The sign out front said Phenix. It meant to say Phoenix but the O was out.
Charlie walked up.
The security guard spoke.
Charlie pulled out his wallet. Gave the guard his ID.
It’s an Australian licence.
Charlie was from out of town. The guard looked at the ID.
Where’s your birthday?
Charlie leaned over, pointed at the ID.
The guard looked up.
Don’t worry about it. You over 21?
The guard reached out. Pass me your hand.
Charlie stuck his hand out. Got the stamp. A red bird.
Inside was dark. A few people at the front, more down the back. Charlie went to the back. Walked around. There were arcade games against the walls. Space Invaders, Ride the Red, Deer Hunting, Duck Hunting, Pinball, Mini-Bowling. Charlie walked back to the front. Sat down at the bar.
Charlie had never done this before. Go to a bar alone. Sat down alone. He’d been walking around all night alone. Travelling alone. Dinner alone. The bar was different. The seat to the left is empty right empty. At a bar alone.
The bartender was walking up and down. Grabbing glasses, moving them to other parts of the bar, putting things in the fridge, taking them out. He had long hair tied back, a thin moustache, young, about the same age as Charlie.
What are you after?
What’s good to get?
Where you from?
Australia hey. We don’t get many of those here. How about one of the Green Irons?
Charlie handed over the money.
The bartender walked down, opened the register, dropped the coins in, closed it. Poured a Green Iron.
Where’d the name come from?
I’m not sure. All I know is it’s good.
Charlie looked at it. It was golden full of bubbles bubbles racing to the top. He lifted it to his face, could smell it before he tasted it, sipped.
What do you think?
Told you. How long you in town for?
Charlie told him. A similar story to what he’d said before. A few more weeks, no plans, taking it as it comes, a few more nights here before going somewhere else.
Someone else came up to the counter, the bartender walked went over to them.
Charlie sat and sipped. Looked down the back of the bar. There was a big crowd there, they were laughing really getting into it covered with purple lights from the roof. Charlie was happy sitting with himself. He was at a bar alone for the first time. The seats left and right empty. Sitting alone.
The bartender came back.
Charlie handed over the cash, it went in the register.
Two girls walked in. They sat on the seat to the right and the one next to it. Charlie kept looking forward. Didn’t break stare as they sat down, ordered.
The girls started talking. Something about how their night was going. Whose birthday it was. Who they would meet out later. Where they would go after the Phoenix.
Charlie turned towards them.
Where’s the best place to go around here?
The girl with brown hair started talking.
Oh, you’ve got plenty of places. The Rabbit Hole is good, Container Bar, Spicy Mikes.
Where are they?
Wait, where are you from?
The girl turned to her friend.
Rebecca, he’s from Australia.
Rebecca joined in. Rebecca had dark tan skin, black hair.
He’s from Australia!
Charlie reached out.
My name’s Charlie.
He shook Rebecca’s hand.
And the other girl.
What are you doing here?
Travelling around, exploring. I don’t have many plans.
Where have you been so far?
Charlie told her.
They got to talking more. Another girl arrived. Rebecca turned to her.
Charlie and Sophie kept talking.
Sophie was a writer. A reporter. She wrote stories wrote articles. Had a few things published in local magazines, online a few other places. Charlie told her he was into writing too. Stories, poems, the like. Sophie worked at the local art museum, walked around making sure people didn’t touch the artwork. She was a student at the local college, a student reporter.
The bartender came over with the girls’ orders.
Rebecca thanked him.
Charlie held his glass out.
Everyone joined in. Cheers.
Charlie made eye contact with the girl on the end. She started talking.
Hey Amber, I’m Charlie.
It’s Ambers birthday.
Happy birthday Amber.
Thank you. I’ve never been wished happy birthday by an Australian before.
Amber was too far away to hold a conversation with. That was the problem with bars and music. Unless the person was right next to you, talking was difficult. Charlie liked talking. He wasn’t alone anymore.
Rebecca started speaking. Let’s go and play the arcade!
There were a few games at the other end of the bar, closer to the front, up a couple of stairs. Charlie followed them.
