Bar Life

all that fairy dust dancing inside your beer stein and yet you don’t believe in magic?

this incredible blast of light from the sun, ninety-two-point-ninety-five million miles from our planet, fragments through the surface of a stream and appears as shimmering waves streaking across your feet, and you still say you don’t believe in magic?

a person named Lemon knocks a shot back. Canadian Club sets fire to their throat, and they contemplate the science of stars, the discovery of fermentation intoxication, the soft curved earlobes of a woman sitting across the bar. it is two in the afternoon, and Lemon has come here to read. their eyeglasses are an olive-green heavy plastic. Al Green croons over the bar speakers, “loving you forever is what I need.” Lemon takes another shot of whiskey and orders a draft beer; there is a war being fought halfway across this spherical world. they overhear the bartender explain the bar’s near daytime emptiness to three male patrons at a separate table by curtly uttering, “it’s a college town.” Lemon quite enjoys the atmosphere, the good oak bar counter and the intimacy between the quietness and the liquor in their hand. in their ears Bob Marley’s Rastafarian philosophies sound over, and they can smell the decadent golden grease of fries wafting from the kitchen.

a couple walks into the bar and sits at a date table, a two-seater. one of the women wears a white cotton dress with a faded blue denim jacket, a red flower hairclip; she is clearly trying to bring springtime, and to that effect it is sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit outside in April. the other wears plaid slacks and an expression of profound discomfort. her eyebrows have been deliciously darkened, but her mouth twists into a grimace, or perhaps she is chewing her inner lip. it happens when she gets too thoughtful.

the bartender tightly tosses food and specialty drink menus on the table before the couple, then walks away, all stiff angles and taut wrists. the one in the white dress draws her lips together in apprehension. she looks like she wants to be kissed or cured.

“Lacewing, darling, what’s on your mind?”

Lacewing further furrows her darkened brows, staring down at her plaid lap. “it’s nothing. yes, it’s something. it’s what you said earlier, about the world being a cold, grey place. you said it so lackadaisically, as if it were an obvious axiom. I can’t love a human that doesn’t believe in magic. a perfect, natural organism that survives off of food grown from fertile earth, the air that never stops moving around us, and the water that this planet – out of all of the giant rocks suspended in space – just so happens to be covered with? you are a human, my dear; you are made of magic. you are that for which fairytales and poems, art and spirituality, are all forged. if you can’t see your own magic, then I cannot continue to see it for you.”

the bartender returns. the couple orders a plate of battered pickle chips to share, and a meatless soup each.

over at the bar top, Lemon has read to page fifty-three of their book. they let the pages meet after a particularly climactic part, closing the book and using it as a coaster for their beer stein, dwindling to dregs. they look around the bar, latching their inebriated eyes upon anything that can capture at least a fleeting moment. like magic, the woman at the bar, her lips painted the rich hue of O’Keefe’s vibrant poppies and her hair the shining gold of a thousand fields of wheat, pulls gold hoops from her jacket pocket and carefully, dutifully, fits them through her earlobes, which from across the bar Lemon hadn’t been able to tell were pierced. blood pumps its alarm from their temples to the place in between their legs. a rush of red. a scarlet thrush of bird feathers caught in their throat. Lemon wonders as to the chemical composition of love. the psychology of romance. the biology of lust. Lemon recalls a crisp autumn day, years ago, framed by tan leaves and crying crows, the last day spent with their past love. they recall the sticky-sweet citrus of her lips, the deep peppermint curling from her throat, the hefty stack of oncology texts Lemon borrowed from the local library, after.

sure, there’s been love since then: Lemon finds love in walking through town on crisp sunny days, in Louis Armstrong and books and bourbon. the beer in their hand sweats, nervous. Lemon’s veins pulse beneath the translucent skin of their wrists, also nervous. they discovered, years ago, that all women have a bit of cancer in them. scar tissue on their organs, snowstorms in their aorta, spiderwebs in their lungs. Lemon keeps their eyes trained on the woman at the bar and her gold hoops, too jaded to don sunglasses or discretion.

