Procaffeinations is a weekly series of short fictions, fables and fabrications, all written in the time it takes to finish that first coffee of the day. Mine’s a Costa Rican V60. Thanks for asking.
A man walks into a bar.
Perching on a stone-cut bar stool and peering over a block of shimmering ice, he orders up a Hibiki highball. The bartender complies, throwing soda over whisky and chipping off a small iceberg from the bar-top glacier that falls neatly into the mix. The whisky and soda play a symphony atop the man’s tongue, they dance a tango down his throat. The man divides his attention equally between the highball and a stubborn story he’s already spent best part of an evening trying to pen. He’s halfway through both when she walks in. Hurriedly tearing the unfinished story from his notebook and folding it away in the breast pocket of his bar-hung, trench-coat, he watches her graceful approach.
Her features are small, her make-up confidently delicate. Her hair is an amber inferno, a shimmering cascade of red and gold falling effortlessly over one shoulder. Her dress is a rose petal, unfurling sightly at bosom and thigh. Her walk is champagne-smooth. He’s already tipsy on her footsteps by the time she reaches the bar and takes a seat next to him.
Polite hellos, how-do-you-dos and what-are-you-drinkings roll out with appropriate ceremony. A series of hair-flourishes, stifled giggles and pensive stubble-stroking dutifully follow suit. The choreography of the whole thing is impeccable, the night unravels to a percussion of bottle-pops and the clashing of ice on glass.
Before long, however, whisky charm gives way to a brandied bite. Boundless arrogance overpowers timid charm. Feigned interest refuses refuge to growing impatience. Things go south, no doubt. A razor sharp stab at her literary inclinations draws first blood. Those diamonds at the meeting of her thighs? They’re not empowering, they’re myths of femininity. Myths are a dangerous thing; they become the unseen architectures of our daily lives. You are a brick in that architecture, darling. You are a fiction prancing around in high heels; an alibi of Art. Fifty shades of same old, same old.
Her riposte is lightning-swift, a searing-hot glance-shot at his ego: He is a scared child hiding behind his Hemingways and his Hammets. Sure, he can turn a phrase but his every mannerism is a caricature of masculinity. Cherchez la femme? He wouldn’t know what to do with her if he found her. I am bigger than the fictions you cower behind, little man. I burn brighter than your hackneyed Gauloises and I outshine your cynical gloom. You cannot speak for me; I am not written by you.
He takes his time cocking back one final slug of firewater. She doesn’t know it yet, but she has given him all the ammunition he needs. His return fire is a coup de grâce delivered in six words. A tight grouping, fired in quick succession:
I wrote you better than this.
Spent, the man remains silent while the woman in red gathers her things and leaves. He then settles his tab, snaps his trench coat over his shoulders and exits up the stairs, following her out of our story.
The hours pass to the same old songs of to your health and same again. Eventually the lights go up, the rest of the guests leave and the bartender surveys the scene. A frenzied mess of tumblers, highballs and coupettes tower over an array of spent cigarette butts, broken toothpicks and wayward ice cubes. Atop the man’s now long-vacant bar stool lies a piece of folded paper; doubtless a product of his earlier trench coat theatrics. Unfolding it, the bartender finds something resembling an unfinished story scribbled in an increasingly unsteady hand. Droplets of whisky soda have seen to it that most of the tale is illegible, but the opening line remains crystal-clear. It’s a veritable headshot; six words that bounce around the bartender’s skull before trickling out of his mouth, one by one:
A man walks into a bar.