Memoir

C’mon! Drink up!

Cancer, crying and cocktails. Crafting friendships at the bottom of a glass.

C’mon! Drink up!

The nondescript bar was right at the corner of a triangular spit of land, surrounded on all sides by cars: an island of cocktails on an island of cocktails. Little Branch in the West Village has the tastiest drinks downtown and we were there because my cousin needed a distraction.

“They customize their drinks to your mood,” I said.

“I don’t want the bar to implode on my account,” she replied.

Inside, bartenders swished, clinked and muddled while we studied the menu. The names and descriptions of each cocktail rambled like a list of songs on a mix tape, the few ingredients we recognized encouraging us to read on. But waiting for us at the bottom of the list, in block print, was our cue to leave: Cash Only. And so, moments after entering the bar we were back outside, our eyes re-adjusting to the light.

Across the street a glowing sign for an Irish pub beckoned. The familiar lettering promised straightforward beers on tap and tabs that we could open and close. I pointed, my cousin nodded. We slid onto barstools as the bartender approached. His eyes were set close together and his ears stuck out from his head. He grinned at us with bucked teeth.

“What are we having?” he asked in a thick Irish accent.

“You take credit cards, right?”

“’Course!”

I accepted before my cousin could refuse.

His laps up and down the bar were brisk, his eyes darting back and forth from a patron’s face to what was in his hands. As a glass neared empty, he would furnish a fresh one. Coming to us with the third set of beers, he introduced himself.

“I’m Trevor.”

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“Hi,” we replied.

He studied us for a moment, my arm draped over my cousin’s shoulder, her red eyes.

“Everything O.K.?” he asked.

“Rough day,” I said, nodding at my cousin.

Trevor plucked two shot glasses from his left and poured tequila in them, placed them in front of us.

“On the house,” he said. “C’mon, cheer up.”

We threw our heads back in thanks. “Now drink up,” he instructed, before leaving for the other end of the bar.

“See, the city’s looking out for you,” I said to my cousin. She wasn’t impressed.

“What am I going to do?” she asked. “What’ll happen to my dad? My mom can’t get sick and…she just can’t.”

“She won’t,” I said. We drank the rest of our beers in silence. My cousin’s eyes filled with tears; they fell into her empty cup.

“I can’t do this on my own,” she said, crying, and I wrapped my arms around her. We rocked back and forth on our barstools. Over all the bodies that had since joined us at the bar, Trevor caught my eye. He was in front of us five seconds later.

“Another shot?”

My cousin covered her face with her hands. “It’s her mom,” I said. “She’s very ill.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, life’s a shithole sometimes.”

“My mum got sick. And me dad, too. Let me tell you”—he touched my cousin’s arm gently—“it gets easier. You can get through this.”

With a thump he set three shot glasses before us. “Drink up, c’mon,” he said to my cousin. “To your mum.”

We obeyed.

“She can’t…I can’t lose my mom,” my cousin slurred.

“Cancer is ugly,” I shouted.

“O.K., no more beer,” Trevor said as we sucked on pieces of lime. “Try…this,” he said slowly as he mixed tall handles of liquor into thick glasses. The din of the bar grew louder as I tried to concentrate on his hands. It must have become more crowded when I wasn’t looking.

“I’ll be back in a jiff and those glasses better be empty,” he said.

I cannot recall the taste of that drink, or the shots that followed. My cousin cried some more; I think I did too. I chatted up a stranger on my cousin’s behalf; was she making out with him later? Trevor found a minute to take me outside for some fresh air. Did he offer me marijuana? Did I tell him to give it to my cousin instead? Back inside the bar, Trevor refocused us on two glasses. “Water,” he said. “C’mon, drink up.”

I hugged my cousin—or was I trying not to fall? Trevor walked us both outside, onto the street, and hailed a taxi. I remember that he had to help me into it.

We awoke in my cousin’s apartment the next morning, dry-mouthed and heavy-headed. Deliberately, painfully, we called in sick from work and tried to reconstruct the previous night’s activities. Eventually I hit on the idea to check my online bank statement to see how much we had spent at Dennehy’s. I clicked on the line item. $8. $8? $8! We cracked up in bed—my cousin laughing for the first time since I had met her the previous evening. We laughed about that night for days, weeks and months to come.

Two years passed, and just recently, we happened to walk by Dennehy’s. On a whim, we asked the bartender if he knew where Trevor worked now. An Irish pub on the Upper East Side. A week later, we were standing outside another pub—generic except for our big-eared friend striding up and down the bar. As we walked in he glanced up, went back to his patrons—and then turned right back to us. We perched on barstools and smiled.

“Aditi,” he said to me.

“Trevor,” I replied, astounded that he remembered my name.

“How’s your mum?” he asked my cousin.

“She’s doing alright, thanks for asking,” she said. “What’s new with you?”

“I have a boy!” he said, brandishing a photograph.

“We must celebrate,” my cousin insisted.

“A round on us,” I echoed.

Tequila appeared before us, then a buck-toothed smile.

“C’mon, drink up.”