an elderly gentleman takes a corner table; he is here for dim lighting and his lunchtime hamburger. the bartender nods the man’s way and sends his usual order straight to the kitchen. the old man smiles, noticeably lopsided, and it warms his face, flushes the ruby bulbs of his cheeks like a goblet of mead. his hands, folded before him on the table like a schoolboy’s, are weathered and fatter than the rest of him, flecked with the most lovable liver spots, lichen growing on beach rocks. beside him rests his black-rimmed hat. the gentleman – because once one reaches his age, they graduate to such a title – absentmindedly fondles the saltshaker with his thumb, methodically tapping its contents onto the table. he creates a sandcastle out of salt. a saltcastle. there’s a painting on the bar wall above the liquor bottle display depicting a jackalope, a bug-eyed rabbit with antlers, that his sister painted and sold to the bar three decades back.

sometimes the old man forgets. he forgets where he left his house keys, or what brand of pipe tobacco his father smoked. he forgets the name of his first dog and that he’s not in grade school anymore, that when schoolchildren are released for the day he has to go inside because the way he looks at the little boys wearing shorts is wrong. but you see, he forgets it’s wrong, he forgets he too isn’t young and sweet-faced and gangly. he forgets that President John F. Kennedy was aimed at and shot dead a long while back. he forgets what sorts of herbs and flowers bees like, though the calendula and lavender plants lie grey and withered in his backyard. he forgets the title of that Beatles song he once loved, the sad one about the crying guitar. and someday, his lungs will forget how to filter oxygen, and he will draw his final demented breaths.

the bartender emerges with the gentleman’s food. he grins in gratitude; he has been mute for years, or at least he has forgotten how to vocalize. his burger drips its juices, with perfect onions and a perfect sesame bun. again, the lopsided smile. everything, for right now, is good.

the woman at the bar glances upward and meets Lemon’s eyes; they see that hers are wide blue lagoons. their own are deep brown swamps. the blue stare into the brown and the brown gaze back. there are monsoons and whirlpools, tidal waves and thunderstorms, in these few seconds. then she looks away again, the blue fixing upon the painting of the jackalope. she’s never seen one before, in all her vast travels and safaris, but she can’t write them off as imaginary – such assertion would be foolish. the woman at the bar fancies herself a globetrotter. inside her mind fall raindrops from every corner of this spherical world; she could flood the bar with the puddles she’s splashed through across the seven continents. yes, seven – she simply had to see Antarctica; she was too curious not to. she found its canvas far too blank for her taste, as one may suppose. on the woman’s feet are the weighty cranberry-colored marching boots that she hasn’t left the house without in…fourteen years? that must be right, she began her travels just out of college, and now here she is, nearing forty years alive. she absentmindedly fingers her earring hoops, recalling the matted fur of the stray cats in Venice.

those hoops again, Lemon thinks. they shudder, though the alcohol has by now made them feel warm and fuzzy. they slide their clammy palms across their lap, their corduroy pants. they would love nothing more than to take the stool beside the woman’s, to fill each other with conversation and dry wine and four-leaf clovers. but even from here, Lemon can smell her leukemic blood. they can see through her skin to the tumors in her heart, the sickness in her spine. her cells die, one by one, fallen soldiers, post-hurricane forestry, post-apocalypse cityscape. again, Lemon thinks of their late love, of her rich sienna skin and the scarves she knit, of her affinity for American Spirits and her left-handedness. how with every cigarette she inhaled, Lemon could see her walnut eyes grow more sunken. her lungs were coal mines, her words diamonds.

they had been living together back then, so after, Lemon didn’t quite know what to do with her things. her family had taken everything “of value” – the family heirloom jewelry, her laptop, her strawberry-blond mink coat (a married-in aunt’s gift that had rather disgusted her) – so Lemon was left with her miscellaneous bric-a-brac: partially-finished watercolor paintings, receipts from nearly every shopping excursion she’d only kept because she didn’t know what to do with them really, her drawer of sloppy lounging clothes like the silk pyjama shorts she’d wear when she made the two of them omelette breakfast on weekends, and so, so many scarves. for a while after, Lemon would wear her scarves daily, even during the summer, color-coordinated with whatever smart outfit they wore that day. it made them feel like she was cradling them in her arms, hugging Lemon so tightly about the neck that she must truly be there. her lips were never chapped and her mouth always tasted like a brilliant pink grapefruit exploding with juices.

