Murphy’s Pub is a pub much like many others in New York City. Queens, specifically. A brick building, standing on a corner, with a face of molded wood. The molding appears black on this cloudy night, but in the light it runs a veneered pine green. With a pine green door. Gold handle. One bay window cut to the left of the door. Two Budweiser neon lights. White shutters frame the window.
Inside the door, a patron would find a long mahogany bar running down the right side of the pub, strewn with coasters, ashtrays, and small bowls of mixed nuts. A mirror hangs on the wall behind the bar, running its length, with rows of liquor bottles lined underneath. An outdated, but quite large, television sits in the back corner, up near the gilded ceiling. Along the left side of the pub: jukebox, dartboard, three booths. Padded stools line the customer’s side of the bar, a few bearing duct-tape scars that betray their age.
That’s the inside.
Back to outside.
A light rain falls on this evening, just a tad heavier than a drizzle. Slow and steady. It’s Tuesday night, and a quiet one at that. Traffic rolls past Murphy’s intermittently, as the neighborhood was mostly residential, with some shuttered storefronts sprinkled, here and there. A peaceful alcove in the city that never sleeps.
He stepped into the bar, and headed for the nearest stool to the door. The bar was empty besides the woman sitting at the far end. She sat on a similar stool, reading a newspaper, tapping a cigarette into a tin ashtray. She looked up at the sound of his entrance, and her eyes followed him into the stool. The man sat down, looking at his hands with a vacant stare. He didn’t say a word.
She stubbed out the cigarette, spun on the stool, and went behind the bar.
“What can I getcha?” she asked, approaching his end.
He either didn’t hear, or didn’t notice. Instead, he kept his gaze on his hands. She stopped in front of him, and put her hands on her hips, elbows out.
“Hey, buddy. Whatcha want?”
He looked up, contorting his face into a mask of bewilderment. Like he had just woken up. Startled. The man looked around as if to confirm that, yes, it’s true, he was in a pub. His eyes were swollen. Face, stubble. Hair all over the place. He looked like, in a word, shit.
“Yes. Ah, yes, please,” he mumbled.
“Um, okay.” This was going to be interesting, she thought. “A little more specifically…” her eyes, with their brows, pleaded. “I ain’t a mindreader, mister.”
“Sorry. I’m… not… really having the best day. Gimme a bourbon, neat. And a Coors.” He looked back to his hands. “Thanks.”
“No problem, hun.”
She poured the bourbon out of the plastic spout, and placed the bottle back in its place under the mirror. As she leaned over to grab the Coors out of the fridge, he picked up the bourbon, and threw it all down. Swallow. Slight burn, then warmth. From the belly out. He took a deep breath, and slowly let it out of his nose. His eyes were closed. The bartender looked at him, still holding the unopened beer.
Same result. She poured him another.
“Thank you,” he said, after wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. His voice was tired, and had a pained quality. He sure looked like a sorry sight, and the bartender, with years of experience serving sorry sights, hoped this one wasn’t going to be any trouble. The depressed and booze got along well together, but she didn’t like to judge. More often than not, these guys got rip-roaring drunk and either ended up crying, or fighting. Or both. She didn’t need that tonight. Another eight hours, and she was on vacation. She couldn’t wait for two weeks without pruned fingers, loud drunks, broken glass, or slicing citrus.
But the sun had just set, and this dude looked like he was fixin’ to do some drinkin’. Serious drinking. She pushed a bowl of peanuts towards him, partly out of habit, but also partly because he looked hungry, and she didn’t want him passing out in his stool. Or worse.
“This yer first time here?” The silence was awkward, so she grabbed the first question from the bartender’s manual in her head.
“Yeah. First time,” he said after sipping his beer. He put the bottle back on the coaster, and resumed looking at his hands.
“You from around here?” she asked.
“Sorta.” He looked at her, and smiled a wry smile. “Been away for a while.”
“Well,” she said, seeing that a flowing conversation was out of the question, “my name is Trish. I’ll be down there,” she pointed at her ashtray and crossword puzzle, “if you need anything.”
She put out her hand.
He looked at it. At her. At her hand.
Then, he took her hand in his calloused mitt. He shook it. Told her his name was Jeremy. And, after she had gotten about halfway back to her seat, he thanked her once again.
Then he went back to staring at his hands.