They sat down. Rebecca looked through her purse, fumbled around, found one coin, put it in, kept looking no coins.
Charlie put the other coin in.
The table lit up. The screen was built into it right underneath the glass, there were joysticks at each end. Charlie grabbed one and Rebecca grabbed the other.
Okay, you’ve got to shoot my ship and I’ve got to shoot yours.
The game started. Rebecca got off an early shot. Damaged Charlie’s ship. She dodged his first shot, his second, his third, fired back, missed. Charlie fired again, hit, then again, hit.
What! Two in a row?
Rebecca took a shot, hit. Yes!
Charlie fired three off, all hits. Rebecca fired back, missed, Charlie sent three more back, two hit, one missed.
You’re good at this.
The game started making noises and flashing lights. A bonus sign came up on the screen.
Rebecca called out.
Oh! This is it! This is where we’ve got to team up and kill the boss!
Let’s do it.
Charlie watched the screen. Rebecca watched the screen. Sophie looked at Charlie then looked at the screen.
The boss appeared. A giant ship, it had small ships around it, green tentacles connecting them. It was on. The giant ship sent out a spray of shots, all missed except one, got Rebecca on the side. Charlie took a shot, destroyed one of the small ships, Rebecca took the next, hit a small ship on the other side. Another spray of shots came, Charlie got hit twice, Rebecca dodged them. Rebecca hit another ship, Charlie missed. Come on Aussie, you’ve gotta help me here! Charlie sent out two shots, two kills.
The giant ship flashed white, sent out three shots, the shots were moving, not in a straight line, they were following Charlie and Rebecca. Rebecca went to the left, the shot came with her, to the right, followed, to the left, same again. Charlie went straight for the giant ship, the shots followed. Rebecca was being chased, couldn’t get away, turned left, turned right, got stuck on the edge of the screen, the big shot connected, her ship blew up. NO!
Charlie was getting closer to the giant ship. Two shots following him. There were two ships in front. He fired three shots, one went off to the left, the other two hit, destroyed. Charlie kept the joystick pressed forward. The shots were getting closer. All the small ships were gone. The path was clear. Charlie pulled a sharp left, right up the side of the giant ship.
The shots kept going. Hit the side of the giant ship, exploded.
The screen flashed. WOOOO!
Charlie looked up.
Rebecca was cheering.
You did it!
I’ve never beaten this one.
Sophie was smiling.
Charlie did it. The hero. Killed the giant ship.
Everyone laughed. They all knew how lame it was. It didn’t matter. Lame was fun. Any kind of challenge can be fun. Even pixels on a screen.
All this action made me nervous. I’m going to the bathroom.
Charlie looked at Sophie. Smiled. Sophie speaks.
I didn’t say anything.
Oh, I thought you did.
No the music is loud, let me come over there.
Charlie got up and moved next to Sophie, sat down.
Where you going next?
I’m not sure. It’s Ambers birthday, so wherever she wants to go.
I don’t know.
Charlie laughed. Sophie smiled.
The talking stopped. But the energy was there. Charlie had seen her eyes. She saw his. That was enough. They knew.
Rebecca came back.
Let’s go to a booth.
They all sat down. Charlie ordered more drinks. Two Green Irons and a Mojito. Rebecca wanted the Mojito.
Amber wasn’t anywhere to be seen. The girls didn’t mind. They knew she’d be with Sam.
This guy she’s been seeing.
What’s he like?
The girls were silent. Looked at each other. Made a few sounds, a low giggle.
Sophie held back a laugh.
Charlie sipped at the Green Iron. He thought about the bartender. Wondered how many Green Irons he’d been through. Sipped again. It tasted even better with victory. Charlie destroyed the giant ship. The hero.
I’m going to dance.
Want to come?
I’m good. I’m gonna stay here and finish my drink.
Charlie knew what he was doing. He was staying there for Sophie.
Sophie, you coming?
I’m gonna stay here too.
Oh, you two are boring!
Rebecca walked off.
Charlie and Sophie looked at each other. The eyes were there. Locked on. Charlie felt it. Sophie felt it. Sophie looked away. Broke it. Looked at her drink, moved it to her mouth, sipped, spoke.
