Oh, she had noticed him all right. She was purposely avoiding him. Frankly, he scared her. The lines around his mouth formed a permanent scowl. The folds of his eyes gave him a permanent squint. While his gray and white hair should have been endearing, it just topped off his menacing look.
He waved at her to get her attention. She couldn't ignore him any more. Wordlessly, she stood in front of his table with her pen on her pad.
"Whiskey please. On the rocks." His voice was gravelly, like a plow truck scraping snow off the pavement.
The waitress turned and walked towards the bar.
A petite woman entered the pub, letting cold air in through the door. After hanging her fluffy, fur-lined coat on the rack, she pulled a seat up at the bar.
"What can I get you?" asked the bartender.
With a smile, she said, "Champagne," and giggled.
As the bartender retrieved her order, she surveyed the occupants of the establishment. A group of college-aged girls tittered to themselves at two tables pushed together in the middle of the room, occasionally getting loud with celebrations of a birthday. A pair of couples laughed and joked at a table by the bar. At a small table in the opposite corner, a man and woman were obviously on a romantic date. And the unsavory looking man in the leather jacket with the sleeves torn off, not cut, but torn, sat by himself in the dark.
The petite woman brushed her long, fair, curly hair over her shoulder, caught January's attention, smiled and waved. He responded by displaying a rude gesture. Giggling again, she spun her stool back around to face the bar.
"Anything else," the bartender asked, placing the tall thin glass in front of her.
"Yes, please," she said with a smile. "Send that man in the corner a glass of champagne as well. It's his favorite."
The bartender poured another glass and gave it to the waitress. "Take this to the man in the corner."
"His name is January," added the woman.
The waitress leaned over to the bartender and asked, "Do I have to?"
He gave her a look, and she shuffled over to the table in the dark with the glass in her hand.
"Thank you," he said. She said nothing and walked away.
With yet another giggle, the woman emptied her glass. "Can I get a whole bottle and a bunch of glasses?"
Shrugging, the bartender put a bottle on a tray of glasses. "Thanks sweetie," she said, and picked up the tray. The birthday party didn't see her coming until she spoke up saying, "Let me treat you to some champagne!"
The group gave their thanks as she poured the glasses and passed them around. "Happy birthday," she made a point of saying to the birthday girl, "and may the rest of your life be filled with love."
Once they all had glasses in their hands, she moved on to the table of four. "No thanks, we're okay," said one man as she approached.
"Please, I insist!" She placed four full glasses on the table and walked away. When she peaked over her shoulder, she saw them all sipping from their glasses.
The couple in the corner were so engrossed in their intimate conversation that she startled them when she said in a soft voice, "It looks like you could use some champagne." She poured three glasses, picked one up, and said, "To love." They clinked and sipped.
When the woman returned to her seat at the bar, the bartender and waitress were chatting amongst themselves. She put a glass in front of each of them and said in a fake whisper, "I won't tell." They thanked her, touched their glasses together, and drank.
From the shadows, January emerged with his empty glass. He slammed it on the bar with a wad of cash and stomped out of the pub. The woman giggled her annoying giggle and watched the large man walk out the door.
The bar seemed to gradually be getting quieter.
"So, I haven't seen you in here before," the bartender said.
One by one, the foreheads of the birthday partiers hit the table.
"I'm not from around here," she replied.
With their cheeks on the table, the two couples stared out with unblinking, glazed over eyes.
"Well, welcome! What's your name?"
The lovebirds in the corner collapsed in each other's arms. Their hearts burst at the exact same moment. The waitress didn't make it over to them before she abruptly fell to the floor.
"I'm February," she said as the bartender's heart ceased to beat and he disappeared behind the bar.
What's this all about?Neil Gaiman is writing A Calendar of Tales based on 12 questions (one for each month) that he posted on Twitter. Here's my reply to the January question:
@neilhimself January isn't as dangerous as he appears to be. It's February you've got to watch out for. #KeepMoving #JanTale
— Michelle Hartz (@MzHartz) February 5, 2013
On Tumblr, I asked Neil Gaiman the following question, and got the following response: