Adam sat on a half-pint at a high table like a dozen more scattered around the bar and, waited for his father. Of his own inability to arrive on time Christian Christian Senior described himself as ‘lacking a pre-occupation with exactness.’ He said it was inherited from his own father, of the same title. Adam called it ‘a compulsive tendency to let people down,’ and was not surprised to see his father walk into the bar wearing the long, heavy, brown coat he always wore, twenty minutes past the time he himself arranged.
Adam was alarmed by the spirited weight, baldness and grey hairs attached to his father since they’d last seen each other. Up close his father contradicted the evidence, stepping spritely and glowing of youthful vitality. He walked lightly through the afternoon lull like a man much larger than he was. That was all part of trick. Adam surpassed the height of his father when he was fifteen. But thirteen years on he still felt much smaller in his presence.
‘What are you doing sitting here son?’
‘Waiting for you.’
‘On a stool-they’re built for sailors. Doesn’t your arse go numb sitting on those?’
‘What’s up Pop?’
‘Let’s find a table a little more comfortable.’
Adam followed his father’s lead and sidled into a booth facing a street front window. Father and son were the only two people on the sunken main floor of the establishment. There were only three other customers, all workmen sat like hens on a wire at the bar. Television screens hung strategically from cornices and exposed rafters and blared mute motor racing highlights so whenever Adam looked away from his father he couldn’t escape the monotony of tyres spinning, speed, crowds, flags, flashes and flaming crashes.
‘Pop, he’s not a waiter. You have to go to the bar to order.’
Christian Christian Senior beckoned the young bar tender. to their table with a two finger wave.
‘Better still Pop, tell me what you want and I’ll get it.’
‘Nonsense. He doesn’t mind.’
Christian Christian Senior drew out a charming pearly grin to greet the man. Adam caught sight of the strings, the sleight of hand, the distraction. He peaked under the curtain and saw through the illusion long ago but he could still see the spell work itself on others. Adam noticed the part-time angst caught in the clenched eyes, flexed jaw and fisted walk of the man quietly disentangled as he approached.
‘Is McMahon in?’
‘Are you a funny man?’ the bar tender asked, regaining force of his own conviction.
‘No he’s Christian Christian Senior,’ Adam dryly responded.
‘Hey Mr Christian.’ The man acknowledged the name.
‘That was a joke too.’
But any residual youthful contempt had dried up. The bar tender was disarmed and lost again – for all money this time to the mirrors, false bottom boxes, fake blood and rubber swords.
‘Charlie, the bar manager is in at four-thirty if you want to talk to him?’
‘No, that’s alright – Hunters Vodka on the rocks, if you don’t have that the Imperial and if not that, whatever’s in the bottom draw of the desk in the manager’s office. Son?’
‘Another half-pint of pils thanks.’
‘Have you eaten?’
‘I’m fine Pop.’
‘You should eat something Kit.’
‘It’s Adam and I’m all right. I had a late breakfast.’
‘What did you have?’
‘I don’t know Pop-a bagel and a coffee.’
‘That can’t do.’
‘Nothing for me-really,’ Adam told the bar tender.
‘That’s cool. I wish my dad was concerned for me the way yours is for you,’ and the bar tender actually smiled. He was a lot more attractive when he smiled.
‘How’s your steak?’
The bar tender shrugged.
‘Average to fair.’
‘Steak sandwich-rare, and I don’t mean bloody – hold the salad, extra fries in a bowl for my son and condiments on the side.’
‘All the sauces and dressings are at the station over by the cigarette machine.’
‘Very good,’ Christian Christian Senior replied to discharge the bar tender’s services.
‘Didn’t you hear me say I wasn’t hungry?’
‘They’re French fries – you love French fries.’
‘What’s that got to do with it?’
‘You always order French fries in a bowl.’
‘When I was ten.’
Adam and his father sat in silence till the bar tender returned with the drinks order.
‘Shouldn’t be long for your steak. Someone from the kitchen will bring it over.’
The bar tender placed a till roll bill in the centre of the table and left. It curled up on itself as soon as it left the bar tender’s hand. Christian Christian Senior stole a glance at the faded purple ink total when his son turned to see the bar tender leave.
He rolled the ice cube around the short tumbler before taking a small sip. The heavy herbal aroma escaped the alcohol. It was the flavour on his breath that Adam associated closet to his father’s scent. He caught the weak bouquet and isolated the stronger components of cloves and aniseed. It reminded him of when he was a kid and his father took him along to his work.
Work came under a number of euphemisms depending on the situation – out all night at downs stairs gambling dens and upstairs twenty-four hour bars betting unsuccessfully on his own skills as a draughts player and other board games. Adam usually fell asleep at the bar or in the taxi at the break of dawn, believing all dads were the same because he knew no different. At home Christian Christian Senior carried him to bed and put him to sleep with a kiss wet with Hunters vodka on his forehead.
‘I’m leaving your mother,’ Christian Christian Senior announced and took another snifter.
‘Surely your hearing isn’t that bad.’
‘I heard what you said Pop, it just doesn’t make any sense.’
‘It’s quite simple. Your mother and I have been having marital problems for some time. It feels right presently that we separate-temporarily at least.’
A hirsute man in stained whites interrupts.
‘Steak sandwich rare and chips?’
