“A Playlet is a short play. It consists of a single Act. An Act is divided into scenes.”
The lights dim. The curtains part.
The interior of the windowless room is rustic, dim, with wall mounted lights facing the ceiling. I find the gothic mood inescapably comforting.
“Who are you?” asked the burly man.
“I am a customer?” I replied quietly, not to arouse his impatience. “Just a patron”.
“Why are you here?” he asked politely.
“I am sorry,” I replied startled by his question, “I don’t understand?”
“I am the owner of this Tavern, my name is Ian.”
“Are you undercover police? An investigative reporter? Why are you here?”
“No, I am not.” I said being careful as to not to sound obnoxious.
“You have been coming here nightly,” he said with narrowing eyes emitting a glare like a laser causing me to sweat profusely. “And I have watched you for four nights. You drink Coke with ice in a goblet. A soda?”
“I don’t understand?” I replied.
“Neither do I.” he said now annoyed. “What is your business in here?’
“This is highly irregular Sir,” I venture. “I am beginning to feel guilty of something.”
“Are you now?” he replied questioning. “Why would you feel guilty, if you have nothing to be guilty of.”
My throat tightened in dryness.
I nodded repetitively in agreement because nothing came out of my throat.
“My business depends on my customers to drink quality alcohol. I serve only the best! The best has a cost!” he said. “COVID19 is destroying my business. And you drink soda? Night after night!”
“THAT,” he said, “is irregular! Of course I am suspicious!”
“This is not a soda fountain!” he exclaimed raising his arms to the gothic decor.
“I’m sorry. I…I don’t mean to be rude,” I explained, “but I am unable to drink alcohol. I have a fatty liver.”
“Huh? What the hell is that!” he raised his voice, “Now tell me, who the hell are you and what are you doing here in my Tavern?”
“Sir, I’m just a patron with a health issue,” I said, “I like the ambiance of your tavern. It is comforting for me. So that is why I come here. It has been so far very comfortable. I shouldn’t even be drinking soda.”
“So what should you be drinking?” he said scarcastically. “Water?”
“Uhh, yes, mostly” I replied, “…sometimes tea, a little coffee, not too sweet organic juice. Sometimes I crave the soda but it is a sin.”
He looked away and raked his fingers like a comb through his long but neatly cut hair. Sighed.
“Look,” he said, “I am sorry. Things here have gotten difficult. Business has slowed and some days it amounts to no revenue at all.”
“I understand Sir,” I replied. “I understand.’
The man simply stood. “I apologize. You’re welcome here. The talk of a city wide lockdown is putting a scare in a lot of people, especially businesses such as mine.”
“It is against the law to discriminate and I don’t do that but, I can refuse customers with reason,” he said pausing, “With this COVID19 6-foot distancing I cannot afford you to be here and sit for hours. I depend on moving my quality alcohol to survive. I cannot sustain your choice of beverage.”
“Do you understand? My customer tables are severely limited and I need to service whatever I have to profit to enable me to live.”
“Yes, I understand Sir. This situation isn’t good at all.” I replied about to get up from my chair, “I am sorry but I assure you I didn’t mean to cause any trouble here. I will leave.”
“Wait.” the owner paused looking a me closely. “Sit. Sit down.”
He pulled up a chair to the table.
“I apologize. I did not mean to be…rude.” He paused, then walked to his private bar to retrieve a can of Coke. Some ice in a thick goblet.
I sat without moving. Looking as a dog would after being scolded by his master. Wondering, why I deserved to get this kind of treatment. Wondering what comes next.
“I’ve not acted as a host should be,” he said seating himself across from me. He firmly placed the soda can on the table with one hand and one finger popped the tab of the can.
His hands were strong and I have no doubt he could crush cans and skulls at the same time, but yet he exhibited the finesse of a seasoned sommelier.
The sound of solid ice cubes jiggled in the goblet and fizz of the carbonated drink swirled into the air as he poured the soda smoothly over the ice cubes.
“Why? Why do you not spend your time else where?” he said, “Like in a library. Or in a museum?”
“The library isn’t a Tavern,” I replied, “neither is a museum. Neither one has the ambiance of your Tavern. Do I appear to be a librarian to you? Or a curator of ancient artifacts?”
“You look more like an accountant I think.” he said. “Are you?”
“No.” Shaking my head.
“I’m between jobs. Got layed off,” I said taking a sip of Coke. “It’s no one’s fault really. COVID19.”
“Ahh. Sometimes, we end up in a situation beyond our control and it hurts like hell to have to survive it,” he lectured, “for the moment anyway. However long that may be.”
“You would be lucky if everyone understood this.” he said, “If a baker’s shop burned down, and with nothing else but taking a job as a coal miner that pays, the baker would do that. Covered in soot and bleeding knuckles, to the eyes of people who know nothing of him, he’s a coal miner. But deep inside, he is a baker able to make a great souffle fit for a King and Queen”.
