Cleo has been tending bar here at the Eddy for almost a year. Tending bar, that cheapens it, debases it—she’s a mixologist. Baristas, mixologists, neighborhood butchers…the ‘new local’…take pride in your work, whatever it is…that’s what it’s all about now.
There were two chefs in the other night, guys from the CIA, as in Culinary Institute of America. They were talking about an old teacher they’d had. He said that what made a good restaurant, a perfect restaurant, was service. A customer asks for peanut butter on his pasta, you bring him pasta with peanut butter. And you pride yourself on that, on giving the customer what they want. But for Cleo, the idea was just the opposite. That’s how she had been taught, what she’d learned from her teachers. Her job was to make the customer want what she was going to give them.
Right now, Cleo is at the bar arranging several strange and beautiful bottles of brightly colored liqueurs. Whatever’s in them sparkles in the lights. She looks at these bottles, lost in her thoughts. And she hears Keeler before she sees him. “Kurt said it best. ‘I don’t care, care if I’m old. I don’t mind. Mind, don’t have a mind’.”
She looks towards the end of the bar. There is love in her eyes for Keeler. He’s twenty-eight and for reasons of his own, all about 90s grunge. The flannel shirt, the half beard, the stringy hair, the heroin attitude. It breaks Cleo’s heart a little to see him standing with Carol.
Carol is maybe twenty-three, and she’s tragically cute. She looks at Keeler blankly.
“Cobain! Breed. Keeler explains. “From the Nevermind album.”
Carol shrugs. “You were like two when that came out. You’ve got to get out of the nineties.”
“And go where?” Keeler asks.
Cleo looks to the other end of the bar where a young woman sits, nursing a beer and reading a book. The young woman looks up for a moment.
“You need another?” Cleo asks.
The young woman puts up a friendly hand for, “No thanks.” Cleo moves to Carol and Keeler. In a low voice, just for Carol, she says, “You’re back with Keeler?”
“It’s his birthday.”
Keeler leans in to kiss Carol and she turns her head in that, “Did she avoid me?” way that makes young men doubt their hearts and souls.
“What are you drinking?” Cleo asks.
“Make us something,” Carol says, and then she does turn to Keeler. “Let Cleo fix you something special for your birthday. She’s a real potion master. I’m gonna use the powder room.”
Potion master, an even older term that brings a smile to Cleo’s face. Carol moves towards the bathroom. Keeler watches her go, lonely and longingly. Cleo watches him as she mixes a simple drink for Carol, a Smoking Gun, Bois Genever, Old Weller 107, Averna, and tobacco bitters. Carol used to smoke, she remembers. As she sets down Carol’s drink, she says to Keeler, “What she said, about me being a potion master. It’s true.”
“What do you mean?” Keeler asks. “I mean, I know you’ve got the drink thing down.”
“What I mean,” Cleo says. “I’m a witch.” There it is. The oldest term of all. Take pride in your work. She turns to the bar. There are those wonderful liqueurs, sparkling blue and magenta and orange. She takes one bottle in each hand, mixes carefully into a shot glass. Keeler watches her. She chooses a third bottle, the one that sparkles magenta, adds a few drops and passes the drink to Keeler.
“You drink this. Close your eyes and count to twenty.”
Keeler smiles, going along with it. “And I’m doing this why?”
“Magic. When you open your eyes, the first person you see will fall hopelessly, totally, permanently in love with you, and you with them.”
“‘So mixed up. No room to move. I ain’t got nothing. Got nothing to lose’.”
He looks at her. She doesn’t recognize his quotes any more than Carol does. “Mudhoney.” He explains. “Flat out Fucked.” He looks towards the bathroom. Carol is coming back.
“Down the hatch.” He drinks the drink down. He closes his eyes, counts quietly to himself. Cleo moves quickly, coming out from behind the bar, coming around so that she’ll be in front of Keeler when he opens his eyes. But Carol is coming back from the bathroom. She may get there too soon. Quickly, Cleo grabs Carol’s drink from the bar.
Keeler reaches ten. With his eyes still closed, he says, “’Daddy didn’t give affection, and the boy was something that mommy wouldn’t wear.’”
Cleo is a little loud as she comes between Carol and Keeler. “Carol,” she says. “Here’s your drink.” She hands the Smoking Gun to Carol too fast. It slips. Drops. Breaks.
Keeler is at “eighteen” in his count. That girl reading her book at the end of the bar turns and says, “You guys want to keep it down. The man’s quoting Eddie Vedder here.”
“Twenty.” And Keeler has just heard the voice of a kindred spirit. He opens his eyes and turns to the far end of the bar, from where he heard that voice.
Cleo sees it, but there’s nothing at all that she can do. Keeler’s eyes lock with the eyes of the girl at the end of the bar. It’s love. No doubt about it. Carol, no idea what’s going on here, looks down at the mess at her feet. “What are you doing, Cleo? You wasted a perfectly good drink.”
Cleo looks, not at the mess on the floor, but at the empty glass from which Keeler took his drink. “Don’t I know it,” she says.