This post is part of Geek Takeover Week 2019. The first on foXnoMad, a fictional short story from another dimension.
Tink tink tink, Sergei dropped coffee beans into the grinder, as he always did at 5 past 7 on a weekday morning. A second of blending for each spoonful of beans, 4 for a typical day, like this one. But it wasn’t going to be a typical day. Sergei’s friend, his only friend, Erik was coming to town. Sergei had tried to talk Erik out of it but in a few hours the comfort of his routine would be broken by a house guest. He tried to accept his fate as boiling water began dripping over the ground coffee, enjoying the hours of solitude he had left.
Erik’s arrival was a boisterous one, as usual. His charm and slightly optimistic view of the world was irritating to Sergei but he played along. It was just a few days, how bad could it be he reasoned with himself? Besides, it would probably be good to get out of the apartment for once. At the train station upon arrival, Erik in grandiose fashion proclaimed – at noon of all times – to walk around the neighborhood bars. Strong summer sun meant more women in less clothes for scenery.
Sergei didn’t usually start his daily drinking ritual until later in the afternoon but it might help ease his discomfort. Before he could finish the thought though, he noticed. A girl in a red dress laughing as an arm jutted across her naval line lifting her into the air, sweeping Sergei’s glance to the right. An elderly couple carrying their small, white dog with curly fur. Happy as well, seemingly. Sergei often felt like he was in a movie as the only real character – everyone else was just a prop.
He could see Erik walking toward him with two beers but right over his shoulder a blond woman whose hair was particularly radiant. Like an old cartoon where the backdrop is dull but the moving animation just a bit brighter, giving away who will be moving in the scene. She, reading a book, was just a little bit brighter than everything else.
The sound of Erik placing two drinks on the steel table was almost as irritating as the line of beer trickling over the side. “Thanks for the beers, how’s everything going?” was filler for the main topic on Sergei’s mind. If Erik would just move left or right a few centimeters he could see her again. “Do you see her?” Sergei asked and Erik replied, “see who?”
Ever conspicuous, Erik turned completely around, to see who Sergei might be talking about.
“Who? That dog?”
“No not the old couple idiot. The… ah damn, wait. The blond woman who was just there.” Sergei replied.
“I don’t see anyone, you sure?
“Yes, I’m not blind. Anyway it was just someone who looked interesting.. and beautiful too.”
“You should probably get out more.”
“Anyway, thanks for the beers, what should we do today?”
“More of this,” Erik gleamed, pointing at his beer. “There’s live music at the bar on the corner, let’s go there later.”
Inserting a bit of uninspired hesitation, Sergei mentioned he’d never been there. “Sisko’s?”
“That’s the one.” Erik deadpan replied.
Four beers and another restaurant later, the happy hour crowd began showing up. Huddled around bar entrances people arrive to medicate their routines, Sergei narrated internally. For Sergei, routine was his medication. At least he knew it he smugly though to himself. Then, finally, flowing around the crowd, was her. “Erik, look! That’s who I was talking about.”
“Who, the girl in red?” Erik asked.
“No, no. The blond who was just there. Tall. Now I don’t see her either.”
“Are you sure? I really don’t see any tall blonds.”
Sergei was nearly certain she look had even glanced over toward them. Or at least their general direction.
“Never mind, we should probably pay this tab and head over to the bar with the music.” Sergei couldn’t believe Erik’s selective blindness.
Fortunately, alcohol has a way of washing memories from one part of the brain to another. Good music, with an acoustic guitar and soulful voice certainly helping this particular evening. The bar wasn’t full but full of locals who lived in the apartments just above. Not that Sergei knew, it was his first time there.
Now it was Sergei leading the party for Erik.
“Yes! I love this song. Shots? Hell yeah!” Erik blurted out enthusiastically.
Just as the tequila shots began burning Sergei’s throat, she walked in.
“There! Now do you see her?!” Sergei unsubtly shouted over the music at Erik.
“No way, yes I do! You’re not crazy!”
“She’s sitting at the edge of the bar, let’s ask her to come over here.” Sergei was emboldened by the confirmation he wasn’t hallucinating.
“You ask her.” Erik suggested.
As they debated, another man approached the blond woman, stalling Erik and Sergei’s plans for the time being. “Ok, one more beer.” Besides, Erik had a lot of favorite songs. A waiting game had begun and Sergei and Erik were sure their livers would hold out.
Finally, the chance came. The other man stumbled out and home (or to sleep on the bench outside) as Erik approach the mysterious woman. Not two minutes later she was sitting with them. She was from out of town without any friends nearby.
“So you’re new to the area?” Sergei inquired.
“Actually, I’ve been here for a few years. It’s just hard meeting people so I end up going out alone often.” The green of her eyes a bit more saturated in color than the backdrop of the bar behind. She was intriguing, but there was an undeniable connection between her and Erik. For starters, she was from the same town, of less than 500 people, over a thousand kilometers away. Her name was Lynn.
