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In Vino Victoria

'Better living through chemistry' - or even... alchemy!

By Eric WolfPublished 2 years ago 8 min read
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In Vino Victoria
Photo by Oleg Ivanov on Unsplash

What she could have said, given a flash of inspiration — what Acacia might have wished she had said — was something along the lines of: “Give me the unusual, bartender.” Not merely to distinguish herself by not citing a moth-eaten cliché, but because she needed to wander off the marked trail on that warm spring evening in Denver, Colorado.

She had been much too careful to have to worry about what she wished for — and that was the problem. Making straight A’s in school, nabbing a prized slot at a respected university, earning a biology degree that did not lead to work befitting her training; as a woman of twenty-four years, she was fine with it, really she was, but: working at a coffee house, instead of at a more prestigious employer? What Acacia Huerta needed— and more and more, each day, she needed it —was to change. To grow.

Two years of joining her friends at Brogan’s Pub, an old favorite watering hole she had discovered downtown, had left her almost able to find it with her eyes closed. She would seek an answer to the question she had not figured out how to ask: Why could she not just request what she wanted, and then, if necessary to achieve her desired effect, insist upon getting it (in, of course, a socially and personally agreeable fashion)? Her friends, of course, weren’t there yet —

Easy didn’t need to be asked. He spied Acacia, squeezing sideways past college students and a few of their professors, to get some space at the bar before him. When his duties permitted him a chance to address her, the bartender shouted to a point on the wall just behind her, “What can I get you, Casey?”

“It’s come to this,” she moaned. “Seeking free therapy, in an Irish bar. I have got to ‘woman up’ and fix my own wagon.” Seeing how this amused him was not a reassuring sign that she was on the right track. She was not Irish; it seemed to her that she had a valid gripe, at least about that.

Easy was not Irish. Neither was the current owner of Brogan’s, who rocked the surname Chmiel, which was Polish for “hops”—“Makes it a perfect name, for a guy who owns a beer joint,” Easy had said at the time; Acacia admitted that he had a valid point. She thought Ezra had several valid points — even so, he took her quite by surprise, months later, on the night in question.

As stated before, she did not ask for the unusual, though it might have availed her to have done so. “I can’t decide,” she confessed. “I really can’t decide what I want. Check it, I mean, of course I know what I want, but is it the right —”

Easy, or, as his parents named him, Ezra, spotted more decisive customers at a nearby table, trying to get his attention. “Well, why don’t I give you a min —”

Her shoulders slumped. Acacia couldn’t fault him, for being attentive to duties (indeed, it was one of his most attractive qualities, and he had others besides) as long as he remembered to give her the attention she craved. His return gave her the opening she wanted to, well, open herself up to him. She wanted to go ahead with grad school; she despised having to go to her parents, for financial help, and knew she needed to ask them for help, with her rent; she was tired of still mourning the end of her relationship with Joel, and wanted to date again. She wanted to make 1994 her best year yet.

“Do you have anything really, I don’t know, different for me?” she asked him. “I want a cocktail, I guess, but I want it to be, I don’t know, powerful. To kick me, like a proverbial mule. I’m counting on you, Ease. Do me proud, or do me in.”

He glanced about, as if suddenly nervous, and distracted. Then, he yanked the dirty towel from around his neck and slammed it down. “I think — no, I know I have what you need: a Liquid Courage.” He leaned over, to confide in her, and it was almost as if they were conspiring. “You have got to promise me, that this is between us only. I’d never hear the end of it, if it were to get out, that I know how to do this, okay, Case?”

“Sure thing,” she promised, with an exaggerated shrug, as if she had any clue, on earth, to what he was talking about. Wasn’t it her job, as a customer, to spout nonsense, and his, as a bar steward, to cut her off? Except: she did not wish to be cut off, not just yet…

^^^^

Acacia wanted to watch him at work, mixing together the core elements, both alcoholic and not so, into the finished cocktail. Easy worked beer, gin and/or vodka into the glass. When he needed to sweeten the drink — a fruit juice, she figured —he demurred, muttering something about “trade secrets”, retreating into the stock room behind the bar and shutting the door. She thought, with a begrudging admiration: He’s really working the suspense, for all it’s worth.

The maestro of intoxicants emerged a mere eternity or so later, setting down a chilled glass before her. “Voila, one Liquid Courage,” he said, practically aglow, with pride, for his mastery in the hallowed role of inebriation-enabler.

“Oh, hell, no, that’s cheating,” Acacia exclaimed. “I ask you for something new, and you whip up the same porch-crawler you serve up to the common rabble?”

