A Little Night Music

One from the Way Back Machine, c. 1995

Another Friday night was winding down at Johnnie’s. It was a few minutes after one in the morning and a steady, light rain tapped impatiently against the big, front window. It added soft percussion to the guitar’s plaintive cry from the club’s speakers. Scott Henderson was behind the bar cleaning bottles and emptying wells. As the newest bartender, he drew all the late weekend shifts. This was his second. And while it was more or less a death sentence to his social life, he didn’t mind. He’d spent most of his bartending years in meat markets watching the pretty people all but copulate on his bar. This small, neighborhood bar, where wood and brass reigned, was a far cry from what he’d been used to, but he welcomed the change.

With all the beer taps wrapped and only one well left, Scott felt pretty good. The rain had kept most people away and probably accounted for why the bar was empty so early. At least I can leave early, he thought. Then, like a misbehaving child, he looked over his shoulders and poured himself a shot of Grand Marnier. He leaned over the bar and sighed wearily. It hadn’t been a hard night, just a slow one, which meant a long one. He picked up the shot but before he could drink it, the front door opened. The rain outside splashed and splattered loudly until the door shut, muffling it again. A woman entered wearing a taupe trenchcoat and a similarly-colored, wide-brimmed hat. She walked to the bar as he quickly set his drink behind it.

“You still open?” She took her hat and coat and shook them lightly before setting them on the stool next to her. Underneath, she wore a navy-blue suit with a long, straight skirt.

“Ah… sure.” He managed to get his train of thought rolling again. “But I’m about to give last call” The woman looked curiously around the bar before turning her deep brown eyes back to him.

“Be sure to give it good and loud. I think everyone’s hiding from you hon.” He let out a small laugh. She smiled with him and adjusted her suitcoat as she sat.

“What can I get you?…” He picked up a highball glass and spun it in his hand.

“Sadie. And you can get me a gin and tonic.”

“O.K. Sadie. One G and T, coming up.” He reached down to grab an unwrapped bottle of gin with one hand, scooped ice into the glass with the other. “So what brings you out so late Sadie?”

“Hon, what brings any woman out this late?” She smoothed the hat dents out of her long, chocolate brown tresses. “A man.” Scott nodded.

“Were you supposed to meet him here?” He set the drink on the bar. “Maybe I…”

“No lime.” He took the lime he was about to squeeze into her drink and threw it in the trash. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”

“Yeah. I was going to say maybe I saw him in here earlier.” He leaned against the bar. “We didn’t have too many people in here tonight. I might remember him.”

“There’s no tellin’ hon.” She drew a gold case from a small, black clutch and pulled out a cigarette. He produced a lighter and lit it for her. “Glen, my…” An embarrassed smile crept out as she looked for the right word. “Aw hell, the man I’m seeing behind his wife’s back.” She stopped. The smile left her face and she took a drag. “I know what you’re thinkin’.” Smoke burst out in short puffs as she spoke.

“I’m just listenin’, Sadie.” He shook head and raised his hands defensively.

“Yeah.” She sighed, then took another drag. “Tonight was supposed to be the night. After all this time, he was gonna tell her tonight.”

“Was he gonna leave her?”

“Yeah. Finally.” She took a sip of her drink.

“How long had you been…” He gestured vaguely with one hand.

“Eight years.”

“Eight years?” He tried not to sound surprised. It didn’t work.

“Yeah, I know, it’s a long time. It’s not like he didn’t want to tell her before. Things just kept coming up… First, the promotion. Then, his mother getting sick and all.” She tapped ash into an ashtray. “Then, the baby…” She took a long drink. Her cigarette dangled limply in her pale, slender hand.

“Baby? He got you pregnant?”

“No, no, not me…” She set her glass down, ice shifted noisily. “Accidents happen, he said. But tonight’s the night.”

“I don’t mean to pry…”

“Sure you do, you’re a bartender.” She smiled wryly.

“O.K…. Why did you wait so long?” She took a long drag.

“I don’t know.” She shrugged. A thin stream of smoke slipped from her lips. “Call me silly and old-fashioned but I’ve always said if you love someone, you’re willing to wait for them.”

“Does he love you?” Her look became decidedly sharp for a second.

“Yeah.” Her look softened and she continued. “He’d better.” She laughed and picked up her glass. “Y’know, I’m no spring chicken any more. Aren’t too many roosters who want a bird this old…” She took a drink. “Too old to start over hon.”

“I don’t know about that.” He smiled.

“You’re sweet.” She looked at him appreciatively. “You gonna let that shot ferment all over again or are you gonna drink with this old woman.”

“Sounds good to me.” He picked up his shot and thought for a moment. “To love?”

“To love.” She picked her drink up in agreement. The glasses clinked. Scott slammed his shot, she finished her G and T.

“When is he supposed to meet you?” He set his glass behind the bar.

“He should’ve been here fifteen minutes ago.” She looked around the bar. “I was running late on account of the rain. I’m sure he is too.”

“Sadie, I got a couple of things left to do. You mind if I turn up the lights and finish up.”

“No hon, go right ahead.” She picked up her purse. “How much do I owe you for this.”

“It’s on me.” He winked as he turned to go.

“Thank you.” He felt sorry for her. No one had been in for at least thirty minutes before she got there. She had waited eight years for this guy because she loved him and he… What a jerk, he thought.

“Sadie…” He turned to break the news to her, maybe even ask her out to breakfast. After all, she was fairly attractive and didn’t look much older than he was. But as he turned up the lights, the woman with the sad smile faded like a dream. “Sadie?…” He ran around the bar. The seat she was at and the floor around it were wet and smelled of gin. The seat where her hat and coat sat was also wet. Her glass was on the bar. There were ashes in the ashtray. And she was gone. He ran frantically around the bar. “Sadie!… Sadie!…” Men’s bathroom. Women’s bathroom. Office. Kitchen. Stockroom. Broom closet. Nothing. He sat at the bar, practically throwing himself onto one of the stools. I’m going crazy, he thought. Some kind of small bar psychosis. He grabbed his head with both hands as if trying to keep it attached to his shoulders. And then he saw it. Behind the bar. He scrabbled over the bar desperately, knocking over and breaking glasses as he came down on the other side. He pulled an old black and white photo off the wall. It was a picture of a group of friends. The owner kept lots of old pictures like this up as a testament to the bar’s longevity. In the middle of the group was Sadie. Written on the picture: In memory of Sadie Grigsby. Died of a broken heart. 1-15-39. His lips moved as he read the words. Then read them again. Then read them aloud. “January fifteenth nineteen thirty-nine.” Almost sixty years ago. “God love ‘er,” he put the picture down, “she’s still waiting.”

It was a few minutes after two when Scott Henderson locked up Johnnie’s. Rain was still pattering in puddles. “‘Night Sadie.” In his head, a guitar moaned softly.

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