Copyright is held by the author.
“A shot of vermouth.”
The bartender stares at me, blank. I’m not sure it’s because he doesn’t know what vermouth is or if he can’t believe I just ordered one. It’s okay. I’m used to that look. I’m aware that this isn’t culturally correct or maybe strange to an American. Funny though, I think it was the great American writers who drank vermouth. Just saying it — ver-mouth, I think of them.
“The Martini-Rossi,” I say.
The bartender continues to stare with dark Italian eyes; his mouth unhinged, but not agape, lips apart ready to speak, but not a word.
“It’s over there, by the gin,” I say.
I know where it is because I had to search for it. I had to be sure it was still full not an old bottle left open for the fruit flies to feed on, drown their small bodies in until they filled the bottom of the bottle with tiny transparent wings and small black bodies like itty-bitty raison compotes.
“You usually use vermouth to dry Martinis,” I say.
“You mean this?” The bartender grabs the bottle by the neck.
“You want this as a shot?”
After he pours the deep red vermouth into a shot glass, he says, “I’ve never poured a shot of vermouth before. What is it?”
“It’s a wine with spices added to it.”
In describing it I think of myself, an Italian mixed with an American spice.
“It’s a common spirit in Italy. Want to try it?” I push the glass towards him. He takes a swig and immediately jerks back, smacking his lips. As the liquid evaporates his cheeks and jowls relax, his eyes turn dreamy.
“It’s not bad, but I don’t think I could handle a full one.”
“That’s how I feel about myself.”
The bartender gives me a smirk. I take the shot. I savour that cinnamon-like flavour, the dryness in my mouth. The taste evaporates into my nose giving off the scent of grapes and earth. The earthy scent is volcanic like wet tufa. The smell hits home for me. I picture Italy, I picture myself there now. The bartender’s Italian features come to play into my daydream.
“What are you drinking there, buddy?” A guy I hadn’t noticed pushes his barstool closer to me.
“Vermouth.” The bartender answers for me.
“Vermouth? That shit Hemingway and Fitzgerald used to drink?”
“Yes,” I answer a little surprised. “I’d like another.”
“Give me one too,” the man says. He drops a five dollar bill onto the greasy bar.
The bartender fills my glass, grabs two shot glasses and pours the man a full one and himself a short one.
“To Hemingway and Fitzgerald,” I say.
The man takes his shot and begins to spatter and choke. “Jesus fucking Christ.” He gasps.
The bartender seems amused. I don’t give a shit.
The man sputters out into the street leaving the entrance door wide open. The warm sunlight illuminates all the tiny dust particles and stains on the musty carpet.
The images of home, of my parent’s balcony overlooking Via Aurelia, of my dad and I smoking cigarettes on ancient Etruscan fields, of eating panini as the sun sets over the Mediterranean . . . it all seems so far away now.
“One more,” I say to the bartender, “For the memories.”