Gary Travis picked up his pace.
The wind was up and a fast chill was sweeping into the night. He would be early for the meeting.
He reminded himself of the meeting’s topic and, fixing it in his mind, turned to the towering apartment buildings on First Avenue. The curved bay windows overlooking the East River always drew him. His mind’s eye drew a picture of a large comfortable chair facing the window and overlooking the black river below.
His eye traveled into the room, furnishing it-two marble cigarette tables on either side of the chair, and a Welsh dresser off to the left. Along the right wall, a twelve-foot bar shelved with bottles and glasses. On one side, a chrome ice bucket and shaker. In the center, set like a tabernacle, a chrome freezer. He’d return to those later.
He returned to the cigarette tables. On the left, a large, glistening, crystal ashtray with four perfectly spaced grooves. Beside it, a pack of cigarettes, Kent Kings, with the wrapper peeled off and four cigarettes neatly protruding from the full pack, discreetly pointing at a small silver lighter. The table on the right resembled a small shrine, draped with rich, blood-red silk and topped with a large round velvet coaster, black with a small gold circle in the center. Perfect.
He went behind the bar, opening the tabernacle. Inside, two bottles of Stolichnaya Crystal, six chilled martini glasses and four ice trays. He took out the vodka first, opening the bottle and putting it to his nose, inhaling the aroma, feeling its dry coolness sting his nostrils. He placed it on the bar like fragile crystal. He took out an ice tray and emptied it into the bucket.
He would need to go to the kitchen now. That’s where he would keep the olives, in a door shelf in the refrigerator. His mind didn’t bother with any of the other details in the kitchen. It didn’t matter if it was large or small, if there were cooking pans on the wall or stored in cupboards–all he needed was a refrigerator where the olives would be kept.
Back behind the bar, opening the jar of olives and putting it down and looking around for the bottle of vermouth. Yes, it was there beside the tabernacle, that’s where he would keep it. Loosening the cap, he set it between the Stolichnaya and the jar of olives on the bar.
The traffic light on 2nd and 35th Street snapped him out of the apartment, the wind now brisker and cutting into his face. He should have brought a scarf. But inside he was warm, his heart beginning a slow race and, getting a green light, he was off again, back behind the twelve-foot bar overlooking the East River.
He filled the shaker with ice, and poured the vermouth in first, letting it sit there for thirty seconds before shaking it and draining it into the ice bucket. What was left in the shaker was more flavor than Vermouth. He liked his martinis dry, and this one was going to be tight-ass dry. The Stolichnaya would follow, right up to the three-quarter level-no fucking around here. Then he clicked the cover down over the shaker, clicking it again to get exactly the right sound, taking it between his fingers and his thumbs and shaking it, keeping all of the action in the wrists. He knew bartenders who threw up their shakers over their shoulders, heaving them like they were toweling off after a shower. All it took was a few quick wrist flicks. He had always liked his martinis shaken. Some people said it bruised the vodka, but these people didn’t know shit about drinking, and he liked to bruise the shit out of his Stoli.
That done, it was time for a chilled martini glass from the freezer; and, yes, a napkin. With a steady strain, he filled the glass to a quarter inch from the brim, watching the bubbles dance to the top and gather at the sides. He knew bartenders who thought they were doing their customers a favor by brimming a martini. The glass had to be picked up without spilling the drink, hadn’t it? And where was the room for the olives? Just what were those people thinking? Gary liked two olives. In they went-plip, plop. What a great fucking sound that was. He could listen to it all night, every night. He stepped back to admire his svelte monument of taste–perfection.
He usually wanted a cigarette around now, but he had learned the importance of discipline and patience. The practiced walk to the sofa chair, holding the glass with both hands like a chalice, the stem on his left palm, his right thumb and forefinger on the rim- it always reminded him of the prelude to Catholic mass and his first early thoughts as an altar boy; holding the paten under the young girls’ chins as they opened their mouths and extended their tongues for the Eucharist. Rituals-sacred things, filling him with anticipation and arousal. He placed the glass on the black velvet coaster, aligning the base with the gold circle in the center, his pulse quickening. It was now a matter of slowly easing into it, gently, his psyche-probing and fondling each moment, listening to the gentle throb of his body, feeling his heart lift and ache at once.
He sat down, leaning back against the soft cushioned sofa chair, measuring his body against it, his left hand reaching over to drape the Kent Kings, his thumb coming down on the lighter. Just checking that they were within reach–it was still too soon. He was waiting for that incomparable sense of triumph, as a knight might feel returning home to his just reward after a great battle. He gazed at the exquisitely shaped glass, so reminding him of a gazelle in its prime, and inside, like smudging silver, a universe of spermatozoid olive shards in zigzagging collisions, fighting for the rim. It was all his and his alone.
He cast his eyes out the curved bay window and down into the deep velvet blackness of the river, surveying it like a small kingdom, allowing himself a deep, satisfying sigh. Then he raised the glass, first gliding his nostrils over its cooling bouquet, and took his first sip. He kept the glass to his lips for a second, then a third; small sips, like tasting the first juices of a woman. Then he placed it back on the velvet mat, aligning it with the gold circle, keeping it just right, his left hand reaching out for the Kent Kings and the lighter. He selected the most extended, lit it, and sat back to suck in the nicotine fog. He was waiting now, just waiting, taking two more drags before the next sip, a larger one now, again holding the glass to his lips while he took a second and a third, ever larger, before putting the glass down. He would finish the cigarette now, feeling the first traces of the light, warm glow spread up his spine to the back of his neck. He was close; very close. It was time for the remaining third of the glass, tossing it into his mouth and swirling it around on his tongue, splashing it against the roof of his mouth before swallowing, lying back on the sofa chair, his head warm now, and light, lifting him up to a place where all of the cares of the day swept out of him in a slow, gentle surge, and soon all of the cares of all those other days followed. Bliss.
He wondered if there was anything in the world like the first martini. His mind might take him into having a second, and a third, perhaps even a fourth or a fifth. It didn’t matter how many he would have, or if he kept drinking for a week or a month without stopping–he would always be chasing that first one.
He reached 37th Street and Lexington and made a left, taking him out of the wind for the last few yards to his destination. His skin was cold, but inside he was as warm as he had ever felt. He had to remind himself again about the topic for the meeting. Oh, yes: Step one : We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.