Just before midnight on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the Reillys glided into Tongues Saloon – the only place still open in Babel – feeling very good about their lives and Life in general. They made a quick assessment of the crowd – light for a weekend, but to be expected because of the holiday, with most people being away – then they took up a very familiar position on two bar stools just to the left of the four beer taps.
Tongue, the bartender and proprietor, immediately greeted them. “Well, where you two been? I thought maybe you left town for the weekend?”
“Not us,” answered Mark, “we’re done with summer vacation. I think Europe for a month was enough, don’t you?”
“Hello, Mr. Thomas.” Megan – Mrs. Reilly – wedged her heels onto the round metal rung that circled the legs of the stool and in one fluid move, rose up and leaned forward to kiss Tongue on the cheek, balancing herself with one hand flat on the bar while the other smoothed her short skirt in the back. Her husband Mark enjoyed the view of her hand gliding over her perfect posterior. In fact, the scene of his wife kissing the bartender – their old friend – afforded Mark a well-appreciated peek at the alluring trim of Megan’s body, not at all hidden by her loose blouse and tight skirt.
“Good to see you, Meg. What can I pour you guys?”
Megan gushed, “We just came from a dinner up in North Babel, at Marr’s Bistro, you know it?”
“Oh yeah, heard that’s good. ‘Out-of-this-world’ good. Get it?”
Mark got it right away. “Ouch, man, that was ‘out-of-this-world’ bad.”
“Anyway,” Megan continued, her words rushing together, “we were with the Reynolds and the Richters. You know them?”
“Nope.” Tongue gave a quick glance to one corner of the bar where Marilu the waitress was processing a tab for a young man who’d been treating three women co-workers to a loud night of fun and drinks.
“Well, after dinner – you know, we had four bottles of wine with dinner – but after dinner, we just sat around and chatted and chatted, and the waiter kept pouring coffee and more coffee and I kept drinking and drinking, and now I’ve got a caffeine buzz that’s going to keep me awake for days.”
Mark jumped in, “So we need a night cap to take the edge off. Slow her down. Otherwise she’s going to be a zombie.”
“I’d say that I could make you a zombie,” Tongue joked, “but I have no idea what’s in one.”
“Nah, I just need a nice after dinner drink,” said Megan. “A digestif, as they say.”
“Who says that? No one says that,” Mark teased.
“Sure they do. An aperitif is for before dinner, and a digestif is for after.”
“So foreplay is an aperitif,” Mark suggested, “and a cigarette is for after.”
Megan scoffed at him. “A cigarette? That’s so cliché. Cuddling is the right digestif.”
“Well, Tongue, then please pour Megan a glass of cuddle. As for me, I’ll have a vodka martini.”
Tongue laughed. “One martini coming up. Let me check on our supply of cuddle.” Tongue turned away to retrieve a martini glass, not something often used in his bar, but earlier that night, a heavy set fellow had ordered several Cosmopolitans, yet another new challenge for Tongue.
Megan looked at Mark, all curious. “A martini? That’s no digestif.”
“Nope. It’s what comes right before.”
She gave him a poke in the ribs with a whisper, “You mean, it’s your sex drink.”
“That’s right. Because I like it neat. You know, straight up. A stiff drink with maybe a little twist.”
Megan giggled and leaned over to her husband, sliding her hand onto his bar stool for balance, her hand between his legs, but not touching him. She said close to his face, “Maybe I’ll give you a little twist when we get home.”
“Oh, I’m counting on it.”
Megan kissed Mark on the mouth, darting her tongue in for a quick tease.
Mark considered grabbing her right then and there and prolonging the kiss, but he knew that it was best to wait for the pay-off back home.
Tongue returned with a short glass of a fiery looking liqueur. “Meg, I thought you might like a glass of amaretto.”
“Oh that’s perfect. The liquor of love. Amore, as they say.”
“Who says amore?” Mark quipped. “No one says amore.”
“I’m pretty sure Italians say it,” Tongue responded. He gently placed Mark’s martini in front of him, careful not to spill on the trademark coaster that displayed the Saloon’s logo: a Rolling Stones-style smiling mouth with the tip of the tongue cut off.
“L’amour. That’s the right word.” Mark leaned towards Megan. “L’amour means passion.’”
Megan winked at her husband, but turned to her friend, “Hey, Tongue, how did you know that amaretto would be the right choice?”
Tongue scratched his head, not thinking about the right answer, but thinking about whether to confess the answer. He saw curiosity in Mark’s eyes, so he thought it smart to share what he considered to be valuable information. With a shrug, he admitted, “It’s what Marilu drinks when her shift’s over and everyone’s gone.”
“Really.” Megan was surprised and thoughtfully assessed this information. She added, innocently, “Kind of lonely to end your night with a love potion, then going home alone.”
“Maybe.” Tongue moseyed away from Megan and Mark with a poker face they didn’t typically see. They watched as Tongue met up with Marilu at the end of the bar who asked him to look for a tea bag.
Megan whispered to Mark. “You think he’s got it going on with Marilu?”