“Such an innocent you are, Case,” sighed Easy. “Thinking I took precautions before, so I could make you the same drink. The point is, to keep this under our hats! Go on, take a pull, see if I’m not on the level.”

Acacia was torn between wishing to be proved right and hoping she would not be. Her first sip led to a deep gulp. It was sweet, and it had a fiery presence, as it traveled, but this was… quite unlike what she had expected. It was certainly no porch-crawler; it was sweet, but she could not identify how it was sweet — it didn’t taste like orange, or lemon, or cherry juice. What was that tingling bit at the end of each drink, too? Easy was true to his word; she had not tasted its like before that moment. She forked over a bill and received her change.

Next, she eyed a billiards table with sudden interest. “Anyone want to play me?” she asked a trio of young men who parted to let her pass by them. One acceptable-looking fellow, named Keith, raised his hand, and she played him. She didn’t win the first game, or the second, but she kept playing, and she won the third.

Easy sighed. “It’s like Paracelsus always says: ‘Sola dosis facit venemum’ — ‘The dose makes the poison.’ So wise, so forward. I keep telling him that.”

Acacia frowned. “I don’t know who this ‘Parrot Celsius’ character is, but isn’t it a bit troubling that you’re a bartender, talking about poisoning people? Is that your idea of customer service, Ease?”

“You tell me, Acacia,” Easy… no, Ezra said, with a trace of his former lightness. "It's all a matter of turning lead into gold, isn't it?"

She awoke on the following morning, asymptomatic for an expected hangover — if anything, she felt good. Her mother, Dolores, phoned her from Albuquerque, and a marvelous shock jolted her at the very moment she was about to ask for a loan on her rent. Acacia knew she had enough in her savings account; she had been reluctant to touch it. She hung up, without mentioning the rent issue.

An unexpected contentment rewarded her. She would go on to send off her application to grad school, and pick up some satisfied customers' tips on her next work shift. Not everything came up roses, of course, but she had a nice run of satisfying experiences in the days that followed. Her next Friday night in Brogan's, she found herself the recipient of a 'Liquid Courage' from Easy — one she had not even thought to order. "Just to cement those happy returns," was the only explanation he would offer.

Her good feelings lasted until she took a road trip back to the Albuquerque house in which she had grown from skinny tomboy to university freshman. Her visit with her parents went well, but she found herself gloomy, lacking energy and resolve, after she drove back to Denver. I know what's wrong, she told herself. I need more of that 'secret sauce' Easy's been pouring me. She went to Brogan's, but this time, he seemed nervous, even preoccupied, not at all interested in even bantering with her — to say nothing of pouring her any more exotic, miraculous potions.

^^^^

Acacia didn’t see the interior of Brogan’s again, nor did she encounter Easy — one-on-one, or in the company of any mutual acquaintances — for that month. In fact, she discovered that she liked spending more time at home, going to movies or bookstores by herself. She researched graduate schools online, intending to apply as soon as she found one that offered sufficient enticement. She was not doing anything too grandiose. Friends wanted to draw her out; she relented, in due course —

Easy was not on duty, the evening of her triumphant return to Brogan’s Pub — nor would he be on duty in the future. Acacia was disappointed to learn that a benefactor had become a stranger — he was no longer Mr. Chmiel’s employee. In a flash of weirdness, she wondered if it had been related to an odd drink he had mixed for her, the one he had seemed, finally, reluctant to mix.

Another month elapsed. Acacia was attending a concert at Red Rocks with her billiards partner, Keith, when who should happen to materialize in the forum? Easy looked a bit thinner, and more disheveled, than she thought was healthy, but he was alive, and smiling wanly. “So are you going to tell me why you took off from the pub?” she pressed, with a smile of her own.

His answer was bound to be interesting. “It’s like I said, I didn’t need the heat I knew I’d catch, for practicing the Craft at my job — but, here we are. You look like a happening chick, these days — I was hoping it would do you some good. Base metal can become gold. Like that highlight in your hair—”

“Dude, what are you talking about? You made me a mixed drink.” Acacia shook her head, enjoying the absurdity of their conversation. “It’s not like you took a tumor out, or anything. Anyhow, that’s no reason to quit—”

“Oh, shoot, I’ll get another gig. Actually, I like hospitality. It’s a lot like the Craft in some ways, not so much in... others. It takes a chemist to pour a good drink — but now… you want an extraordinary drink? You want an alchemist, if you can get one!”

© Eric Wolf 2021.

Humor
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About the Creator

Eric Wolf

Ink-slinger. Photo-grapher. Earth-ling. These are Stories of the Fantastic and the Mundane. Space, time, superheroes and shapeshifters. 'Wolf' thumbnail: https://unsplash.com/@marcojodoin.

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