We turned another corner down one of the many skinny alleyways. At the dead end, and placed on a narrow sidewalk, was an sandwich-board sign with the words, “The Joyce- an Irish Pub,” and an arrow pointing to an alleyway.
“Whadida tell ya?” He crossed his arms against his chest and smiled proudly with himself.
We walked down the alleyway to a single table set outside in the shadow of the adjacent building. Large bright green-framed windows opened into a pub with a high arched ceiling and thick wooden beams. Painted on the ceiling in black sweeping cursive were the written words of James Joyce. The sentences undulated like they were diving into pools of water. On the walls were a few well-placed framed photos and paintings of the writer. Dust coated the corners of the frames and the tops of eclectic Irish knickknacks. The place was dark. The only windows were at the entrance and the only natural light was a small chunk that made it over the top of the neighboring building.
A pretty platinum blonde woman was setting up chairs in between eating a salad. She slid a heavy wooden chair under a table then stabbed at her plate and shoved a forkful of lettuce into her mouth.
“Baby!” Marco crooned.
She spun around and faced him then sang back. “Marco love.” She walked up and gave him a kiss on the lips. “How you?” She had an odd accent, something I hadn’t heard before. It was a kind of sing-songy guttural cadence.
“Oh you know. Chillin. Dor this is Annabelle.” He directed his open hand toward me. “Annabelle, Dor. Do you have any work for this young lady?”
“Maybe. Ask Johnny.” She pointed to a short blonde guy with thinning hair standing behind the bar and wiping it down with a rag.
We walked toward the mahogany bar and snapped Johnny out of his wiping. He tossed the rag onto the bar and shoved both of his fists onto his hips. A sneer wrinkled over his top lip as a snide smile pulled at one side of his mouth.
“Well, if eet isn’t that cunting bastard Ian’s nice friend, Marco. Yeh bringin anoter one o’ yis friends to come ta steal from me are yhe?’
“Nah, Johnny. You know Ian isn’t my friend, he’s my acquaintance.”
“Aw right, well I’m jest takin the piss on yhe new friend ‘ere. But you know what I tink of yhe bleedin’ acquaintance.” He picked up the rag and resumed wiping.
“Yep.” Said Marco. He put his hands in his pockets. “So, you got any work for my friend?”
Johnny stopped wiping down the bar and looked at me and then to Marco and then back to me.
“’ave yhe ever waited tables before?”
“Uh. Yes. A little.” I said.
“A little.” He smiled. “Okay, well, we’ll give yhe a try out tomorra, if we like yhe we’ll keep yhe, if’n we don’t we’ll tell yhe ta fuck off.”
“Okay.” I said. I couldn’t say no to that. Job interviews overseas were cake, even the tourist hire military jobs. The questions, if they were willing to overlook you possibly not being legal, were always the same, “Can you work?” “Sure.” “You better or you’re fired.” Done and done, simple and to the point. I never needed to doubt my connection.
“Great. Now we got that out of the way.” Said Marco with a clap of his hands as we walked out of the bar. “Now all we gotta do is find you a flat, hopefully before Francisco gets back. Let’s go getta drink and celebrate.”
At Feste’s, Marco hopped down the stairs and danced to the bar.
“I got our girl a job. Just like that.” He snapped his fingers then leaned up against the bar. “Cause I’m that good.”
Sandy was serving.
“You should give me a free beer.” Marco said to her.
“Cause I got Annabelle a job.”
“Well ya didn’t get her one here. I don’t see why that means I gotta give you a beer.”
“I got her a job at the Joyce.” He dragged the name Joyce and gave her a knowing nod.
Sandy looked over at me as I stood in the archway.
I watched their interaction with some suspicion. Marco was hinting to something about my new place of employment something that was worth a free drink. Well, he thought it was worth a free drink.
Sandy grabbed a bowl of eggs from behind the bar and walked over to a table. “The Joyce huh. Now ya have all the good connections to the good cocaine.”
Great. Now I was the middle woman.
She sat the bowl on the table in front of a man with long stringy black hair. His hair was in pomade thick clumps that dropped in front of his eyes the way that Glen Danzig used to wear his hair when he was in the Misfits, kind of like tentacles of squid ink. I recognized his long legs dressed in dark blue jeans and black combat boots. He was sitting with his back against the wall. His legs were crossed at the ankles and jutting out into a pathway like they had been when I had seen them on the evening I arrived. He glanced up at me, his black eyes flashing in between strands of hair. Then he looked to the basket of eggs in front of him. Marco was right. He did look like he was staring everyone down, like he was pickin’ out his next victim. He had to be Dimitri, Sandy’s Russian boyfriend. He wasn’t wearing a fake leather bomber jacket. It was a torn up jean jacket.
