Chapter Fifty-Five: Gentleman Jim’s

Editor’s Note: some scholars might view it as unserious to write about a bar. Well? Jim’s is as old as any building in Vine, except the Church, but there is something different here. Aside from a gathering place of common people of Vine, Jim’s exudes an uncertain sense of power. The people of Vine drink here, but the people of Vine also say “don’t be dim at Jim’s.” Keep your wits handy and a prayer in your back pocket. We always joke—Jonah and Christine and me—that Gentleman Jim’s is one of the unholy places in the mountains, but they just so happened to discover whiskey spraying forth from the earth like oil or a hot spring here. You cannot help but feel, as you walk through clouds of cigarette smoke and stale corn mash smell, listening to a guitar playing notes that sound like they were written before humans had the gift of music, that you have walked into a place somewhere outside the bounds of Earth and between the borders of Heaven and Hell. 

Bartender: I’m not convinced anyone’s going to read this book, but here’s what I’d like anyone who reads this book to know: use good wood and you don’t have to replace things too much. Solid construction work is an investment. They got buildings in Europe that’s been standing for centuries. Not just castles neither. Oh but there’s been life elsewhere for a long while now. Whole Earth spins. Whole Earth got people in it. Whole Earth got magic in it. Nothing at this bar younger than any patrons. Not the countertop not the plumbing not the chairs and tables. Maybe the refrigerators. Point is we’ve been here. At Gentleman Jim’s we’ve been serving the people of Vine for generations. 

Jim’s Hymn 

Editor’s note: these are what is left of the lyrics plastered on the wall at Jim’s. The original document is seven or eight pages long. This is what remains legible. Fear of the Lord does not permit me to record what has become illegible. It is both a drinking song and a song anyone who performs at Jim’s must play once in their set, a rule the Bartender—who again, has been pouring drinks at Jim’s for longer than anyone can remember—says he didn’t make and cannot change. 

Don’t go out in that storm

Don’t go home if it ain’t warm

Go on have another at Gentleman Jim’s

Preacher says “come down Sunday”

Lord don’t want to know all the shit I got to say

Go on have another at Gentleman Jim’s

Got me drinking again, got me fighting again

Got me talking again, got me loving again

Go on have another at Gentleman Jim’s

Eight Questions With The Bartender

Editor: “How’d you know my drink order?” 

Bartender: “Everyone in Vine orders the same thing: whiskey neat and a pint of beer. Every. Person. Since back in the ‘80s. That business with them boys. Everyone. Whiskey neat. Pint of beer. So it has been ordained.”

E: “No. You’re going to tell me what’s really going on in this bar.” 

B: “There are certain pockets of this world that God reserves for a purpose unknown to most mortal humans.”

E: “You’re telling me them strung up Christmas lights and billiards table—which has not been recovered since before the herons came back—and this permanent sweat-beer smell—you’re telling me that’s some special pocket of the divine or whatever?” 

B: “Listen to the hi hat on the drum kit. That clipped-off sound? The answers live where answers do—under tapestry. Only when it’s raining.”

E: “Okay. Well. Fine. Can I get a refill?” 

B: “A flame held to the skin of an orange peel. A possum shrieks when you take out the trash. A patch of mud you can’t get off your boots.”

E: “Now just who do you think you are here? Lord Of The Drinks, I see!” 

B: “How old do you think I am? I’ve been here since long before you, boy. Don’t worry though. We’ll die at the same time. Unless you screw things up before then.”

E: “You know when I’m going to die.” 

B: “After your son.”

E: “Lemme get a beer with that shot.” 

B: “It’s just the two of us here.”

E: “Fucking snake. God knew what he was doing with Eve and that apple.” 

B: “After your son.”

Closing time

Editor’s Note: I had to mop the bathrooms to stay past closing time. I had to unload three loads of dishes to get permission to write it down. For the sin of asking “what are you feeding?” I had to promise to come back and clean the gutters and wash the facade of the building.

The Bartender removed the heavy black bar mats. Hooked his grip into foam-and-grime holes and walked them out back. Warm summer night with stars like the sky wanted to show off new teeth. He hosed down the mats and hung them to dry on the fence. Back behind the bar he opened the drain cover. Down the darkness all the way down far into the depths the faint fiery flickers. How long could he watch tonight? It was growing. Gradually more into focus. He felt his blood vessels tighten and his ribs get antsy. But his legs could not move. It was getting sharper in focus. His arms could not move. It was getting sharper. He did not want. He was a shepherd. He did not want. Reaching. He poured a fifth of whiskey straight down the drain—the dead’s rations. Sharper. Closed the drain cover. Retrieved the bar mats. Washed his hands.

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