Lucy pushed through the tall steel door into a room filled with warmth, light and music, all three embracing her in comfort. To the left were a few scattered tables and chairs facing the back wall and, she saw now, what appeared to be a bandstand but looked more like a very large sandbox. To the right against the wall were two side-by-side doors. The one on the left bore the word STAND, the other SIT. Straight ahead was the bar; every stool was occupied by a man’s butt, some bearing the red Levi’s tab, a few others with sewn Ws on each rear pocket.
Save for one.
As she approached the bar she heard the low-frequency utterances the men were exchanging, in between tilting brown longneck bottles of beer to their mouths. “’Scuse me,” she said, squeezing past the fatass to her right who seemed to be straddling two barstools. He shifted his large self a bit, but that made him fart loudly. Everybody laughed except the guy sitting to her left.
“Now, Elton,” said the bartender in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “Izzat any way to treat a lady?”
“Beggin’ your pardon, little lady,” mumbled Elton.
“Not really much into being called a lady,” replied Lucinda.
“Why’s that?” said Elton, now swiveling his head toward her as much as he could through the rolls of fat.
Lucinda grabbed his eyeballs in her steely blue-eyed gaze and said, “Do ladies kill people?”
That kind of quieted Elton, and the bar, down a bit, enough so when the cowboy on her left said, “What’re you drinking, miss?”
“You’re gonna buy me a drink? You don’t think that might be dangerous?” she retorted.
“May be, and maybe not,” he said. “I’ll take my chances. All’s I ask in return is for your name.”
“I’m Lucinda, and I’ll have . . . whatever you’re havin’.”
The guy turned to the bartender and said, “two ginger ales, Roscoe.” He turned back to Lucy and said, “I don’t drink alcohol.”
“Then what on earth you doing in a bar?” she snapped, thinking maybe she should amend her drink order, her retort, or both, but then thought better of it. She decided it would be more interesting to find out what this guy was all about than to get shit-faced, which had been her reason for coming to The Rock.
He hadn’t really looked at her yet, but now he did. “The people. To watch the people.” His refill and her drink arrived; he raised his to clink glasses with her.
Lucy clinked, sipped, and gave him her full attention. Dark brown hair, almost to his shoulders. Dark eyes. A face with mileage on it but one still, apparently, bemused by human beings.
Just then Judas Priest’s “Victim of Changes” was cut off mid-song by the bartender’s distorted voice blasting out of the speakers: “All right, assholes, the show’s starting so get your refills now and adjourn to the, ah, dining room for more, ah, delights?”
The bar cleared in a moment, except for Lucy and the handsome guy. Lights came on over the sand pit – or was it? – as a banner unfurled over it, announcing BETH VS KATE, followed by some loud, obnoxious theme song, followed by two women who were not wearing much clothing jumping out from behind the curtain, screaming and spewing at one another. Then they were in the sand, but it wasn’t sand, it was mud and they were wrestling in it. The audience went wild, cheering Kate, then cheering Beth, back to Kate, back to Beth, each of whom responded by totally slathering the other in mud.
“What the . . .” said Lucinda.
“I know, I know,” said the guy. “Let’s get outta here.”
“We ain’t gone yet?” said Lucinda, and in a trice they were out on the street.
There were no street lamps; the only light, accompanied by the sounds of cheering and guffawing, came out of The Rock and fell to the sidewalk out front. She knew that The Rock was once a bank from her childhood here, but now the building looked different, bigger, handsome in a 19th-century way. The bronze plaque, set in the quarried New Hampshire granite, read
There was no “established” date. Lucinda frowned; she didn’t recognize Amalgated; was it a typo? She noted the black pole by the door with a horse’s head atop, a ring in the horse’s mouth. It was cold, really cold. Why were they standing out here?
“Why are we standing out here? In the cold?” she said. “Where do you live?”
“Oh, here. Not here. I have lived here and not here.”
“I mean, do you have a place we can go? Like your apartment? Have another drink . . . or something?”
“Not . . . really.”
“What?” said Lucy, who had never known a man to turn away from her favors.
“I mean, I can’t do . . . anything . . . with you.”
“Because why?” she snorted. The last thing she wanted to do right now was go home.
“Because I’m a shaman.”
To be continued . . .
Next week: a New Saturday Book Review