“Hey bartender?” I said, trying to get his attention.
I’d been at the bar for over ten minutes and still hadn’t been served.
The piano’s melody – the only sound I could stand in the cacophony of trumpets, saxophones, and trombones – came to an abrupt stop. Her player left her hanging mid-song, like a selfish lover refusing to tend to her post-coital needs. Gesticulating his arms with cartoonish theatrics, he slid off the bench and turned to face me. His appearance caused a momentary twinge of fear in my chest.
His chocolate skin had been painted to resemble a skeleton. His lips were made to look like brittle teeth, his face was mostly white and full of fake cracks and shadows, an inverted black heart had been drawn at the base of his nose, and black paint had been applied around his eyes to make them look like empty sockets. A bulky snake clung to his shoulders like a scarf. The man wore a top hat with black, red, and ochre feathers coming out of the left side, as well as a bundle of rat skulls around the rim. He wore a black dress shirt, red vest, and dark overcoat. A variety of chains dangled from pocket to pocket with no clear purpose, and a belt made of tiny skulls surrounded his waist and clattered whenever he moved. He certainly earned the double take I gave him. In any other city, or on any other night, he would have been an oddity. But, as I composed myself and let my startled nerves settle, I realized he was just another carnival-goer.
The old man – or, at least, I think he was old – casually strolled to the other side of the counter. He placed a hand on the bartender’s back and moved him aside. Unaffected, the tender continued to polish his glass absent-mindedly. Could he have been deaf, perhaps?