The Third Person

So I took a week off again… I doubt anyone noticed besides me, but it was for a good cause this time: to complete some paid work and to leave space for some self-care.

Part of this self-care included watching Julie & Julia. I set aside some of the problematic aspects of the movie and its indulgent push for cooking with butter to enjoy the silliness and feel-good aspects of it. I watched it while eating a delicious batch of vegan mac & cheese (highly recommend this recipe – I hate cheese sauce and this is essentially creamy cheese-less pasta), and it was fitting to watch Amy Adams’ character writing into the void and thinking no one else cared about her blog other than her mother and her husband. A line from the movie particularly stood out: “Are you listening, … whoever you are?”

So, in case anyone other than me noticed my absence, here’s a present: my being open about an experience with a person that means the world to me in a place that means the world to me. A place I miss dearly and feels farther away than usual during these uncertain and unprecedentedTM times.

Yes, it’s London again, and while I won’t give away details of the actual memory because it’s personal and I’d like to keep it to myself, I will tell it from another POV. This could be based on true events, but I’ll never know – the main character at the time was invisible.

Happy reading! I missed writing for you … whoever you are.

Image of a pub bar, with two empty stools in the foreground
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Friday night. Central London. Mid-August.

The weather was relatively cooler than the heatwave at the beginning of the summer, but people were still enjoying the odd drink outside. Their lack of a pub garden exempted The Pub from having Pimm’s and Aperol Spritz ready to go and instead let them serve their usual beers on draught, mixed drinks and gourmet potato chips and pork rinds. This didn’t stop patrons from crowding the sidewalk with their drinks in hand and posing potential road hazards. But it was Friday night, and Friday nights in London belonged to Londoners on foot.

On his way to clock in, the Bartender prayed that they wouldn’t be busy and that people would start their night in one of the many pubs around them with gardens so they could enjoy the gentle heat, smoke without risking their seat and get the perfect selfies at sunset. One step into the place and his prayer had been ignored – it was almost 7 pm and there were few open tables, but at least the bar remained free of loiterers. He clocked in, grabbed his apron and bottle opener and picked the section farthest away from the front door. At about twenty minutes past 7 pm, a man walked in.

The Bartender was confused at the man’s fresh haircut, matching navy blue jacket and trousers, clean white shirt and a bushy beard. It didn’t look like it was part of his ensemble and the hairs were pointing in multiple directions away from his face. Fresh haircut but no fresh shave? Was the man meeting his mother and making a defiant statement?

The bearded man pulled up a stool next to the one he was sitting on and ordered a pint of wheat beer. He pulled out his phone and sent a text before putting it back in his pocket. The bearded man didn’t look older than late twenties, but he didn’t look at his phone while he waited for his companion to arrive. He looked around and watched those around him, taking fidgety sips of his beer and rearranging the glass precisely so it would be on top of the water ring the cool and condensed glass had already created.

The Bartender served some other patrons down the bar and directed a few tourists upstairs where food was being served. He made a mental note to give a coaster to the bearded man and jogged upstairs to get some limes and lemons from the kitchen. When he came back, the bearded man was halfway through his drink and still alone. The Bartender knew better than to ask him if he was ready for another drink. He’d seen too many of the type: men, women and others who arrived early for a date, fidgety, nervous and on their phone just for something to do, only to leave alone after their first drink.

The bearded man checked his phone again and took another drink, but and as the Bartender was about to hand him a coaster, the bearded man put down his glass well away from the careful water ring he’d been making and looked in the direction of the door. He didn’t smile, but the bartender knew the companion had arrived so he stepped away. He snuck a peak as he pretended to rearrange the potato chips and shot glasses. The bearded man was waiting for a woman, but not his mother. He was on a date.

