This story is by Stephen Dale and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I observed Gabrielle as she worked in the well, and she ignored me, thumbing through Darla’s orders.
“Hey Gabbie, Moonboy has landed.”
“That will definitely affect your tip, Darla.”
“My tip? Have I ever served you, Tim?”
“No, but it could happen.”
“Not likely.” She winked at me.
Gabrielle’s body was covered with tattoos. There was no discernible pattern. It was as if the artist had sprinkled her with ink, needling in the contrasting drops of black rain that might have fallen from heaven. The tats were variegated, nearly round teardrops. They did not appear to touch but sometimes undulated, reflecting some unspoken inner turbulence. She would not speak of them. The last time I asked about the marks, she had made me wait an hour for a glance, then a while longer for a grudging acknowledgment that my glass was empty. And what Gabrielle did, how she nodded her head or waved her hand, fingers rubbing and almost snapping to get a server’s attention, always brought the eyes of every wait staff. The customers might yell, joke, and do what they do in a loud pub, but the help would turn back to Gabrielle if she nodded.
Jerry, the cruiser, was moving in on a very young woman with a glass of white wine a few stools down. She seemed unsure of herself.
“Please, let me buy you a real drink. Darla, Cosmos.” Women loved him, and he seemed to have the magic to make them run off with him. I was envious of his ability with women. The idea of playing the field was fine, but I am in love, and it is the worst kind of infatuation to pursue the impossible. As with my novel, I was unwilling to quit.
My passion for completing a story had circled the drain months earlier, along with the initial inspiration, but I slogged on with rubbish that no one would ever read. During the day, I accumulated precious pages I might leave on the street with the rest of the shit. Going home was an option. I was almost out of money, and my mother would not take my calls. I’d have to do something real soon.
She finally glanced at me, read my thoughts, and rolled her eyes. “If you are not going to drink, why are you here?”
“My recreation. I am ready if you would only notice.”
She was between orders, business was slow for a few minutes, and she edged closer. Even three feet away, I could feel her heat.
“Watching me is your jogging?”
“I do that in the morning.”
“I know.” She knew why I was here. “How is it going.”
“Another 20 pages of mostly nothing.”
“Let me read it.”
“It’s not ready.”
“You are exasperating.”
“I still think it might come together.”
“Let me read it.”
More orders came, and I glanced down the bar at Jerry, who was making his move, but he did something that surprised me. With his right arm behind the young woman he was courting, he slipped some powder into the new sweet cocktail. He leaned close to the young woman’s ear, but I could hear his whisper.
“Let’s have dinner next door. Sound good?”
She nodded. The drink was already half gone.
My face turned red as he moved off.
I didn’t want to get involved. He had a group of unsavory friends, but I didn’t wait.
She appraised my student sweatshirt and jeans and knew there was nothing for her with me. “Hi, but I’m with my boyfriend.”
“Your boyfriend is a regular here, and he slipped something into your drink.”
She had reflexively picked it up and sipped greedily from the tiny straw. “He would never do that.”
“Ok, I’m going back down to the end of the bar, but if you start to feel weird, ask the dark-haired bartender for help.”
“You are not kidding?” Her words were already slurring.
“Go home, but don’t leave alone.”
“You men will do anything. I think you are full of shit.”
“Sorry.” But I pointed at Gabrielle, whose back was to us, as she organized a new bottle of gin onto the glass shelf.
“A little out of your league, Moony.” Jerry was back, face flushed.
“Thanks, Jerry. I’m just going back to my stool.”
The girl suddenly stiffened. “You were right.” Her eyes teared in an apology, and she stood with a cold shoulder to Jerry. I pointed again to Gabrielle. Jerry’s façade dropped, and he reached for her. “Baby, we haven’t finished our drinks.”
He looked around for support, but he was solo tonight. There was a back door that Gabrielle had let me use a few times, and Jerry hurried down the hall.
Darla took the girl back to the restaurant and helped her escape to the night air. It was cold, but the full moon was full, and I could see Gabrielle working on her phone for an uber.
“They wouldn’t come.
“What will you do?”
“Blackball. Son-of-a-bitch can drink somewhere else, but you better watch yourself.”
She looked up at me then, her eyes softened. “You always surprise.”
“Because I am pathetic?”
“I thought so at first. But that was decent. Bring me some pages. I’m sure I’ll like them.”
I am not a real writer and have never been published or even finished a novel. “It’s not quite ready.”
She fixed me with her black eyes, and I realized for the first time that there were green and gold flecks around the iris.
Both doors at the front of the bar opened at once. One was usually locked against the cold weather. An old couple walked in. They were wearing highly polished red shoes with pointed toes that turned up, and she had on a full red skirt from the old country. Both wore matching white bloused shirts, the sleeves wide and full, as if from another age, and his pants extended just past his knees with white hose.
