Drinking in Colors

Chris came down the bar. “See that guy?” she asked Mark, pointing to a slender, bearded man in his 50’s.
Mark glanced over at the customer. The guy looked familiar, but then everyone looked alike at three am in the smoke-encrusted, dust-to-dawn, Montparnasse bar where he was the bouncer. ”What about him?”
“He came in last week and only ordered drinks that were green,” she said. “I gave him crème de menthe, peppermint, chartreuse verte, and a Grasshopper. He drank each one down then left. Next night, he came back and asked for all red drinks. I started him off with Bordeaux, then gave him Côte du Rhone. Later, I served him a Medoc, followed by a cherry Rocher. The guy must have dropped over one hundred euros in a couple of hours. Thursday night I was off, and Adele said he showed up again. This time he wanted only transparent drinks. “
“Transparent?” Mark said. “That’s not a color.”
“You tell him that. Adele served him vodka, gun, Tequila and sake. He asked for a second bottle of sake, then left.”
“Jesus, he was able to walk out on his own after drinking all that?”
She nodded. “I feel sorry for his liver.”
Mark glanced at the man. He didn’t appear drunk or dangerous, but then he had been painful witness to numerous alcohol-fuel Jeckle & Hyde transformations at Le Boucanier. He still had a scab on his skull from one. Long hours with lots of stress and more than occasional danger. Only coffee and bottled water got him through the jungle of each night. One drop of alcohol and he would be lost among the natives; soon, one of them.
“You ask him why he only wants to drink a particular color?”
“You kidding, and drive him away. He’s a big tipper,” Chris said. “Besides, I had fun serving him bourbon, scotch, cognac, rum, and half a dozen different beers….only beige drinks, as he wanted. All the other customers loved watching him.”
“He live in the Fourteenth?”
“I don’t know. Adele said she heard he’s a painter.” Chris tapped her index finger against her head. “All artists are crazy.”
As the man approached the exit at closing time, Mark wanted to ask him what color tasted best, but he held off. He didn’t want to embarrass the guy. He just hoped he would return to continue drinking in colors.
He did.
Thursday night was yellow: Pastis and Suze.
Friday was a short visit. The man wanted blue, and Adele only had Curaçao Bleu. The man drank the azur liquor straight down, paid for the drink and left.
Friday morning, about an hour before closing, he walked in and sat down at a stool near the cash register. “Noir,” he uttered.
Chris took a moment to scan the back bar, then brought down a bottle of Férnet-Branca. The man had two shots of the vile looking black concoction, got up made a mock bow to the rows of bottles behind the bar, and departed.
When he didn’t return to Le Boucanier over the next few months. Mark figured the guy must have left town or died of cirrhosis.
Then around four one winter morning, the guy wandered in and took a seat at the bar.
Mark watched Chris go to serve him, but something was wrong. The guy kept leaning over the bar, staring at all the bottles, then shaking his head each time Chris would hold up different liquor.
When Chris went to serve another customer, Mark walked over to the end of the bar. “What’s wrong with him?” he whispered.
“He said he ran out of colors,” she answered.
“Can’t he start all over again?”
“I asked him. He says he only wants to drink a color he hasn’t had.”
Mark started counting off his fingers: “Red, green, transparent, beige, yellow, blue, and…uh, you know, the dark stuff.”
“Férnet-Branca,” she said.” I know. There aren’t any more colors he hasn’t had.”
Mark stared at the artist then snapped his fingers. “I got it. Make him a rainbow fizz.”
Chris squinted at Mark. “What’s that?”
“I’ll show you,” he said, about to go behind the bar, when he realized he couldn’t remember the ingredients. He looked back at Chris.
“I forgot how to make one. Got any milk?”
She nodded.
“Give him a White Russian…and make me one, too, will you?

Stewart Lindh’s poetry & prose has appeared in Shenandoah, Antioch Review, and Poetry.

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