Some time went by after that, I can’t remember how much. I didn’t always stop in and visit Travis, and the times I did I rarely saw Nikki. Every time I went I always ordered my same drink in hopes of seeing the bottle of Maker’s Mark get opened. I went to other bars but I never ordered Maker’s Mark. It was only my drink there.
I stopped in after an especially hard day at work and upon entering realized that I hadn’t been by in quite some time. The place looked different, darker. The bottles on the back bar had a layer of dust that grew thicker the farther up the shelf they went. My eyes scanned for Maker’s Mark but I didn’t see it.
Travis was behind the bar but he didn’t notice me. I wanted to turn around and leave but just as the thought passed my mind he picked up his head and smiled.
“Dom! Hey buddy, pull up a chair. How’s things?”
I sat down at my seat near the end of the “L”and forced a smile. He pulled the bottle of Maker’s Mark from the well and poured the remaining three ounces into a small rocks glass with ice. He added a splash of soda and sat the drink down with care. I nodded and took a sip. He threw the empty bottle in the trash.
Then something happened that I had never seen Travis do; he took a rocks glass from behind the bar, poured in a healthy amount of scotch and held it in the air.
“To the next resort.”
I clanged my glass with his but I wasn’t sure that I was supposed to. The way he looked at the glass when he said his toast made me think that he was talking more so to himself, like he was really far away somewhere lost in that small sea of scotch. Coupled with the emptiness in the bar it made for a very haunting cheers and I took a big sip both to ease my nerves and to finish my drink quickly.
Not much was said after that. We both knew what was happening. He told me how most of the staff had quit, a few he had to fire. I asked about Nikki and he brushed his hand away.
“Dumb bimbo,”he said. He drank some more of his scotch and I made my assumption on if she quit or got fired.
I looked around and felt different. I felt older. I felt like I had lost something there but I wasn’t sure what or when or whether I could find it, or whether it was even worth looking for. It felt gone like the former days of my youth, but leaving with a sour taste instead of a pleasant memory.
I took another large sip for both reasons. Some ice had melted in that time and had watered it down.
My drink, my bar was dying, and there was nothing Travis or myself could do about it except drink it away and hold on to the taste.
I was afraid to go in after that. I didn’t want to be caught in another sad conversation with Travis, and something about watching him drink in front of me was unnerving. I felt like I saw too much of the man behind the curtain. Besides, my favorite girl was gone. The place all around had changed too much.
Some more time went by, but not too much, and I found myself walking by in the mid-afternoon on my way to the orange line, when I noticed that brown paper was covering all of the windows. I ran to the door and read the sign informing the public of the their unfortunate economic hardship and their decision to close, and thanking all of their loyal guests for their patronage.
I felt like he was talking to me but I was ashamed to accept it. I abandoned my plans and instead went to the state liquor store several blocks away. I followed the signs for whiskey and found the familiar bottle in the back row on the top shelf. I picked it up by it’s base and examined the red candle-wax that covered the top. I picked up some club soda as well from a Korean grocery store and brought both back to my apartment. I pulled out a highball glass, filled it up with ice and placed it down next to the club soda. I picked up the bottle of Maker’s Mark and ran my fingers around the red candle-wax. My index finger caught on a small tab made of a hard ribbon. I pinched it and with a delicate care pulled the ribbon around the spout. Bits of red candle-wax fell to the floor and I was careful to not let any fall in the glass with ice. When the ribbon was off I placed it down next to the glass, marveling at it, and poured the liquid in. I added a splash of club soda as well and held the drink in the air.
“To the next resort,”I said. I took a drink. It didn’t taste the same.