100 cocktails later

Here’s a story I wrote on the Hour of Writes website last week. A bit of fun.

100 cocktails later

I lead a quiet life in a quiet town. It suits me well. Every day, Monday to Friday, I take the train to the next town for my work. The work is not too taxing and I work with congenial people. It suits me. On the way home I read a newspaper on the train. I do not take a lot of notice of those around me. I suppose you could say that I am self-sufficient. In the evenings I prepare a pleasant meal for myself and watch TV. I enjoy cookery programmes. I am not one for night life but at the weekends I indulge myself in a good bottle of wine. It lasts me two nights. 

To reach the railway station from my home I have to walk along a main road, bordered by large houses. There is amongst them a building which was once a hotel but, until recently, had been closed for many years. It had become quite an eye-sore and I was pleased when I noticed that it had been renovated and reopened. I had, however, never had reason to step inside the hotel. I observed one day, on my return from work, that a sign had appeared outside the premises advertising cocktails. At that point in my life – I am in middle age – I had only once tasted a cocktail. It had been given to me by an acquaintance at an event on the details of which I prefer not to dwell. Let me simply say that on that occasion I felt that I had been taken advantage of. Cocktails, accordingly, held no attraction for me. 

In any case, the door of the hotel was, on that day, and on many subsequent days as I passed, closed. The cocktails sign remained. I passed by. But one day the door was open. Not simply ajar but wide open. It was almost as if it said Come In. Uncharacteristically I paused. I hesitated. I looked through the open door. I could see, not far inside, a bar counter curving to the left. Behind it was an array of bottles, illuminated from above so as to enhance the brightness of their colours – vivid reds, green, pinks, the whole spectrum. On the counter, a mere two or three steps from where I stood, was a large flagon of water in which ice cubes and large strawberries were floating. Next to it was a tray on which were several upturned glasses. So alluring was it that the flagon might as well have said, like the potion which Alice found in Wonderland, Drink Me. It was a warm day. I felt, suddenly, that my neck-tie was constricting me and that a cool drink would be most welcome. I stepped through the open door and it clicked shut behind me, although I had not pushed or even touched it.

The bar area appeared to be empty, but I heard sounds from an adjacent room and called out for service. No one came. I stretched out a hand and was about to pick up a glass when a noise from my right stopped me. A teenage lad in an ill-fitting suit was leaning on the frame of the door leading to the next room. 

“‘It’ll be out in a mo,” he said. “You just ‘ang on mate.” And he vanished. 

I frowned and pulled at my neck-tie. It was very hot in the room now that the door had closed. I turned to open it but at that moment someone appeared from the dark recesses behind the bar. A man with staring eyes. He moved forward smoothly and silently, his eyes fixed upon me. When he spoke I jumped. His voice was loud and rather mechanical.

“What would Sir like to choose from the menu please? We are proud to present our list of cocktails Sir. We have the usual selection and also the special of the day, which for today is Sex on the Beach.”

“Sex on the Beach for Sir perhaps?” he said, with an unchanging expression.

I started to say that all I wanted was a glass of water, but the automaton, as I now realised it was, continued:

“Here is our full list of 100 cocktails for Sir: Martini, Whisky Sour, Marmalade Mule, Hidden Treasure, Chocolate Orange, The Colour Purple…” 

The list continued, and as it did so a light show played on the bottles behind the bar. It was quite mesmerising, and I appeared to have no option other than to let the creature rehearse the entire list of what must indeed have amounted to 100 different cocktails, so long did it go on. By the time it stopped I was feeling quite light-headed.

“I would like a glass of water, please,” I said in a small voice.

“Which cocktail is Sir requesting?” the robot waiter persisted.

“Is it Sex on the Beach or another?” it asked. 

I had no idea what might be in Sex on the Beach and I did not want to find out. In desperation I picked up a glass, but the robot swung out an arm and took it from me. 

“I am the waiter,” it said. “Not you. Sir.” Its eyes remained fixed on me.

I could see no alternative. I tried to remember something from the everlasting list which might be innocuous.

“Chocolate orange,” I spluttered. “I’ll have a chocolate orange.”

“Chocolate orange is marmalade vodka, cacao liquor and chocolate chips Sir. I will make it for you straight away and now.”

My heart sank. I had tried neat vodka once and it had given me a fierce headache which had lasted for several days. This could only be worse, much worse. In front of me the automaton was whirring into action, picking up bottles and pouring liquids into a cocktail shaker at top speed. All the time its eyes remained fixed on me. I wanted to look away. I wanted to run away. I found I could do neither. The robot waiter placed the drink in front of me, demanded a ridiculously large sum of money and, when I had handed it over, stayed there, motionless, watching me until I had drunk the dreadful libation. Only when I had drained the glass did the door click and swing open. I fled into the street.

I have little memory of the walk home. I was light-headed from the heat, the horror and the alcohol. Once I was home I drank some water, ate I remember not what and went straight to bed, missing my favourite cookery programme. 

Strangely I had no headache or hangover of any kind the following day. But I have become perturbed. I do not sleep well. I am nervous when I hear footsteps behind me on the road to and from the railway station. Those staring eyes, the staring eyes of the automaton. I see them on the street and in the train. And I fear the open door of that hotel. I fear that I will be unable to stop myself from entering it again. And I fear, very much, what may happen then.

About Cath Barton

Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in South Wales. In June 2017 she was awarded the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella, and her novella The Plankton Collector was published by New Welsh Review in September 2018. Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, was published by Louise Walters Books in November 2020. Cath is also active in the on-line community of writers of flash fiction.
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