Erik also noticed the connection, mostly put into place by the unique dots connecting them. Their similar slight accent that was anything but local. Those small coincidences that turn strangers into friends were littered throughout Lynn’s life. Her job as a financial advisor was intriguing to Erik’s vocation as a television executive. Money, with a friendly blend of celebrity it was a good pairing. They also both were fond of beer and singing horribly off-key to cheesy bar songs.
Lynn invited Erik to dance, and Sergei remained thoroughly entertained by the local wino who was the center of the dance floor. Eventually, Lynn and Erik slipped off, disappearing to get more intimate.
By the time Erik returned Sergei was laughing about something with the wino, who ordered them all a round of Jager shots.
On the blurry walk back to Sergei’s apartment he had to know what happened with Lynn.
“It was incredible, we had a blast and I got her number. I’m going to call her tomorrow to meet.” Erik was beaming.
“That bar was great, a small crowd but a fun one. We should definitely go back.” Sergei enjoyed having modified his routine from earlier. “Definitely, let’s go back tomorrow, I’ll invite Lynn too,” Erik said as Sergei unlocked the apartment door.
The next day Sergei woke up closer to noon than he had in months. Erik was also stirring in the other room. Without counting, Sergei threw in an especially strong number of coffee beans into the grinder. Recovery was the goal for the day. A smooth hangover from an especially fun night, Erik had done some diligent Googling of Lynn.
“It was surprisingly easy to find her.” Erik mentioned. “Considering I didn’t have a lot to go on. Seems like she’s got a lot of friends but maybe their just not from around here. Typical work photos on her social media, you know the generic standing in front of a generic office with forced smiles. I sent her a text about tonight but haven’t heard back.”
“I’m sure she’ll write you. We all had fun and you two have an odd number of things in common. It’s a good match!” Sergei said as he burned his palate from taking an adventurous swig of hot coffee.
Hangovers clearing, stomachs full of greasy french fries, evening rolled around. “Did you hear from Lynn?” to which Erik responded: “No, it’s weird.”
“Don’t worry, she might be at the bar tonight. Lynn mentioned she was there all the time.” Somehow Sergei was the positive one.
They made it to the bar, opening the door with wide grins a good pub will give its patrons. There were the usual from yesterday, sadly no wino, with a few new faces. Overall a small group again. And there was Lynn. Sitting at the corner of the bar, looking down at her phone. Alone.
Sergei walked over with Erik, “hey, it’s good to see you again. I hope you’re not feeling too rough after yesterday but don’t think any of us could have the headache the wino probably does.” Lynn looked confused, then asked Sergei, “sorry, do I know you from work? I just can’t place the face.” Okay Sergei thought, maybe Lynn did have a shot too many and besides she was much more interested in Erik yesterday.
Sergei laughed and then followed up, “well, you probably remember Erik here.”
Lynn looked confused, but smirked. Trying to cover up the oddness of the moment, Sergei said they’d save a seat for Lynn if she wanted to join for drinks later.
“Uh, that was weird.” Erik said and Sergei though simultaneously.
“I get she doesn’t remember me but you two talked all night. Maybe she’s got a very bad memory? Or you’re really not that interesting!” Sergei chalked it up to something logical. “A twin? Whatever it is, we can invite her over after she eats and she’ll probably feel silly not remembering by then.”
There is a point in many pubs where the right song comes on after the right number of drinks. A moment that hits the entire crowd in such a way it results in spontaneous song. Several hours later, Erik and Sergei were in that moment with the rest of the bar, a good opportunity for Erik to ask Lynn to join them. By now the noise obscured any awkwardness. The two laughed and once again disappeared to the other side of the bar to talk in between long kisses.
By this time Sergei had befriended the bartender. Always a good friend to have at a bar. In between signing sessions he peaked around for Erik who was nowhere to be found. A good sign, he thought. Finally, after last call and the last crowd-pleasing chorus, Erik appeared looking in a good mood. “Where did you two disappear to?” Sergei said in between melodies.
“We were just over there, chatting. Lynn had to go home but suggested we all meet tomorrow.”
“Yes, why not? It’s a good pub!”
By now the evening was no longer evening or even night, but slowing becoming morning. As Sergei and Erik walked back to his apartment, he joked, “Lynn’s got to remember you now!”
Even closer to noon the next morning, Sergei made an even stronger pot of coffee. Fueled by the new routine and fun they had been having, Erik and Sergei lounged the day away in preparation for another night at Sisko’s Bar. This evening however due to the later start and rougher stomachs, they decided to eat a bit later. When they arrived at Sisko’s the night’s crowd was a bit thinner but full of dedicated patrons.
At the corner of the bar as she had been every night before, was Lynn. Erik practically bounced over to her, “hi!”
“Hello. Oh my gosh, wait, you have, you speak like, are you from…” Erik cut Lynn off with an enthusiastic laugh and a “yes!” Both Sergei and Erik were relieved she remembered. It would be too weird to explain another bout of selective memory loss. “We’ll be over there,” Erik pointed, “come join us when you’re done eating.”
