I sit at the table, staring blankly at the glass of water while my finger spun the straw, making circles ripple and swirl, a miniature whirlpool trapped. Voices buzz around me, but I do not hear them. My dreams ripple and swirl, ripple and swirl, a colorful whirlpool matching the one in front of me.
“Care for anything else?” the waitress asks me, her voice carrying an tiresome edge, and she is teetering close to the cliff, her spindly legs ready to topple over.
“Oh?” I look up from my whirlpool, my eyes matching hers, a startling shade of sea green. “No, I think I’m good here. What about you?”
She is surprised by my response, and so are my companions. The beautiful woman with the beautiful name smiles encouragingly while my younger self scowls, already angry at what I am about to do.
“Honestly, I could use a break,” the waitress says.
“Care to sit with us for a minute? We were just telling some stories.”
“Oooh! Don’t mind if I do. You know, I haven’t heard a story in a long while. Too busy, which is a shame because I used to love stories, especially because they either take you away or comfort you with a similar story of your own, one that tells you it will be okay,” the waitress ties up her loose curly hair, which bounced wildly on shoulders that have carried more than they should, and she sits, my younger self reluctantly scooting over. ” Would you tell me a story?”
I smile. She asks so nicely I can hardly refuse. Sometimes I receive requests that demand me to make up something on the spot, and part of me is annoyed while the other part of me enjoys the challenge, my pride swelling if I can come up with something decent in the span of a few minutes. I stare again at the glass of water, at the swirling whirlpool going around and around, and slowly my mind moves, ticking like a clock as words string themselves together.
The Broken Dreamer’s Club
The sign flickered on and off, dying but not quite ready to give out its last breath. The rain poured heavily onto their exposed heads, drenching straight through their clothing. It didn’t matter anyway, each of them thought despondently. They entered the bar, one behind the other, although each carried their own separate lives.
The room was nearly empty, with a few dour looking souls scattered among wooden tables and stools, the more optimistic trying their skills at pool. Tap, rack, tap, rack. It was quiet, yet not uncomfortably so, the atmosphere more resigned than anything else. A big, burly barman tended his counter, wiping it with a dirty, multicolored rag.
They didn’t intend to do so, but they grabbed the first three seats in front of the barman. He turned around and smiled a gap-tooth smile breaking across wrinkly leather skin. Before they can even ask, he pulled out a bottle and three shot glasses, laying them on the counter. Without a word, he disappeared, and a trail of white smoke followed him.
Music came on slowly, tentatively, like a child afraid to wake a parent but tiptoeing inside anyway, needed something, anything, to calm them before sleep. It was nice, the music, not chaotic yet not exactly peaceful; it was something in between, something that seemed to be reading each of their minds. For the first time, they looked at each other.
The man on the left was heavyset and aging, his body struggling to keep up with the demands of the living. Liver spots sprinkled across loose skin and beneath tufts of grey hair. He wore a simple jacket, unremarkable except it matched its owner in age and weariness, the stains a collection, a reminder, of all the years spent watching, living, dreaming.
Beside him was the woman, not nearly as old, but her charm was gone, her beauty faded, or rather hidden behind a mask that did not wish to look at the world anymore. Scars punctuated her ears where there were once holes bearing golden earrings belonging to a goddess, an angel, who used to laugh and smile, her voice singing proudly.
Finally, there was the young man who was hardly more than a boy towering over the lost woman, his broad shoulders sagging, a hump forming in his back. It wasn’t always like that; he was strong and intelligent, capable of doing so much, winning so much, but he gave and gave and gave everything he had away. Too much. Day by day he was shrinking, almost becoming a shadow rather than radiating as the sun does.
They each grimace, smiling wryly and shaking their heads. Their eyes, wounded and hurt, glazed over with a grey film, asked the same question. What brings you in tonight?
Drinking, of course.
They silently laughed; their bitterness drawn on their faces. Then they stared back at the bottle and the three glasses waiting for them. It didn’t look right, the liquid bubbling green and black, yet it smelled fresh, like flowers recently picked from the valley. It was calling to them, and their hearts could not refuse it. One by one, they took a glass a poured the liquor in. Green and black. Purple and red. Yellow and orange. Each of them received something different, and when they took a drink, they saw something different.
For the aging man long aching for his youth, he saw her as she used to be- laughing and smiling, her skin smooth and unwrinkled, her young body dancing underneath the sun, her toes kicking up the sand. He was still with her, and he held her, kissing her neck, her body, whispering into her ear that he would never leave her. Little did he know, she would leave him first.
For the woman whose charm had long been spent during a period of naïve innocence, a period where she thought she was indestructible, that nothing could destroy the foundation of who she was, she saw the child she was supposed to have, screaming and crying as he fell on the pavement kicking the ball he loved best, the one she picked out for him as he sat in her womb waiting for a breath he would never take. She went to him, arms spread wide, and kissed, kissed, kissed his scraped and wounded knee before pinching his chubby cheeks and promising all would be okay.
For the young man who was hardly more than a boy, whose body, once sharp and strong, prepared to conquer the world with tantalizing ambitions given to the youthful, saw himself living off a boat, his arms pulling on the sails that snapped in the wind. The wide, blue sky with its wisps of clouds taking on shapes of hearts and diamonds, skeletons, and mountains, stared with approval as the sea welcomed him gladly, the fish jumping fervently over waves licking the starboard side. He was proud, the boat finally his, a purchase finally from money not wasted on a brother who couldn’t keep it together. Sail, sail, sail away little brother. Let me explore every inch of the world and stop only for the perfect girl waiting, waiting, waiting at a house on the edge of the shore.
They sat there wistful, each taking more and more from the bottle until it was empty, each tearing at the dreams that never came to be. The night passed on and on, and they refused to leave, wanting ever so desperately to hang onto what was lost.
The bartender watched as he always did, from a perch in the shadows that no one could see. He watched and he watched, their fill never quite satiated, but never asked them to leave. How could he, when all he did, all he was supposed to do, was wait and give his weary customers, his broken dreamers, a gift to mend hearts meant to keep living.