Short Fiction: Bar

by | Dec 18, 2016 | Culture Vulture

By Hannan Lewsley:

It was cold as gentle snow finally began to build upon the outside ledge of the only little window in a delicate bar. Inside, shielded from the excitement of the snow that had developed into a flurry of falling flakes outside, people congregated. Illuminated by candles of various forms, that sat perilously atop tables and threw light recklessly towards the faces that collected around them. Ominous shadows extended outwards seeking out the very extremities of darkness in which they could exist and such formed the intricate play of shadow and light that represented perfectly the dichotomy of existence that was soon to evolve. A fissure that would form to expose a harrowing void: a lightless rift of apparent meaninglessness to be navigated by a poor unfortunate soul. On a dull wall hung the taxidermied head of a moose, its eyes eyeing ominously the faceless individuals, that stood, sat, and swayed under the mild intoxication of mulled wine and cigarettes; the delicate stems of which, rose silently, ghostlike and bloomed just below the ceiling to form a cloudy haze that quivered as people passed beneath it, pulsating with the life of the room. The bar itself, in the centre of the establishment, was a kaleidoscope of hanging glasses and innumerable coloured bottles illuminated by delicate light. The barman stood straight, polishing glasses with a white cloth and adding them to his resplendent collection. In one corner, a bespectacled man with a prominent beard plucked away at the cumbersome strings of a double bass that towered beside him whilst at his side, a stout fellow nestled a tuba in his lap and blew unabatingly. The combination of their syncopated melodies was just audible over the constant hum of a conglomeration of voices that filled the quaint establishment.

In a corner, hardly touched by the floating sounds of the musical duo that were absorbed by soft surfaces and bodies as they made their way across the room, sat a disused wine barrel. Two tall bar stools orbited its circumference one of which was occupied by a lone man who observed with terror, the innumerable sea of individuals that filled, like a foreboding threat, the dense space of the bar. A crystal tumbler sat passively atop the uneven surface of the barrel as he filled it with a transparent liquid of caramel colour which, following the contours of the glass, formed turbulent currents and then settled to create a distorted window for anyone to gaze through. His panicked eyes undertook exacerbated glances that impressed upon anyone who happened to be watching his awkward movements, the suggestion of imminent ill intent.

Along the opposite wall, a handsome lady happened to be watching. She sat, languidly. Sprawled graciously upon the dark green velvet of a divan, illuminated by a delicate pendant lamp that hung unimposingly from the ceiling and bathed her in passive light. Caressing her drink with slender fingers, she watched the side of his face, as it flickered intermittently in the irate light of the candle and pondered the possibilities of the aforementioned ill intent that his facial features suggested.

He pondered the peril of the indefinite nature of his belief. He was threatened by the notion that perspective, at one point so fixed, so real, was so subject to change. This destabilised his position on reality and subsequently, his structure of the world came tumbling down around him. The walls that formed the substance of his being collapsed into ruins of decay, exposing the increasing turbulence of the evening that he had entered this once-standing bar to escape. An elderly lady walked unaffectedly past him, trudging steadily through the snow that had formed a perfect covering over the perils of the world. Her small white dog, the possession of which she asserted with a red leash that moved indefinitely against the unadulterated perfectness of untouched snow. And he sat there, atop his stool, still eyed by the head of the moose that maintained its position on the now inexistent wall, the unabating eyes not missing the doubt that developed in the heart of his defeated soul as it dawned on him, in a moment of harrowing realisation, the dynamic nature of his being; the insubstance of his existence. He gazed, terrified, across the empty street as the lady and her dog walked further and further out of sight into drifts of snow, he relinquished his stool and followed the desolate road in the opposite direction.

She of course, was unaware of the existential disaster that was taking place within the mildly distressed individual seated across the room from her. He looked distant, but she pursued the notion no more. This lack of awareness on her part, was regular and typical to her nature. Her mentality was the antithesis, almost, of his, though of course she had no way of knowing this. She did know, however, her place in the world. So definite was her perception of this place, that the majority of it passed without her awareness. Her perception of life was narrowly skewed towards the intent of her desires, the peripheries and the finer details of opportunity that surrounded her went unnoticed. Refusing to be dictated by the erratic whims of seemingly logic-less reasoning that threatened her very existence, she made calculated decisions based on logical pragmatism. Passion and whims and visceral urges had no place. And so, when she finished the little that remained of her drink, placed it back on the polished top of the table with a muted clink, and made her way through the still dense crowd of the bar, it was with definite conviction. She moved gracefully through the music that continued to resonate throughout the dense air, towards the man (once) at the wine barrel that had made his way through the exit of the bar. Her movements followed by the unabating gaze of the moose.

He was cold. The snow laden street, that the destruction of his establishment had revealed, offered him no shelter. And so, he wandered from door to door, in search of something definite. Meaning? Guidance? Assertion? But slowly, as his senseless stroll continued, the density of establishments faltered and the structures he continued to look to for support continued to flail and fail and fall. He reflected on how it was indeed, that he could obtain any sense of definite anything within such dynamic circumstances.

She trailed him definitely. Astounded by the whimsical nature of his actions and slightly puzzled by the trajectory of his stroll and why exactly she had felt so compelled to pursue him. He continued, making his way down the quiet street in front of her, vanishing and reappearing intermittently under speckled cones of light thrown down by feeble streetlamps whose luminescence was decorated with the trajectories of falling flakes of subtle snow.

Calmly, he found himself in the quietude of a sparsely wooded forest. The branches of trees balancing snow were iridescent silver and he failed to realise that the uniformity of them as they receded out of sight, into the darkness that they themselves created was the source of his comfort. He saw that trailing behind him was a woman, a notion that slightly unsettled him given both the recent events and the isolation of his proximity.

Nevertheless, he stood and watched her, as she did him; two strangers, opposed in the tranquil purity of a snow covered forest.

She walks towards him. The severity of her gaze penetrating the delicate façade of his exterior self. As she approaches him all he can think of is how he should react. Possibilities running over and over through his head, but before he comes to any realisation she passes through him and he doesn’t feel a thing. Follow, let her go. He turns around to assert his impression but she’s gone and the snow’s gone and the forest’s gone and everything he thought he knew is gone and he’s back in the bar awkwardly caressing his fucking drink, terrified of the nothing with which he expects people to judge him. And the Moose remains hanging with its scathing eyes and realisation grows within his consciousness and the indifference of his existence gives him confidence; confidence in nothing which sounds like a paradox but it isn’t, it makes sense. It makes sense to him.

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