“Sure, it would be nice. I don’t see a lot of people from back home. I’m new to town and don’t know anybody here.” At this point, Lynn’s story was a cute introduction to evenings at the pub.
Sergei sat down with Erik at one of the tables near the bar and ordered two pale ales. “That’s a relief, she remembers us hah!” The dialog could have been said by either two. “I was a bit worried there! Cheers to another night out.”
“Maybe she’s shy?”
By this point, an hour had past and Lynn was still sitting at the corner of the bar. Alone. “She did seem like she wanted to join us earlier, maybe I’ll go ask again.” Erik suggested. “You should. She could just be hesitant, as an introvert I get that,” Sergei rationalized.
As it had been the two nights before, Erik invited Lynn, she came over. They all talked about her not knowing anyone since moving to the city. Being from such a small town, Erik and Lynn were again amazed they were from the same place. It was the story in repeat but from angles and anecdotes different enough to make the retelling interesting. Much like the two evenings before.
Lynn was quirky, no doubt about it. Financial advisors don’t seem the type to be quirky Sergei thought, but it was endearing. Maybe it was the green eyes, good music, or odd serendipity of it all. As Lynn and Erik disappeared again Sergei walked over to the bartender. He ordered them both a shot as they reminisced how good the song in the background was, some 15 years ago. Even the wino showed up, slightly less coordinated, but entertaining nonetheless.
The bartender told Sergei last call was coming up but he wasn’t really feeling like another drink. Maybe it would be good to get a water instead. There was work the next morning. Sergei scanned the bar for Erik or Lynn, but of the 15 people still around, they weren’t there. Sergei sent Erik a message but figured they had gone home together.
The next morning, Sergei made a terrible pot of coffee, called in sick to work, and re-hydrated. He smiled at the fun the group, now including Lynn, had been having the last few nights. An especially good night for Erik and Lynn he thought, and smiled.
The afternoon went on and Sergei needed food. Bar food. He’d never eaten at Sisko’s Pub but decided to try it. Perhaps he’d run into Erik and Lynn as well. Most of the same regulars, a dozen or so people, were sitting at the bar. Sergei half expected to see Lynn at the corner seat, like she’d been, and it was almost odd she wasn’t there. Sergei laughed to himself.
At the bar, Sergei called the bartender over asking how he was and for the menu. “So, you’re eating today too!” the bartender joked.
“I figured it was about time. After last night I could use some greasy food. You haven’t by any chance seen my friend or the blond woman, Lynn, have you?”
“Sorry, I haven’t seen anyone, been a slow evening so far.” A casual reply from the bartender.
A reply stuck in Sergei’s mind as he finished his plate, pecking off the last few french fries. He texted Erik again. No reply.
“Want any more food or ready for a drink?” Bartender, being a good bartender.
“No thanks, I’m just waiting for my friends. You remember, the tall guy and the blond girl who’s always sitting at the end of the bar.”
Sergei was sick of hearing that question.
“The blond woman, you couldn’t miss her. She’s always sitting at the corner of the bar. And my friend, we’ve been sitting at that table over there the last few nights.”
The bartender, looking confused, “sorry man. I’ve just seen you and the wino over there, plus the usual crowd of 10 or so regulars.”
Sergei exhaled, annoyed.
“The girl at the bar. How could you not remember her? There are only ever 10 people in here.”
“Maybe you’re mixing it up with somewhere else? Let me ask the waitresses.”
As the bartender walked away Sergei became worried. He texted Erik again.
A few moments later, the bartender returned. “We haven’t seen anyone matching that description. I remember you, coming in the past few nights but as far as I remember you were alone. The waitresses don’t remember anyone either here with you. Certainly no blond woman sitting here by herself.”
Sergei asked again then told the bartender he was worried and thinking of calling the police.
As soon as he said that, the expression on the bartender’s face took him aback. It was the uncontrollable, autonomous reaction of someone who was questioning Sergei’s sanity. The bartender couldn’t be lying, it was a response most Hollywood actors couldn’t fake. A look that made him doubt Lynn or Erik had even been in the bar with him.
When the police showed up the next morning, their interviews all revealed the same responses. There was no blond girl at the bar. Nobody could remember Erik either.
Camera footage of the neighborhood showed nobody matching the description or Erik or Lynn. Eventually, the police gave up as there wasn’t much to go on. Sergei went to the bar every night for weeks, hoping to see Lynn, Erik, or at least someone who recognized or remembered either. He never did. He never heard from Erik again.
Three years later, Sergei got a new job. A job that let him travel a bit for work. It was fun work for Sergei and it got him to break his routine plus make a new friend or two. He got off his flight, in a new country, with a colleague who Sergei got on with especially well.
“Want to grab a drink at the hotel bar?”
“Sure thing, let me just drop my things off in the room. We can meet in 10 minutes.” Sergei replied.
He threw his suitcase on the bed, took out a clean shirt, and headed downstairs.
“Good call.” Sergei told his colleague waiting at the bar.
“I hear too they’ve got live music here as well,” he replied.
“…and, there’s this really cute blond girl at the end of the bar.”