It is too early for me to be sitting at the bar when I see your name written on the wall. The sun is still out and I might consider this bar a dive if not for the art that holds residency on the walls. You’re not working that night and in your place are two men I’ve never seen before, the details of each which are easy to ignore because I can’t stop staring at your name written on the wall.
I had known your name way before I insisted you tell me.
I order a Sopa Honey and it tastes like disappointment. This is the only other one I’ve had since the first one you made for me. I want to say it tasted better that first night, or maybe it tasted the same and the disappointment didn’t matter to me back then. S makes conversation with the bartender as I sit in silence. You wouldn’t have known, but I am supposed to leave that next day and drive to Los Angeles; I tell myself it is to start over and forget the bartenders of San Francisco. The same stickers are fixed on the wall by the bottles of liquor and the register that reads Cash Only. I stare at the ones I used to only glance at and look towards the T Shirts up on the wall, remembering the ones you used to wear, the ones you gave me too. The bartender begins a story of a trip he took to the desert and I notice the tattoos running up his arm. I look to his neck, the top of his chest and see it is empty.
I want to ask you if you remember the night we yelled at you from across the bar. There was a man who used to hang around, he told us about a tattoo you had on your chest. He described it as a masterpiece of art, “A Garden of Eden” of sorts and said it was connected to the apple tattooed on your literal Adam’s apple. I nodded, though confused, and said I was intrigued. When he walked away we began yelling over the music - “Show us your chest! Hey, boyfriend, show us your chest!” And we weren’t screaming like girls, no, we were screaming in the deepest of voices I’ve ever heard come out of us, laughing while we fell off our bar stools because we were full of too many mules. The others around us heard and asked, concerned or annoyed, if we were okay. I slurred and told them I needed to see your chest.
I sense the bartender starting to flirt with S. He’s finished his story about the desert; he’s moved on to tell us about his band. It’s 7pm on a Wednesday, his shift hasn’t really started when he has this much time to chat and the part of me that doesn’t want to let go of the games we loved to play wonders what our tab will come out to if we keep this up.
We’d go in on those Monday and Wednesday nights and leave laughing because we thought we had bartenders figured out. We had kissed a few here and there, saw the ways they performed the same routine, the ways they thought they stood out for more than a few words and a shot. In this bar I learned the ways of showing attraction and love through drinks poured and tabs ignored while I told myself you were one of the same.
I realize there are other names written on the wall surrounding yours and my eyes aren’t the best, but I think I see numbers, dollar amounts, next to each one. Stormy Daniels’ name is up there with a large sum next to it. Donald Trump’s has a fat zero. There are San Francisco names I recognize and names I’ve never heard that go up and down that wall to my left and I question how I have never noticed them before tonight.
I used to feel I could just sit and watch you. I could ignore the music playing behind me whether it was a live band on Wednesdays or the DJ spinning Motown on Mondays. I could pretend I didn’t come back to see you each time and never admit I was hoping you’d flirt harder with me than any other. Our drinks went from being remembered, to prepared, to in front of me when I’d put my hand on the bar and make eye contact. I’d catch you watching as we danced, always at the moments that made you laugh most, always at the moments that made me hate the games us girls had created.
I interrupt the bartender’s story and ask what it all means, nodding toward the wall of names. He points at the very top of the list where it reads, “Buy A Drink for a Friend,” and explains the simplicity of it. You give the bar some money and a name, and the next time that name comes in a drink or two it’s on you. S might have said something like, “Wow that’s so fun,” but I’ve stopped listening and begin to stir the ice around in my empty glass, watering it down so I have something to sip on. I don’t look back at the wall when the bartender points to a name and tells us that particular man just likes being on the wall. He never bothers to come in either, he doesn’t even live in San Francisco, he says. I don’t have to look back at the wall to know your name has a large number next to it. I question, should I add to it?
I think a lot about the first time we ended up on the same side of a bar. A spontaneous night we met up in the Mission and we sipped Mezcal because I couldn’t admit to you I didn’t like the taste. I wanted, for one night, to not be the young girl who guzzled down Moscow Mules in front of you. That night I screamed when I opened my eyes and saw what the Apple on your neck was connected to. I screamed thinking of S and I that night months before yelling at you across the bar. I sat silently on top, tracing my fingers down Eve’s arm.
I could buy you a drink for all the ones I owe you. I could calculate the drinks that were slid my way, but like mine your tab is one that was never closed out. I wonder, was your name written down before or after you decided you’d never come back for another drink. I could reserve you a shot of Mezcal, but only if we could do one together because Mezcal has never tasted the same when there is no one to kiss the taste off your lips.
When S told me, she sat at our table and crossed her hands in front of her like she’d do when there was something difficult to say. I had driven by the bar that night on my way home, looked towards the entrance and wondered what drink you were making at that moment. I was scared, my thoughts competing to guess what she’d say next as she spoke your name. The words came out, and they were none that had ever existed to me and I felt nothing as I wondered who was there in your place before I wondered why.
I tell the bartender I used to come here a lot when I ask how long he’s worked there. I don’t ask if he knew you. I stopped months ago looking for people to commiserate with over someone whose photo is all over these walls here. I tell him he’s lucky to work a Wednesday night. He tells us we should stay and have another drink when we ask for our tab. I don’t say to him, “If you buy them, we will,” because he’s not you and I’m supposed to be leaving this space behind.
In the car I cry harder than I did the last time I was here, the time when I was still trying to piece together what had happened. I say through panicked breaths, “I just wanted to remember what it felt like.” But I’ve exhausted myself looking for those memories. I can remember what the nights filled with adventure and excitement were like, but ultimately they are the ones that lead to that regret I know I’ll never be able to take back.
For days after I had the same dream, the one where you were still here in the mornings when we were far away from any bar. And the dreams I continue to have make me grateful for the personification of the version of you that no longer exists. Every November for the last three, I’ve wondered where you went, whether you knew how loved you were, what the Mezcal tastes like where you’ve gone. I don’t like to drink it still and when I do, there is always that part of me that sips solely for nostalgia and refuses to reach for a chaser.
Victoria Crowe is a writer originally from Queens, NY. She studied creative writing in San Francisco and has since moved to Los Angeles. She writes both fiction and nonfiction and finds her poetry is usually decent after a bottle of wine. Her work has been published in Harness Magazine, Herstry Blog, and District Lit. She is currently finishing up her second novel and afterwards plans to start her first.