Without waiting for an answer he slaps the bowl of fries and plate with steak and sautéed onions open on toast onto the table to no one in particular.
‘Cheers Sam,’ Christian Christian replies.
‘I wasn’t asking.’
‘Whatever.’ The cook mechanically turns and slowly shuffles away carrying the same weight of apathy to everything around him that he approached with.
With his thick long coat on Christian Christian Senior struggled to remove his body from the booth. Once on his feet he glided to the condiments counter.
Sachets or various mustards, dressings, horseradish and vinegar stood upright like tongues and packed tight into sugar bowls of mixed factions. Ketchup, mayonnaise, salt and pepper filled cheap woven baskets in a much greater quantity. Adam watched his father first expertly inspect the assortment of sachets – see him ween the undesirables out and slowly compile a favourite selection in his left hand like he was holding a deck of cards. Then when he was sure no one was looking his father grabbed handfuls of sauces and dressings and stuffed them into his depths of his coat.
It reminded Adam of the time when he was seven and shopping with his father in a supermarket. His father was bagging a handful of old blackened bananas on special when a domestic disturbance stole the attention of shoppers and employees nearby. Suddenly Adam’s father was stuffing Adam’s pockets with pick n’ mix sweets and taking every liberty in arms reach from the diversion created by a mother chastising her son, who she caught for the same offence.
‘Are there any freckle faces left?’ Adam’s father said, strolling through the parking lot to their getaway car. ‘Give us a couple of chocolate duds then son. You can have the rest.’
‘I don’t want any. You can have them all.’
‘Nonsense,’ Adam’s father replied and dug his hand into Adam’s pocket, grabbing a couple of jelly babies and dropping them into his mouth. ‘Better eat them quickly son or else they’ll melt in your pocket.’
Adam didn’t eat a single sweet. His moral margins in life thus far were drafted by his mother’s basic moral and ethical code that most children, religious or not were raised by. He was horrified such an indiscretion would irrevocable send him to hell. And what he died tragically tomorrow without being able to make amends.
His father however turned out to be correct. When his mother next did the laundry the chocolate stained pockets were undeniable despite Adam concealing his shorts deep in the laundry hamper. He was accused of stealing and she made Adam’s father set the punishment.
Christian Christian Senior finally took two sets of cutlery and a spare napkin. He returned to the table and set aside the knife and fork that came neatly rolled in a blue napkin with the meal. He wiped over the second set with the spare napkin and placed the knife and fork on corresponding sides of the plate as if he was dinning at home.
‘Can’t trust those Poles,’ Christian Christian Senior added as if the motivation was already clear and reasonable.
‘What are you talking about pop?’
‘The chef? He’s Armenian or something for Christ sake.’
‘I’ve seen that monkey man before, down at the Port Lunch Bar, where all Slavs hang out. He’s a Pole alright-you can bet on that.’
‘Pop, is it another woman?’
‘God no. No other woman could tolerate me except your mother – you know that.’
‘So why are you leaving?’
Christian Christian Senior pointed to the bowl of fries.
‘Are you going to eat those?’
Adam sighed into the solid back of the booth.
‘They’re yours if you call them?’
Adam waved them away. He had given up hope of drawing any sense from his father. Christian Christian Senior grabbed a handful of fries, piled them onto his steak, squeezed half a dozen sachets over the top and flattened the spare piece of toast down onto the creation with hearty crunch.
Adam’s father launched his teeth into the sandwich. It appeared to Adam as though he could only have chewed and swallowed a couple mouthfuls by the time he was sweeping his plate clean with leftover fries. He carefully put the plate to one side and wiped the corners of his mouth with the napkin. It made Adam think of Reverend Daniel at the nine o’clock mass on Sunday with his mother.
‘Kit I suspect you mother is hiding a skunk in the boathouse.’
‘Ma’s having an affair?? I don’t believe it.’
‘I’m looking into it son-don’t worry. When are you seeing your mother next?’
Whenever Christian Christian Senior said, ‘Don’t worry,’ Adam tended to worry. It came from practise.
‘Friday night for dinner. Mr Holdings from the foundation is going to be there.’
‘That old tomcat. Watch him for me Kit. I’ll call you over the weekend.’ Christian Christian Senior stood up. ‘I must visit the boys’ room.’ He looked at the bill on the table and then padded down his coat.
‘Don’t worry pop-I’ve got it,’ Adam offered to put an end to his father’s theatrical display.
‘I appreciate it son. Things are a little tight this week. Make it up to you next time – your choice, my treat.’
Adam looks down into the dying spume at the bottom of his glass.
‘Bar keep?’ Christian Christian Senior calls out crossing the floor.
The bar tender points to the toilets without need for further inquiry.
Adam gets up, puts his black leather jacket on and heads towards the bar. On the far right the door frame around the exit radiates a blinding white metal eclipse. Adam veers towards the light. It is perfect day outside – a thick blue sky and radiant sun of kindly warmth that reminds some people of spring and others of autumn. Buoyancy envelopes each step he directs towards the exit. It gives Adam the illusion he’s coasting down a steep and steady decline. He smiles at his imagined and effortless acceleration and accepts the sensation as approval. Only common decency forces Adam to stop by the bar and place the curled receipt on the counter.
‘My father’s paying,’ Adam says.
The bar tender nods silently in confirmation but Adam doesn’t see this or turn to check, He is already out the door.