The woman had dark hair that wasn’t too short but not too long either, the style the Bartender had seen that summer on women who couldn’t stand long hair in the heat but apparently didn’t want to make the chop commitment. She wore a denim blazer but pointy black boots that clacked when she walked in. She made an entrance without meaning to, and the bearded man had eyes for no one but her as she sat down on the stool next to him. She moved her hands a lot as she spoke and looked for a server – she was nervous, not really looking at the bearded man.

She asked for a gin and tonic in an American accent and took our her wallet. The bearded man got more confusing to the Bartender – fresh haircut, clean-cut outfit, border-line unkempt beard and he didn’t offer to pay for her drink? The Bartender saw it going one of two ways: they parted ways after two drinks at most or they drank until closing and left together after sloppily making out in a booth.

The Bartender checked on them every so often, and they drank slowly. The bearded man paid for their second round of the same drinks and they drank those a little faster, laughing a lot more than during their first. When one of them went to the restroom, the other took out their phone and sent a text, probably telling their buddies how well the date was going or checking in with a friend to make sure they knew where they were at all times that night. The Bartender was surprised when they got a third round and the bearded man paid again – the woman had her card out ready but he stopped her. Maybe the date was going well after all.

They finished their third round, then he went to the restroom and they headed out. They kept a careful distance from each other as they walked out, the woman looking straight ahead and walking with good posture, while the man ran a hand through his beard as he walked behind her. So maybe the Bartender had been wrong – there was a third way their night would go after all.

**

Wednesday evening. Central London. Early September.

The weather was holding up its heat and the Bartender had heard optimistic office workers talk about an Indian Summer. He wouldn’t hold his breath – he could feel the days getting more humid as the summer drew to a close, and the odd barfly would carry a sweater or a jacket over their arm rather than on their shoulders.

The Pub wasn’t busy and the bartender knew it would stay that way. Only office workers stayed late midweek, and no one stayed later than 9:30. It was too early in the year for university students, but he had to card the occasional international student who showed up with a group.

The sun had just started to set when he saw them come in.

The man didn’t look familiar to him, but seeing the dark-haired woman next to him shed a light immediately.

The couple from the date a few weeks ago.

They were back sooner than the bartender would have expected them, then again they did act in a very unexpected way the last time he’d seen them. They were dressed much more relaxed this time, and the man had shaved his beard. His prominent brow now matched the rest of his face, and he looked comfortable yet ill-at-ease in his tan bomber jacket. The woman wore gray jeans and a plaid shirt with a small knot around her waist. Both of them wore sneakers – had they not been to work that day?

They asked for their same drinks as last time – the Bartender remembered the couple well and only took their order as a formality. There were no stools near them, so they stood and drank. They would chat and laugh occasionally, and they hugged and kissed often. They looked at their drinks sadly after each sip, and after looking at their drinks they looked at each other. Then they would kiss and say something to each other before looking sad again. At one point, the woman stepped closer to the man and put her head on his chest. He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. The Bartender felt like he was intruding just by glancing from afar while pouring another man’s pint.

Had they had a whole relationship over the past three weeks and were now breaking up? In the same spot they met? That seemed dramatic, but the Bartender stepped away to collect empty glasses and bottles, leaving them to themselves. He was glad he was only one of two working tonight so they would have relative privacy.

Close to quarter after 9, the Bartender went back to the couple to offer them another drink. He planned to make a joke of how he’d remembered them from a few weeks back and offer them a round on the house – maybe that would get them to be less sad. But as he was stepping close to make his offer, they drained their glasses at the same time, kissed again in a way that made the Bartender feel like an intruder, and walked off, holding hands. The no-longer-bearded man betrayed no emotion, but his eyes lost the happiness and wonder he’d had weeks prior. Deflated. The woman didn’t have as sad an expression, but she looked straight ahead as she walked out like she had the last time.

The Bartender shook his head as he collected the empty glasses and put them in the dirties tray. He had to add a third way first dates would go in his Central London pub: they have one,  two drinks at most, and go their own ways; they drink until close and sloppily kiss in a booth; they go on to have a relationship that will end right where it started, three weeks apart.

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