“They always have good coke and really good drugs. Here’s some eggs, why don’chou paint some?” She said to me.
“I should at least get a free Coke or something.” Said Marco to Sandy as she stepped back behind the bar.
I sat down across from Dimitri. He didn’t look at me. He grabbed an egg and a few color crayons from a box.
It was about to be Easter soon. I looked at our supplies. The eggs in the bowl were a light brown, and beside them was the box of broken crayons. “You want me to paint the eggs with these?” I asked turning to face Sandy.
She had walked into the kitchen area. Marco was leaning over the bar yelling back at her.
“I still don’t understand why I don’t deserve a beer or at least a free coke.” He dropped down in one of the royal thrones by the bar and crossed his arms in front of him. “Fuck you guys then. I shall stop bringing my bus-i-ness to this establishment. You people are rude and cheap.”
I looked back to the eggs. I used to dye Easter eggs with my mother when I was a kid. We would drop a tablet into the water and watch as it fizzled into a vibrant color. We would dip the egg in with a spoon hold it in the glass with giddy anticipation then lift it out to watch the colored water drip off the egg and back into the bowl. They were never bright enough for me. I wanted the colors to be as vibrant as the tablets. I liked to mix the colors on the egg, so it would be bi-colored, a bright burgundy on the top and royal blue on the bottom. My mother insisted on one color one egg. When they came out with the marble dye I begged her to get it. She resisted, but finally gave in. The marble wasn’t as bold as I wanted but it was satisfactory enough. This crayon egg painting looked a lot more challenging.
Sandy came out holding three soft juggling balls. “Like you ever really pay in here Marco.” She stood in front of him and started to juggle.
“Oh. Can I try that?” Marco asked. He was easily distracted.
“No.” She said turning away from him as she juggled.
I picked up a crayon and attempted to draw a design on the egg. With blue I scribbled on the bottom and then picked up an orange and scribbled a couple of dots. The waxy crayons made crooked lines as I tried not to press too hard for fear that I would crack it. I held up my egg to examine the colored scratches and stretch marks. It was a spastic design. Dimitri looked up at the egg I was holding.
“It’s a fishbowl.” I said proudly. I could see it.
He nodded and held up the egg he had been working on. It was a perfect drawing of the European continent wrapping all the way around. I looked at his egg for a minute. The lines were sharp and detailed as if eggshell was just another medium. He placed his masterpiece in the colored basket and picked up a new egg and quickly became absorbed in his drawing. I placed my mutant fishbowl egg in the basket next to his.
I turned to watch the interplay between Marco and Sandy. He had managed to talk Sandy into letting him try to juggle. He’d toss one, two, three into the air and then drop one, two, three to the ground. Each time he dropped one he’d yell, “I suck.”
I turned back to the eggs. I felt pretty uninspired after my last creation, but perhaps one of the muses would give me the creative spark I needed. My next egg was going to be incredible. Some child would love finding my next egg. I picked up another egg and drew black lines around the shell.
Marco tossed the balls then watched as all three passed through his hands, hitting the ground with a plush, each sand-filled bag flattened like fat toads. “I suck!”
I felt the same about my egg art. I carefully dropped my egg into the basket; I’d had enough Easter egg coloring for the day. I looked over at Marco as he threw all three balls to the ground in a pretend temper. “I fuckin’ suck!”
“Yes. Yes you do.” Said Sandy as she stooped to pick them up.
“Fuck this.” He said as he dropped back down into his seat with a pout. “You hungry?” He asked me.
“Yeah.” I said.
“Let’s go get something to eat and then take a nap.”
“Sounds good.” I said rising from my seat. “It’s been a busy day.”
“We’ll be back.” Marco threatened as we walked toward the front of the bar.
I followed close behind him wondering what kind of hot dog creation Marco would come up with for our lunch. I was hoping for some mac and cheese with hotdogs.
At the flat Macro made a pasta dish with frozen peas and green beans and we each had a glass of watered-down orange juice.
Marco was sitting across from me. He lit a candle that was sitting in the middle of the table. “We should do something to celebrate me finding you a job.” He said, his mind already working through the plans for the evening.
I watched the flame jump from the wick as if it were double-dutch jumping over his breath.
My sojourn in Prague was ending now that I had a job. This wasn’t just a fleeting squatter’s retreat. This was my new home. I would officially become a resident. Working meant residence. I took a drink of my orange water and thought about my new access to the good cocaine. I wasn’t planning on becoming the new hook-up, and some people were about to be dreadfully disappointed. I was working toward a new freedom, but letting myself become the cocaine line between the Joyce and Feste’s was not my idea of freedom.