The bartender nods as I enter. What’ll you have, he asks. Wiping down the bartop as all good bartenders do.
Anything is good. I’m only sheltering from the rain. He asks me if I’ll get a more expensive mocktail. In return he’ll tell me a story – and if I don’t like either, it’s on the house.
So I sit, sip and listen.
Once, when I was younger, says he, a puppy came into the bar. It didn’t bark like most dogs, or make the same noises. I believed it could talk, but it was a gravelly noise, like rocks and pebbles thrown into a bag, shaken, not stirred.
It would go around to my patrons, paws in their laps, looking up into their faces, making those noises. Patrons would aww at it, try to pet it, but it’d shy away. It only did that to me once but when I didn’t respond, it stopped. I did feed it though. Felt I had to.
The puppy became a dog. The gravelly noises changed tones. No more paws in laps. It’d run in, have its meal, then make the rounds, staring into people’s faces, moving on when the response was wrong. It didn’t hurt no one. Didn’t seem to like no one either.
Also had an old soldier in my bar every night. Grizzled like a wounded bear, gentle as a lamb. Right after dinner, he’d come in, order a pint, stare at the wall. Leave at closing, then the same again the next night. Without fail. Wordless. Quiet. No trouble at all.
Till one day, the dog came in at night. Made its rounds. Left the soldier for last.
Well, that night, the soldier picked up his pint and threw it at the dog who ducked just in time. Then there was a merry chase around the bar except it wasn’t all that merry. More murdery. I had to stop em so I grabbed the first thing I could, and waved it in the soldier’s face. We both were mildly surprised that it was a bowl of moldy peanuts. I swear I don’t keep peanuts out long enough to gather mould, but it was there that night and it gave the soldier enough pause for me to ask what be the big deal.
The soldier told me, the dog be speaking an old, old language from the soldier’s youth. So old he hadn’t heard it for too many years. And the dog was cursing a terrible curse, a curse of his family’s family. He had to stop it before it got worse.
Well, I said, you can stop it outside my bar please, if you will. But it also crossed my mind to say, it’s rare enough to find a dog that can talk a non dog language. A dog that can speak your lost language though, that’s rarer than mould on a peanut bowl.
The soldier stopped and gravelled at the dog who gravelled in return. And they gobbled and grabbelled until they cried and hugged (the soldier hugged the dog while it whined and whoomped. They both sobbed like long lost babies.).
When the tears had dried and the dust (not mould) had settled, the soldier told me, the dog had been the puppy of an old man of his tribe. Had gotten lost, and was looking for home but no one understood it. As it got older, it got lonelier and angrier. Them questions became curses, wilder and wilder. No one understood, and no one came to bring it home. When the soldier heard it, he was really mad, but now they were going to be friends. The dog was now home.
So every night, they’d come back to my pub together. The soldier with his pint, the dog with something the soldier prepared, in the soldier’s corner, grabbeling and gromping at each other. To hell with the world. They spoke, they ate, they drank, they were quiet, it was all good.
Until one night, the dog came through the doors alone. Sat in that corner, face to the wall, thin as a rake, refusing my food and my drink, refusing to speak, only allowing my arm over its shoulders for a while. Then it left. Alone.
Never to be seen again by me.
That mocktail was good. I pay up in full.
(Reposted from my Tumblr account)