Seamus died last night. We told Artie he didn’t look so good, but Artie said let him be, he’s enjoying the music. Sean Brennan was singing The Black Velvet Band and Artie was drinking his black and tans but Seamus was sick. He didn’t even drink his beer. I should’ve stepped out from behind the bar, taken him in my arms, got him out of there. But I didn’t. Seamus was lying by the fire, dying, and I didn’t do a thing.
I’m tending bar again tonight. They’ve got pictures of Seamus on a table topped with gifts. Jim brought him biscuits, Terry his home-made jerky. I filled his bowl with Guinness. Mary showed up with a rawhide bone so big she had to stand it up against the chair. Pete asked if she’d perhaps overdone it, seeing as Seamus wasn’t around to eat it, and she started to cry. I gave her a generous pour and told her it was perfect, Seamus would’ve loved it. Artie isn’t here yet, but I know he’ll show. I think about what I’ll say when I see him. I think about not serving him. Saying you don’t deserve a drink. You can stay thirsty the rest of your miserable life.
Mary feels the same. “We all knew he was sick,” she says. “We told him he was sick. But Artie’s going to take care of Artie.”
“That’s all there is to it,” I say.
“That’s all there is to it.” She’s crying again and I don’t blame her. I pour myself a beer.
We called him the designated dog. Artie would get drunk the way he got drunk every night, too drunk to find his way home. Then he’d put the leash on Seamus and let him lead the way. He never remembered getting home but he always did. Sometimes he’d get so drunk he’d fall on the sidewalk or the street and just lie there. Seamus would bark until the neighbors came out. Saint Seamus, he was man’s best friend, stuck it out to the end.
“Can’t we get the game on?” Pete asks. The Celtics are on tonight, but we’ve all agreed a mourning period is in order. The Jews cover their mirrors, we keep the TV black.
“Pete, let it be. It’s one game. Just enjoy the music.” Tonight’s music is a selection of Seamus’s favorite songs. You knew it was a favorite if it made his tail wag.
“Fucking christ,” Pete says. “He was just a fucking dog. We really need a wake?”
“You can watch the game tomorrow.”
“There ain’t no game tomorrow.”
“Then the day after that.”
“There ain’t no game the day after that, either.”
“Then I don’t know what to tell you. And yes, we need a wake.”
I clean some glasses and decide Pete’s next drink I skimp on the liquor.
When Angie left the only thing I looked forward to was seeing that god damn dog. I’d kneel down and give him a hug. He’d kiss me, put his paws on my shoulders, knock me over. He was a golden retriever, a little overweight, and I was a little overweight, too, though Angie swore that wasn’t why she left.
I pour an Old Speckled Hen for Terry. Terry was a fireman in town, broke his back falling through a burning floor. He once saved a dog from a burning house, so he gets it.
“He always loved this one,” Terry says as I let the Old Speckled Hen build a head. It’s the Bee Gees. You don’t know what it’s like. To love somebody. The way I love you. The way Seamus loved Artie, Artie had no idea. “He really did love this song. His tail would wag so hard he’d knock your beer off the table.”
“I refilled many a beer on Seamus’s account.”
“Mark, I’m not going to lie,” Terry says. “There was a few times, I was almost done with my beer, I put it on the edge of the table on purpose. Knowing he’d get it with his tail and I’d get a free one.”
“I know,” I tell him.
“Yep. I saw you do it.”
“And you gave me a free one anyway?”
“Half the time. The other half you were so drunk I’d charge you for two. So it evened out in the end.”
“No shit,” he says.
“No shit. But this one’s on the house.” I hand him his Old Speckled Hen. He once saved a dog from a burning building, so he gets it.
I clean some glasses and sip my beer and ask Patsy to throw some wood on the fire. He’s always happy to help. I pay him in Powers.
And then Artie walks in. He’s bundled up, gloves and a green wool hat. He takes his time getting out of his jacket, hanging it by the door. Nobody says a word except the The Bee Gees. The son of a bitch let Seamus die. All for a black and tan. I pour him one because I don’t know what else to do.
“Evening, Mark,” Artie says, sitting at his spot next to Mary. I put down the coaster and I put down the beer. “I suppose you heard the terrible news.”
“We all heard the terrible news,” Mary says. “We told you he wasn’t looking good.”
