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The Magic Pint: Part One

Callie pulled open the heavy oak door of McGowan’s Pub and stepped inside. She was immediately comforted by the cool darkness of a bar in the middle of the afternoon.  It was March 18th, 2005, the day after the most popular pub holiday in the world. Callie was relieved that the reverie of Saint Patrick’s Day was only a pint sized memory now.

McGowans was quiet, barely populated, and exactly what she needed.

She climbed onto the heavy wooden stool at the end of the bar and placed her keys and wallet on the counter. The air was thick and had a slightly sour smell of a pub that had partied itself out the night before.

 

“I’d like a pint of Guinness,” she called to the bartender who barely looked up at her when she walked in the door.

 

As he grabbed a clean glass and began the painstakingly long pour of the stout, Callie watched him as she lost herself in a flood of memories.

Chris used to say, “No beer is as good as a Guinness on Tap in Ireland.”

Their trip there had been amazing. It came on the heels of his first deployment to Afghanistan. Two weeks of pub crawls, towns lined with thatched roof cottages, and trying to stay on the correct side of the road while driving.

They played cards in the local pubs and met strangers who were friends by the end of night. They sat by the peat fire sipping pints, listening to the music (or the Craic as it was known by the Irish) for hours. The music was what really drove her memories. She could hear the longing sounds of the fiddle in her head by just thinking of it.

 

Callie sighed out loud; it was the best two weeks of her life.

 

The bartender placed the pint of bitter, brown ale in front of her and attempted to charm her with a terrible imitation of the Irish brogue.

“Here’s your wee pint Miss.”

She visibly cringed at his attempt, and he laughed and apologized.

“Sorry, last night was Saint Paddy’s day and we all had to stay in character for the customers, I know, it’s bad.”

Callie smiled at the thought of all the American bar staff talking in fake Irish accents and before she could stop herself, she shared a treasured memory with a perfect stranger.

“My husband took me to Ireland a few years ago. It was our first time and he kept ending his sentences by saying “doncha know”. He would say things like, “I can’t wait to get a pint…doncha know” or “the hills are so green…doncha know” in the most awful Irish accent. He drove me crazy……”

 

Callie stopped talking immediately.

 

She couldn’t believe she had actually verbalized a precious memory. Her memories of Chris seemed more real when she kept them to herself. It was as if giving voice to them made them weaker, less vivid.

She thought of Chris everywhere.

At the grocery store, where he would to try to predict the total price before the cashier told him.  Or at the gym, where he liked to perform “creative dismounts” off the treadmill.  Or when ESPN came on and she caught soundbites about any of his beloved Chicago sports teams.

The bartender noticed Callie’s uncomfortable shift and quickly pivoted the conversation to fill the awkward silence.

“You missed the party of the year last night. The singing, the drinking…You should have been here then. I am afraid an Irish pub on March 18th is just a somber shadow of the 17th”

Callie smiled politely as she took the first sip of her pint.

 

The ale was cold, dark, and bitter. She should have hated it, but she didn’t.

She loved everything about a pint of Guinness. The weight of it, the thick layer of foam on a perfect pour, and the way she felt close to him again while drinking it.

The reverence the Irish pubs paid to the brand was visible in all the posters and coasters around the bar.

She was facing the poster that read, “Guinness…Try some dark magic”.

Callie wished that was literally true.

 

She wished this pint could take her back to Ireland, or to anytime before she lost him.

 

She turned 33 a few weeks ago. A widow at 33. Widow is such an old fashioned word. But the alternative, Gold Star Spouse, wasn’t much better. It sounded as if she had done something good.

You survived the deployment, but your soldier did not……Here is your gold star………She knew this was an irrational thought, but nothing about losing Chris seemed rational.

The bartender made his way back down to her end of the bar and noticed Callie’s keyring.

“I see you have been to the Mothership,” he said, referring to the clear plastic circle that held her car keys.

Encased inside the circle was a drop of dark beer. It was from the Guinness Factory in Dublin, and the memory shot through Callie’s chest like an electric current.

It was their first stop after dropping the bags off at the hotel. The tour started on the ground level and worked its way to the top where the whole floor was flanked by glass walls, and everyone got a free pint while enjoying the views of the city.

She still had the photo some couple from England had taken of them. Chris had one arm around her and the other arm was toasting the camera with his free pint as he shouted, “Slainte….Doncha know”

Callie was quiet for a second, lost in the memory, but then finally found her voice and told him,

“Yeah, it was incredible… back in 2003 where you could still smoke inside a pub”

 

Callie wasn’t sure why she told him that, but he appreciated the nostalgia.

 

“Ah, the good ole days for sure…Doncha know.” He winked and smiled down at her, “Another pint, love?”

Callie met his gaze, pointed to the poster behind him, and answered honestly.

Only if you have a magic one back there; one that can take me back in time.” 

He smiled and pulled down another glass and began drawing the second pint. As he worked on the pour, Callie held the plastic circle between her fingers and tears started to form in her eyes.

If only she had known it was going to be their last trip together. If only she could make herself move on. It was no accident that she was here on the day after St Paddy’s day.

March 17th was his favorite holiday. She loved watching him celebrate.The sounds of Irish music and the singing and toasts would have fueled his soul.

 

But to celebrate without him, made her soul ache.

 

The bartender placed the second pint in front of Callie. He wasn’t exactly sure what she was going through, but he felt compelled to say something.

” Ya know, a lot of things have been said about the MAGIC of a pint of Guinness………. When in doubt, drink a stout……..Good things come to those who wait ……..Don’t be afraid of the darkness……. Guinness for Strength”

Callie smiled at the last one. Chris had a T-shirt with that expression on it.

“But the one thing I have learned pouring these bad boys over the years, is that its magic is rooted in time. It takes time to pour it, it takes time to drink it, and it can take you BACK in time if you let it……. BUT

He raised his own glass to hers and finished his thought.

“It can’t STOP time love, nothing can do that……Slainte”

Callie took the second pint from him and raised her glass, nodded to acknowledge the toast, and took a sip.

 

Maybe he was right.

 

Maybe this pint would take her back to the happier times when she felt loved and Chris was alive. Maybe next year she would walk into this pub on the 17th and celebrate with laughter and music.

He was right. She couldn’t stop time.

But just for today, March 18th, 2005 in the quiet leftovers of an Irish feast, Callie would sip her magic pint and stay in 2003 for just a little bit longer.

 

 


*This is a work of fiction dedicated to those spouses and families who are left behind to shoulder the burden of the ultimate sacrifice. If you have questions, Visit Kathleen’s Author Page

 

pint

 

*To learn more about the Origins of Saint Patrick’s Day, Click Here.

 

 

Author

  • Kathleen Palmer

    Kathleen is an educator and project seeker from Texas. In her 25 years as an Army wife, Kathleen has taught and coached in six different states and Germany. Kathleen has a big heart for both Army families and soldiers having served as a Soldier for Life counselor in both Germany and Korea. Her favorite part of Army life is her acquired community of battle buddies! Kathleen loves words (both speaking and writing them) and has contributed to AWN, NMFA, The Fort Hood Sentinel, The Army Spouse Handbook, Inside Abu Ghraib, Memoirs of Two US Military Intelligence Officers, and The Army War College at Carlisle. Her favorite writing piece about being an Army wife is “The Lady in the Grey Suit” which was published in 2015 in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors (Vol.3). You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, or on her website, Life Is Messy, Love Big. Just like Kathleen, the site is a WORK in Progress! She also currently serves as Mission: Milspouse Director of Content.

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