Lemon bobs their head, once. it became a habit, after – whenever they think of her, as if they’re paying a sort of sacred acknowledgement to her spirit.

the couple at the date table shares a tense soup, Lacewing sullen and pouty, the one in the white dress sniffling back tears in between slurps. she stopped believing in magic a long time ago; at the age most children are adventuring with imaginary friends or laying out pastries for Santa Claus, she was learning how to drag Mommy to bed if she passed out on the couch, where to hide liquor bottles around the house, why a night of tequila with lime was more important than attending her child’s school play or meet-the-teacher night. she has never taken a drink and, in the seven years since graduating high school and moving out, she has met her mom for brunch only a terse handful of times. brunch always involved, without fail, her mother enjoying nursing her mimosa more than the game of catch-up between her and her daughter. of course the world is a cold, grey place; alcohol makes all the colors run and drain away.

“so what, Lace?” she speaks, tremor and frustration in her words. “what do you need me to do? I’ll write you the fairytale of our love, I’ll take up crystal healing, whatever will make you happy. with this. with me.”

Lacewing dabs her mouth with a napkin. “those things won’t fix the issue, Rory. you don’t appreciate being alive the same way I do. do you ever stop to thank your white blood cells for keeping you healthy?” she pauses to dunk a cracker in her soup, but the cracker falls apart and drowns – such is life. “are you ever just…grateful that you continue breathing without having to think about it? that the veins beneath your skin are perfect highways to your heart and that the ride along them is such a blessed one? nothing in this life should be taken for granted; the world has breathed life into you, and you should spend every day you’re alive awash in gratitude for that gift.” she sighs; though overjoyed by the very notion of life of which she speaks, it certainly can be tiring to go about explaining it.

Rory reaches across the table, chewed nails and silver rings, offering her lover a hand to hold. Lacewing puts down her spoon, accepts Rory’s gift, and the two sit in silence, a space teeming with earthly wonder – and love, of course, with love. two beams bursting at the seams. for this moment, at least, they are both elated to be alive.

back at the bar, Lemon has almost finished their pint. the bartender emerges with a wet rag; nothing is really ever clean enough for him, and in an occupation wildly ridden with spilled drinks, forgotten napkins, and plantain chip crumbs, this is naturally catastrophic. he sweats every time he thinks about how sticky the counter feels; if ever the thought creeps into his mind as to all the germs all the germs all the germs left behind by the hundreds of patrons that frequent his place of work, then he must go change his shirt in the back room, he must scrub his hands with steel wool, he must clamp down on the ensuing panic attack that awaits beneath his ribcage like a tornado about to wreak havoc upon straw-built small towns. the bulk of his shifts are spent busying himself to get away from these urges, however in/effective that may prove. he notices a condensation ring on the bar counter and attacks it with the wet rag, given a mighty power from vinegar-and-salt solution.

“would you like another drink?” the bartender inquires, and Lemon looks up, dazed from their reverie. they peer down at the now-empty glass, almost surprised by its appearance, as if someone must have come up and finished it for them. Lemon steals a look at the woman at the other side of the bar, but she is checking something on her phone – googling her symptomology, no doubt.

clearing their throat, Lemon muses, “yes, I would love another one of…whatever I was just drinking.” the bartender blinks, and Lemon feels it necessary to add, “it was refreshing and delicious, like a crisp apple eaten beneath an oak tree on a June afternoon.” their description seems to jog the bartender’s recollection, for he sweeps off to one of the taps and refills Lemon’s glass.

ah, yes, Lemon thinks, taking the first sip, this is a ballet of fruit and sunshine. a cool pool of sweet wheat. this is a dear intoxicant, and with its tide, I shall swirl to the heights of mountain lakes and oceanic peaks.

“excuse me, bartender friend,” Lemon beckons cordially, “what exactly is this divine delicacy?”

the bartender eyes Lemon suspiciously. people who speak too formally when they drink weird him out. aren’t inebriated people supposed to slur their sentences, wobble their words? nonetheless, he responds, “it’s a cider from one of the apple orchards in the region: Golden Pear Farms.”

at this name, Lemon’s eyes burst open as if electrocuted. tearing up, their lips peal into a perfect child’s grin, incorrigible, an automatic response. they began sputtering in laughter, tears rolling now, and the bartender looks bewildered.

