The Bar ( a short story)

“I’ll have your finest cold one, whatever that one is please.”

The old bartender slides a bottled beer down the counter, effortlessly.

“Where ya from fellar?”

The question implies that most people that venture into this dark bar aren’t from here.  The bar is a essentially a wooden shack, nestled amongst rows and rows of cornfields.  While the cowboy had been driving, it popped up like a river of sugar water in a sour land. Irresistible.

“From somewhere else,” the cowboy says dryly.

The bartender says nothing.  This response has been common for the 40-plus years he has owned the bar.

In the bar there are no decorations.  Just old plywood full of nails, some rusty, and some sticking out like loose hinges.  There’s no need to ask if he takes credit card.  It’s implied that this bar doesn’t.  There are probably a million stories about lonely, weary souls that have wandered into this bar, the cowboy thinks.  The air is still, and none of them are spoken of.

The cowboy tips back his beer, drinks.  He might not really be a cowboy, maybe he only acts and dresses like one.  Neither of them ask into detail, so neither of them care.

” What you passin’ through for?,” the bartender asks.  This question is arbitrary.  It doesn’t require a thoughtful answer. How is are you? 

“Got me some busnezz’ I’ll be takin’ care of further south.  Just passin’ through cuz’ I have ta’.”

At that moment the door swings open freely.  A man enters.  Black business attire, black tie.  Shoes shined.  He shuffles the stool, exchanges to indifferent glances at the bartender and the cowboy.  Has a seat, comfortable enough, legs crossed.

“What’ll it be for ya?,” asks the bartender.

“A drink of your finest cold please,” says the business man.

The bartender pops open another bottle, slides it across the table.  There is silence for a while.  Both customers appear tired from the road and not yet ready to talk.  When the cowboy and the business man begin talking, the conversation goes from sports to talking about making money.  This is the only thing they really talk about.  The bartender interrupts politely.

“So, have you heard the deal about this bar before?,” the bartender asks.

Both men shake their heads.  No.

“Well, it’s a bit of a story but I’ll give yous’ the shortened version.  I started this bar back in the thirties, just after Prohibition ended.  I invested everything I had into it and then some.  Me and my wife, who passed on while back, bless ‘er soul.”

The bar is silent.  This bar doesn’t offer a jukebox.  Nothing fancy.  Just a plywood stable and cold beer.

“Well, one day there was a fire in the bar, started from the grill in the back.  We used ta’ serve burgers here in our heyday.  Anyways, my wife were in the back room doin’ some work when the fire started, we got stuck.  You probably won’t believe this, but we were both stuck in the fire and it burned to the ground.  This bar was not more.”

The cowboy and business man stare blankly at the bartender.  You can hear the wind rustling the tall grass just outside.  They say nothing.

” So we both died in the fire, my wife and I.  Well, come to find out, the powers that be had screwed up and we weren’t scheduled to leave this world yet.  See, they made a mistake and didn’t know we’s’ was’ in the bar. Our lives weren’t supposed to be over yet. So they told us we could have our mortal lives back, and they’d even rebuild the bar.  That took the snap of a finger.”

‘ Only thing, my wife was scheduled to leave, whether I liked it or not.  Since it seemed to unfair, we all reached a compromise that my wife could still stay at the bar, the only thing being that we both had to become ghosts. So she still technically lives here, keeps me company and the bar lives on, giving stragglers like yourselves comfort from the road.”

“That’s a pretty good story yous’ got there,” the cowboy says.  He lights a cigarette.  Deep inhale.  Blows a ring of smoke away from the bar.  The business man glares at the door.  Exit.

“All of it’s true,” says the bartender.  “…And the kicker is this.  My wife has the power to look into a man’s soul and know the very date he’ll be leaving this Earth.  You can’t see her right now, but she’s actually standing right by my side right now.  In the form of ghost.’

‘So have a look at the back of your beer.  You’ll find your expiration date for this Earth.”

The men exchange confused glances.  Spin their beers around.  Expiration dates are on the label.  Cowboy’s beer says he expires in fifteen years and some change.  Business man expires in 32 years and some cents.

” Is this a joke?,” says the business man.  “Seriously, where’s the cameras?”

Both customers exchange glances and kindly tell the bartender that he’s weird and that he should screw off.  They leave.

Outside the bar, they talk about their business ventures, the cowboy owning a ranch and the business man investing in stocks.  They don’t seem interested in much else.  A paper bag blows on along the road.  The air is cold, yet fresh.  Stalks of corn sway in the wind.

It’s at that moment that the man that had been sitting by a booth in the corner of the bar runs outside.  “Here,” he says, handing both men a beer.  ” These ones are on me boys.  You gents look like you could both use another beer before you hit the road.”

The cowboy and the business man exchange glances, look at the expiration date on the back.  It says the expiration is set for today for both men.

“Joke’s over,” cowboy says.  “This isn’t funny and we’re leaving.”

As they’re walking away, a semi with a loaded trailer comes skidding out of control along the snow.  The trailer crashes off the hinges, diving straight into the bar with a crash louder than ten cannons fire off at once.

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