“So this is the place your teacher said to come to?” Nanette asked as she looked up at the sign above.
I look up at the sign. “Vacillante mémoire.” I say to Nanette.
“Not what I would call a good night out,” She shrugs. “but seeing that your paying.” I had promised her a night out. I will admit this was not what I had in mind myself, but I was curious about this one.
As I open the door, the first thing I notice is the smell of strong spirits. The scent of a bar. I frown as I see the interior. This was not what I was expecting. What I am seeing is poor excuse of an establishment. The floor boards are rotted, the lights flicker, the seats are worn, and the several customers look like they belong out in the streets throwing up in a gutter.
I feel Nanette’s hand trying to drag me back, “Uh, Josh.” I could sense the worry in her tone. “I think we should go.” Looking at the place, I feel like I should follow her advice before we ether get mugged or the roof collapses in on us.
A man in an apron appears from under the bar. “Hold on dear customer.” He says in French. “Don’t be turned away from a little dirt.” This is not what I would call a little. I take a step forward, and what I think is a step, is in fact several inches of dust piled upon itself.
“Our college professor recommended us to you, but I think he might have been pulling our leg. So if you don’t mind.” I put my arm around my girlfriend and head for the exit.
“Ahh. You mean Monsieur Bonie. Yes, he and several of his students are regulars here.” He says in English. I guess my American accent made him change his language.
I stop and look over my shoulder at the bartender. He does seem to know the professor. “He said you have the cure for writer’s block.” I say. The professor had written a number of published works, and I had asked him his secret when dealing with the dreaded illness. He simply pointed me here.
The bartender and several customers snort. “Alas there is no cure for that. But I have found the drink, not only loosen one’s tongue, but also gets some creative juices flowing. Would Monsieur care to try my wares?” He gestures to the bar.
“There will be drinks at the rave,” Nanette comes to my ear. “I do not trust this man.”
I consider this. For a girl who likes to dance with strange men and drink till she passes out, her opinions on somebody’s character is not what I call solid.
I raise a finger. “One drink. Then we go to the party. By the way. I told several of my friends I am here.” It would be rude to enter a bar and not buy anything, but I don’t feel completely at ease.
One of the bar flies stands and tips his hat at the bartender. “See you tomorrow. Next time a little easier on the depression.” Nanette stays close to me as he passes. I expect to smell the rank of booze on him, but instead I smell dust, and salt water. What did he mean by depression?
I sit at one of the stools and I am somewhat shocked. I can almost see my face in the polished wood and the bar stools are ones that I would find in most five star restaurants. The bar is perhaps the only thing, including the mugs that gets polished.
“The professor said your bar makes pretty good money. Um.” I look at a spot of mold on the floor.
The bartender laughs. “Ah Monsieur. I get that a lot. I am recently trying to redecorate. The dust comes from the construction up stairs. Next week you will hardly recognise it.” I cannot tell if he is lying, but I did say just one drink.
“Where are the menus?” Nanette asks.
The Bartender puts a hand over his mouth and I see the glimmer of a cat like smile across his face. “Most bars Madame, do not have menus. The customer either knows what he wants, or the bartender does. I am the latter.” He looks to me, and I feel like I am being weighed. “A writer? Anything published?”
I give a smile that is more put on than I would like. “Several short stories. I mostly deal with historical moments.” I take in a long winded breath. My career is one of talent and ideas and sadly I lack both right now, it feels as if I am running on fumes. “So what do you recommend?” I ask.
The bartender looks like he has just figured out the mystery in a book. “Ahh. I have the perfect thing for you.”
He goes to the cabinets behind and reveals a score of bottles. They all look the same to me except for the colour of the liquids inside. A shelf full of oranges, purples, and blues are arranged in no particular order.
Nanette is the first to notice something odd about them. “Um. Where are the labels?”
The bartender points to his head. “Up here. You see I mix each of these myself. Every bottle is different. Each special. It is all about finding the right. Ahh.” He breaths, and pulls out a small green bottle with a cork.
He lays the bottle in front of me. I think this is some kind of joke. “You want me to drink something you most likely made in a bath tub?” I feel like I should be laughing but I just don’t see the humour in this.