“I…I know it’s ironic,” he offers, unsure if he has offended this patron who is now actively crying, without a sound beyond faint chortles. it’s strange, although he’s accustomed to people crying in front of him, he’s usually so repulsed. it’s generally about break-ups, about excusable arguments, about disappointments in the realm of the neurotypical; he supposes it’s the mystery of this person’s sobbing that keeps him sentry.

giving a sharp shake of the head, Lemon says, “oh, no, sir – it’s wonderful.” their tears keep rolling, overflowing, there is an ocean brewing in their memory and it is all they can do not to fall over the counter in glorious grievance. goodness gracious, do they love apples. apple flavor, apple scent, apple agronomists. her last hale & healthy breaths pulled were in the beauteous rows of Golden Pear Farms. apple aroma was the last to sate her senses, fertile earth was the last to grace her palms, lovely leaves of apple trees were the last to fall upon her beautiful black-haired head. there was so much effort, so much work beneath her breasts and ribcage, to condone those final breaths, the last ones without complication, until she collapsed, craving a cancer stick, beneath the royal rows she worked within daily.

screw that, Lemon spits (inside their mind) between waning wails. every breath of hers was complicated. she was anointed, she was fated, she was destined for her sickness. and how could i trust another woman not to kill herself so slowly? Lemon wonders. they cannot. there is no putting faith in a creature with malignance in their membrane. Lemon sucks up the last of their sobs, pulls another sip of their beer – uncompromised, never puffed a smoke in their life – and smiles brilliantly at the bartender. they ask the man’s name.

the bartender clears his throat, uncomfortable. “Blade,” he answers. no, of course this is not his given name. no, of course the Flights of the Concords shirt he wears does not belong to him. but this is his go-to defense when life makes him too squeamish to function as himself. he fabulously fabricates. it’s generally just as unbelievable a name, but always a bit different. he recycles them alphabetically. earlier that morning when another patron had made him wary, he provided the name “Alligator.” he’s been through the alphabet too many times to count at this job alone.

Lemon swallows a sniffle, done with their loveless lament for now. “well, Blade,” they provide in the way of conversation, wiping away a tear or so that has matted their eyelashes, “do give my regards to the kind soul who grew and picked these apples.”

now the bartender really has no clue what to say. he is about to divert the conversation irrelevantly, to ask this stranger if they have any pets and then show them pictures of his own Fluffy (the blue-tongued skink) on his smartphone, when he is luckily saved from such assertations by a devil-winged mystery: a flash of black, a shriek from a couple at a table dining on pickle chips. an old man gazes upward, his mouth agape, but no sound escapes. three men surrounding a tiny table all punch each other on the biceps, goading their friends with the prospect that they were scared, but not ultimately looking away from the direction the thing swept in. a demon has flown through the bar, and all energy is afrenzy, afraid, the patrons are stirring with confusion and concern. it is a monster of fierce intent – in this little college town?! the Devil sends its malicious minions to all corners of the world, it appears. Blade, the bartender, has no specified practice for when a literal bat-winged fiend flies through the establishment, so he wavers nervously, waiting for a new installment of the swift excitement.

and then, have no fear – it turns out to be exactly a bat. the creature makes a strange squeak, and that combined with the collective customer sigh of relief explains that it is indeed a bat. but still, a bat? in a bar? blasphemy! it must be a sign of something. and again, it flies across the room, looping low along the bar – more shrieks from the seated couple, though a good seven feet in safe distance – and so now no one can be quite sure that this isn’t a provocative demon in the form of a bat.

the woman with the cranberry boots scoffs haughtily, fully aware nobody is paying attention to her actions, and sips her white wine delicately in contrast. it is still her first drink; she’s been quite content reading the nature of other people, particularly the lovely human across the bar, the one with smart pants and thin fingers – the one who’s been crying. she can’t possibly know why, and even with all her experience with humans of other continents, she does not bother speculating. but goodness does she want to ask them. there is just something so inviting, so compelling, about sadness – more so than joy, anyway. if somebody at a bar is celebrating, they likely aren’t alone, they are with other people who understand the manner of their festivity, they have no desire to entertain curious strangers, lest it distract from their happy day. but with sad people? they tend to be by themselves. they harbor a story within their head, and not a good one at that. it would aid alleviation if an outsider were to express interest in their malaise, would at least temporarily distract from whatever has taken over their world.

