Sam winced from the whiskey. He stared down at Alice's white Adidas. She had her legs outstretched to the side of the table. The shoes were badly scratched five months ago, now they were more scuff than sneaker. She sipped from her hazy amber beer. The faded purple kiss of her lipstick marked the two empty glasses beside her.
Sam zipped up his jacket. Someone had engraved 'I think I'm losing it' into the table. The sky was a flat blue. It felt lower than usual. There was a candle burning between them. Sam hovered his left hand over it until he felt his skin start to burn. He took an ice cube out of his glass and let the cool water drip between his fingers and onto his jeans.
Sam finished his drink. He hadn't seen their server for at least ten minutes. Was she avoiding them? He put the ice cube back in his glass and swirled it around. The cocktail list was written out in purple and green chalk. A fifteen dollar cocktail with Earl Grey tea, an eighteen dollar drink with mezcal and grapefruit syrup. He looked down the list searching for the one with the lowest price and most ounces. 'The Gas Stove' had rye, cognac, vermouth and brandy; perfect.
A breeze cut across the patio and blew out their candle. Sitting there, Sam saw two Alices. Her red hair, cut short when they met, now down below her shoulders. Her cheeks were smooth where the smile lines that stretched from her cheek bones to her chin used to be. The freckles on her nose that blossomed in the summer sun were absent among the fallen leaves.
Alice turned her face towards him. He looked away at the scuffed sneakers, the engraved table, the suffocating sky. She let out a breath. He unzipped his jacket. He could see the server talking to someone at the bar. Sam drank the melted ice water from his glass.
“I'm going in to get another drink.”
“Yup,” Alice said.
Inside, electronic music played. An old soul sample crooned over a syncopated drum beat. Sam walked to the bar and waited to be noticed. The ceiling lamps were dimmed. Fake candles shined yellow electric light on the faces of the other drinkers. Sam leaned his arms against the bar and stared at the bottles of liquor. Patron, Hendricks, something called Arak. The server moved in front of him.
“What can I get you?”
“The Gas Stove.”
“Sounds good.” She turned away from him and grabbed a mixing glass. She filled it with ice and then looked back over her shoulder. “I can bring it out to you.”
“That's okay.” She shrugged. She took her phone out from under the bar, scrolled through it and tapped play. The music changed to an eighties sounding pop song. Big bright synths twirled over a swinging bass line. Sam liked it.
Alice was staring out into the street. She drank from her glass, swallowed and drank again. The waitress was wearing dark high-waisted jeans and a white bodysuit with black stripes. Her hair bounced against her back as she shook his drink. Her face was reflected in a mirror on the wall. She smiled big. There was a gap in her bottom teeth.
Sam could see her tongue dancing along with the bass drum. He looked out at Alice. She was nearly done with her beer. He looked at the beer taps and back at the server. She peeled a strip of orange rind, spritzed it over the cocktail and dropped it in. She mouthed along to the song. She closed her eyes when it got to the chorus. The synths swelled into a climax. The other guy at the bar was staring at her. His eyelids were low. His shirt was too tight.
“I'll settle up,” Sam said.
“Both of you?
He hesitated. Alice was scrolling through her phone. Her lipstick now a mauve. “Yeah, both of us.” She handed him a bill. He handed her cash. She turned back to the guy at the bar. His eyes got big.
Alice glanced up at him. He put his glass to his lips before sitting. He shivered just from the smell. She eyed his drink. He brought it to his lap. She went back to her phone. He looked at her face, the shoes, the engraving, the sky.
“I paid,” he said.
“I still want another.”
“I thought you were done.”
“I didn't realize.”
She let out a breath. Sam unzipped his jacket. Shoes, engraving, sky. He drank. He kept a straight face this time. He smiled. She was on her phone. A bus boy came out to clear their table. Alice tilted back her beer and handed the glass to him. There was nothing on the table blocking his view. He saw her in full as she was now. Long hair, smooth cheeks, faded freckles. He looked into her eyes and he said it.
Northwood by Jacob Dalfen-Brown
Jacob is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto who is trying to figure out this whole 'art as industry' thing.