I had waited an hour for him at the bar a couple Saturdays ago. The bar was dark, the bartender's only light came from candles in small red bowls that enhanced the atmosphere. It was very warm in the building. Other patrons stood far apart from each other, speaking in low, husky voices. Men and women held their glasses like spectors and their cigarettes like lifelines. Smoke wafted in from the patio outside to combine with the smoke on the inside. It was about eleven when I gave up waiting for him. He never really shows up, you know. I finished the amber liquor in my glass and gently lowered it to the surface of the bar. The ice clinked rather noisily in the room. I looked around once more. The couple next to me were drinking scotch and smoking Marlboro's Gold. Several business men sat in booths, making this deal, canceling that deal, and figuring out if "the boss ever found out about the fence." On the opposite side of the bar, men were enthusiatically going over the highlights of a game. Their laughter sounded harsh to my ears. I was just going to wave for the bartender to close my tab when a man sat next to me. I was sitting on the corner of the bar so I saw him take off his jacket and settle himself in out of the corner of my eye. The bartender saw him and rushed more quickly to him than to anyone I had seen him take an order from that night.
"I think I'm going to go for a... Miller Lite."
The man was adventerous and a big spender. I had to stop myself from snorting. The bartender turned and gave me a dirty look. He reached for my glass.
"She'll have another," the man said before the bartender laid his greasy fingers on it.
I looked at him fully for the first time. His brownish eyes were crinkled back in an almost mocking way. He had thin lips that smirked in my direction.
"No, thank you."
He fished in his jacket for a moment and brought out a small silver tube, a cigar. The bartender stood motionless as he watched the man.
"Why not? You in a hurry?" he asked me, a silver lighter appeared in his hand. He puffed twice and took the stogy from his mouth.
"I was just leaving."
"She'll have another," he said once again to the bartender.
Without hearing my angry protest, the bartender took my old glass and poured me a new drink. I watched the stranger through narrowed eyes. I didn't know what to make of him.
"I got her bill, too, Tom."
The bartender nodded. I sat on the stool, knowing I should bolt from that shallow sanctuary, walk to my car parked a block down the street with my S and W blade ready in my hand, and speed down the freeway towards normalacy and responsibility. I settled myself more comfortably in my seat and took a sip. The stranger's smile widened and he took another hit.
"Thanks," I muttered.
His smile widened a bit more. He blew smoke rings into the air and then tipped the cigar's ash into a tray.
"He didn't show."
It was a statement. My eyebrow rose of its own accord, but I still stared stoicly at him. He continued.
"You'll only see him on stage and silver screen. In too many faces and then in none. Each time he's there, he'll have different eyes, different noses, different smiles. His hair color will flit between black, brown and white. You'll allow a couple reds to amuse you, but you'll always go back to your roots, per se."
I was half way through my drink when I actually laughed. The crow's feet on his face lengthed and the lines around his mouth stood out in sharp relief when he laughed, too. He had a face that had seen more than its share of happy days and nights.
"So what brings you out here then?" I asked.
He took a pull from his bottle before looking me in the eye. They searched my face for something but I didn't know for what.
"Fate? That's all?" I said incredulously.
"I don't believe in Fate."
"Really? Well, now a days I don't think a lot of people do."
"It's too much a concept of dice. Too many variables and choices affect what we do."
"Ah, but there's the catch. Do we really think on those choices? Do we as humans fanthom every probability, every consequence of our actions?"
"That's still not a completely valid arguement for Fate. I do not like the notion that I don't have a choice even when I think I do."
I was half finished with my drink. He had finished his and his cigar was on its last inch. He took it from his mouth and stubbed it out in the tray. His hair had fallen into his eyes and he swatted at it to no avail. I glanced into the mirror behind the bar and saw my hair had become flat and pushed behind my ears. With all the smoke in the air, I hated to think how it and my clothes were going to smell. My skin felt greasy and cold.
Other patrons were slowly trickling out of the doors. It was almost one now. I thought of downing the rest of my drink so my hand moved of its own voilition and grasped the small glass. The ice chinked softly and I saw that half of them had melted. I took a tentative sip and then drank the rest of it in two swallows. It was more watered down than I had previously thought.
"Get her another, Tom."
"So help me, Tom, if you put another glass down..." I growled.
The stranger still had his bangs messy over his forehead. That mocking smile which had made me laugh earlier returned to torment me. Tom glanced between us and then put a glass on the table.
"Water with lots of ice this time, then." I muttered, "Jerk."
I flinched when the stranger burst out with laughter. Tom gave him a quick, hesistant glance and hurried back to the other side of the bar.
"Look, I have no clue why you decided to talk to me, but--."
"I just wanted to talk to someone and someone was here by herself."
I was annoyed by his "philosophy." He always looked calm and collected. The smoke didn't seem to touch him and the drinks had no affect. I was fazzeled and bemused. No other character had seemed to tolerate such a rude dismissal but still try to speak with me. Arrogance? More than likely mixed with stupidity.
"I have to go."
"Where will you look for him next? A park, a concert, the street? I don't think he'll ever show."
"I know he won't. That won't stop me from looking."
I met those brown eyes for the last time. He didn't stop me when I put on my coat or call when I turned my back on him. He didn't wait for that last look or good bye. When I was outside, I looked to see if he followed me out. He didn't.
"Good riddance," I thought as I walked down the dimly lit street.
I didn't realize till years later that it had been him.