I looked back, and Gabrielle’s face was white, and she sprinted through the room, hands out, imploring as if she knew the people, and she spoke with them in a clipped language that held no meaning, but the couple shrugged, and said nothing, and then with delighted grins on their faces, they bowed to each other. The lights came up, and without terminus, the soft jazz that was always on in the Calypso, morphed to something from Strauss, and tapping their feet as if to catch the time, the man formally reached up with his hand and found his partner’s grasp. They began to waltz, utilizing every square inch of empty floor, and the remaining customers watched with rapt expressions that implied they were seeing something important. The dance was precise, and there was obvious meaning in the moves, with hands touching, then gesturing to the four corners of the compass, to the wind, and rain, to fire and the sky, it was clear that the dance symbolized an acknowledgment of all the planet, and the air began to fill with the music and the smell of summer, which replaced the cigarette stink and whiskey, and Gabrielle was crying, a knee on the floor, and for a moment I thought she might be hurt, and I moved to her, reaching for her shoulder, offering support, but she took my hand without looking, knowing it would be there.
The music swelled, and the dancers seemed to grow in stature, and Gabrielle looked at me, face streaked, and she rose, and I thought maybe she would want to wash, but she led me back to the bar, tugging me into the recess where only the servers could go, and she kissed me. It was a slow, sensual kiss, the kind I had dreamed of, and I felt her heart beating, her breath caught, and she was on fire. I wanted to love her and was longing to hold her. I could feel her tears even as we kissed, and she held my face so we would not break the moment.
“I had to do that, my beloved.”
Holding her hand, I stared into her eyes, and I was so relieved. Perhaps she saw.
“You must listen. I have to go to make another drink, and you must finish it quickly. Will you do that for me?”
“Safe for you.”
“I don’t care. Can we leave together?”
Her brow silenced me, and she stroked my face. “I would like to leave with you, Tim Kinsey. Everything is changed. She was crying again. “I thought we might have time, but now only seconds. I know I must seem overly dramatic, but you must drink, and I must give you something important.”
“We have all night, Gabrielle, and forever if you will have me.”
Ignoring my proposal, she prepared my cocktail, omitting the whiskey, using only fresh juice, adding ice into a shaker, her eyes on me as she prepared the cocktail.
“This will be the most potent drink you will ever taste. Almost ready.”
The mysterious light was slowly dimming as the dance continued, and her arms and neck began to sparkle, and an eerie glimmer connected the ink stains on her body, and her hand trembled as she poured my drink. She took a silver fountain pen from her apron, which I had never seen, and she wrote an address and phone number on a napkin, pushing it toward me, and did a very odd thing, she emptied the pen’s black ink into my glass.
“I am sorry, I thought we had more time. Drink that now and listen, I have only seconds!”
“Is the ink what gives this the kick?”
She moved around, sat next to me, lay her head on my shoulder, and whispered. “Tim, the ink is the bitter tears of angels. There is a well in Arabia, which is in the eye of the driest reach where it never rains. Only a wind of despair blows there, and it speaks of the place you must find. Listen closely, for it is the breath of God that you will hear, and it is only for the worthy, you will be safe, and it will draw you to the hidden valley where the tears fall from heaven.
It was preposterous, but I played along. “Why do angels cry?
“They despair for us, every human, for they watch and see the tide of destruction breaking upon our world. But the tears hold great healing power, and to those who drink, the shade of evil will fall, and you will know truth. I thought we had years, but remember this, my love, I have waited a very long time for you, but I must leave.”
She stopped my protest with another kiss. The room was growing dark, and I thought I saw the old couple bow again, but she was kissing me ferociously. It was so welcome and unexpected that I lost track of all the life around us. My head was spinning, maybe from the mocktail, but then she pulled back.
“Go there, and you will know what to write.”
Then she was up, taking nothing but walking toward the old couple in the dark. However, there was a new light in the room, and it was Gabrielle, whose dark circles of ink were on fire, settling into a kind of golden armor. A crystal sword materialized into her right hand.
The dancers only had eyes for her. She loosed her black hair, and it swelled and floated to its full length as if there was electricity in the air, and I realized, for the first time, that she was beautiful, radiant. She turned back and found me with her green and gold eyes. Her lips, on which I had never seen lipstick, were full and red, and she smiled tenderly, nodding a kiss. Then her face became defiant. She nodded in respect to the old-people, and she did not wait for them to answer but stepped between the two dancers and disappeared.
I was startled awake, alone, in my dark rented room, on sweat-stained sheets, I had been crying into my hands—a nightmare. The police were pounding on my door. As I staggered to answer, my fingers were frozen around the silver pen and a damp napkin was twisted around the barrel. It seemed to have no writing.
Reaching for the door, I wondered: How the hell was I going to get to Arabia?