She doesn’t seem like the talkative type. She murmurs her order——a Belgian ale——then slips the one headphone she’d pushed back to speak back over her ear. No eye contact or acknowledgment when I set the tulip glass on a coaster before her, except to edge a dollar bill back my way.
Then Poppin’ Fresh (not his given name)——my least favorite coworker——bops through the front door and parks himself right next to her. She shudders when he taps her shoulder, then removes the headphones and smiles at him. Looks like I have the front row seat for yet another Tinder date.
He packs away a couple Lites to every one of her ales, but they seem to be getting along well enough. They duck out to smoke or make out or whatever patrons do outside the bar, away from my eyes. It’s an unusually busy Sunday, so I don’t eavesdrop on them too much. Got my hands full with others. But after an long absence——long enough that I move their half-drunk beers and money aside so others can sit——she returns alone.
It’s not like Poppin’ Fresh to leave three-quarters of a can on the bar, much less a $10 tip for his least favorite coworker, so I know something’s wrong. She tells me they got into a fight and he went home. Now I have to know more.
I get the details in fragments because I’m running around, but it boils down to a disagreement about the ethics of meat consumption. She’s vegan. He says he wouldn’t eat octopus because he’s heard they’re intelligent; she says it makes no difference and that we’re all animals, so it’s a question of all or nothing. I say I’m with her, not because I care about eating or not eating animals, but because she scared Poppin’ Fresh away. She doesn’t know our history of bad blood or seem to care much. She’s just happy to have a sympathetic ear.
Encouraged by my reaction, she elaborates on her theories. I won’t try to reconstruct her thread of thought because, even if I listened with rapt attention rather than catching a bit here and there in between pouring shots and beers, it makes not a lick of sense. Something about invalid children having less value than pigs or cows, how Hitler had some good ideas, and that, as a Black woman and vegan, she doesn’t understand why people are so upset about fascism. It’s real stew of inchoate outrage. There’s something about being angry with her mother for giving birth to her without the means to provide a safe and loving home. It’s a lot, but it’s mostly comedy relief to me on a hectic night.
——I know humans are delicious. I eat my cuticles all the time…I’m a cannibal.
Eber and Emma see me laughing every time I’m near the woman and they’re jealous. They feel left out. I promise to relay the highlights later. My tormented friend from last week comes in, but is completely upstaged by the newcomer. She leaves without picking up our discussion on gender identity. I’m thankful, as there’s only so many issues that I can handle though a single bar shift.
Then it’s closing time, and, of course, she’s the last one in the bar. I thank her for coming in and invite her to come back the following Sunday. She looks at me with sad brown eyes and says,
——I’m a cow.