“You’re a long way from home,” the waitress said. A little shopkeeper’s bell dingled as I closed the door behind me and I looked up it, wondering what kind of place this was.
“We’re more tavern than bar,” she said, answering my thought. She moved out from the shadows behind the bar to where I could see her clearly, her waitress’ apron tied neatly and knotted in front and a towel with blue edging slung over her shoulder. “More a way-station, actually.”
She was pretty in an older kind of way and I wasn’t sure I expected someone in their late thirties to – oh, even late – forties to be tending bar on an old country crossroads at the northern edge of the New York-Mass border. “With a name like The Mythic Center I’m not surprised,” I said.
I wasn’t even sure if it was a bar, but I’d gotten lost, it was nine-o’clock at night and this was the only place with lights on – hell, it was the only place, period – I’d seen since dusk. It was too dark, too late and I was too tired to keep hiking through country I hadn’t explored in thirty-five years.
“Been traveling long?” she asked, making conversation. I was the only other person in the place so I’m sure she didn’t mind the company.
I nodded and smiled back, rubbing my hands against the cold they’d gathered in the day’s walking. I could have sworn I left the city in late summer but Fall seemed to come fast in my wake. I stood by the door and looked around. The place had a look that made me feel comfortable. It wasn’t really a bar. Like she said, more a tavern and out here, I could believe a way-station. And it wasn’t yuppified. The tables and chairs were light maple – all local and hand made, nothing imported and nothing with a machined #7 of 7,000 look. The place had a good, solid, well-worn feel about it. Whatever wasn’t maple – the paneling, the bar and stools, the booths – was oak, ash or thorn. Whoever owned The Mythic Center meant it to last and I chuckled as I realized the oxymoron in that. But everything seemed a little lonely with only the waitress cleaning up to keep the furniture and walls company. There were chess and checker boards on some of the tables, some tables had cribbage boards on them. I could tell serious gamers came here because the gaming tables had green shaded, metal poker lights suspended from the ceilings over them. Between those and the bar and booth lights, the place was well lit without being blinding, what I’d call soothing and never too much light unless you needed it.
One wall contained several racks of books and the opposite wall sported a genuine British competition style dart board, well used. I stared at it and my face must have lit up because the waitress asked, “Do you throw?”
I shook my head, no, although I walked over and lifted a dart from its rack. I ran my fingers over the flight feathers – again, no plastic and the darts were competition weighted. “No, just an admirer of good things built to last.”
She stopped drying down a Monopoly™ gaming table and stood up to look at me, one hand on a hip and twirling the damp towel with the other. “Thanks.”
The light over the table captured her in a spotlight and she let me take a long drink before she reached up for the chain and turned the light off. Salt&pepper hair that made a long, thick braid down her back, cerulean blue eyes that my dad used to call “ice-eyes”, a wide face with lots of freckles but no wrinkles except laugh lines, and no makeup to disturb any of it. When she smiled there was a gap in her front teeth and I caught myself thinking of Chaucer’s The Miller’s Wife, then quickly shook my head.
It showed, I guess. The way she smiled at me, running her tongue over the gap in her teeth absentmindedly, looking down and to the side as she shook her head.
Under a full length apron she wore a blue tanktop matching her eyes. Her jeans were torn at the knees and faded from work, not from some designer’s idea of what work did to good clothing and red hightop sneakers like I use to wear as a kid.
She quoted Bob Seger’s Nightmoves, singing it like a question, “Little too tall? Could’a used a few pounds?”
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