| Stacking our glasses in one hand and taking up Tommy’s beer bottle in the other, I walked over to the bar through a mostly empty Aoife’s. The only bartender still on shift, the new girl was standing at the side of the bar with a broom and dustpan over a shattered bottle of Blue Moon. Gently laying the Heineken in the bin beside her, I set our glasses on the counter and started for the door.
After about two steps, I felt a light tap on my right knee. Looking down, I saw a lavender dustpan barring my exit. Following a slender Victorian arm back to its owner, I found her staring up to me, her green eyes somehow still bright and lively underneath the shadows dancing off the walls. As she stood, I could see that she was a few inches shorter than me, and caught a glimpse of a tattoo over her left shoulder- some Celtic symbol I recognized but couldn’t name, no bigger than a postage stamp.
Shunting the last shards of brown glass into the bin, she turned back to me and smiled. “You” she said, leaning the dustpan and broom against the bar, “Strange boy who tips well and cleans up after his friends- hang out for a bit?”
Still wondering how I hadn’t noticed her eyes while she took my order, I set my bag down and took the stool in front of her. She gathered the dirty glasses I had brought and took them to the sink behind her. After giving each a once-over with a frothing sponge and some time under the tap, she lined them up along the rim of the sink, set the sponge down beside them and turned back to me.
“It’s Nate, right?” she asked. “One of your friends said it as they left.”
I nodded. “And I’m sorry, but I don’t have your name…”
She gave me a slight shrug and replied, “Well, why would you? I only got yours by eavesdropping anyway.” Fishing behind her for a dishrag, she came up with one and wiped the bartop between us. Staring into the dull gray, she deemed her work satisfactory and tossed the rag back onto the faucet. Then, resting her elbows in the newly cleaned space, she softened her posture and leaned forward.
“That’s the problem with an old-fashioned place like this,” she said, “No nametags.” Looking past me, she scanned the room for customers who needed her. As she realized there were none and her eyes met mine again, I watched the smile revive itself in her lips.
“I’m Maddie. Lovely to meet you, Nate.”
Her formality made me grin. “Likewise”.
The seconds that followed were comfortably silent ones, an opportunity I took to remind myself to breathe. “So” I asked eventually, “You’re new here, then?”
She shook her head, still smiling. “Not exactly” she said. “Aoife’s has been like home my whole life, really- I’m Kelly’s niece.”
I flinched. Seeing this, Maddie went red and hastily added, “The nice one.”
I exhaled and slowly let my bag sink back into the floor. Aoife’s was co-owned by lifelong friends Martin Kelly and Kelly Walker: he looked after the bar and she worked the books. Martin finally stopped tending bar himself a few years ago, back when Colleen and Drew had only just discovered the place (and Tommy and I were obligated in our youth to seek alcohol from, well, alternative sources), but he still hung about on the weekends to see that everyone was having a good time. Most of the time he was content to stay out of the action on the barstool closest to the door, greeting familiar faces as they came in with a smile and a bit of talk, but nothing that’d keep them too long from the rest of their plans for the night. On rare occasions, though, those beautiful evenings when Nora Connelly was in town to fiddle and the patrons had been clever enough to buy him a pint or three, Maddie’s uncle would stride across the bar to join the band for a few verses of “Whack Fol the Diddle” or “Galway Girl” and get everyone in the place singing along.
Kelly Walker, however, she didn’t sing; I caught her smiling at her business partner’s antics once, but never anything more than that. People said the reason she was so cold was that she’d been in the army before she and Martin went into business- nobody ever said which army. Of course, smiling or singing or not, she didn’t spend much time in the bar, just sat in the back office minding the finances. If she were to make an appearance for the Friday night crowd, it was usually because someone had just gotten on her bad side. And when she did make an appearance, the ice in her glare and the camán in her grip made you pray that someone hadn’t been you.
As adorable as the reaction had been, Maddie did seem genuinely concerned that I might associate her with the wrong Kelly, so I tried to deflate the issue. “As good as that is to know” I replied, making a show of wiping my brow, “what I meant was how long have you been working here?”
Hiding her eyes, she wrinkled her nose. “Oh, right, that” she said, looking up again. “Well, I graduated last year, spent a while traveling, and then I came home while I still had something to pass for rent money, so…” Pausing, she refocused into a weak grin, and her last words came out almost as a question. “Since last Tuesday?”
I shrugged, and her expression softened into something more sure of itself. Figuring it’d be best to change the subject, I asked her where she’d been travelling. She replied with a list of ten or so cities, guiding me through Central Europe and Scandinavia, taking some extra time to explain a mix-up at the Dutch border. When we got to her last stop in Dublin, I was relieved to finally have some tales of my own to trade. I’d only ever been for a week on a school trip, so of course most of hers were better, but I spun my stories the best I knew how and it wasn’t long before all our talk had me missing Kilkenny and the everywhere green and the buskers in the Temple Bar streets.
