It was Monday evening. The sky’s lights illuminated off the damp street. It smelled of wet pavement, the humidity visibly sticking to everything. She walked deeper into the South side of Dublin than she had ever been - not that that was very far to begin with - before finding the bar her Tinder date had suggested: BlackBird.
The room was big. The bar counter, shaped like a ‘U’ split the room unequally between the larger part with tables and the smaller room which had a much more traditional pub look. She pushed the thick curtain by the bar that divided the room and entered the smaller pub area. The entire place had a vintage rock feel; The Clash was playing on the sound system.
The bar counter had dividers, like those in certain Japanese restaurants, every 2 seats. She picked an empty section, by the many beer tap handles.
She shot her date a text letting him know where she was, and how he could recognize her. Stowing her phone away, she began to peruse the menu, but the truth was, she had never heard of any of the beers on tap. They were all from local microbreweries. Apprehensive, a shot of vodka appealed to her. It seemed like the proper drink to help jumpstart her grand return to the dating game.
“Hey there, what can I get you?” The bartender stared down at her, inquisitively. The nervousness, a second prior non-existent, devoured her.
She knew she was taking too long to answer. He smiled.
“Uh… just an IPA, on tap, whatever you got, thanks.”
The creamy liquid poured down with a hint of a hiss. He wore a black t-shirt that exposed his arms. She stared. He reminded her of someone, someone too good-looking and she couldn’t figure out who. It preoccupied her.
“Here, I’ll give you a taste of it first.” His accent was so slight and soft you would almost believe him if he had said he wasn’t Irish. She took a sip out of the small glass he handed her. “What do you think?”
She nodded, speaking very softly herself. “Yeah, it’s great. I’ll take a pint. Thanks.” She had no idea what the IPA tasted like, it could have been the worst beer ever. But this man could have sold her forty house insurances for homes she would never own and she would have bought them all with no hesitation.
“Yeah, it’s a good one. Here ya go.” He brought her a small neon green bag. She took it and analyzed it - MEANIES. They were rice puffs.
She felt a tap on her shoulder, “Elena?” She turned around.
“Hey! Martin.” Her greeting was a statement but it felt more like a question. She gave the man a small hug.
He hopped on the stool next to her. “Wow, you’re even better looking than in your pictures.”
“Thanks… This seems like a nice place. You come here often?”
“Not as often as I’d like! I don’t go out very much.”
The small talk was, indeed, small yet long. She drowned him off quite quickly, preferring instead to sneak glances at the bartender by whom she was oddly attracted. There was a constant pull towards him. Every time she looked over, often because she couldn’t help herself, she caught him sneaking glances at her too.
His eyes were pure blue, warm when he smiled, cold when not. They were the eyes that betray all emotions, and that give a certain innocence and limpidity to their owner.
Through that, they shared stories that were deep and personal. Things both had forgotten because they had been buried years prior. Things they had buried because they wanted to forget but hadn’t.
Those were the kind of stories they were sharing with each furtive gaze, eye lock and glimpse. That was the kind of connection they both felt.
Or so thought Ellie. She wasn’t in his brain so how could she know? But it really felt that way.
“I’m an accountant but I study IT online for fun and to eventually move into that.” And so started a ramble about how unfair one of his online teachers was, and how every student was complaining on the forum.
He paused. His hand held the pint glass tightly. Barely after taking one sip, he stared back at her. His gaze was confused, a bit lost.
“Let’s see… I’ve already asked about your hobbies, your work, your family… what else should we talk about?”
Ellie almost spat out her beer.
“We don’t have to force anything. I’m sure a subject will pop out when it does.” She smiled at him, then diverted her gaze to the shelves. She tried to look absorbed by the whiskey bottles.
“Right, I need to use the washroom. Think about a topic while I’m there!” He got up with a skip.
A huge sigh left her body. She unknowingly relaxed.
“Tinder date gone bad?” It was the familiar-looking bartender. “Here.” He grabbed her empty glass and put another full one in front of her. “On the house.”
Was it appropriate for her to flirt with another man while on a bad date? A smile wasn’t flirting, she was just being friendly and nice.
He leaned on the counter in front of her - she could now tell his eyes were blue. “Why would you need Tinder anyway?”
“Ah you gotta do what you gotta do!” Her eye winked before she could stop it.
“Yeah. You can just talk to guys at bars too. Better think of a subject fast. Maybe movies?”
Martin sat back on the stool. “Oh you ordered another beer! Nice. I’ll have one too please.” The bartender tapped on the counter before leaving to serve him.
“So, what’s the last movie you watched?” Martin started talking in great detail about some movie while the bartender was filling the pint glass. Her eyes kept darting back to him. And she could tell he was sneaking glances of her as well. She pushed her hair back, showing her neck.
“What about you?”
“Me?” She stared at her date. “Right. I’ve been bingeing The Crown actually.”
An hour had gone by since Martin had joined her. The bar was not crowded even though it was peak pint time. It was afterall a Monday evening, and so the perfect excuse for her to leave.
“Sorry, it’s getting late and I’ve got to wake up early for work tomorrow.”
“Oh sure, yeah. Me too! Let’s pay.”
Ellie looked at the bartender, this time with intention. “I opened a tab when I got here, so I’ve got this.”
“Oh.” Martin froze, his head turned downwards as he contemplated his next move. “I mean, are you… sure?”
Ellie nodded. To the bartender, she began mouthing “Bill please” but he was already on it. He slipped her the receipt. She handed him her credit card with barely a glance at the bill.
“Okay…” Martin took another long pause. “Um… I guess I’ll wait for you outside. For a smoke.”
Ellie absentmindedly nodded at him.
It was only when she took the pay machine that she noticed there was something written on it. “Paris” and a phone number. She handed Paris the machine.
“Elena. Thanks for the beer.” She grabbed the bill then left.