The Bar Exam

“Same again”, gestures the customer waving an empty pint glass aloft.

“Sure. Eh, what was that?”

Two weeks on the job and Jimmy is struggling to command his side of the bar. The customer had already flattened a Guinness.

“Ah of course”, Jimmy gestures back with the smack of his palm off his own forehead. He should’ve known that. Any eejit looking at the glass would’ve registered the remnants of the creamy head sliding down one side; much like his confidence. He glances round to see if Sean clocked his latest cock-up. The thud of a barrel out back announces the arrival of the week’s deliveries.

He resisted his flatmate’s assurances before taking the job. “I don’t know anything about football. Or the weather. Or the tourist spots. Or how to bloody well get to Bono’s gaff”.  “Yeah, but you’re broke and you need the money so quit whinging and get in there”.

In the time it takes the kettle to boil for a hot whiskey, the chemical alchemy of the pint is complete. Ivory rises up to crown the black. Sean’s roaring can be heard competing with the stealth attack from another fifteen barrels but neither Jimmy nor the delivery driver can hear what he’s saying.

Jimmy runs the knife across the head of the pint, siphoning off the soufflé effect leaving it level with the rim of the glass. He thinks this unnecessary, the ruination of the perfect looking pint. But the others do it, and whatever they do he must, too. The surest way to pass what Sean proudly decrees “De Real Bar Exam”.

He slides a fresh beer mat onto the table directly below a headline cautioning against leaving the shopping too late. Landing the pint on top, he receives a fiver for his trouble. “Keep the change”. The request is made without either men’s eyes lifting off the newspaper one is holding.  “Thanks”, replies Johnny, wondering what he’ll spend his five cent on, fearful this might be a question on de exam.

“Never mind those boys with their fancy gowns,” sneers Sean frequently, pointing directly across to the sex toy shop.  Presumably he means the Four Courts half a mile further up the river. “This is where the proper bar exam is sat”. Jimmy is tempted to query if the real bar exam is possibly stood for, rather than sat. But he doesn’t, he laughs because that’s what the others do.

The growl of the lorry engine pulling out is deadened by the slam of the store doors. In shuffles Sean waving paperwork. “More bleedin’ heartbreak”. He pours hours’ old coffee into his Homer Simpson mug while helping himself to a Snack bar. The pink wafer one. Sean reckons the purple ones are over-rated. Like bacon fries and Love/Hate. “Give me a John Wayne film any day over that crap”.

“Have you not got any cloves?”, the voice small but determined. Jimmy looks quizzically over at the man in the corner. His aged frame bent over into a pose forever compatible with questions as if he is perpetually, but politely, looking for something. “For the hot whiskey like. Have yiz no cloves?”

“Top shelf above the kettle”, barks Sean. “These college boys wha’. They can tell me how many units of cloves I’d need to shift to make a profit but they wouldn’t know what to do with one”, eye-rolling his way backwards out through kitchen door, both hands full, invoices filed between his lips.

Jimmy serves another pair of hot whiskeys later in the afternoon. He studs the cloves into the lemon in the shape of a crucifix with no idea why; it just formed that way. He spends a few minutes giving serious consideration to the potential of clove art before curling his own lip at himself. Art college boys wha’, he thinks. Wouldn’t know what to do with symbolic clove encrusted lemons other than serve them up to unsuspecting American tourists.

It’s nearing five. Credits on the horse-racing bring it to a close. He braces himself for the dam burst of disgruntled workers eager to loosen their ties, determined not to take too many orders simultaneously and risk incurring the wrath of Sean by failing to flick the beer tap up in time. Before there’s a landslide down all sides of the glass. It’s still too soon for those flashy moves.

Looking around for the remote control, he feels the wind at his back before the door slams shut. The sound reminds him of the church doors from when he went to mass as a child, and the occasional Christmas Eve on the way to his parents’ house from the pub to hear O Holy Night with just enough drink in him to wring out all the year’s sadness and happiness in one sitting of tears. It’s been years since he’s done that, he thinks.  He would always try to leave it a few seconds before turning round to see who arrived in late so he wouldn’t appear too keen, or risk being recognised.  Looking around the congregation, he is always struck by how the little sisters of all his mates have grown into gorgeous women, and surely an age gap of five years is nothing now. Is it?

The screen falls dead before he turns to walk back towards the couple removing hats and gloves at the end of the counter.

“What’ll be folks?”

“ didn’t realise..hi”

He hadn’t recognised her with the hat on. Loud and colourful.  The hat, that is. She was always colourful in that way her enthusiasm for cracking chat was as exuberant as the defense of her own seventies disco listening habits. Her passion for matters of justice as direct and unapologetic as all the reasons she stated they could no longer be together. That was three years ago. Actually, two years, ten months, and twenty-three days.

“Suzanne. Jesus. How are ya?”

“Great..good now. Eh this is Tom.”

Jimmy offers his hand but Tom is too busy stashing his gloves in his pockets to stretch his out on time. Two hands from two different pairs retreat, both out of sync with the moment.

“So, what’ll it be?”

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