It was raining heavily. Olivia was almost finished with her shift, drying the clean glasses before setting them back on the shelf behind the bar. It was so late that even the drunkards had left; they knew the cops drove by around closing time to arrest drunk drivers. Her life had become so cyclical that she didn’t even know what day it was. Her eyes felt heavy, and she couldn’t wait to get home and drink herself to sleep.
The bell on the door rang, and she turned to see a stranger walking into the bar. He was a short, middle-aged man in a grey raincoat. He was quite pudgy, carried a metallic suitcase, and wore one of the most concerned looks on his face she had ever seen on someone. “I’m not supposed to serve drinks this late, but I’ll give you one if you promise not to be trouble.” She wasn’t worried about being hurt; there was a panic button underneath her side of the bar, and she could have cops there within a minute.
He whipped his raincoat off much more quickly and with more grace than she expected, sending drops of water flying everywhere and revealing the fancy grey suit he wore underneath. He dropped his suitcase on the barstool that sat on the far end, finished removing his jacket, and placed it on top before walking closer to her and choosing a seat about two spaces away. It was only when he came closer to her that she realized he was out of breath for some reason. “What can I get you?” she asked.
“Whiskey,” he replied breathily, as he loosened the violet tie from his black shirt. She grabbed a glass and bottle, and then poured the fiery liquid directly in front of him. He nodded and placed $10 next to the glass. “Thank you,” he said before taking a sip.
“Not a problem.” She wondered what he was doing here. The man was alien compared to her usual clientele. “You from around here?”
“Not anymore,” he said with a chuckle. He wiped some water out of his salt & pepper hair with a meaty hand. His hair was a mess already, but his attempt at drying it added a crazed element to his look. His face was riddled with wrinkles, but there was a fire in his light blue eyes, which seemed to be the only part of his body that hadn’t aged from his youth. “Everything changes. Whether or not we can ignore it, things keep changing, and nobody is willing to assume responsibility for it.”
“What do you mean?”
His eyes widened in surprise, as if she had said something ridiculous. “What don’t I mean? Aside from permanent physical damage, what doesn’t change? We are the only creatures on this earth who can truly affect not only our lives, but the lives of everyone around us. We, of course, refuse to acknowledge this power. People love to blame their problems on everyone around them, when they haven’t done absolutely everything in their power to fix their problems.”
He took a moment to take another sip from his liquor, and the bar was silent aside from the pattering of the rain on the roof. “But that isn’t true. There’s some stuff we can’t control.”
“Like what?” His eyes were focused on her now, gleaming with intrigue. “What’s changed in your life that is completely out of your control?”
She didn’t even need to take a second to think. “The problem for me isn’t about what’s changed. I’m unsatisfied because nothing ever changes for me.”
“What hasn’t changed that you would like to fix?”
She smiled as she grabbed another glass and poured herself a drink of her own. “Let’s start with my paycheck.”
“Hah! Money,” he shook his head, “the main problem with people. Everybody only cares about money.”
“Everybody only cares about survival,” she corrected.
The man gave her a slow nod. “Survival…” He looked into his drink, and his eyes dimmed. She had seen this look plenty of times working here. It was the look people made when they looked at something unpleasant in their heads. He finished his drink and looked up to her, “when was the last time you asked for a raise?”
She chuckled lightly, “Touché. But what if my boss is an asshole?”
“How long have you been working here?”
“Seven years.” She started working at the bar after she dropped out of school. It was the only way she could avoid going back to her abusive family, and although she could survive, it was only barely. Her boss, Ralph, knew about her situation because she was a regular at the bar, and told him one night while she was drunk out of her mind. In those seven years, he never once gave her a raise, and she knew it was because he was aware of how badly she needed the job.
“Seven years. You’ve obviously done a good job, now that your asshole boss allows you to run the bar by yourself.”
“He wouldn’t know. He only hired me so he could run off and snort coke with his ‘girlfriend’. I barely saw him after he taught me how to make drinks.” She had tried to say it coolly, but even she could hear the contempt in her voice.
“Then you’re still ignoring how much he needs you!” The fire in his eyes rekindled, and he waved around the room, “you think he’d be okay with finding someone else to do this shitty job? Going through the process of having to go back to work and train someone else? You think he, he would just find someone as pretty as you to work here? No. You practically give him free labor with the money you must make in tips!”
He was right. Olivia constantly had customers who chose her bar specifically to tip her well in the hope that they would get lucky. Her job would be half as bad as it is without them, but her paycheck would become doubly worse. “It doesn’t matter, though. He’s still gonna say no.”
“And that’s the end of the line?”
She shot him an “isn’t it obvious?” look.
“Well, when was the last time you voted?”
She laughed, “as if that even does anything!” She grabbed the bottle and began to pour him another drink.
“Not by yourself,” he said before reaching into his wallet and slapping another $10 on the table.
“No, this one’s on me.”
“You’ve been complaining that you don’t make any money, and want to refuse mine?” She cocked her head to the side in thought, and he slid the bill closer to her. “If anything, think of it as a good tip.” She nodded, pocketed the money, and the man continued his rant. “That’s what I mean, though. It’s possible for people to solve their problems, short of being completely injured or killed. Sometimes it can be done alone, and other times it takes the help of others, but trust me when I tell you it’s possible. You’re young. You still have time to fix things, and I’ve given you that advice before you become middle-aged and learn it yourself. I got that advice when I was young… and I fucking ignored it. It’s cost me so much. Don’t make my mistake. Start fixing your problems now so you can live your later years in peace.” He finished this drink in no time, gulping it down as if it were water. “I have to go. Can’t stay in one place for too long.” He walked to his coat, put it on as swiftly as he took it off, and grabbed the suitcase.
Just before he walked out the door, he turned back to Olivia. “You’re more powerful than you think you are. Trust me.”
“Will you ever be back?”
He smiled. “Maybe. Maybe when I’ve accomplished what I have to do.”
The man vanished into the night, and Olivia was sure she’d never see him again.