“That’s right,” Artie says. “You did. And I should’ve listened.”
“You’re damn right you should’ve listened. But you didn’t, did you?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“And now he’s gone.” Mary cries. Artie looks straight ahead, but I won’t look at him. I let him sit in it.
Now it’s The Irish Rover. Sean Brennan always sings this one. When the only souls left on the ship are the guy and the captain’s old dog, he says, “We called him Seamus.” We’ve all got the hang of it and we shout it out, too, we called him Seamus. That made the tail wag, all us calling his name. Sad song, though. The ship struck a rock, Lord what a shock. The boat was tipped right over. Turned nine times around and the poor old dog was drowned. I’m the last of the Irish Rover.
This dog wasn’t drowned. He was dragged sick and dying through the cold night. Found dead in the morning by his drunken master’s bed. And now he’s got a memorial on the table by the fire. Artie’s taken note, though he hasn’t got up for a closer look.
Pete’s staring up at the black screen like he’s trying to will the game into being. He says, “You’re a son of a bitch, Artie.”
“That so, Pete?”
“I don’t care about your dog, but I do care about the Celtics. And thanks to you I can’t watch the Celtics.”
“Ain’t you got a TV at home?”
“I don’t want to watch the game at home. I want to watch the game here, like I always do. Instead I gotta listen to you sissies cry over some dumb dog.”
“All right now, Pete,” I say. I could do more than skimp on his liquor. He knows it, I’ve done it before.
“He wasn’t a dumb dog,” Artie says.
“Then why’d you let him die?” Terry says, halfway through his Old Speckled Hen.
“I didn’t let him die,” Artie says. “It just happened.”
“Bullshit,” Terry says.
“It’s not bullshit. I woke up and he was gone. What was I supposed to do?”
No one will answer that one. We told him what he was supposed to do. Bring that dog to a vet. We should’ve stepped in, we all know it. We all know it’s all our faults.
Jim lifts his bottle of Bud and I get him another. He’s doesn’t say much, he never does. One summer day his daughter went for a swim and never came back. He brought Seamus a tennis ball. I watched him put it on the table and close his eyes. He stood there with his eyes closed and I wondered if he was thinking about his daughter, too.
When Angie left, it was like Seamus knew. He came right over to me that night, lay his head in my lap, looked me right in the eye. Like he was saying, you are still loved. By me, Seamus the dog. I cried and he put his paws on my lap and licked my tears. Angie hadn’t been that kind to me in years.
Patsy orders a Guinness and a Powers. Patsy has long grey hair and he’s told me many times that he was in the IRA. Always says it’s a secret. I say if it’s a secret why is he telling me. He says because he trusts me. In that case he trusts everyone, because everyone’s heard it.
“You know what we would have done to you back in Ireland?” Patsy says while I let the Guinness sit half-full, a proper pour. Artie pretends not to hear him. “I’m talking to you, Artie.”
“What’s that?” Artie says.
“I says, you know what we would have done to you back in Ireland?”
“Well, here’s what we would have done to you back in Ireland.”
“We get it,” Pete says. “You’re back in Ireland.”
“Right then, it’s pretty simple. We would have gotten together, myself and a few of my friends. I will not say what organization we may or may not have been a part of.”
“IRA” Pete says, still pissed about the Celtics.
“Hold now, Pete. I didn’t say IRA. You didn’t hear that. But, let’s just say it was IRA, which it wasn’t. But if it was, here’s what we would have done.”
“Back in Ireland.”
“Back in Ireland. Yes, Pete, god damn, stop interrupting. Now, Artie, first we would buy you a car. Do you know why we would buy you a car?”
“No,” Artie says. He’s looking into his black and tan.
“We would buy you a car because you don’t have a car.”
“He also doesn’t have a license,” Mary says. “Lost it.”
“Well then we’d get you a license, too.”
“Impossible,” Mary says. “Three DUIs.”
“Well now Mary, nothing’s impossible back in Ireland. Especially when you run with the group of fellows I ran with.”
“IRA” Pete says.
“Not IRA,” says Patsy. “Though if we were, which we weren’t, but if we were we’d know what to do with you too, Pete.”
“Is that so?”
“Just steal his TV when the Celtics are on,” Terry says, and that gets a laugh. First laugh all night. I hope it’s not the last.
