“We were talking about the space between us all.” —George Harrison
The place was empty, the sort of joint that was always empty, except for the regulars. They counted, of course, as much as the furniture or the faded yellow wallpaper. The smell of bourbon and dust permeated throughout, as an old jukebox and the dull murmur of old conversations competed for attention and tried to cut through the seemingly interminable thickness.
“Beer,” said the stranger who walked in from outside. Skinny kid from the city, black denim jeans, collared shirt, all the fixin's.
“Beer what?” said the bartender, looking him dead in the eyes.
The stranger scanned the room. The murmur had stopped, only the jukebox kept on with a song that was both familiar and unknown. Guys shooting pool looked up from their tables and held sticks at an angle that was almost, but not quite, threatening.
He sized up the bartender. Too big. He glanced at the door. Too far away. He quickly searched for other exits but found none.
There must be another way.
“Beer what?” repeated the bartender, unflinching.
The air grew even thicker, which had seemed impossible when he'd walked in. Of all the places to stop, he'd had to pick this one. Why?
He contemplated the bartender's question, tried to makes sense of the syntax and meaning. What did the man mean by his words?
Beer what? What comes after beer? Now? Dammit? Or else?
Then it struck him and he laughed. It was so obvious, how had he missed it earlier? Yes, of course.
“Beer, please,” said the stranger.
The bartender shook his head. “Sorry, son. The correct answer is 'dammit'. You'll have to leave now.”
All eyes stayed on him as he shuffled back outside.