on the other hand, she muses, twirling the wine in its glass with her ballerina hands, misery is often too personal a force to disturb. it may be presumptuous to insert oneself into another’s sobspace. she’s met many a stranger on these seven continents, and each one is a stained-glass-zebra-striped snowflake, standing apart in their reactions, yet together in their emotional depth. she has yet to encounter a human bereft of the capacity to be absolutely overcome with feeling, now and again.

and then – swoosh! – the bat is incorrigible in its aptitude to aggravate clientele. Blade is realizing it is up to him to deal with the creature, though he cannot fathom exactly how to eighty-six a bat; between the yelping couple at their date table, the boisterous trio of men, and this weepy patron seated at the bar, he’s too nervous to even begin to ask for help or suggestion. it isn’t until the woman at the bar leans over – all shiny gold hoops and bony elbows – and in a husky, low voice says, “you have to throw a towel over it in mid-flight,” that he understands it truly is all up to him.

well, dammit, he thinks. he didn’t sign up for this debacle. in a college town during this spring-break period, the worst he really has to deal with is the one or two main-street drunks who come in midday demanding potato vodka to be attached to their tab that they never put down a credit card for. essentially, it amounts to a very tolerant conversation (on his end), resulting in a few slurred barks (on the drunks’ end), after which they generally stumble out on their less than merry way. but here he is, all but stumped by an interruptive animal. he gathers several bar rags, preparing for a level of war. let the battle begin.

here it comes – whoosh! – the bat is once again in the air, and the place is once again alive with noisy commotion, color commentary and shrieks and squeaks, and Blade is diving wildly with a purple terrycloth towel – but no, he misses, the towel flies and lands in the lap of the elderly gentleman, who is staring curiously at the final few bites of his burger as if wondering who has eaten the rest of it. Blade squints his eyes meanly, and Eye of the Tiger begins blaring on the radio, and the bat is hidden somewhere above the threshold, but not ready to depart, holding its own in the high-ceiling rafters of the place. it swoops again, too close to comfort for the date-table couple this time, the one in the white dress instinctively diving beneath the table as the bat lets out its war cry shrieks mid-air.

Blade once again tosses himself across the bar as the bat flies just close enough to make him think he’s got it. when its clicks are still audible upon crushing the towel against the oak – good god, he’s not trying to kill it, just making sure it’s really there (which it is not) – he fumes, tossing the purple towel behind his shoulder, picking up the next one. it is navy blue, soaked in rubbing alcohol, not vinegar. Blade is out for blood now. the bat is about eight feet above his head, taunting him, from a safe roost above the kitchen threshold. it smells the acidic attack coming its way and wisely stays rested where it is, not whatsoever confused about being in an enclosed space. this bat is a notorious nuisance, likes to stir up indoor drama. there is space to flap its demonic wings, and there is space to spread its grasp undisturbed, which is ultimately what it likes about this place.

sighing, the woman at the bar continues sipping her wine. Lemon has returned to their book, though the typed print is slipping and sliding all over the pages now. they have a split-second thought to order another whiskey, but the bartender seems a bit preoccupied.

balling up the blue towel like a baseball (he is wearing rubber gloves), Blade shoots a shot to space with his next toss – though it doesn’t quite reach space, and the bat loops out of reach just in the nick of time. the rubbing alcohol-soaked cloth lands dangerously close to the lap of Rory’s dress; if it had, she certainly would have known, for it would have activated the myriad spider-string cuts on her thighs with a fiery sting. Lacewing lurches across the table in protective alarm, whisking the towel off her lover’s lap and automatically cupping a hand over Rory’s sharp screech. the two lock eyes, unaware or not caring about the bat perched in the rafters eight feet above their heads, longing for such a magical event it almost feels uncanny to still be sucking oxygen. arrested by the dimly lit room, yellow like the moon, they tentatively lean over the table until they share battered-pickle breath, until their mouths have no idea where to go except toward the other’s, until their kissing is the only blissful silence in the din of rock music and guano cries.

however, much reprieved from the oasis of lovers’ lane, Blade is furiously flying over the counter, all swinging forearms and grunts, working overtime to replace the liquids in each failed forceful towel-fling. the next one he grabs is forest-green, soaked in chloroform, a surefire knockout – please, kindly, don’t ask why he has access to chloroform. assume it’s a bar-cleaning commodity. Blade wrestles his eyesight to find the source of the squeaks – goodness, it’s as if this bat is taunting him! this towel, he’s considerably more careful with. if he hits a customer with a wall of disorientation, he’s sure to have a talk with his boss. not that that’s the worst of his worries, but still.