You were right. This is good. Thank you.
Thank the bartender. I had no idea what to order.
Sophie smiled. Kept looking forward. Turned to Charlie.
So what do you write about?
What was your last story?
I gave a homeless guy eight dollars fifty the other day. He pulled me up. Said I looked nice. Said he wanted to get some fried chicken from down the street, pointed. Then he asked me for eight dollars fifty. I had eight dollars cash in my pocket I wanted to get rid of. So I gave it to him and went to keep walking. He stopped me again. Said the chicken was eight dollars fifty and he was so close. I pulled out my coin pouch and found fifty cents and gave it to him. He thanked me then asked for more. Said the chicken was nine dollars. I told him he already told me the chicken was eight dollars fifty. He goes oh yeah. He thanked me again. Said he was going to get a belly full of chicken and go sleep under the bridge. I said enjoy and walked into the restaurant and ordered.
What did you order?
Did you write about it?
Yeah, that was my last one. Sales lessons from a homeless guy. He put the hard sell on me.
Eight dollars fifty is a lot.
Charlie laughed. What was your last story?
Yeah, about my ex-boyfriend.
A good or bad poem?
A good one. We were still together.
How long ago was that?
You haven’t written anything since?
Only for college, the boring stuff. News articles, interviews, sports results. The stuff that goes into the newspaper.
Do people read it?
I hope so! Sophie laughs. That’s what I tell myself.
Sophie turns her head. Looks at Charlie. The eye contact is back. Stronger again. Every time it gets stronger. They know. Charlie leans in. Puts his hand around the back of Sophie’s neck, Sophie closes her eyes. Charlie presses his lips against hers.
Charlie pulls away. Opens his eyes. Sophie opens hers.
They look at each other. Smile. Laugh. Lean back in, eyes close, kiss.
Rebecca comes back. Speaks.
Now I see why you two didn’t want to dance.
Charlie and Sophie look up. Laugh.
Rebecca laughs. Having fun?
Well, I’m tired. Amber isn’t answering her phone and I’ve got work tomorrow at 6 am.
6 am, that’s early.
Yeah. And I’m the only one on until 10.
Charlie looks at Sophie.
What are you doing tomorrow?
I’ve got to write something for the school.
Rebecca looks at Sophie, speaks.
Are you still staying at mine?
Should I order an Uber?
Sophie looks at Charlie.
Charlie speaks. You guys go, I’ve got no plans tomorrow. I’m going to go find Spicy Mikes.
They walk out front.
The guard is still there. Charlie speaks.
No problem Aussie.
There’s a guy on the corner cooking. Hot dogs, onions, buns. There’s steam pouring off the hot plate. It’s cold outside. The food smells good. Charlie’s mouth starts watering. He reads the sign. Three dollars for a hot dog, one dollar extra for onions, sauce is free. Charlie checks his pocket. The eight dollars is gone. Two hotdogs worth. Gone to the belly of a homeless guy under a bridge.
The girls put their arms around each other. Charlie puts his hands in his pockets.
People walking past have their arms crossed. Everyone is feeling the cold. It’s a deep cold. Even three Green Irons don’t numb it. Charlie feels it. Smells the hotdogs again. The sweet hot steaming hotdogs.
The girls check Rebecca’s phone.
It’s one-minute away! Oh, come faster Mr Uber. I can’t wait to get into bed.
It arrives. Rebecca pulls away from Sophie. Runs to the door. Calls out.
It was nice to meet you Charlie!
Sophie turns to Charlie. Walks over.
They hug. Pull apart. Eyes. Kiss.
It was nice to meet you.
Eyes. Eyes close. Kiss.
Charlie pulls away. Smiles. Speaks.
You better go.
It’s so cold!
Are you going to write about me one day?
Sophie laughs. Leans in, closes her eyes. Presses her lips against Charlie’s.
She turns around and gets in the Uber. Rebecca and Sophie wave as it pulls off. Charlie waves back, walks across past the hotdogs, takes a big breath in through his nose. Looks at the chef.
They smell good.