Alice the Artist
It was early March and that evening I had enjoyed walking across the salmon colored Vinoy Hotel’s wide veranda, and under the original hand-painted pecky-cypress ceiling beams, and then across the quarry tiled floor covered with cushioned, intricately woven carpets. I had moved through the vast lobby past the busy concierge desk, and beneath the high ceiling Moorish influenced archways that were centered with a line of golden chandeliers. I imagined what it had been like in the 1930’s during spring training when Babe Ruth, or Lou Gehrig had moved underneath the same beams toward the restaurant bar. I had acknowledged the well-dressed resident ghost that stood nearby guarding the stairwell that had once lead down to a speakeasy.
I had met with some in-town business contacts, and we had dined at the primary restaurant. We had been set near a white linen covered table, beneath the restored colorful frescos, near a Greek themed column as we looked out an ornate window at the resplendent Vinoy harbor.
As I walked home later that night, I sensed spring time had fast approached, as the security lights lit up the monstrous octopus like blooming bougainvillea that was draped across the North Straub Park trellises. But then, I had found myself standing outside of, The Moon.
“Well, kind of late for you,” Edwina said. She reached forward to encourage me to have sat. “Want something Jane powerful, or, a Guinness?”“I know, but since I was out front,” I said. I sat down on a wooden stool. “Guinness, I’ve already been indulging in vino, business dinner, acting as if I understood them.”“Wise choice, I might have you talking nonsense,” Edwina said. She smiled at me. “Been a quiet night, seasons winding down.”
As I sipped the Guinness, The Moon’s calm atmosphere was disturbed by an active presence that marched up to the bar, and stood next to me. She was tall, Germanic featured with cropped cut raven hair. She wore a jacket, and a straw hat.
“Barkeep,” she said. She tapped on the bar top using the base from what looked like her thick high school class ring. “Barkeep, you still serving?”“Sure are,” Edwina said from down the bar. She strolled up. “What can I make you, sweetie?”“Something with intent,” she said. She leaned forward, and then she sat down on the stool. “It’s been a day, and I’m off tomorrow, chop-chop, off with your head, just kidding.”“My pleasure, but simmer down,” Edwina said. She grinned over at me, as she pointed in my direction just before she disappeared. “That’s Rob, he just drinks, Guinness.”“Hey there,” I said. “Alice,” she said. She side-saddled the wooden stool to face me. “But they call me, Cheese, as my last names, Cheddar. Get it?”“I get it,” I said. I had involuntarily choked, as I had sipped in the Guinness down my windpipe. Cheese smacked me on the back. “Okay there, Rob,” Cheese said. She laughed as if she was a nickering horse. “Need your hind-licked? Just kidding, that’s what they’d ask back home.”
As I cleared my throat, I thought she’d left a hot hand mark on my back. I took in a deep breath, and I exhaled.
“I’m good,” I said. I shook my head. “Where’s home?”“Wyoming,” Cheese said. “Any idea where that is?”
I nodded, and I sipped the Guinness.
“I think so,” I said.“It’s not Montana, not Idaho,” Cheese said. She invaded my space. “But I live here, in the Burg, you look like you’re starting to get some color back.”“You’re as wild as a March hare,” I said. I chuckled. “But, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Edwina returned with a chilled martini cocktail glass that she had set in front of Cheese. She used a two-piece shaker, and a strainer to pour the clear potion into the glass. She shaved off a lemon slice, encircled the glass rim with it, before she twisted it, and dropped it into the drink.
“Cheers, love,” Edwina said. And like a proud Cheshire cat, she pushed it toward Cheese. “It might cause you to read backwards.”“Now, see here,” Cheese said. She smirked over at me. She held up the glass. “Back home that’d call this a fancy drink.”
I leaned back, and I had watched Cheese down the clear liquor drink like it was just refreshing water on a hot summer day.
“Ah, tastes like I have time for another,” Cheese said. She set the glass on the bar top. “That was amazing, what’s in that?”Jane’s mischievous smile had reappeared. “Vodka, splash of lemon, sugar,” Edwina said. She picked up the empty glass, and examined it up in the dim light. “Want another? I called it my sleeping potion.”“Absolutely, I’ll not fall asleep,” Cheese said. She quickly whipped her forefinger in a counter-clockwise circle. “And keep them coming.”“Oh dear,” I said. I looked over at Edwina. “I wonder what you saw looking through that glass?”“I saw fun,” Edwina said. She quickly turned, and skipped down the bar. “Be back in a moment.”
