McKays and fruitcakes; stories of Rachel

Advertized by a painted sign at least thirty years old, McKay’s was supposed to be an Irish pub. It was often overlooked as it had no neon lights in the windows or bright paint to invite the passer bys to come in. It was stuck between the vacuum repair shop (that had no sign on it at all, just many old vacuums lined up in the old windows,) and an out-of-print book shop called The Attic. That little book shop was how Rachel had found the bar for the first time.

The Attic had been a major let down as most of the books were old, cover-less, often moldy, and the shop smelled of cats, cigars, and old men. McKay’s, however, made up for it.

A great concrete step worn with age, led up to the dark heavy wooden door.  Age had turned both the step and the door a dark color that seemed almost mystic.  The door itself was set up in an alcove as many doors had been, something to do with taxes of some age past.  The heavy brass handle was worn with the touch of countless hands, cool and ancient.

Just inside the door was a landing with a copper umbrella can that was bolted to the floor, a wall of old coat hooks to the left, and on the wall over the door that led to the sanctuary beyond was a sign that read, “Cell Phones Unwelcome!” That sign had made Rachel like the place almost at once.

Passing under the sign, you had to take three steps down into the establishment itself. Off to the right was the old bar with its polished and warn wooden counter top, brass rails, and old stools. The far wall was made of stone with a great poster board that was plastered with the flyers of all the bands who had played at McKay’s in the last decade.  Layers upon layers covering each other until it seemed almost a form of art as to where and how to put up the next poster.

To the left you could make out the tables, small squares of dark wood nearly as old as the back bar.  Each table was set with mismatched chairs that had only one thing in common, they were sturdy. Everything spoke of age and history from the red brick walls to the worn and battered floor boards, tables, chairs and bar.  All whispered of things far more real than stainless steel and glass.  The lighting, however, was modern.  Thin silver cables hung over every table and along the bar, each with a small bright light illuminating each party, but nothing so bright or flashy as a coffee bar.  Here and there, spot lights of the same style lit up the random bit of art, most of it old, Irish and made of wood.

In the far back corner was a stage that was home to a piano, two old guitars and a very simple drum set. During the day, the stage was never lit unless someone wanted to play a bit, but once the sun went down, it was always lit, musicians or not

Rachel had spent many hours studying the back bar with its massive silver door latches, low heavy doors that hid cold bottles, cans, and kegs. Old brass lanterns still hung on the back bar, just in case the power went off.  They were functional but decorative as well.  What caught the eye most of all, though, was the bottles. They were lined up on the back bar, each shelf made of glass that seemed to float before the mirror behind them.  The light cast up and reflected their images back, making the supply seem endless at a glace. 

Very little else was back there.  The owner desired to keep it looking old and so there was no modern cash register, no neon, no shot cooler, no blenders, no signs of upcoming events, no bumper stickers, no tvs, nothing that spoke of anything modern.  There was absolutely no clutter.  Everything was hidden away under the bar and kept in order by the bar tender, Chad.

Chad was a handsome man, somewhere between twenty and forty. He was lean, athletic in build, with his hair unruly in an easy short cut that allowed for no need to over groom or style it. He was charming, easy to talk to, and worked everyday. He was an insomniac who claimed to work for his grandfather, the owner, but if you got to know him you might learn he owned the McKay’s and lived in the apartment above it.  But even after you met him or if you were a rare soul who came to be considered a friend, you would still wonder at his age.

His taste of music was blues for himself, and often that was what the music in the bar was, but he wanted the bar to look old, not be full of old people, grumpy men.  So, at times, he drove them out with younger music. Age to him was in the heart, not the body.  He was quick to joke and make light of most things, but a well placed smile and a hint of wit kept the bar easy and relaxed.  He was well educated, wealthy, and a bit of a recluse in his own way. Chad rarely left the building.

