[Shorts][Bartender Stories] Who’s the Strongest?

Part of my job includes taking photos, and one time I had to muck about with a ship in a tub. However I mucked it, it still insisted on being a ship full of water, heading down.

After beating back yet another bunny that had inexplicably poked its head around my door to look at what I was doing, I threw in the towel. I got on my hrududu and made my way to my now favourite pub for my mocktail fix.

Not for the stories of course. Though my regular bartender had one ready for me.

I never knew (said bartender-rah), when I bought this place over, just how interesting this plot of land is. My fairy acquaintance did try to explain it to me once, after he’d had a thimble of vodka I’d left out with his regular beef portion. This pub sits on a confluence of influences. Fairies, dreams, fantasies, ideas, potential dimensions and dying stars alike have influences on the fabric of this world. Stories have power to change things in our world, and these are influenced by the glimpses we get into these otherworldly or outerworldly places.

I (continued bartender-rah) have no idea what the fairy was talking about, mind you. It might explain why the last owner insisted on passing me the keys to this pub at specifically 12 minutes after noon on the 12th of December. He was sweating quite a bit while doing it too. In the middle of winter.

Maybe he just likes the number 12 a great deal.

But strange things do happen here.

It was that moment between the darkest minute of midnight and the second where the next day really starts. I was still cleaning up after turfing another embleer drunk gently out the front door. There was no one left in that moment, so I was ready to take a short breather. I went back behind my bar, and placed my turfing mop back in its place, and I heard the door open.

I turned around, greetings on my lips. “Good even, good fellows! What… Are… You… Having?”

A horse and a tiger entered the bar. Instead of leading up to a punchline, they looked like they had both been punched up. The tiger took a seat at my bar, and when I say took a seat, I mean it rested its butt on the bar stool, while folding its forepaws on the counter.

The horse just laid its head on the counter and stared in my direction. I truly understood what people meant by horses have long faces. That was one long face staring at me.

With a hoarse voice, the tiger asked for a slice of raw beef, “as large, thick and cold as you can keep it,” and a Shirley Temple in a bowl. The horse asked for a bowl of oats and a bucket of iced water in a naggy tone.

(I had to use the mop bucket, but I swear I cleaned it thoroughly before filling it with ice and water filtered through a spring. I clean that spring regularly too, and make sure it has some bounce in it.)

They took a while to eat their food, especially the tiger who held the beef to her black eye for a long while before eating it with relish. I’ve never seen a tiger eating pickles before. The horse just ate like he hadn’t been able to silflay for a while, pausing only to harrumph and toss his head.

When they finally had had some drink as well, they started talking for real. It turns out they had been arguing over who was stronger.

The horse insisted that his child needed only an hour after birth to start running around, and would start eating grass on its own within a couple of weeks. The horse himself could kick down a barn door, leap over stiles with a single bound, and pull heavy carts and loads, no problem. He could eat sugar and apples and could find food easily – grass was not exactly hard to find in a non-desert area. Tigers only ate meat. Such inflexibility.

The tiger simply flexed her forearms and opened her mouth wide, displaying her long canines. She also gave a soft roar, rattling the glasses in my cabinet behind the bar. The horse snidely asked if she needed to see a vet for that cough.

Before they started throwing haymakers again, I felt I had to say something.

“You both do know that you are both strong?”

Two sets of angry eyes stared at me.

“In the beat of a mouse’s heart, either of you could destroy my pub. The tiger can take down a horse with a paw and a bite, the horse can brain a tiger with a well placed kick. Your strength is more visible, tiger san, but humans tend to hunt you more, and your numbers are less. Your strength is undeniable too, neigh-bour, but humans use that strength to make things easier for themselves.”

I paused to assure them that I was in no way insulting them or stating that humans are superior to them.

“My point though, is that you both each have your strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps you’d argue that even the food you eat determines how strong you might be, but does it, really? Or how soon your children can be independent of you. Is that necessarily strength?”

“I’m a dude that serves fermented water in different flavours. I listen to you guys for the money (hopefully) that you’ll pay me. I serve others and clean up after them. I won’t last seconds in a fight with either of you. Would you call me weak and still drink the drinks I serve you?”

They both pointed out that I was, indeed, still weak.

“Well, weak as I am, shaking in my boots as I am, I’m speaking up to avoid either of you turning my much loved bar into kindling. Is that weakness still?”

Both of them stayed quiet at this while I cleaned my bartop.

“In how many worlds can a horse and a tiger get along without wanting to kill each other? Why not use your strengths for each other, to make up for any weaknesses you may have, instead of trying to one up each other in a way that doesn’t matter at all?”

I honestly don’t think horses and tigers can talk. But after getting home from my mocktail, I’m going to lay some lettuce out for those bunnies.

You never know.

(Reposted from my Tumblr account)

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