Welcome Back to the Tap Room series. Today, Kevin Still gives the Tap Room a little more depth, a little more character, and a little more edge. I love what he’s done here with the characters, how he’s made this a decidedly real setting. Please spend some time with his words, think about what he’s weaving.
[parental warning: there’s a wordy-dord or two here if you are the type that is easily offended].
“The recipe calls for a batch of dry hops in the second fermentation,” she said, pulling a pint glass towards her face. “But I think I can live without it. Spend all that time cleaning shit out of the first batch just to throw it back in on the second run? Doesn’t make any sense. I say screw the recipe.”
She stopped talking long enough to take a swig of her beer, bright orange with white belt laces marking her sips along the insides of the glass, and Alan marveled again at how much she looked like a man. An old man. He even found himself second-guessing her with his eyes. Checking her profile. Her chest. She hadn’t said her name – its name – yet. And he wondered.
“What do you think?” she asked, rubbing her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Yeah. No, yeah, I agree,” Alan said. “If a second fermentation does anything, it filters out the crud. You gotta keep it loose till bottling.”
She smacked Alan’s arm, “I’m talking!” He guessed she was agreeing; at least, her voice was full of enthusiasm and she was smiling. He did not know this woman. She was already at the Tap Room bar when Alan sat down for a pint. Five minutes later they were talking beer recipes and fermentation cycles, which Alan knew nothing about. He bluffed his way through the brewing conversation. She didn’t seem to notice, or mind, and Alan appreciated the distraction. He came looking for a quiet afternoon. He found a chatterbox working through a solid beer buzz instead. And he liked her instantly.
She swatted at the bartender walking by, the one who tried to put money on the High Definition tennis match playing over the bar. Thumbing a gesture at Alan she said, “Dale, this guy knows what I’m talking about. He said skip the dry hops, too. Shit, pour him another something good.”
The bartender looked at Alan. “You ready for another beer?”
“How about a burger?”
“And how you want that?”
“Cheddar. Everything on it. Could you burn the meat?”
The bartender flittered his eyebrows in amusement. “Alright, cheddar, everything, burn the meat. I think we can do that.”
Alan thanked him and sipped his pint.
“I tell you though,” she started again, “only thing I love more than beer is being on the river.” Alan turned to listen but saw a waitress over her shoulder. Bouncing between tables, the waitress was pretty. Maybe nineteen or twenty. Short skirt. Long socks. Firm thighs. She was tall. Light brown hair fell over her collar while a thin line of skin shown beneath her chin. Alan wondered what she smelled like up close, imagined the softness of her neck. The sight of the young waitress made Alan swirl back towards his glass.
“My brother and I kayak once every three months,” she was still talking. “Shit, I came in town today to pick up some camping equipment at REI. Bought two new pairs of running shoes on sale while I’s at it. My girlfriend nearly bleeds everytime I come to town. She knows, even though I’m coming to get more camping gear, that I hit the Tap Room while I’m at it. Do it everytime. How could I not? And she knows I have three pints before driving back to Kinston. But, hell, it’s a straight shot. So.”
Alan thought her voice sounded like she’d stopped smoking five years before but ten years too late. He suddenly wanted a cigarette. He didn’t even smoke, but he wanted something that would burn his throat. He wondered if his new friend smoked Winstons. His dad had smoked Winstons, which meant Winstons were the first cigarette Alan tried. Twelve years old, he and his friend Michael hocked a pack from his dad’s carton on top of the fridge and skittered down to the woods behind the house. They didn’t know how to inhale, so they puffed in and puffed out, feigning coughs every few breaths. Alan remembered the way they leaned back against the trees, crossing their arms over their chests and their legs at the ankle. Michael was the closest thing Alan ever had to a brother. By the time Alan was old enough to buy cigarettes, Michael wasn’t there to practice leaning on trees or carhoods, to practice smoke rings and inhaling without the coughs, so Alan didn’t care anymore.