“Now, back to Artie,” Patsy says. “For whom we have bought a car and procured a license, DUIs notwithstanding. Artie, what kind of car you like?”
“I don’t have a preference.”
“Of course you do. Pickup, convertible, sedan?”
“Convertible, I suppose.”
“Convertible it is, then. Now, we’d buy you the shiny new convertible, and you’d drive around with that top down. We’d let you feel the wind in your hair, the sun on your face. Let you feel like a man. That’s the least we could do for you, one last time. But we’d never forget. Though you might forget, we would not. Do you know what we would not forget?”
“I don’t,” Artie says. And I can’t help but feel bad for Artie, at least for a moment.
“We would not forget what you did to that blessed creature. Seamus. Finest god damn dog…” But now Patsy’s choked up, can’t go on. He shoots the Powers and I hand him the Guinness. Then he crosses himself and walks back to his table, next to Seamus’s table, close by the fire.
“I don’t know why they’d buy you some fancy car,” Mary says. “You don’t deserve it.”
“I never said I did.”
“You two,” Pete says. He’s not looking at the empty television any more. “You’re a couple slow sons of bitches.”
“All right, Pete,” I say.
“It’s a car bomb. They bought you a car so they could blow it up with you in it. Patsy, isn’t that right? Patsy?” Pete turns around to face him. “It’s a car bomb, right?”
“Aye,” Patsy says.
“Aye,” Pete says.
Artie says nothing. But he’s done with his black and tan and I pour him another.
Sweet Caroline. Good times never felt so good. I remember Mary and Artie dancing to this one and Seamus barking, trying to get in on the action. And he did. He jumped up on Artie from behind and humped the hell out of him. Wouldn’t let go. Artie kept yelling “Down boy, down!” but he wouldn’t get down and we were howling. It plays now, Sweet Caroline, good times never felt so good. I wonder if the music was a mistake. Good times don’t feel like this.
Reggie comes up for another round. Guinness for him, zinfandel for Ellen. Reggie and Ellen, they’ve got three boys; two marines and a junky. That’s how Reggie put it to me one night, too much to drink. He doesn’t remember telling me so I never bring it up. He talks about his two sons, the marines, all the time.
“Boys’ll be back this summer,” he says.
“They’ll be in, of course?”
“You tell them drinks are on me.”
There’s an art to tending bar. It’s the silence. Knowing when to let it sit and when to fill it. Reggie now, I fill it.
“You and Ellen brought the best gift,” I say.
“Well, you know, dogs aren’t allowed to eat chocolate. Forbidden fruit and all.”
“Seamus would’ve loved it. Though I’ll tell ya, Reg, I don’t think that cake will last the night. These bastards have been eyeing it since you came in.”
“Well, that’s the idea. We’ll break into it in a little bit. It’s double chocolate. Ellen calls it death by chocolate.”
“Death by chocolate,” Pete says. “That’s a way for a dog to go.” For a guy who’d rather be watching the Celtics, he’s paying attention.
“I suppose it is,” Reggie says.
“Hey Artie,” Pete says. “Reggie was just saying death by chocolate would be a great way for a dog to go. How is it Seamus went? Death by neglect? Death by drunkenness? Death by what? What would you say? Death by Artie?”
Pete holds up his glass for another and I give him a look that says cool your jets. I know there’s a part of me that doesn’t want him to. He’s saying what I would say if I could, if I wasn’t tending bar tonight.
“Don’t skimp on the whiskey,” he says, knowing I’ve done it before. “I’ll take death by Jameson any night.”
Ernie walks in and leaves the door open too long. We shout at him to close it. It’s a cold night, but it’s easy to forget that in here. The embers in the fire and the candles on the tables, the wooden beams and wooden floor, the low wooden ceiling. It’s like a wool sweater on a rainy day. Or a good lady under the covers with a foot of snow outside. Angie never liked sleeping in, but when she did.
And then I hear it. Coming from the corner. He’s sobbing. His whole body. Mary’s got her arm around him, rubbing his back, telling him it’s okay.
“It’s okay, Artie. Artie, it’s okay.”
And then Jim speaks for the first time. Jim whose daughter went for a swim and never came back. “It’s not okay,” he says. “It’s not.”
“You be quiet,” Mary says.
“All right. I will. But first I’m going to say it’s not okay. It’s not okay what he did.”
