This post was written in a fit of sleeplessness, and the idea was erroneously stolen from Bryn Homuth, whose poem “Nightcap” inspired the setting. For his more poetic version of this story, click here.
The tavern was dingy and unkept—as if many travelers had been there before, though it appeared rather empty this evening, or I should say, this early morning. The ceiling was low and long and consisted of wooden beams for rafters on which hung old, black chandeliers with four candles each shining dimly. There was a long bench to one side of the tavern and several tables strewn throughout in a way that looked as if many of the attendants had come in fits and left in a hurry. I took a quick glance around the room to see if my companion had arrived, but seeing as how I hadn’t actually met the man, I gathered my sight was an ill tool for such discoveries. In any case, I figured the host may know of something, and shuffling between and around a row of abandoned tables, I took a seat at the bar.
“What will it be tonight, Broom?”
“Excuse me?” I asked in wonder. “You know me?”
“Of course. Yer a reg’lar; but no worries, chap, lads ‘oo venture in muh tavern rare remember their stay.”
“Is that so? And just how many times have I been here?”
“Ye? Why I’d say ye come in ‘ere at least once a month, but ye know, some months I see ye more than others. Yer one of my favorites, Broom. Often ye come in ‘ere yellin’ and cursin’ up a storm, as mad as ‘ell. It’s as if the devil took ye by the collar in time and forced ye into it. It’s a jolly show fer the rest of us; though I don’t mind these tame nights either, for I find ye a pleasant chap fer conversation. Ye can see we don’t get too many conversat’lists in muh tavern.”
This caused me to take another scan of the room. At least two individuals had entered since I came in, though I couldn’t for the life of me remember hearing any enter. I saw one man with disheveled hair and wire rim glasses on the bench reading. He looked like a professor type, and though I couldn’t make out what he was reading, I saw that he did not seem to be reading the book for content. But rather, he seemed to be reading it in order to affect a mood in himself, as if he was reading each word and each sentence, waiting for something to happen. And when he kept reading new sentences, which turned into paragraphs and caused him to turn pages, the look of defeat and despair grew on his face with each new leaf.
“‘Ee will be ‘ere awhile,” the bar tender said, pointing to the man. “‘Ee’s tryin’ too ‘ard.”
Another man lay prostrate on one of the tables, muttering some inaudible things as if to a god. I looked intently at the man but could not make out what he was saying, and the whole time, I gathered that he was not entirely conscious of being at the tavern.
“How did that man arrive, sir?” I asked the host.
“‘Im? ‘Ee remind me of ye!”
“Excuse me! I do not —”
“Why ye wuz just doing that very thin’ before ye shuffled on over ‘ere. I wuz ‘opin’ we’d git to see one uv yer tantrums agin, but I guess yer all out of energy for such thin’s eh?”
“Sir, I don’t know who you think you are, but I’ve had about enough. I don’t throw silly tantrums or mumble things on a table. Now, I was supposed to meet a man here this evening, and if you see him, I’ll be right over there,” and pointing to a dark corner, I took my drink and headed to it.
It was not until I nearly sat down that I saw the figure in a hood, smoking a pipe and holding a small book with a pen. He was sitting in the corner I wished to occupy, and seeing him, I started back in a moment and quickly apologized.
“Excuse me, sir! I’m so terribly sorry. I did not see you there. I will go sit somewhere else. So terribly sorry,” and I turned to leave.
“No need, sir, no need,” the man said politely. “I’ve given up.”
“I’m sorry?” I asked.
“Giv N. Up is my name. I’m a regular. I recognize you, but then, I recognize most folks who come in here. See, I’ve resigned myself to this tavern every night. I was once like you. Young. Hopeful. I was also told that I was supposed to meet someone here. Never happened. Consciously, at least. No, I find it best to make this place a nice little home of sorts, to come willingly and only to leave kicking and screaming — much like many enter.”
