The prompt was to write about an old-school tavern, and to include one of six random objects. 1000 word limit.
I went with them all: iPod, shawl, broccoli, fake flowers, glasses, and a bookmark. Why not. I'm not sure how well this one worked. It's different. 903 words.
The Tavern's Menu
The morning sun struggled to penetrate the tavern windows, covered as they were with decades of smoke, dirt, and spider webs. The large room was empty in the morning light, tables still pulled into groups by last night's patrons, some chairs overturned, some broken. Last night had been busy, a lot of work for all. Yet, the take had been less than expected. Energy levels were low this morning, but the empty quart bottles, beer glasses, crumpled chip bags, and dirty plates still had to be cleaned up, and lunch had to be prepared. The tavern found the strength to send out some Billys, round-shouldered, slow-moving, but dependable. They vacantly worked their way through the room with brooms and mops, wet cloths and disinfectant spray, empty beer cases and kitchen dish bins. They opened some windows, to clear the smell of beer and sweat and old socks, and straightened the tables and chairs into neat rows. Sometimes they found a pile of rumpled clothes on the chair seat, and empty shoes underneath. These just went into the charity bin, the owners would not be claiming them.
Within an hour, the room was relatively clean, the windows closed, and it was time for the lunch crowd. Today's special was a half-price quart and a roast pork sandwich, plus cream of broccoli soup. It was really just a loss leader, but hopefully some would return that night for the band, maybe some would stay after. The tavern hoped so. The room filled fast with office workers and labourers, bragging of last night's conquests and today's deals, cell phone in one hand, a beer in the other. Half a dozen Kims spread out to serve them, with teased hair, short skirts, tattoos, and attitude. The tavern had honed that attitude into just the right mix of flirty and bossy, accessible and indifferent. They could break a twenty for you, or a finger.
By two the crowd had thinned out, with just a few regulars: retirees with nothing better to do than sit and yell at each other, an older couple in the corner, wrapped in their shawls and the past, and of course Highwater. He sat quietly, swaying back and forth, nursing a mini-pitcher as he listened to his Walkman—no i-Pod for him. He sang along, slightly off key, beaming vacantly around the room. Once he'd finished his beer he stood, yanked up his pants enough to show his sock tops, and headed for the door. That was the signal. The tavern dimmed the lights in anticipation of the evening, cranked down the temperature to pre-cool the room, and turned the canned music. The afternoon crowd knew it was time, so they paid up and left.
The band showed up at seven for their setup. The members varied from week to week, but it was always the same music: classic rock band covers, 60′s to 80′s, good to dance to. Played not that well, but with enthusiasm. They often spend an hour balancing sounds as if playing in a concert hall, a vast concert hall.
After their break for a free supper and some quarts, it was finally show-time. Tables were already starting to fill up: the regulars, a birthday party, a few singles, some wide-eyed couples from the suburbs. The house lights went down, the band′s lights went up, and they led off with ″Mustang Sally″. The crowd needed little encouragement, rushing onto the dance floor with whoops and whistles.
As the crowd grew, the room got hotter, the air thicker. Clothes were loosened, skin was flaunted as it glistening in the bump and grind of the packed dance floor. Couples, singles, the nightly birthday crowd, all danced together as one pulsating organism. The band cranked out fast tunes, one after another, all blended into one long cacophonous medley. The drums beat out a jungle rhythm; the bass rattled the glasses; the guitars screeched higher and higher, and the singer, eyes bulging and spittle flying, whipped the crowd into a higher and higher frenzy. There was fighting in one corner, with grunts and groans and cries of anger and the smash of broken chairs. In another corner, grunts and groans mixed with cries of delight, as a couple followed their passions. The room was a maelstrom of flashing stage lights, gyrating dancers, mind-numbing music, building and building, until with a final screeching note, the house lights went up.
The performers stopped and bowed. It wasn't quite one a.m. but the band knew not to argue with the tavern. Sure, there were protests from the crowd, but the bright lights, and lack of music, encouraged people to head off to party somewhere else. As the room cleared, the lights dimmed back down, to tempt a few stragglers to lag behind, to head for a corner for a quiet smoke, to have just one more drink. Maybe a free shooter—courtesy of the tavern. Tonight more stayed behind than usual, a cause for celebration.
Once again daylight crept into the tavern, empty yet again, the bodies of last night′s stragglers absorbed, leaving a sad pile of clothes behind.
Except for one table. The tavern watched the man lift his head from his arms, run fingers through a shock of white hair, and stretch.
″What a fantastic night. Hello? Anybody there? Any chance I could get a coffee to start the day?″
The tavern sent a Kim out immediately with a steaming hot mug. The stranger took a sip and lit a cigarette. He opened his notebook to a blank page and took out a fountain pen.
He was just a fellow connoisseur of people, absorbing their dialogue and their actions.