Lemon sniffs. the beer has been drained; the woman’s hoops have been forgotten. all that’s left layered in their lap are the memories that long ago, so long ago, died buried in the apple orchard, beneath the gilded crest of the setting sun, a tribute to endless strolls down rows of twisted trees and picking bruised fruit up off the ground to take a bite or two, then toss away. lymphoma on languid lawns. the very spine of their relationship was a montage of telling each other stories until blush dawns, of apple pie wafting from the oven on Sundays, of her promising she wouldn’t smoke today so that Lemon could kiss her whenever they wanted without her having to chew peppermint gum first. Lemon didn’t even like peppermint. it was just better than the constant taste of near death.

if you know anything at all about chloroform, at least know that it’s nothing to be messed around with. it’s an invisible chemical with the intention of pulverizing its victim with an impossible sleep, an immediate fainting spell, waking up hours later with a flutter of eyelashes and a dazed haze that could very well last until the following day. to a small-bodied beast like a bat, however, Blade is counting on the noxious stain being fatal. carefully, without breathing in the fumes himself, he balls up the towel and aims to launch it toward the creature cowering in the corner above the cash register.

however, the bat is not at all cowering. a sentient trickster, the bat is taunting the furious human, fully aware of the jeopardy it is putting the other humans in. the bat’s echolocation provides quite a lot of movement detection down there, so what better game to play than staying just still enough to wait patiently for an attack before flying off?

another squeak is emitted, another collective yelp from the bar patrons, and Blade senses his opportunity. now! the towel goes flying; so does the fiend. but what of the towel? of course, it lands on the counter, obscenely close to dousing the cash register in its dangerous gasses. batting it away with his gloved hand, Blade scours the ceiling for the new roost of his foe; it’s only flown to the other side of the bar, directly above the blonde woman’s head. he glares; this is it. he’s had it with this menace, with the comical reactions emerging from the people at the tables. the person with the green glasses has been reading for nearly the entire time Blade has been fighting the monster. the woman, bored, is twirling the stem of her empty wine glass, but there is zero chance Blade will distract himself from the battle at hand to bring her another. exasperated, he throws the towel down hard in the bar sink. he picks up his last one, determined that it will be the last one; it is crimson, a deep red, red like merlot, like rage, like the blood he is determined to shed.

keeping a wary eye on the perched bat, Blade ducks beneath the sink. he surveys the bar’s collection of cleaning supplies, emergency liquids, powders and utensils and all sorts of tools that could lead to help, or harm. nothing is ever clean enough for him; nothing ever will be. this devil, this bat, is the harbinger of filth, the incubus of dirty nightmares. his hand quivers as he reaches for a red tin can in the far-back: kerosene. his fingers curl around the rectangular death-box. he is ready to end this war.

still crouched in hiding, still donning thick-hide rubber gloves, the enraged bartender douses the red towel with the kerosene. this is going to be the shot that counts; he shakes out his right elbow and rises, as do the eyebrows of the person with the glasses, who’s been otherwise nonchalant about the whole fight. perhaps they smell the toxic fumes lifting from the barman’s weapon or expect a grand finale to this whole ordeal. either way, they instinctively lean away from the bar top.