I now scanned the tavern once again. The man reading the book was still present, but the prostrate grumbler had left. I noticed two other men, looking over papers and books scattered on a table and then three others, playing cards at another table.
Another gentlemen entered crying, hands folded and looking up. He fell on his knees and beat his breast with eyes down. His tears hit the floor like sprinkling raindrops, not quite enough to wipe up the accumulated layer of dust along the floor. He finished, crossed himself, and took a seat at the bar, looking fresher but still preoccupied.
“More regulars,” Giv said, “though not as frequent as me. Say, what is your name?”
“Snow. Broom Snow. I’m supposed to meet a man here but—”
“As am I” Giv said, pricking up his eyebrows in amusement. “As is the man reading the book and the others playing cards and those two looking over the papers. Even the man crying at the bar is supposed to meet someone. We were all told that someone was supposed to meet us here, but no one knows who or why. They only know that you cannot leave until you meet him, and the more you think or talk about him, the less likely it is you will meet him. The trick is to not think about meeting him, as you observe these men doing. Go ahead, try to not think about it.”
I tried, but of course, it was in vain. Though I wasn’t entirely sure I could trust this man, his words made me afraid that I might never get out of the tavern.
“You’ll leave; don’t worry,” he said, reading my thoughts. “Everyone always leaves, even me. See one of our card players is out.”
I looked and, indeed, the card player was gone, and the other two seemed to be packing up their game and getting ready to leave. The man seemed to know quite a bit about the tavern and the man I was supposed to meet, and seeing as how I was no closer to answers, I asked him about the man.
“Like I said, the more you talk about him here, the less likely you will meet him. The game is distraction or avoidance. But really, I should be honest. The man is very busy. He is in charge of every soul on the planet—not at the same time, though, mind you. But each night he visits everyone, though most people are unaware they’ve actually ever met him. I hear with the increase in pills, he is nearly out of work, which means he likes our attention. We were sent here because we thought about him too much, and he has promised to meet us once we stop thinking about him. I should say, it is a paradox of sorts. You cannot know you have met until well after the fact. The actual face-to-face meeting has rarely, if ever, happened. But the best thing to do is to keep sipping that beer of yours and distracting yourself with something other than your meeting.”
I pondered a bit and decided I would take the man’s advice. Shuffling back over to the bar, I sat within hearing distance of the other man seated there. He was still crying and clutching a necklace, though now he was looking up. I could scarcely make out that he was repenting of something he had done, and deciding it was not my place, I turned my attention to the bottles of beer on the wall. My vision began to grow hazy, but I started counting the bottles, slowly, one by one, mouthing the numbers faintly so to line up with my breathing. Even as I now reflect, I cannot remember why I decided to do such a thing, or how many bottles I eventually counted. I do remember, at one point during my counting, hearing faint footsteps getting closer with each step. I then remembered my meeting, and the footsteps stopped. Cursing myself, I resumed my counting, this time, blocking out the noise of the footsteps. Nevertheless, they grew closer and louder with each number, mimicking my heavy breathing which seemed to nearly line up with the sobs coming from the repentant man to my left. I felt so close, as if any moment, I would meet that man who promised to see me. That ended it. Nearly unable to open my eyes, I couldn’t help but turn to the man with the pipe in the corner. “Say,” I began, “Do you happen to know the name of the man I’m supposed to meet?”
Silence. The man in the corner was gone.
Dejected. I turned back around to count the bottles again. The trance I had just entered began sooner this time. I could nearly feel my lungs match those footsteps and the sobbing seemed so real; they seemed, strangely, to be filling my own lungs. I was nearing the last bottle, and my head was growing heavy. Then the final one. I raised my eyes to start the counting over, but only to see a pale-faced man in a black, three-piece suit across the bar.
He grabbed my collar and said, “The Name’s Sleep.”
All went black, and I couldn’t help but think that I’d be back.
Broom Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written during an early morning thunderstorm,
April 3, 2015
Painting:”A Tavern Scene”
By Dutch School,
Oil on panel, n.d.