Three, part 3

The Watchtower was a pub not quite eight blocks down from Erik’s apartment, and he walked down the city sidewalk towards it, soaking in the sounds and colors of the busy Friday nightlife. Frond’s – the dance club across the street – throbbed with heavy bass; flashing lights accompanied the sound. The lights reflected in the surrounding businesses, creating an eerie glow against the mannequins in the nearby department store windows.

Erik could see his own breath rising through the air before him, but even in the cold people bustled about, clutching their coats or clinging tenaciously to each other for warmth. A pair of girls up ahead, barely old enough to drink by the looks of it, scurried down the street in outfits that would have been sexy, were the girls not obviously freezing in their matching skirts and strapped heels.

Once inside, Erik ordered a sandwich at the bar and, upon consideration, a gin martini. Live a little, he thought to himself. Erik had found that he was uncomfortable in social situations; he could hold his own in any professional setting, he could easily speak in front of crowds, he held lectures and training sessions at the office several times a month, and his profession required him to interact with great numbers of people but here, alone at a bar in a low lit room with a crowd of maybe fifteen people, he felt ill-at-ease.

The pub was at about half-capacity, which meant plenty of room for Erik to breathe, and he stared into the low light as bits of conversation wafted through the air. Across the room, a waitress caught his gaze and smiled at him briefly before turning away and running a tray of dirty glasses to the kitchen. He tried to smile back, but he was slow to react and he wondered momentarily if he had offended her by not returning the expression.

The bartender mumbled something unintelligible and set down the martini. Erik nodded in response, but didn’t turn his head.

He found himself listening. Two men were arguing rules over a billiards table behind him, but their conflict was more jovial than malevolent; a mixture of friendly rivalry and intoxication. In a booth nearby a woman was scolding her husband over something he couldn’t quite make out, but the husband was clearly uninterested; instead he was nursing his beer while the woman soaked up Cosmopolitans like a dry sponge.

Erik at his sandwich in silence, and drank his martini quickly. The alcohol burned as it made its way down Erik’s throat. He must like me, Erik thought. Bartenders pour drinks stronger when they like a customer. From down the bar the bartender gestured toward Erik’s empty glass, and Erik nodded his consent. Another gin martini appeared without a word exchanged. He sipped it this time. He was beginning to feel a bit warm; the gin must be settling in. He wasn’t entirely sure he enjoyed the feeling, but this is what people did; they went to pubs and drank, and Erik had apparently needed to break his routine for an evening.

But something still bothered him; this wasn’t what he came to do. Drinking alone was definitely not his modus operandi, and although something had driven him to leave the apartment he had yet to find whatever it was.

He looked for the waitress who had smiled at him earlier, but she was nowhere to be seen. The bartender made his way towards Erik. He gestured his head towards a television across the bar, where two announcers were discussing an event that was clearly over.

“You catch the game?” he asked.

Erik shook his head.

“Oh.” He pointed towards Erik’s near empty martini glass. “Ready for number three?”

“Sure.” The bartender started to walk away. “And my tab.”

The bartender nodded.