As I sat near Cheese, she had caught me inspecting her tattoos.
“Well, Rob,” Cheese said. “You likey me tattoos?”“They are very colorful,” I said. “And quite unusual.”
Cheese stood up, and she seemed larger than when she had walked into The Moon. She took off her jacket, to reveal a sleeveless blue blouse. She pointed with her righthand forefinger from her left hand and then up along her arm.
“This one’s the Red Queen,” Cheese said. “She’s decapitating the Mad Hatter at exactly six pm. Get it?”
I leaned forward, and I examined the graphic inked scene.
“Yeah,” I said. “He murdered time, I guess she finally got him?”“You got it,” Cheese said. She put her jacket back on, and sat down. “I have more, but I’m proudest of that one, I drew it, and had it inked on me.”
I had glossed my fingers across a weather spot on the bar’s dark edge. I grasped the Guinness.
“For you, I guess it’s always six pm, somewhere,” I said. I sipped the Guinness, as
Edwina had returned with another drink for Cheese. Edwina smirked and backed away. “And we have all the time in the world to drink tea, here inside, The Moon.”Cheese gripped the drink glass, she sized it up, and she sampled the contents. She rapidly licked her lips.
“Oh, mother of pearl,” Cheese said. She searched for Edwina. “Baby, you are good, I might have to take you home.”
After Cheese had downed her third martini, I was confident Edwina’s sleeping potion would have taken its effect. But, Cheese just seemed to have built up even more energy. She hadn’t wobbled, she had not slurred her speech, and she had no shown any indication that she might fall down on her knees.
“What’s your work?” I asked. “If you don’t mind me saying, I’d be sleeping next to the bathroom by now.”“You mean,” Cheese said. She took off here straw hat. “Other than drinking?”“Yeah,” I said. “I’m trying to keep my amateur status.”“You know something, Rob, I hate having a day job,” Cheese said. “But, got to pay the bills, or I get evicted, you know.”“Oh, I understand,” I said. “Just curious, given your tattoos, they’re quite good.”“Artist in my free time,” Cheese said. She frowned. “Work leaves me all black inside, as in soul-sucking.”
Edwina had reappeared. She smiled over at Cheese, who simply nodded to reload another chilled cocktail glass.
“Very well, as you wish,” Edwina said. She grasped the empty glass, and walked down the bartender side. “I peddle insurance,” I said. “I’d rather just make a living writing my fiction, but, it’s nearly impossible.”“I just don’t want to be a cliché,” Cheese said. “Starving artist crap, I do have a tiny studio across from the Chihuly collection, I keep trying, but, my work gets rather dark.”
A young couple had gotten up from the far end of the bar, and had waved over at Edwina. They strolled past us, and walked holding hands outside into the moonlight.
“I wanted to write when I was a kid,” I said. I shrugged. “I think you need some luck to get noticed, and talent.”“No, body, cares,” Cheese said. “I don’t care about money, I’d create my drawings, my paintings any how.”“That’s some cool blown glass,” I said. “Over at the Chihuly.”“Yeah,” Cheese said. She smirked over at me. “Are you hitting on me?”“No, ever imagined,” I said. I grinned. “What it would be like to become known, not really famous, but known enough to make a living?”“Yeah, but I think real fame,” Cheese said. “Kind of a nightmare, but, yes it would be amazing to paint all day, just pay the bills. I’d be fine with that.”“Ah, my nightmare?” I said. I smirked. “Being trapped inside the Mahaffey Theatre down the street at a Hanson concert.”“And that would be a nightmare,” Cheese said. “I think my time is up,” I said.
I had pulled out my debit card, and I had set it on the bar top. Edwina had swiped the card, and set my tab in front of me.
“Come see me again,” Edwina said. “I enjoyed our chat,” Cheese said. She whipped her finger in the air, as Edwina gave her a thumbs up. “You’ll be all right?” I asked. “Yeah,” Cheese said. She crossed her arms. “I’ll call my best friend, Uber, but thanks for asking.”“Maybe some day,” I said. I signed the bill, and left a underneath a cash tip for Edwina. “We’ll wake-up from our dreams, and our dreams will have come true.”Cheese contemplated my comment. She pursed her lips. “Thanks for that Dorthy,” Cheese said. She smacked me on the arm after I got up. “Next time I’ll wear my fancy red slippers.”