All Is Bright (3)

A Christmas Eve story in 24 installments


She sliced a lime in half, then another and another. Three limes should be enough, don’t you think, Frank? If anyone still ordered gimlets at Kiernan’s Tap—and no one did, not for decades—she would simply uncap the old bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice that she kept in the cooler below the bar. The juice probably expired long ago, and she should toss the bottle, but if nobody ever ordered a drink that required it, she supposed its freshness didn’t really matter. No Rose’s for her, not tonight. It was Christmas Eve, she was alone with nowhere else to be, and she had worked all day at the bar even though it was closed for the holiday—those local liquor laws—and by God, if she wanted a gimlet, she would have one, made with real limes. 

That’s not asking too much, is it, Frank? A good gimlet at the end of a long day?

She squeezed the limes over a highball glass, added two jiggers of Gordon’s and dropped in a few ice cubes. She stepped out from behind the bar and sat down on the first stool. The overhead lights were turned off, as were the neon beer signs that hung in the front window, with the only light in the shadowed room coming from the two green-shaded electric sconces that flanked the long mirror above the back bar. 

With the tavern closed she had worked a long day of meticulous cleaning, digging and wiping the gaps and cracks, mopping every square inch of the floor and deep into the corners with a mop and countless changes of wash water, with a thoroughness she never could have managed with customer to attend to. But after eight or nine hours of dogged effort she could now relax, savor her drink, and ponder her life or the town or whatever came to mind.

Oh my, Frank, do you remember Bill Flanagan, that one Halloween? Dressed up like Queen Elizabeth, in a blue satin ball gown with a big white sash, and wearing a jeweley crown and carrying that stick—what do they call it? That’s right, a scepter. He tried to talk like a high-class British woman but instead sounded like Benny Hill. Remember how Helen reacted? She laughed at first, but then he kept demanding that everyone there sing “God Save the Queen”,  which he didn’t even know the words to, but when they just hummed along he got mad, kept demanding they sing the words. Oh, was Helen furious. I can still see the look on her face—can’t you, Frank? The fight they must have had when they got home!

Maggie’s thoughts drifted elsewhere in time: to Stan and Ellie Horvath’s wedding reception, held right there at the tavern; to the fathers of the Little League team that Kiernan’s sponsored, lining the bar in celebration after every game, win or lose; to the inevitable gatherings after funerals, with glasses raised in memory of a McNally or a Flynn or a Schmidt.

From the corner of her eye, through the front window some movement caught her attention—a man walking past the courthouse across the street, glancing up at the soldier status before disappearing from view—and roused her to the present. She had been so absorbed in work and her memories that she didn’t realize how little she had eaten all day. A few pickles from the jar next to the cash register, and the single hard-boiled egg she found in the refrigerator from yesterday’s batch. 

She felt the sudden urge to eat, and to be away from the tavern. Memories were strong here, fifty years of memories. And sometimes too strong. She swallowed the last of her cocktail and left the empty glass on the bar—she would take care of it tomorrow—and walked away toward the back room to find her coat.