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She stared at the chips of ice as they slowly melted. "Like dreams," she said aloud, playing narrator to an unseen audience. She rested her chin on her arm at the bar, and she could feel the top of her head raising and lowering with the syllables as her chin pressed against other flesh. "Dreams of bodies melded together, dreams finding chinks in your psyche, liquid filling and drowning your sensibilities, erotic combinations unimaginable finding a final solution akin to a puzzle piece."
"'M sorry, didja say somethin'?" asked the bartender. He was a roundish man with a roundish pate, a roundish collection of stray grey hairs suggesting something of a mammalian ancestry. Round eyes, round lips, none of his nature was of particular interest to her besides his being the conduit of libation. He moved towards the emptied glass with the absent smile that suggested he didn't really care, but felt his livelihood required a response.
"Another one, please," she said, sighing, and sitting up. Didn't hurt to practice her manners, and her anunciation was perfect, belying the several glasses of potent amber liquor she had already consumed. She rattled the ice around in her glass, letting it spin a few times against the crystal of the cylinder. With some amusement she continued the spinning with a gesture of her wrist, listening as if the sound were faintly musical, a few notes to commit to a song, or perhaps a memory of ringing bells.
The bartender gave her a new dose without comment.
"There is too much restless in this place," a voice next to her said, startling her with its timbre.
She put the cup back down, and turned towards the sound. "It seems sleepy enough," she disagreed on the principle of needing conversation. Restless. Yes, that was a term for it.
He was of medium-height and black, black in that way that suggested ethnicity and not any politically correct form of reference. His teeth and the whites of his eyes showed intense contrast against his velvet darkness, a phrase that almost elicited a giggle from her even as she thought it. His drink was a red wine, almost deep enough to match.
"No," he replied cordially enough, "for sleep does not make rest. Or good dreams." He had a hint of an accent, as if he were translating into English, but she couldn't place it. Not that telling where people were from by their voice was ever one of her identifying strengths, but the sound seemed almost familiar, and yet, exotic enough to keep her interest. She would have written him off just for the choice of wine, else. He continued. "It is like mountains, yes? Things large and forever but some have movements underneath," he gestured with his left hand, a small movement for it was the one holding the glass, "and they change everyt'ing." He had just wisps of eyebrows, and his head was shaved clean in a way that reminded her briefly of the movie "Ghandi."
"Earthquakes. Volcanoes. I kind of see what you mean," she said. This time she took a drink, letting the edge of the glass chill her lip for a second before dousing her tongue in fire. "I doubt sincerely, my friend, that anything happening here is on that level."
He smiled when she said the word, "friend," as if it were meaningful. She hesitated but ignored the slip. So maybe the alcohol did have an effect, she decided. Maybe he'd be a good friend.
"Do you know the story of the two dragons?" he asked. His voice went up a little bit on the end word suggesting that maybe he, too, was not quite sober. "The red and the white?"
"The Welsh flag?" she asked. "Merlin Ambrosius, the fatherless son, and the building that kept collapsing?"
"Emrys, yes." He nodded vigorously. The name meant nothing to her. She just knew the story from her father, an Arthuriana freak. "Inside, Aunt Nancy and Loki fight, Loki the red dragon, Anansi the white. He was white to represent the pale-haired raider who had brought his godly rival to the new world."
"Wait," she interrupted. "That's... that's definitely not the story I've heard. It's completely," she grasped for words, ignoring the glass she had returned to the bar. "It's completely culturally unsupportable. It's an anachronism. A," she stopped again, irritated. "A bad story." The words felt numb against her lips.
"There are no bad story," he said, taking her to task with the lightest touch of his dark finger on her nose. She found it endearing rather than an invasion of personal space. It reminded her of her childhood and her father's laugh as he traced her sun-dyed freckles while drinking lemonade. "Perhaps I tell it badly. You think our small Prince of Ceredigion takes opportunity to tell stories? Everyone, they tell stories."
She shook her head, and her hand went to the cup waiting for her. "I don't know the Prince, and I don't have anything interesting enough to make a story out of it. Small town girl, decent job, series of unremarkable boyfriends, a couple faded freckles," the word popped up again, "and half a college education. If it's a story, it's one everyone's heard too many times. Throw in a fast food restaurant position and you might have a sitcom."
"I tell it badly. I tell another one. I need to drink more. Come to my room, I have different than what is here." He made an encompassing wave of his empty hand, and then drank the rest of his wine.
She considered it a moment. It wasn't a proposition, she decided. Besides, if she was going to make a better story, she ought to take chances, right? She finished her drink and nodded. "I suspect they save the good stuff for the holidays," she noted, and waved at the bartender to settle her tab.
He was staying in the room across from hers, a coincidence that amused her but not one she would mention to anybody. She made plans that when she left she'd probably wander around the building before coming back, just in case. Of what? She wasn't sure. She was already going into a strange man's room.
The door was painted with a mural of a tall tower. On top of the tower was a girl in jeans and a t-shirt with a sketchpad. Except for the girl, the scene could have been out of any generic fairy tale, complete with unicorn sipping pure water in the background, a bird of paradise or a peacock or some sort of fantastic fowl, and a dragon in a cave representing the "local" (for some measure of the term) hoodlums, no doubt. The room number was painted in black, a serif font, indicating a hint of mundanity anchoring the door to reality.
The jingle of the hotel-acquired key brought her thoughts back. The fellow was wearing a long-sleeved red shirt that, in her slightly inebriated state looked nice to touch. His slacks were crisply ironed, the kind of crease that suggested anal-retentivity, if that was a word, and she wouldn't swear to it once she was sober. It would never work, she decided.
"Come into my parlour," he said, and the timbre of his voice was just right. Maybe it'd work. Maybe she could keep him talking and just ride the waves of the sound. Of course, he was quoting the spider to the fly.
"Or fly away home?" she tried in part to jest.
"This," he said, and he pulled out a bottle from one of the canvas bags that were stashed near the window. The bottle looked green as he grasped it and blue as he carried it, but she saw in the light as he poured the contents into two cups that it was actually red, and the liquid gold. "This is last bottle of a vintage I cannot describe." There was no label on the bottle, just thin etched words, like Elvish, she thought, thinking of Bilbo's "spidery handwriting."
It smelled like the last days of summer, like pumpkins and playing in the leaves. She held it in her hands, and it warmed them or cooled them - she wasn't sure. The colours were that of gold, the real thing with hints of red and not the mustard that the crayon box gave it. It smelled sweet and poignant at the same time, spicy and nostalgic.
She took a drink.
"Now, shall I tell story?"
"Once upon a time..."