Little candles light the bar, the fiery wick dances to the breath of a gushing breeze of air from ventilators, ACs and chatter-box mouths. Music muffles each voice from the other; an irregular jazz beat replaces every heartbeat. In this catacomb a heterogeneous mix happens like no other. Some people leave reality outside its doors, and others create their reality inside, so that on the door, Poe’s famous line from The Masque of the Red Death is etched, “There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.” But the seven chambers were one and there was no black clock and no death; instead of tentative suspense, a lingering abeyance.
Rania rushes to and fro behind the bar, tending to people’s needs. A calm relaxed expression dominates her face, as if she’s put on a mask. She robotically prepares drinks and cocktails, her arms flowing like ribbons, catching bottles and glasses, her ears receiving orders, her eyes looking at the spirits in front of her, her memory reminding her of which bottle is where behind her, of what to put in what cocktail, the ratios, the ice, the shaking, the blending.
Rania is one of the people who leave reality outside the doors of this catacomb pub. Her expressionless face atop a mechanical body is an asset the manager always valued. “You’re all business and no fuck-ups,” he’d tell her at the end of the nightshift. She’d count her tips, a large sum; put it in her wallet and leave, wearing whatever she shed upon entering the bilateral fortress of (in)differentiation.
A hand suspends itself in mid-air at the end of the bar, and Rania walks towards it.
“A JD, no ice,” the man says, looking her straight in the eye. She returns the gaze with an almost callous coldness.
Someone screams “Blue Bayou” and as she pours the Jack Daniels, she starts going over the preparation procedure in her head.
Blue Bayou; a vodka cocktail. Ice. Blended. Grapefruit. Pineapple. Essential blue curacao, don’t forget the blue curacao.
The man drinking his JD watches her as she washes the blender, and starts pouring vodka, grapefruit, pineapple and blue curacao in it. She adds a full cup of ice to it and lets it blend. She waits by the blender and notices him staring at her. Yet she remains saintly calm.
“You do it with such ease. Your mouth never moves. Your eyes never flicker. You don’t stop to think.” The man says, sipping on his Jack Daniels between every sentence.
She pours the Blue Bayou mix into a margarita glass and serves it, not paying attention to the man’s words.
“Beatrice, I’ll call you,” the man speaks again when she arrives near him, “in honour of all those before me who have had this inspirational vision.”
And this time she listens as she pours vodka over the coffee liquor in the short glass. She pays attention to his words overdubbing the Toufic Farroukh song playing through the overhead speakers.
“You’re poisonous like Rappicini’s Daughter, a tricked trickster like the niece of Leonato, and I do nothing but engage in merry wars and distant gazes with you. And in this catacomb where romance and gothic tales intertwine, I move my lips in poetic allusions, and you receive them quietly, as it should be, and as you present yourself. For you are a poem, and a poem should only be read. If I ask you to speak, you become distraught, distracted. Explaining you makes you dull. Here, you are a poem, for every muse is a poem in itself. And your poet bids you adieu, with these words: I held the splendour of your eyes secretly within me, blissful Beatrice.”
He leaves a twenty dollar bill on the bar and leaves. She takes, still not showing any interest to anyone around her. Mistakes are simple, she thinks.
The end of the shift dawns, and the manager says goodbye to Rania with a smile on his face. The little candles have all melted into formless wax. She opens the door, the etched mark given no attention. A strange invisible mist settles over her as she breathes in the outside air and fumes of the city. The name Beatrice sticks in her mind now like the prick of a rose’s thorn.
But the prick of a rose gives off a faint smile, for as she picks it, the valiant dust of poets fills her nostrils with a special pollen that makes her smile. With a smile she sees her poet standing beside the traffic pole on the opposite side of the street. She walks towards him, and when she’s close enough he says, “We’re outside now. I am no longer a poet, and you are no longer a poem. Let me tend to you now. Speak to me.”