The Brick and Mortar Bar and Grill was, at long last, at capacity after the long wait for COVID19 to finally be classified as a seasonal flu. Husband and wife owners Craig and Allie were among the fortunate few restaurateurs in Cedar Falls that managed to stay in business all the while.
Marianne walked into the place a couple of weeks after the all-clear. It was a strange feeling walking in alone. She was very aware of the empty space around her body. She took a moment to let her eyes adjust to the gloom before spotting Craig behind the bar. She made her way to an empty stool and waited for him to see her.
“Holy crap!” Craig finally exclaimed. “Long time, cuz!”
Craig reached an arm over the bar and Marianne rose to meet his familial embrace.
“Can I just say, I’m not used to seeing you behind the bar.”
“Yeah, well,” Craig shrugged. “It’s still gonna take some time, ya know, to rebuild. Don’t have the capital for a full staff yet.”
“Well then, Mr. Barkeep, I’ll have a martini. Vodka. And, don’t forget, I’m a big tipper, so top shelf.” Marianne winked and smiled.
Craig shook his head. “Don’t give me that. You don’t know one shelf from the other, let alone one drink from the other. Just to prove, you want olives or lemon twist?”
Marianne stalled. Her cousin had caught her out. “Olives? I didn’t have lunch. But, do you have green? I hate black olives.”
Craig laughed. “Right-o. Green olives it is.”
He mixed Marianne’s drink in a shaker, poured it into a large glass, and with a flair for the dramatic, brought out a jar of green olives with pimentos. As Craig handed Marianne her cocktail, Allie walked up to the bar with a full tray of empty glasses and dirty plates.
“I need four of the usual, two shots, and a…”, Allie paused as she pulled out her writing tab from her apron pocket, “A grapefruit vodka, tall, on ice with fuzzy water, whatever that is. For six.”
Craig peered into the restaurant at table six. “Four Buds, two JDs and a tall Greyhound with seltzer,” he repeated.
As Allie cleared her tray in the into the wash bin, Marianne impatiently waited for Allie to see her. “Hey,” Marianne finally said.
Allie looked up. “Oh! My God! Mary!”
The women hugged, pulled apart to take each other in, and then hugged again.
“Boy, you guys are really back to basics, with Craig running the bar and you waiting tables. Jesus!”
“Oh, you just watch out or I’ll put you to work washing dishes,” Allie replied.
Marianne took a sip of her cocktail and studied Allie as she finished clearing her tray and loading up again with drinks and plates from the kitchen window. The woman looked beat. Craig looked happy, but Marianne could tell her cousin’s smile was forced.
“OK, sure. Why not? I’m game.”
Craig and Allie exchanged looks.
“Seriously, we could use the help,” Craig said.
“Grab me an apron and put me to work.”
The three friends sat around the front table nursing their beers. The clock over the bar ticked past 3AM. Oscar the cook waved goodbye from the pass through and everyone bid him a good night.
The last of the guests was asleep with his head on his table in the back. Craig routinely looked at the man and checked his watch.
“Did you call?” Allie asked. Craig nodded. Allie looked at the man, which made Marianne look at him as well.
“Who is he?” Marianne asked.
“He rolled in with the pandemic,” Allie replied. “Nice guy, but definitely a heavy drinker. He’s got a son in the area who we can call if he’s too far gone. He should be here soon.”
The friends turned their attention back to one another.
“I’m just going to say it,” Allie said. “It’s damn weird without Max here.
Marianne smiled to herself and nodded. “It was weird walking in here tonight without him.”
“How you holding up?” Craig asked as he gave Marianne a squeeze on her arm.
Marianne threw back her head and shook it, fighting back the sudden onslaught of tears. She pulled herself back together with an audible sigh.
“Ya know, this is just what I needed. A tough night washing a ton-load of dishes,” Marianne paused. “There was no room in my head for anything but the task at hand.”
“You made Oscar’s night, that’s for sure.”
“How the hell does he manage all that?”
Craig and Allie shook their heads.
“Well, we thank you for pitching in.”
“I told you, I’m a big tipper.”
The three chuckled, then Allie said, “Ya know, we couldn’t pay you much. In fact, we’d only be able to split tips with you, but if you need to get out of the house a couple nights a week…”
Craig looked at his wife a little appalled, but then noticed Marianne seemed to be considering the offer. Just then the bell on the front door rang and a young man stepped in. Craig got up and nodded in the direction of the man in the back.
“Sorry ’bout this Craig. Hi Allie,” the young man said. “In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask ya’ll, next time? Call me right when he gets here. We’re trying to help him get clean.”
Craig nodded and shook the young man’s hand. The friends watched as the young man wrestled his father awake and assist him as he stumbled out of the restaurant into the dusk of early morning light.