“He’s right,” Terry says.
“For once I agree with these idiots,” Pete says.
I’d say the same, but I’m here on behalf of the establishment.
“I loved him,” Artie says, his head still down, Mary still rubbing his back. “I loved him.”
“We all loved him, Artie,” Patsy says from his seat by the fire.
“Yeah, but he was my dog.”
“He might have been your dog,” Patsy says. “But he belonged to all of us.”
“Yeah, but he was mine. My dog. He was my dog, god damnit.”
“Okay, Artie,” I say and I’m ready with his black and tan. I give him a shot of Powers, too. “On the house,” I say.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Pete says. “He gets a free shot? Fucking christ. If I knew killing Seamus got you a free shot I’d have killed him long ago.”
Sometimes a bartender fills the silence. Sometimes he lets it be. I let it be. And I’m happy I do. Because Terry shakes his head at what Pete said. And then he laughs.
“What?” Pete says.
“The thought of you killing a dog just for a free shot,” Terry says.
“I’m laughing, aren’t I?”
The second laugh of the night, I’m thankful for it.
“Well guess what, fat ass?” Pete says to Terry. “I’d kill you for a shot, too.” Terry laughs harder and now I’m laughing, too.
“All you sons of bitches. I wouldn’t think twice. Like that,” he snaps his fingers. “I’d do you for a shot any day.”
And because I’m glad we’re laughing, I pour him another Jameson.
“And I didn’t even have to kill for it,” he says, proud of himself.
When I turn back to Artie, he’s done with his black and tan and Powers. He’s not a fast drinker, but tonight he is. I won’t stop him.
And these are the songs that play. The Body of An American, Dirty Water, Dirty Old Town, Jack and Dianne, Summer of ’69, Four Green Fields, The Leaving of Liverpool, Night Moves, Fisherman’s Blues, A Pair of Brown Eyes. Angie had brown eyes. They were crying all the time. Always something I did wrong. Sometimes I miss her but I’m better off without her. It took me two years to come to that, but I know it’s the truth.
And then Atlantic City plays and we eat the cake, death by chocolate. They’re all good and toasted now that Atlantic City plays. And it’s Jim again, Jim who rarely speaks, Jim who knows loss, whose daughter went for a swim. “You hear this one, Artie,” he calls across the bar. He has to yell it. The place has filled up a bit, folks who’ve never been here before, never met Seamus.
“I said, Artie,” he yells. “You hear this one?”
But Artie doesn’t answer. He’s had a few more and so has Mary and they’re whispering to each other at the end of the bar. Jim gets up, takes a walk. Steps between them. I saddle over to keep an eye on it.
“Artie, boy. I’m asking if you hear this song.”
“I do,” he says.
“Everything dies, that’s a fact. But everything that dies some day comes back. What do you think of that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t really care for this song.”
“Well Seamus did. That’s why we’re playing it. I can remember him sitting right there by Patsy, wagging his tail.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“Well I do.”
I take Artie and Mary’s chocolate-stained paper plates, walk them to the garbage. Pete’s sitting over there, the Celtics long gone.
“It’s about to happen,” Pete says.
He nods to Artie. Jim’s got his hand on his shoulder. I know what’s about to happen.
Jim rips him off the stool. Artie lands on his back and Jim kicks him in the side. Mary yells at him to stop but he doesn’t.
I used to work a place in Hyannis, there was a fight every night. I got good at jumping the bar. That was years ago, when I first met Angie. I try jumping the bar again and all I do is hurt myself, something down in my back. And it’s all for nothing. Jim got his kicks, that’s all he wanted.
It clears the place out. Everyone who’s never met Seamus wants to leave and I don’t blame them. Jim has to leave, too.
“I know I do,” he says. And as Artie stands with Mary’s help, I tell him the same. “Maybe you should go, too, Artie.”
“Fuck you, Mark,” he says. He never talks like that. But he drank a lot, even for him. And he drank it fast. And that’s my fault, but it’s his fault, too. Like a lot of things tonight. “Fuck all of you. Pete, fuck you. Terry, fuck you. Patsy, Jim, fuck both of you.”
“Okay now, Artie.”
“No, it’s not okay. I’m not done. Reggie, Ellen, fuck you.”
“They made you cake,” Mary says.