He liked the age of the building, and all things that were made to last.  The art on the walls, as well as the stubborn refusal for neon and flashing machines, was proof to it. He was the sort of bartender that would have a drink on the bar for the regulars by the time they reached him, and could often guess what a new guest would like. He always wore a white shirt rolled up to the elbows, black pants and a leather belt tooled with symbols of most every religion in the world.  He had a ring that had been his grandfathers and may or may not have been the seal of the Masonic Temple, it was far too old and too worn to be sure.

The afternoon crowd there was normally quiet, and often, Rachel had a seat at the end of the bar, a knee propped up against the bar itself with her sketch pad resting there to be scribbled in… or not.  She ordered water with a lime most days.  Chad had it ready for her, but now and then, tossed her out a rum and coke just to change things up a little. Either way she drank it and watched the crowd.

She did not go there to be amused by Chad.  In fact, they rarely spoke at all.  She wasn’t there to drink, either, but to watch the people and to think without the claustrophobic reality of her tiny apartment.  Mckays was her haven, and Chad was the gatekeeper.

Two men sat at the bar today arguing about the truth of Jesus.  They were debating the science behind it all, the true evidence and the rightness of the church they belonged to respectively.  Chad allowed such until six, and then religion was off limits.  You would be asked to leave if you wished to debate it.  He made his way past the two men to where Rachel was irritably nibbling on pretzels and trying to ignore them.

“How’s the day?” Chad asked her, catching his bar towel up to wipe glasses from under the bar.

“It was going pretty well until the little dogs started yapping,” she said, trying not to glance at the young men at the bar.  Chad smiled and stuck his towel corner in his pocket and put the glass back.

“You sketch up anything lately?”

“No. I’ve been distracted,”  She took another pretzel and took a bite of it.

“I thought you hated those.”

“I do,” she said and flashed a smile of her own. “I want to complain to the owner.”

“I’ll tell him you don’t like them.”  He kept busy at the end of the bar, trying to ignore his guests. Rachel made the mistake of looking over at them as they got a bit louder and was, as she feared, drawn into it.

“What do you think?” one of them asked her. “Catholicism is the true church, founded by the apostles themselves, and the protestants just an off-shoot. They didn’t like the rules and thought to make up their own.”

“Fruit cake,” she said, grateful for the rum and coke Chad set on the bar for her.

Chad laughed, knowing what was coming and walked away, satisfied Rachel was about to run the young men out of the bar.

“What?” the other asked with a confused look.

“Fruit cake, religion is like fruitcake. No one really likes it or needs it but they just keep making the crap.”  She took a sip of her rum and looked down the bar to Chad. “You know what I did with the fruit cake your grandfather gave me for that Wall-mart holiday… what’s it called… chis-shit or something… I threw it off the building and shot it!”

“You aren’t supposed to unload firearms in the city limits Rachel,” Chad called back to her with a laugh.

“Yeah, that’s what the cops told me, but when I told them why I did it, they understood.”

Rachel was amused as the two men who had been arguing with each other became allies against her.  They both wore the same insulted look and stared at her.

“You can not be serious!” one of them said in shock.

“Oh yeah, I shot it,” Rachel assured them.

“You can not think religion is something to be mocked.” The other said in horror.

Rachel looked at them seriously. “I’ll tell you two boys what.  When you actually study what you are looking at and want to talk about the history; of the scholars or the facts about the church,… maybe.  Or if you want to discuss how the smallest of the many cults that rose out of the Messiahs followers suddenly became “the church” once it suited the kings of Rome, then sure, we can talk.  There are many many true facts of the matter, but do not blather about what you only know by the propaganda of your uneducated fathers.”

The two young men stared at her a moment, then left with a nudge and a grunt when Chad only laughed at them. Rachel lifted her glass to them as they left the bar.

Chad returned.  He watched them go, squinting a moment as light flooded in when the door opened. “You really throw the fruitcake off the roof?”

“No. I put it up there for the birds to eat.”

Chad laughed.

“I gave mine to a homeless man.”

“Fitting. That’s who needs religion anyway, the birds and the hopeless.”

Chad nodded.

“Amen to that.”


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