It was raining cats and dogs when we ducked into Le Carafe. Ted said it was the oldest bar in Houston. He ordered a Lone Star on tap, made a beeline for the john. I asked for wine. We got two—red and white—both cheap, said the young bartender, leaning across the Texas mesquite bar, grinning playfully. In the wax-buried Chianti bottle candlelight he looked like an angel.
Ted returned, sat at a table near the door. Always wanted to come here, he said. I hadn’t wanted to venture out in this weather; Ted insisted.
The bartender poured my wine, jumped the bar to deliver it. Ted drummed the table. The bartender pulled his beer half head. Ted downed it, ordered a second. You’re gonna wanna move over here, the bartender said. In a minute you’ll be in water to your ankles. Ted planted himself deeper in his chair.
Sure enough, a minute later an avalanche of rainwater cascaded across the slate floor. I grabbed my glass, Ted left his empty on the table, and we waded to the bar. Outside, the rain fell in sheets. Ted knocked on the bar. Hit me up.
Ma’am? said the bartender before pulling Ted’s beer. Ted sighed.
Ted’s beer splashed as the bartender pushed it toward him. Place is haunted.
I heard, Ted said, and swigged his beer.
Room upstairs is empty but y’all can hear a kid playing ball.
I tried catching Ted’s eye but he stared at his glass. Suddenly, he jumped up, waded to the jukebox.
The bartender feathered a finger up my arm. I looked over my shoulder. Ted, flipped through 45s, hunting. I pulled my arm away as Thank God and Greyhound wafted through buzzing speakers.
Going to check on the kid, Ted said. He nodded at the tap, rounded the narrow metal staircase and disappeared.
Gonna chase him? The bartender nodded at my glass. Sure, I said, and glanced upstairs. He’ll be a while, the bartender said, as if reading my palm. He ambled to the cash register, picked up a Bowie knife, handed it to me. Carve your initials, he said. I found an empty spot on the bar and made the first notch, heart racing. He laughed as I slowly carved an “L” into the hard wood. Lilliana? Lyric? I shook my head, embarrassed I’m plain Linda. Good thing your name’s not Grace, he said. I held out the knife; adding my last initial felt risky. He wrapped his hand around mine as Ted came downstairs. If Ted noticed he didn’t let on.
Not a peep, he said. Shame. Would make for one hell of a story. He chugged his beer. You done? he said,pointing at my full glass. I gulped it, swiped my mouth, hoped the bartender would ask if I wanted another. Instead, he said, Any chance you folks’d give me a ride? He grabbed his keys from the rusty nail near the cash register. Depends where you’re headed, Ted said.
Greyhound station. Near the Lone Star Saloon. Oldest bar in Houston.
Don’t forget your knife, I said.
I always look forward to reading Meg’s delicious work. I marvel at how she works magic with the quirky–an odd person, stray object, unusual word, and/or unintended consequence. Hers are the most wonderful relationship-gone-wrong stories. I marvel at the way she works her magic, full of inevitable surprises at every turn.
Jan Elman Stout’s fiction has appeared in Pure Slush, Literary Orphans, Jellyfish Review, Midwestern Gothic, Pidgeonholes, 100 Word Story and elsewhere. Her flash was nominated for the Best Small Fictions anthology in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Jan’s flash appears in the Best Microfiction 2020 anthology. She is a Senior Editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. Jan is currently working on a story collection. She can be reached on Twitter @janelmanstout.