Blade is irate but centered, narrowing his eyes as if to target-lock onto the bat above the far side of the bar. he revs up his arm; he flexes his fingers within his rubber gloves; and for just one dizzy instant, he breathes in the chemical, the end-all and be-all to this batty tournament. and then, with all eyes in the bar on him (save for the woman directly below the bat, playing with her hoops), he swiftly sets the rag on fire with a lighter from his sleeve and hurls the towel, hard as he can, toward the monster.

the shrieks of alarm are hard-pressed to be encapsulated within those few airborne moments. the patrons go wild, and for decent reason – the fireball hurtles through the air, ten feet from most of them. even the mute old man flails his arms, his eyes bugging out, the three men spilling their triplet guinnesses, the couple with springtime clothes rushing to embrace each other in protection from over the table. the towel’s travel seems to last so much longer than reality allows. Lemon is horrendously amazed, their mouth agape, frozen on their stool by dread.

the bat, however, is frivolously confident. it allows the humans below to anticipate its peril, their triumph; hearing the motion approaching, it even pirouettes toward the source, as if meeting its doom. the fire’s heat proceeds its bounds, and every iota of primal instinct screams within its tiny bones. and from below, the bat even senses its attacker snickering.

and then, at the very last split-second, the bat escapes. it is with flames skirting the very tips of its wings, even singeing its demonic little nose, but it flees just in time. the fireball hits the rafters, immediately charring the painting of the jackalope that hangs without any case over it, sending the mythical creature ablaze so that it glowers over its witnesses. the old man gestures wildly, not understanding his motions are of no use.

the conflagration dances higher, and the wetness of the towel only lasts so long. it sticks to the canvas for what feels like eternity; then, slowly, it drips to descension, with all the bar’s patrons watching in horror. the beautiful woman sitting alone at the bar is unaware as a fairytale dreamer as the flammable fireball sinks lower, lower, steeping through space and time, until it comes to explosion on her bountiful blonde hair.

the screams she emits are incomparable to any terrors faced by the people around her. they realize they have never known sheer fear, never truly understood visceral pain, as they watch the poor woman fall to the ground and writhe like a banshee in heat. her blood-curdling cries are her downfall as the chemicals spread to her wide-open mouth and the fire spills down her throat. her panic spreads to the entire bar, particularly Blade, who is suspended in blind disbelief, not only that his mission has failed, but that he has caused a potential murder playing out before his eyes. his lips open and close like a distressed trout, but he is paralyzed by indecision, having no intended protocol for this situation. the woman’s screeches are dying down, giving over to desperate wails, and her limbs go limp as she burns from the inside out. everyone’s watching, and Blade is scrambling for ameliorative action, but there’s nothing to be done; she’s gasping now, but the inhalation is choked by flare, so she is gurgling to her death.

the fire ignites her inner organs, a pain reserved for witches, though nobody can see from the outside. she falls silent, either too much smolder in her lungs to scream anymore or her windpipe now a smokestack. she lies on her back, flames traveling down her body, and though she will feel ruthless agony for at least another seven minutes, from the outside she already looks dead. there is a shock-silence about the establishment as she lies there and withers, as if no one can summon the words; in this moment, their trauma is more integral than her name.

Blade is on his knees now, on the dirty ground beside the poor woman. he is nowhere near silent, howling with sobs, keeled over beside the woman he has unintentionally killed. he mourns her, even as she’s currently dying – though he cannot know that her mind is still awake. their combined pain infects the rest of the people there, who so badly want to leave but find themselves cemented to their seats, their eyes glued to the dismay before them.

the bat, on the other hand, cackles as it glides through the air and out the open double door. it has survived its mayhem streak; another mischief, another week.

several people are crying now. the burnt woman is absolutely still, and Blade is weeping uncontrollably. the three men are hushed, the old man has finished flapping his hands for attention, the couple is crying as quietly as they can. nobody will walk away unscarred by this scene.

except for one.

Lemon reaches over the bar, pulls the hard cider tap to refill their pint. they slurp down the beer in one go, a cold salvation for their dry throat. this scene is no surprise to them; in fact, from the first flash of gold the woman’s hoops shone in Lemon’s scope of vision, they were awaiting her inevitable death. they wipe the foamy residue from their lips. they rise and brush their fingers off on their pants. then, they swiftly walk out of the bar.

all that lovely blue flame dancing in the dying veins of a woman, yet you don’t believe in magic?

About the Author

Lily Lavender Wolf

Poetry is my life; I draw inspiration from the world around me, from butterflies and evergreens, from wine and kisses, from coffeehouses and basement shows. I hail from Manhattan but have explored and ensconced myself within myriad artist communities, from ariose New Orleans to gorgeous New Paltz, NY.

Read more work by Lily Lavender Wolf.