I gazed at the man, a man who just moments ago could have recycled my head into the recycled bin of crushed soda cans. He was poetic!
“And….you got a place to stay? Food to eat? Bills to pay?” he suddenly changed the tone of his epideictic speech.
I shrugged. “Not easy but I’m okay. For now, I guess.”
Someone knocked on the door.
“Come in,” he said smiling warmly and nodded, “Emily.”
“Ohhh excuse me,” the cheery, young petite lady exclaimed glancing at me and then him. “Just dropping off the papers.”
I stood up politely. Smiled.
Then the young lady, went into another room and closed the door behind her. I surmise it was the man’s office.
“I should be going,” I said, “I will pay for my drink now.”
“No need to,” said the man smiling, “It’s on me.”
“Thank you sir.”
“May I ask a curious question?” I asked standing up.
“Why did you ask if I was police or some kind of reporter?”
The laser from his eyes narrowed, then relaxed.
“I have been constantly intruded by health authorities and who knows who else inspecting my premises as if I am a violater of their Draconian laws!” he began to raise his voice, “I am insulted!”
The silence in the room was deafening. I began sweating. I don’t swear usually. But I’m fucking nervous. I reach for the goblet. My hands are trembling. I swig a mouthful of cold Coke.
“Sir,” I said, “thank you.”
“So, what do you do?” he asked impatiently as if I’m catching the train that won’t ever come back. “What is your name?”
“I am Michael,” I replied, “I’m in between jobs now. Doing sales.”
The man just looked at me. “At least, you’re trying.”
“Yes. I am. I am trying Sir.”
“So what do you sell?” he asked.
“Uh, Lighters.” I muttered.
“What?” he asked straining to hear.
“Lighters. Sir,” I repeated a little louder. “I sell lighters.”
“Excuse me Sir,” I said hurriedly, “Good bye.”
I quickly shut the door behind me.
A month later.
The incessant hammering is deafening.
And just as it begins and manifests itself into sonic waves of migraine bursting brain cells, it stops. It stops and lingers, and throbs like a bad nightmare.
Emily folded the napkin and neatly stacked it upon the pile. She sighed.
I opened the cap of my electric lighter. Pressed the ignition switch and marveled at the pinkish purplish light.
“He’s done,” Emily said, creasing the napkin.
I paused and nodded affirmatively. Then like a man mulling over a shot of whiskey, I mulled over the lighter and pressed the ignition switch of the lighter. The light is so beautiful.
“Emily, the engineering and design of this lighter is amazing,” I said, “It never ceases to amaze me!”
“It is pretty Michael,” she remarked thoughtully. “The flame is neat, soo hypnotic.”
“It is,” I replied, “Too bad the spirit of such innovation and progress isn’t transmuted into spirit of humans? More quality of life and less destruction of life. The choices should be so obvious!”
Emily agreed. She smiled as if the candle flame is so comforting. So relaxing. Nurturing just being itself. I find myself falling in love with her.
“Do you think the boards will help?” I changed subject.
“It will. It offers security for us.” she said, “The boards will be a deterrent against the rioters’ meaningless destruction of stores.”
“It’s pent up frustration.” I said, “Pent up frustration unleashed into anger.”
“It’s pent up frustration unleased into madness if you ask me,” said Emily, “Utter madness. It disgusts me to no end.”
“My father. My Mum. Together they have spent a lifetime of hours, money, lifetimes into this Tavern.”
“What happened? I asked, and carefully gathering my thoughts. “What happened to your Mum?
The Tavern’s back door abruptly opened with a powerful gust of wind.
The carpenter’s tools rattled in the plastic bucket as Ian bustled inside and ladened with exhaustion untentionly banged the bucket against the door frame. Sweat poured down his forehead. More sweat saturated his T-shirt.
Emily rose from her chair. “Daddy,” she said urgently, “Sit down! I will get you some water.”
“It’s so hot,” Ian said, “Water sounds soo good!”
I jogged over to help Ian’s with his tools. Ian nodded.
“Well, that should do a little good I hope,” Ian said, “Heard reports that down a couple of blocks from here the rioters were destroying stores, looting, and setting things on fire.”
“Who do you think they are Ian?” I asked.
Emily put her hand on her father’s shoulder and handed him a mug of chilled water.
“Thank you Emily,” Ian said looking kindly at his only child. “Love you Dear.”
“Love you Daddy,” she replied.
“The protestors,” Ian said, “This violence against people and property is scary.”
Ian gulped the water down.
“I don’t know Michael,” Ian said, “I don’t know who the rioters are. But I think there’s a separation between who the protestors and rioters are. And for that matter, the looters.”
“Ummm, it is like you see this huge glob,” Emily said, “but parts of the glob move differently. Parts of it just behave differently. They look like one but they’re not.”
