Written by: Joshua Lipson
It was half an hour past closing time. Paul Sanders was used to people staying after hours due to his years of experience. The young ones called him, “old man Sanders” as per his imply. To them it sounded a bit forced, something that people would say on a sitcom like, “Cheers”. Although, Paul didn’t want to have such a boring name. How would people remember him? He had a face full of wrinkles, ten fake teeth, a bald spot with some white hair surrounding it (which he was very proud of), and his old man glasses which made him happy, because this way he really did look his age. Then there was the boy in front of him. This boy was not a usual, so it struck Paul as to why he was there. Young people did not usually come to his place, if they did, they’d leave after ten minutes because of how boring it was. The boy had dark skin, a black jacket, jeans, while noticeably twirling a ring in his hands. “Bartender, give me another beer.” He exclaimed in a slur of words. He was at five. Paul had a rank for people and how hammered they were. By now, he knew those ranks inside and out. Five, that means this boy was drunk enough to forget what the word “no” meant, but not drunk enough to forget what the phrase, “get the hell out of my bar!” meant. However, Paul planned on being nice at first. This boy seemed to be wreck, so it was in his natural to help him out. “Last call was thirty minutes ago, so, can I ask why you’re still here?” Paul said as he scrubbed the last of his mugs. The boy looked to the old man as if he had spoken a different language. His eyes had bags under them, which meant he must’ve been tired as hell. “I thought your job was to give me a drink, not ask questions?” The boy exclaimed, sounding more hurt than anything. “Yes, but it’s been closing time for quite a while. Look around, no one else is here.” Paul explained, but not that there would be people
there. Paul’s bar was basically dead most of the time. However, Paul was right that it was more quiet then usual that night. “Oh… I see… yeah, sorry.” The boy’s words began to slur even more, but this was coming from pure exhaustion then rather being drunk. The boy tried to get up from the stool but Paul felt as if he should really reach out toward this kid.
“You know what, I’ll give you one last beer.” Said Paul.
“Yes, but on one condition, you tell me what’s bothering you. Believe me kid, I know a distraught heart when I see one. We bartenders have a knack for that. We’re kind of like cheap second hand therapists. Except we also give ya beer. So, all around – yeah we’re just better than therapists.” Paul smiled at his joke, which he tended to do a lot. The boy looked up to the old man with hesitation, but eventually he opened his mouth, and his words began to string together,
“Well where do I start?” asked the young man.
“Yeah, a name, you know, the thing that you call a person.”
“Yeah – yeah, my name’s, Virgil.”
“Well Virgil, what’s your problem?”
“Spit it out boy.”
“Okay, okay. Well, I eh, wow. Sorry, I’ve never told anyone my whole life story before.”
“That’s fine Take your time.” Paul said as Virgil took a large breath. The boy began to tell his story, “Okay, well when I was in high school I had this girlfriend, Jess. She was so beautiful man, like just – really beautiful! I never had the guts to go up and talk to her. It wasn’t until this one party; my friends and I got drunk, when all of the sudden I see her there-” “Ah yes, alcohol is liquid courage. Go on.” Paul interrupted with Virgil letting out a little laugh.
“Yeah, so; I actually start to talk to her. Before I know it, we’re in a relationship and everything! We dated for year – God, what a year! And when we graduated she went to the best university in the province.”
“And you?” asked Paul.
“I ended up here. I couldn’t get into any of the universities back home, this was the only one closest to home that would accept me. So, we started a long-distance relationship.”
“Another year passes by and I missed each of those passing days! I decided, I had enough of this long-distance bullshit! I – I… bought this ring.”
Virgil showed Paul the ring and it all started to make sense. “I went back home, and you know, proposed. She said, no.”
“Oh, kid… I’m so sorry, but-“
“And then she broke up with me. She had enough of this long-distance thing to. She just felt the strain in a different way though.”
“How hopeless am I?”
“Not as hopeless as me, kid.”
“Why do you say that?”
“How old are you, Virgil?”
“And you were going to marry this girl? A girl that you had only seen a few times in a year?”
“You sound like my friends.”
“I’m glad to hear that I sound young, but you’ve got to realize what your situation is.”
“Listen, kid… guess how old I am.”
“Um… eighty – three?”
“Ha! Close, eighty – six.”
“Damn, how are you still working?”
“I own the bar; it also helps that I am friends with some people in high places.”
“Yup, after all this time, I better be. I like this job, it gives me… purpose.”
“Good for you.”
“Thanks.” Paul smiled and poured his last beer. He handed it to the young man, and began his own story.
“Okay, kid, time for you to listen to an old man.” Paul said with a large smile on his wrinkly face.
“When I was your age, I got married. She was a girl named Mary, and we thought we’d grow old together. My naive mind thought we’d live forever. It didn’t happen all at once, but we slowly began to hate each other. I wanted kids, she didn’t. She wanted to travel, I didn’t. I wanted to work at a bar, she didn’t. And she wanted to be married forever, I didn’t. It was all the little things that led to our divorce. We weren’t a broken relationship, but we did have too many differences that the odds were stacked against us. By the time we were forty, we hated each other. We robbed one another’s lives without even knowing it. That’s why I said we should end it.” Paul explained as Virgil sipped on his beer, intensely listening to the old man’s story. “She went her way, I went mine, type of deal. I bought this bar, and have spent more than half my life working here. There were other women after her, but none as great, and they already had baggage, most of the time worse than my own. I looked around at my life, no children, a small bar to my name, and what I thought was a pretty miserable life.” Virgil made a face, thinking that the story was over, but then Paul smiled. “I was wrong. I did not have a meaningless life. I have made friends, seen adventures, and have known quite a large story, in such a little bar. My life is small. All of its potential is used up, but it’s all I could really ask for… well… now that I’m looking back at it.” Virgil stopped sipping his beer. He stared into the yellow liquid, as if looking into a mirror.
“What is it, kid?” Paul asked.
“You lived quite a life.”
“I think so.” “I – I have to go.”
“What are you going to do?” Paul asked as Virgil jumped off his seat. The young man turned, he looked at Paul, his face full of hope and potential. “I – I think I’m going to go live.” he said.
“You go do that.” Paul replied with a large smile that he hadn’t had for years. Virgil opened the door into the endless night, he turned his back to the old man, “What’s your name, old man?” Paul once again smiled and said, “Just call me, old man Sanders.” Virgil smiled to. They shared a small laugh and the moonlight bathed the entire bar. “Well, I’ll come back for another last call, old man Sanders.”
“Until then, kid.” Virgil went off into the night, and left Paul behind. But that was fine. He was tired anyway.
Paul went to his room; it was right above the bar. All it was was a picture of his old love, a bed, and a window into the endless night. He fell onto his bed, and went into an eternal dream.