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The Wise American
by Gregory Wilde  /  fiction  /  23 Sep 2007

      He was a young man who came out at night when the cafes were closed and the tabacs were sold out of cigarettes and the good girls had all gone home to their boyfriends or husbands or both.  The bartender knew the young man because he would come into the pub late, every night, hardly talking, but drinking and stumbling.  The two girls that sat at the bar table, the only people there besides the young man, would never leave the darkness of the pub that they liked so much that it even made them dark when they went outside into the world.
    The young man walked to the bartender and asked for another beer, and the girls at the bar laughed lowly to themselves.
    "A beer, please" the young man said.
    "You're drunk," the bartender said, "I want to go to bed soon.  It's very late."
    "Not yet."
    "What beer?"
    "A Stella."
    "And another after that I suppose.  I'll pour you two so you can leave me alone tonight."
    "Why must I leave?" the young man said.
    "You're a messy drunk."
    "I'm as clean as anyone here."
    "They're locals, clean locals."
    "And I'm not?"
    "Americans do not match the French," the bartender said.
    "So be it."
    The bartender poured two glasses of Stella for the young man, and the girls at the bar watched the young man keep his tilted balance, while pushing his hair sideways and lighting a cigarette the wrong way, with the filter in his mouth.
    "Wrong way," the older girl said.
    "Oh, merci," the young man said.
    "You're drunk," the younger girl said.
    "I'm fine."
    "You look like a joker," the younger one said.
    "And are you my thief?"
    "No, I am not," the younger one said.
    "Please, keep him to himself, or he'll talk American all night," the bartender said.  
    "I may talk French," the young man said.
    "You know nothing," the bartender said, "That will be four Euro."
    "Merci."  The young man paid the bartender and took both beers and walked to the back of the pub near the dartboard, where no one ever sits alone because you cannot see the faces in the shadows.  But the young man seemed to like the shadows and would light cigarettes and listen to the music, while shifting his feet to the beat. 
    "Why does he come here?  There are American bars," the younger girl asked.
    "I don't know.  He isn't local," the bartender said, "And I want to close up tonight, before dawn."
    "Is he rich?" the younger said.
    "I would think so," the bartender said.
    "Then he's good for business."
    "He's bad for business.  He's fine for loneliness."
    "Why doesn't he have any friends?"
    "He's a real loner.  I guess he's not good with the locals."
    "Put on some music, I want to dance," the younger girl said.  She was getting as drunk as the young man, and she wanted to move her feet and hips.
    "What album?"
    "Anything with a good beat, okay," the younger girl said.
    The bartender bent down below the bar table and looked into his crate of albums and randomly picked out a LP.  He opened the record player and put the vinyl on the turntable and placed the needle at the edge of the record and pressed play.
    "Oh, you really know me!" the younger girl said.
    She was really dancing now on the dance floor next to the dartboard and next to the young man in the shadows in the back.  The young man would move his feet to the beat, and would push his hair back and sing with the singer.
    "Look at him singing.  So he's remembered the words to this one too," the bartender said.
    "When a man sings with the singer it's not because he knows the words," the older girl said, with an empty beer, "It's because he remembers the feeling of when he first heard the words."
     "How poetic."
     "It's life, and life only.  Please another beer."  And the bartender picked up the girl's glass and filled it with beer and did not ask for any money.
    The young man looked up and watched the young girl dancing, then slid his glass across the table.  He stood up and walked to the young girl and touched her shoulder and spoke.  The girl nodded her head and the young man danced with the girl.  They were good, and the younger girl put her arms around his shoulders and moved closer into the young man's chest.
    "He's drunk," the bartender said, to the older girl, who may or may not be the younger girl's mother.
    "I think he's a fine dancer," the older girl said.
    "He's a wise American."
    "And what are you?"
    "I'm a businessman who likes the people happy and free."
    "And they're happy and free.  Yes?"
    "Now they are.  Tomorrow, the young man will walk in here with his head below his heart and he will drink way too much again and smoke too much.  Do you think I want such careless young people in this bar?  It's a sick feeling!"
    "He's only a kid, be easy on him."
    "He will be older, soon enough, and where does that leave me?  Alone in my room upstairs, without a woman to share my goddamn misery."
    "Oh, silly.  You will be dead and buried when he is your age."
    "He's a wise American."

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