The first drink gone, I leaned into the corner of the armchair and stretched my legs to feel the fire and waved at the bar for a reset and watched the drizzle through the window. The bar was beginning to display the dinginess I had not noticed because of the dimness and the need to settle in and have my first and because I was in a new place, but it looked old, a clap-board type of construction and when looking at the faux-wood bead board paneling, the studs holding it in place were obvious and the moulding at the base had signs of long term exposure to water, but the floor itself was solid, if unlevel—wide planks, almost a foot across, rubbed shiny with time and use and shoes. I wondered what it had been in its former life or if it had always been a place of refuge in the storm, a place to warm oneself from the inside.
My companion had removed his hat and set it on the back of his chair and had wrapped his hair around itself as I had seen so many women do and pushed it behind his neck. He took off his spectacles and tried to clean them using the tail of his shirt, laughed when that did not work, huffed steam on them and wiped them with the napkin before returning them to his face and looking at me. “Robert, Bob everyone calls me,” he said and nodded his head and looked over his rims and waited.
“Bill, William. Will, I guess,” I said. “You from here?”
The bartender came over and we discussed the next round, settling on what he assured me was a nice bohemian Absinthe—if there was such a thing—, Mata Hari, which he said had very little anise in it and was the same recipe used since 1881. Bob looked at me and said, “I’m game if you are,” and being as I was still chasing the fairy and had no words to put on the paper that would resolve the mess my character had found herself, and, because Bob offered to pay—and there is no better drink than one for which someone else pays, I nodded my head and we watched the bartender set up the drinks again.
“Well, I live on the island now. Pretty much no one is from here. It takes its toll. Yes, there is the ocean and the salt water, but then every few years, a hurricane blows herself through and disarranges everything. That last one—what was that bastard’s name?” And he thought for a minute and we watched the drips into Mata Hari. “Ike, yeah. Tore the up Galveston like Mister Turner did Tina. I almost bugged out after that, But I didn’t, and next month sometime is my 27th year here.”
“Yeah, a lot of the piers are gone. The Commodore is still there. Unfazed. Go figure. Maybe it’s the curves.”
He sipped the drink and winced. “A little minty, and bitter.”
I tasted it and let it roll around in my mouth and then took a deep breath through lips almost fully pursed. ” I like it. Different.”
“That where you staying? The Commodore?”
“Yeah, always and forever. Every time I get in a bind. I lie for a living, I write fiction mostly. But it takes desperation to get the muse unshackled. I am almost there, I figure I have a couple of weeks before my editor starts sending someone to gather me up like Douglas Adams and lock me in a hotel room, providing, food, drinks and bathroom breaks every 500 words until they get out of me what they need. Whenever this happens, I make the drive from San Antonio and find the Commodore.”
Bob was fiddling with one of the buttons on his shirt, snapping and unsnapping it, a nervous tick and his hair had fallen back on his shoulders, and even in the dark, I could tell it had luster and shine and just a small amount of curl that caught the flickering light of the fire. His left cheek had a scar running from the bottom of his ear to just short of his nose—an old scar, faded and white and I found myself creating stories about it and how it found its way to his face.
“Well, I came here in 1984, fresh from the oil patch. Had worked myself up to a field super and was making damn good money for the time, lived in LaGrange, grew up there. Story is my mom was at the ranch, but she was a good mom, so who cares. Anyway, the bottom fell out of the oil and I made my way to the refineries in Texas City and worked them until I got hurt in a fall and stumbled my way here.”
“What do you do here?”
“This and that now and then.” He smiled and turned to look at the fire.
I held the glass in my hands, thinking the warmth of my hands would release the herbals better and maybe smooth old Mata Hari out, because the more sips I took, the more medicinal it tasted and I was thinking I’d just go with a plain, old ordinary prosaic—if that word can be used with Absinthe—Pernod for the rest of the day or until my muse quit laughing at me and decided to help.