“Fuck you, too, Mary.”
I’ve seen this before. You tend bar long enough you see a man try and kill everything he’s got. The sad thing is, it works.
“Fuck all of this,” he says and he walks up to the table, the pictures of Seamus, the gifts. The rawhide bone, the jerky, the bowl of Guinness. Jim’s tennis ball. “He was my god damn dog.” He flips the table and it knocks over Patsy’s table before crashing into the fireplace.
I go to the fire and Patsy goes to Artie. He does what they would’ve done back in old Ireland, back before the IRA. Patsy said his grandfather was a bare knuckle champion and I believe him now, now that Artie’s laid out.
But he’s not down for the count. He’s staggering, the way he staggered last night. Last night he was in no shape to make it home on his own, but it was all right, he had Seamus. Seamus who could barely lift his head. Seamus who still did his duty, walked his friend home one last time.
Artie doesn’t say a word. He just sways. Then he looks at me. Because he can sense it, what I’m thinking. I’m thinking it’s my fault, too. A bartender knows when to step in, when to let it be. I should’ve stepped in but I didn’t. I should’ve called the vet myself, taken Seamus. It’s my fault, too, and he’s looking at me like he knows it. And what I want to say is it’s okay, Artie. We all make mistakes. Don’t kill yourself over this. Seamus lived a long, happy life. You take care of yourself now, Artie. That’s what I want to say. But I’m mad. Like Pete and Patsy and Terry and Jim, like Ellen and Reggie and Mary, if she had the guts to tell him. I’m mad. And so I don’t say any of that.
Instead I say, “Get the fuck out of here, Artie.”
And he does.
And as he leaves, Terry says, “Good luck getting home on your own.”
And Patsy, waiting on his Guinness, says, “You don’t take care of your designated dog, you don’t get a designated dog.”
“Hope he falls in a ditch and dies,” Jim says and I remind him he’s done, too.
Artie leaves and Jim leaves and when they’re both gone, Pete speaks. Pete, who wanted nothing to do with this, who was pissed he couldn’t watch the game, who didn’t even bring Seamus a gift, he lifts his Jameson and says, “To Seamus.” And they all lift their glasses, even me. “May the wind be always at your back. And may the father, the son, and the holy spirit look after your soul for ever and ever. Jesus, I’m talking to you. He was a good dog. He took care of us, now you take care of him.”
“Amen,” Terry says.
“I’m not done,” Pete says. “Mary, I’m calling on you, too.” Mary in the corner lifts her head. “Mary, if you liked dogs, and I’m guessing you did. The mother of Jesus, you had a big heart for the big-hearted ones. If you got a heart for dogs then you got a heart for Seamus. We’re asking you to sit him at the right hand of the father. Let the father scratch him behind the ears, let the son play fetch with him, and see to it the holy ghost walks him a few times a day. Not just for a piss and a shit, but a good walk. Let him chase a few birds.”
“And squirrels,” Terry says.
“Squirrels, too, that’s right. We ask this of you, Mary, the blessed virgin. Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of god, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, amen.”
Amen, we all say.
All but Mary. She says, “You should say a prayer for Artie, too. He lost his best friend.”
But they don’t say a prayer for Artie. And I don’t blame them.
The last song plays, The Ring of Fire, and Reggie and Ellen drive Mary home and the rest of the guys leave on their own and then it’s just me closing up shop. My back hurts from jumping the bar and I’m thinking about Angie and thinking about Seamus. I’m thinking about Artie, too.
I’m cleaning glasses when Walter knocks on the door. He drinks here his nights off, let me out of a speeding ticket once. He’s on duty tonight and he tells me what they found.
Seamus wasn’t there to walk him home. He went the wrong way and kept going the wrong way and then he fell in the street. Seamus didn’t bark, didn’t wake the neighbors. The door is open and I’m shivering from the cold and the news. And all I know, when I close the door, is that Mary was right. We should have said a prayer for Artie, too. And tomorrow we will. I’m sure we will. We’ll all regret the way we treated him. And we’ll talk about how he’s up with Seamus now. But I know what we won’t do. We won’t put his picture on the table by the fire. We won’t bring him gifts. We won’t play him songs.
I’m a bartender. You know when to let it sit. When it is what it is. It’s sad, but I’m bartender and it is what it is.