“That’s a very good observation Emily!” Ian said, “And what you say is why it makes this whole thing a lot more scary. Because you just cannot tell what’s going on in their minds.”
“Until they unleash it!” I said in a dramatic fashion.
“Thanks Daddy,” Emily said, “The boards will protect.”
Ian nodded, “I hope so.”
Then Ian looked concerned, “The Storm. The weather reports say the Storm is likely to become an intense storm with Hurricane force winds. Maybe a hurricane. About a week out.”
“If that happens, then we’ve got more potential problems now,” Ian said.
We all huddle together around the table. Emily with her napkins. Ian with his mug of water. Me with my lighter. I ignited the lighter, and the pinkish-purplish flame pulsed hynotically for all to see.
“Is that a lighter? asked Ian.
“Yes,” I replied, “An electric or electronic lighter. No liquid or gas fuel needed. No wicks.”
“Rechargeable too, ” said Emily. “Isn’t the flame pretty!”
“It is!” remarked Ian, “Very interesting.”
“Do you smoke?” asked Ian.
“No.” I replied gently shaking my head, “It’s bad for your health.”
“Like alcohol?” Ian said chuckling a little with a smile.
I laughed. “Only if you have a fatty liver.”
The threat of the street protestors died as quickly as the food, water, and loose political ideology dwindled just as rain water from a passing storm retreated into the rain gutters. The TAVERN survived unscathed.
Ian had gone on a three day business trip and left the TAVERN.
The storm was now brewing omniously across the Atlantic coast.
A single white candle burned on the table between Emily and I as the night slowly deepened the darkness around us.
“There’s something about a candle flame that is comforting, hypnotic,” remarked Emily as she gazed at the steady flame, “It is as if all the cares in the world vanishes into the air.”
“That’s beautiful Emily,” I said.
“So where was I,” she said.
“Your Mum,” I said, “You were saying what happend to her?”
Emily looked into my eyes then back at the candle and paused in recollection.
“Funny how the mind can fast forward,” she said, “And then fast replay. And assemble bit of memory here and there.”
“Mum was a lovely woman,” she said, “Very kind, gentle, sooo gentle and caring. And oh, she always smiled. She always had a soft smile.”
“Like you!” I said reassuringly. “You must have been like your Mum.”
“She always seemed busy. Cooking. Sewing. Mending clothes. Reading. But not trivial reading, reading books about recipes, social etiquette. She was a very self-learned person!”
The flamed flickered as the gusts of storm wind buffeted against the wooden boards hammered in place to protect the exterior of the TAVERN from potential threat of damage by humans or by nature.
“Where did that come from?” asked Emily surpriseed that the wind invaded their space. She wrapped her sweater around her shoulders and arms.
“The wind.” I said, “The wind isn’t so different from liquid. It will find a way to seep into any crevice no matter what, in time.”
“Wow, that’s reflective Michael!” she said.
“Well, it was just a thought.” I replied.
“Mum got ill. It seemed like a common cold but it lasted more than a few days, then it turned for the worse. Mum had trouble breathing. Laborious breathing. She had asthma as a child. It worsened.”
“Daddy explained it was a respiratory illness.” Emily said looking distant as her mind reached into the recesses of her memory. “But it was too much.”
“I am sorry,” Emily started to cry, “It was awful.”
“In the hospital. I held Mum and put my head against her arm as she craddled me. Even then, she was so caring. I miss her so much Michael. So much. So much.”
Tears overwhelmed me too. How love endures the passage of time. How pain endures too.
“Emily. Emily,” I said reaching to her hand. “You loved her and your Mum loved you. That is so true. She knows. You Mum knows. It’s okay Emily. It’s all okay because your Mum knows how much you love her.”
“Wait here,” I said, I am going to light up more candles. I reached into my candle brief case, and pulled out eight smokeless candles. Four in each hand. I went around the TAVERN and placed candles every where.
My electric lighter ignited. The electric pinkish-purplish flame was flawless. I lit each candle. One by one. The smokeless flames illuminated the entire room.
“Oh my gosh!” Emily said, “Michael! It is beautiful! Look at the Candles!”
I ran back to retrieve more candles from my briefcase. Eight, four in each hand. And I lit them up!
“Magnificient!” I exclaimed, “Look Emily, Look!’
“It is beautiful! Bravo Michael! Bravo! she exclaimed in unison to my joy as she grabbed my arm!
I was surprised. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to react. I just didn’t know.
And then we stood side my side. Emily. Me.
She held my arm. I just stood there, frozen in time. It seemed as if time stopped.
“Oh my Emily,” I said softly, elated that she held my arm. I felt so much joy from Emily!
“What?” she said softly. Gently.
“I’m touched Emily…” I said.
“It looks like we’re in Church,” I said.
Emily put her head against my arm. It felt so nice.