“God, I hope so.”
“What? Why do you say it like that?”
“I hope someone’s got it going on with her. You have to admit, she’s some piece of ass.”
Megan punched Mark hard on the thigh.
“Ow. What was that for?”
“I’m the only piece of ass you should be hoping about.”
“Ah, come on. You can’t be jealous. She’s just a waitress. She can’t hold a candle to you.”
Meg stared at Mark, shaking her head in mild disbelief. “What does that even mean?”
Mark stared back at his wife for a few moments. “I really don’t know. I never thought about it before. I don’t have a clue. I’ve used that expression my whole life, and I’m just now realizing that I don’t know what it could possibly mean.” Mark turned and gave his martini some consideration. He took a long sip.
Megan watched him. “Well, I’m sure it must have something to do with beauty being seen as a type of radiance. Whether it’s celestial, you know, like the sun. Or holy, like a saint. You know, someone who just radiates goodness, which is a form of beauty, I guess. And trying to hold a candle to that person is like trying to add to your own beauty, or goodness, I guess, to, you know, compete with that person.”
Mark wiped his mouth with a cocktail napkin. “Maybe it has to do with worthiness. Like the lesser person isn’t even worthy to hold a candle next to the better person to see her better. Or him.”
Megan looked at Mark. “Nah, I don’t think so. I like mine better.”
Mark smiled. “I like yours better, too. In fact, I’d like to hold a candle to you so I can see it better.”
Megan laughed and pushed his shoulder away. “Don’t start.”
“Maybe you’d like me to hold a candle to you and let the wax gently drip …”
“Okay, cut that out. We’re here for a night cap. Not for… amore.”
“You mean, ‘l’amour.’”
“Nope, I mean what I say and I say what I mean.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Don’t be mean. You know what I mean.”
“Sure I do. Say something once, why say it again?”
They smiled at each other. Megan held up her glass of amaretto. “Cheers.”
Mark gently tapped her glass with his. “Here’s looking at you, looking at me, looking at you. Kid.”
Megan smiled as she took a long sip. Putting down her drink, she asked, “Do you think the Reynolds and Richters get our sense of humor at all?”
“Maybe half the time they get about 50% of it, but to tell you the whole truth, I don’t much get their humor sometimes. That Pete. His jokes are always half-baked at best.”
“And Stan, with his pranks, I mean, really. How childish. I wonder sometimes how Pamela can stand Stan.” Megan stopped. “That’s funny. Maybe she can’t stand Stan.”
“Does she even understand Stan?”
Megan laughed. “Maybe when she’s under Stan. Ding.”
Mark and Megan locked eyes for a moment and put on the poker face they saw Tongue wearing earlier. Mark leaned forward and whispered. “Megan, do you think we might be a little drunk? We’re starting to seem pretty stupid.”
“Maybe. I’m still feeling the caffeine, but you’re right. I’m saying stupid stuff. You’re laughing at my stupid stuff.”
“I’m not laughing.”
“What do you call it then when you smile, open your mouth and make that ha-ha sound?”
“That’s called me making you feel good so you’ll want to sleep with me.”
Megan burst out laughing. “As if that’s all it took!” She threw her arms around her husband’s neck and practically climbed into his lap. “Honey, you don’t have to laugh at me to get laid. You just have to look at me.”
The couple kissed long and hard, disregarding their central spot in the Saloon, the thought that anyone there might be looking at them, and even the fact that Tongue had come over to stand opposite them and cleared his throat three times to get their attention. “Excuse me, there, young wild couple. There will be no necromancing in this fine establishment. Please. You’ll scare away the tourists. They’ll think Babel is Sodom and Gomorrah or something.” Naturally Tongue was just teasing his friends, but he also knew that such rare public displays of affections (“PDAs” as Marilu called them) had a tendency to make other people actually feel less romantic.
Mark peeled away and laughed, a little embarrassed. “Sorry there, Mr. Thomas. That wasn’t necromancing, which, by the way, is about telling the future. What we were doing was just an experiment.”
“Experiment?” Tongue was happy to play along. “Looked like a taste test to me.”
Megan plopped back down on her bar stool and threw her arms up with ceremony. “Ta da! Another safe landing.” She went deadpan and turned to Tongue. “It was an experiment in gravity. And I’m happy to report that, once again, I survived. Don’t you know that whenever I drink amaretto, I get wild.”
Mark teased her, “Is that what it was? I thought it might have been me.”
Megan flattened her hand on his chest. “You? You are my gravity. My wild gravity. I fall for you every time.”
Mark turned to Tongue. “My friend, I love this woman. It’s time for the check and for us to take our experiment homeward.”
Tongue spread his arms wide on the bar top, pressed his hands down and leaned over towards them to conspire. “Friends, I’ll make you this deal. Leave your drinks as is. Promise me you’ll get home safe, and the tab’s on me.”
Megan cooed, “Oh, T-man, you’re the best.”
“No, I’m not. Mark is. Take good care of him.”
And with that, the friends said good night, and the Reillys left the Saloon as happy with their lives as when they entered.