I was telling her about a night where Tommy and I got blitzed at dinner and met a fox on our walk home when my phone went off. Apologizing, I stood and took my phone out of my pocket, stabbing the top button as I pulled it up to my face. It wasn’t a phone call, just an alarm- seven forty-six. I sighed and silenced it. Sitting back down, I stared into my reflection in the screen’s black glass until the keenness in Maddie’s voice snapped me out of it.
“So what happened?”
Ashamed of myself for zoning out on her (and for the second time that night, even), I set down my phone and repositioned myself on the stool. “Well” I said, “Eventually I managed to explain to Tommy that my suggestion of sharing our leftovers with the fox didn’t actually mean sitting down in the middle of a bridge and eating with him, and he reluctantly agreed to pick himself up and keep walking.”
Maddie’s immediate reaction was one of pure amusement, though it quickly went skeptical. “And you actually left the food for the fox?” she pressed.
I nodded. “Yes, we left the food for the fox- what of it?” I asked her, working a friendly touch of offense into the question. Maddie collapsed her elbows and let her head dangle over the bartop as she laughed into her hands. Tilting my head to her level, I told her that I’d be right back. Her response came mostly in muffled giggles.
With my backpack over one shoulder, I walked along the bar toward the washroom. As I reached the middle of the bar, something caught my eye and I slowed to a stop. The note I’d found earlier was still there, seemingly untouched since our last encounter- folds intact, script still clean. More than that, the paper appeared so undisturbed that I had to wonder if anyone else at Aoife’s had even glanced vaguely in its direction in the past few hours. I gave the last groups still drinking a once-over, searching for any hint of anyone it might have something to do with, but it didn’t take long to recognize that I wouldn’t even know what to look for. Adjusting the place where my bag’s strap rested on my collarbone, I slipped the note into my pocket and started walking again.
Entering the Men’s, I stopped in front of the sink counter. Knowing Aoife’s far too well to trust her floors, I found a dry spot between the two taps to set my bag down and turned on the cold from the left sink. Without reaching for the soap, I washed my face in my hands and grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser to dry, crumpling it in my fist and smiling faintly as a casual toss sent it floating into the bin off the bank. Then, unzipping the smallest pocket of my backpack, I withdrew a prescription bottle, took off the lid, and shook two small pink ovals into my hand. Raising them to my mouth, I saw my reflection writhe as I set the pills on my tongue and went back to the tap for a cupped handful chaser. When I swallowed, it looked relieved- I wasn’t sure yet how I felt about the arrangement.
Celexa (citalopram hydrobromide).
Take two 20mg tablets daily, with water, shortly after eating. Do not take Celexa on an empty stomach. Do not take before bed or any other extended horizontal periods. Do not try to write while taking Celexa, as it probably won’t do you or your writing any good. Do think that it might somehow still be worth it to feel happy. Do realize that it will quite often take weeks (and perhaps even months) for a patient to feel the effects of this medication. Do not get impatient. Do continue to remind yourself to stand at a safe distance from the tracks when the 6 train rushes into the station. Do not forget to remind yourself to breathe.
WARNING: Other side effects of taking Celexa may include upset stomach, migraines, crippling self-doubt, chartikleptomania and/or the decision to end a perfectly good streak of three months without talking to your emotionally abusive parents. Taking Celexa with alcohol may result in more severe depressive symptoms, constant fear that alcohol will severely worsen your depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation. Taking Celexa without alcohol may result in lying to your friends, overanalyzing every social interaction more than you already would, and making an idiot out of yourself in front of attractive bartenders. If these or any other problems arise, speak with the prescribing mental health professional about discontinuing use of Celexa- yes, that would involve talking about your problems, something you have NEVER been good at, but the sheer fact that you were able to get over yourself even once and start seeing someone with the authority to prescribe this medication means that you can probably do this too. It’s not much, but it’s a start. You can do this, Nate. It’s a good start, dammit.
I returned the pill bottle to my backpack and pulled the zipper shut. Wiping my face with another paper towel, I picked up my bag and headed out. As I paused for a breath in front of the door, I pulled out my phone again and reset the alarm for seven thirty-nine. Routine and round numbers are best reserved for people who believe there is some semblance of order in their lives.
Maddie was helping a Wall Street-type settle his tab for the night as I approached. While I set my bag down by the stool in front of her and sat, I caught her scowling at what I figured was a cheapskate’s tip. Sliding his cash off the table, she turned to face me, and the fire in her eyes shifted without losing any energy into something more playful.
“Hey” I said, leaning in slightly.
“Hey Nate” she replied, matching my lean as she locked her eyes with mine. “Give it back.”