The Tap Room

Mary Carter was a ruddy-faced dwarf who worked the taps. They built a bar length box four feet tall on both the tap wall and the service side of the bar to accommodate her. Even with the box, bartending was a reach. Mary Carter judged beer and patrons by their smell. She was too small to drink much beer; a single pint could make box-balancing difficult. She described the stout as having "Sumatran notes with chocolatey overtones." She liked banjo-music and religion.

Occasionally, new patrons would tease Mary Carter, emboldened by too much alcohol. She'd pour them a big glass of skunky stuff, always on the house, always with a smile. She'd refuse to serve them anything else for the rest of the night. Cutting with kindness was a type of speciality of hers. Even dwarfs can be Southern Belles.

In October we were hired as the house band. We covered "Orange Sky," and the tap-room echoed with the singing of salvation found in love. The best Appalachian songs allude to Jesus. When we took five, I made my way to the band bar-stools and Mary Carter poured me a pint of the new seasonal -- "notes of toasted malt, apple peal, and some very firm hops," she said. After pouring the drinks, she smiled and told me that she had that dream last night, the one where she was standing lock-armed with the most familiar of brothers and sisters.

"You were there and there was a sense," she said, "that after all of our living and laughing, we had dissolved into something more peaceful."

Hank, who sat two bar stools down, took it in. "Did Jesus give you a taller set of legs, Mary Carter?" He was a regular customer of Mary Carter's, a big tipper who had earned the right to slosh out a haphazard jab.  She giggled a bit, grabbed Hank's empty pint glass and turned to the skunky tap.

"No," she said. "We were all three and one-half inches tall, and I was the most well-practiced at reaching up to serve." Foam ran over the top of Hank's glass, over Mary Carter's hand and into the bar drain.

Hank looked puzzled, but I pieced it together.