The bartender gestures to himself. “I sample all of my wares. I spend nights and days mixing perfection, but if you don’t feel like taking a risk. Then you should choose a different profession.” I stop him from taking the bottle away. Have I really stooped so low that I would risk my health for an ounce of hope? Damn straight.
“I didn’t say that.” I observe the bottle in front of me and as I contemplate drinking the stuff I have this sensation that my face is mimicking the ghastly green colour. “What is in it?”
“A moment. An idea. The chemicals are all organic I assure you Monsieur.”
Yeah. So is pot and mercury I would have liked to argue but keep my mouth shut.
My girlfriend looks like she cannot believe what she is hearing and I for one don’t blame her. “You’re not really thinking of drinking that mouthwash?” For once Nanette does have a point.
I shrug. At this moment in my life. I would sky dive without a parachute if I thought it would achieve anything. “If I die. Promise to sue him for every cent he has.” I say, and pull the cork out. I take a whiff. It is very aromatic. To me it smells of spirits and beer all mixed as one. It is subtle, but makes my mouth water. “Bottoms up.” I just pray I won’t go blind.
Sensations burst into my head as I take my first swig of the substance I am currently torturing my body with. It feels like I am going down a dark hall way and there is a light just out of reach. I close my eyes and open them again.
“Morning governor.” says a man in a Victorian get up, tipping his hat to me. Mourning? It’s eight in the evening.
“Wait. Wasn’t… where am I?” I ask feeling the sun on my face and the sudden sensation that I died and that angles had British accents.
As my eyes adjust I see that I am not in heaven at all or if I was I would damn well want my money back. Around me people are talking in a Cockney accent, Victorian buildings loom around me, and people are wearing hats despite the sun being held hostage by a blanket of overcast.
Dear sweet God I have what the hell was in that drink. I don’t know if I was drugged if that was the best drinking binge of my life, but I have some how ended up in England with no memory of how I got here.
But before I truly start to freak out over my it is different. On the corner I hear a paper boy shouting about a murder. A woman is selling flowers on the street, there is a horse and carriage by a general store. All of these things do exist but it feels almost natural. There is no sign of a modern car or sign post.
I try to look around for answers when I turn to a true sight. A sight that is known throughout the world. What I am seeing is Big Ben. The Elizabeth tower. But it is not the Big Ben as I know it.
Upon the landmark I see dozens of men building the monument. Not using modern construction gear but pulleys and ropes. How did I get here? Is this some effect of the concoction I just drank? But I’m not tipsy, I see everything almost perfectly.
“Josh. Josh.” A voice says that cuts through the illusion. I turn to find no one there but a few people on the streets. “You’re scaring me.”
I close and open my eyes to find I am back in France. With a bottle in my hand and my girlfriend shacking me as if I was in a dream. I blink and shake my head. “What the hell was that?” I ask more at myself than anyone else.
Nanette examines me like the nurse she is. “Josh. Josh. Are you Okay?” She rips the bottle from my hands and turns her head to the barman. “What was in it? Did you poison him?” Her mood and tone are equal parts worry with anger.
The barman ignores my girlfriend and picks up a glass, with a slow precise motion he starts wiping the mug. “That will be seventeen euro.” He says ignoring her and pretending nothing happened.
“Josh.” Nanette gets me off the stool and onto my feet, I’m not drunk but the haze of what I have witnessed. “Let’s just go okay? You had your drink. Let’s just go.”
The experience has left me shaken. I do not talk, mainly because I don’t know the first thing I should ask. I feel as though I have experienced what only a few people alive have. I open my wallet and I pay the man his exorbitant price, I’m far too off my game to argue with him.
Nanette almost tosses me out the bar, but before I can face the outside world I look back. “Was it real?”
The bartender smiles and shrugs. “Who can say? Good luck on your book.”
I nod as I exit.
In the night time chill of the city I look in as something I thought I had lost comes back to me, I need something. A pen or a pencil, hell anything would do just as long as I caught it before it left me again.
I barely notice Nanette hand on my shoulder. “Josh. I think I should take you to the hospital.”
I frown. “Is it okay if we go home? I just feel like writing something.” It’s there. I can smell it as it touches my mind, as fleeting as the wind and as fickle as any woman I have met, I dare try to tame this idea while it stays with me.
She frowns. “What do you want to write about?”
I smile. “How about Big Ben?”