I heard about this place somewhere south. So, I phoned to make a reservation and drove down ahead of time so as not to be late. According to the friend who introduced me to it, the dining experience is so intimate that only one guest is allowed at a time. I was lucky to even get through the line, he said, let alone make a same-day reservation: It was like winning the lottery. I wasn’t quite sure how they were able to sustain operating in such a fashion, but they’ve been around for a while now and their popularity has grown exponentially, in fact, the place is considered one of the most sought-after dining spots in the city.
I was greeted by a perky barkeep as if I was a long-lost relative that he was glad to see. Talk about customer service. He was already standing there behind the counter, facing the direction of the doorway even before seeing me walking by the glass window. Naturally, I was impressed. There was just one stool at the counter and it had leather upholstery. Of course, I took it. The barkeep was the only one inside the establishment. And as I was taking the seat, he told me that I didn’t need to mention what I was going to have, that it’s being taken care of.
“But I haven’t given you my order yet.”
“No worries, I’ll get you what’s in your mind, Sir, or your money back.” He cheekily announced.
I didn’t dare to contend the gimmick or whatever it was that he was doing. Maybe, they conduct a background check as soon as the reservation has been concluded, looking up the patrons on the web or through their social media accounts, or in any means possible to give them an inkling of the personal preferences of their guests.
The moment I allowed things to happen, I immediately felt comfortable. It must be the air that stirred in the room, it felt fresh even though there weren’t any open windows. It felt as if the weight that I was carrying on my shoulders was lifted. Like there were these invisible hands giving me some backrubs of the sort. So, he went at it, conjuring what he had predicted I wanted to order. I couldn’t see exactly what he was doing behind the tall bottles and beer glasses that stood between us. He maneuvered like a skillful athlete tossing around jiggers, oranges, and some bottles as if it was a performance. “Your favorite drink, Sir.” Slowly placing the heavy glass in a dramatic fashion in front of me. “So, it’s true then what they say, that you can read minds?”
“I can only speak the truth, Sir, nothing more.”
“Some trick. I’m impressed.”
“I understand if you’re skeptical about my abilities, which by the way is your prerogative, but then again, I can only speak the truth.”
“So, there’s no trick whatsoever?”
“Or your money back.”
There it was again, the repetition of his responses, the play of words. He whipped the fly that landed on the counter with his damp hand towel.
“I’d let you in on a secret.” He moved in closer as if it was a matter of life and death, then a long pause.
“Go on ahead and look.”
“Take a look at your drink, Sir.” I bowed down and saw that the drink turned into water.
“Wait, how did you do that?”
“It’s just regular hypnosis, Sir. All I did was serve you plain water. It was your mind that perceived it as otherwise.”
“But it tasted like the real thing?”
“Of course, Sir. Our nervous system is a powerful machine.”
“It’s weird that you refer to the brain as a machine.”
“The brain is just a part of an intricate web of wonder inside your body.”
“Wait, is that what you only serve to your customers? Just water?”
“I can only speak the truth.”
“Aha! But that’s not the truth at all, I deserve a refund you said it yourself, I mean should I ask for it.”
“If you say so, Sir. But it was real to you, was it not?”
“I guess so. How about food? What do you do for that?”
“Water is life.”
“That explains a lot about your costs.”
“For as long as we have access to clean water, yes, we’re in business. We can do a lot with just a glass.”
“Thank you for saying, Sir.”
“You should branch out.”
“What do you mean, Sir?”
“There’s more to simulating human experiences than just food.”
“We haven’t thought of it that way. But our simulation is like looking at your reflection. We merely hold the mirror for you to see what your mind tells you. Mirroring emotions is a black hole, Sir. Everything breaks in its singularity. It’s a tricky business.”
“What made you decide to disclose your trade secret anyway?”
“It gets boring around here as you can see.”
“Do you also share this with your other customers?”
“Just with the regulars.”
“But I’m not one of them.”
As I was downing my drink, a thought landed on me.
“We haven’t done that sort of thing yet, Sir. As I mentioned, we’re all about the dining experience, the tastebuds, perception, but not in that area just yet. But I guess we could make an exemption just for tonight.”
“No, please. Don’t mind me, I was just thinking about its possibility.”
“But you’re right, Sir. We should consider branching out to more than just serving food.”
“How many glasses of water do you think it would take to do it?” Completely indulging the thought.
“A few tall glasses would do the trick, I reckon.” The barkeep was absorbed in deep thought.
He went into the kitchen and has been gone for a while before finally returning. I was on the edge of my seat. My heart was pounding and beads of sweat began to appear on my forehead.
As I was waiting, I heard a voice behind me. It belonged to a woman. It was my late wife, Sofia.
“Hey there, hon.” Even before I could turn to see, I knew it was really her. No doubt about that.
I couldn’t tell you how many drinks I had exactly, but she had a case of Pale Pilsen, in less than an hour. She was making up for the lost time she declared. It was the best time I had in years. The barkeep offered us the menu and said that everything was on the house to celebrate the milestone of the business. Of course, we feasted. We went along with how everything turned out that evening.
Sitting next to her at the bar, I told her everything I couldn’t tell her all those years. I left nothing behind. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake ever again. It was limited though, we only had less than an hour left in my reservation. We concluded the chat. I left a five-star rating on the survey sheet on the way out. Finally, I could move on with my life.
The next day I woke as if I was a completely different person. Or should I say I regained my old self? I immediately phoned my friend and told him all about the experience. “Really? that’s intense. Did they say how they were actually doing it?”
“The barkeep just told me that I was just hypnotized.”
“What a load of crap, I’m sorry I wasted your time.”
“Yeah, it was awful.”
I couldn’t understand why my friend said that. Of course, it wasn’t awful. I asked him to keep everything to himself and he gave his word. I was told by the barkeep that I couldn’t share with anyone what transpired that evening. But my friend wasn’t just anyone so I assumed that was okay. Especially that part with my late wife, since it was still on the beta stage, that it hasn’t been tested extensively, even though it worked with me just fine.
“We need more test subjects, I hope we can count on you about keeping things confidential for now.”
“Who is we?” I only thought about it when I was taking a shower and getting ready for work. I sat down at the toilet and did my business while I was on my phone skimming my emails. Then a weird thing happened. I heard my late wife’s voice beneath the bathroom floor. I was stunned. I had goosebumps.
It sounded that the voice was directly coming from beneath the toilet. I thought it was the hangover and decided it must have been that plus the sound of the flush when I pushed down the plunger. The phone in the bedroom rang.
It was the barkeep. His voice was shaking.
“I need to see you now, Sir.”
“No time to explain. Just head back and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.”
I did what I was told. I called up the office and told them that I’d be late for the day. When I arrived, the barkeep was standing at the front door.
“We need to talk. Please follow me inside.”
We went in and headed straight to the kitchen.
“There’s been a problem.”
“Obviously. What’s wrong?”
“We need to let it all out of you.”
“All the water we used up for the apparition of your wife.” He was walking up and down the tiled floor.
“Wait, calm yourself, what do you mean we have to let it all out of me? What the hell is going on?”
“Plainly speaking, the water that you’ve consumed was contaminated. Apparently, there’s been a breach in our water supply. Have you noticed anything odd since you left the bar?”
“No, not at all. I’ve been feeling good since I left. But I thought I heard my wife’s voice this morning.”
“So it had started. We have to ensure that we let it all out of you. You know? Wring you of all the water you’d had from this place before it reaches full circle.”
“What would happen if we don’t?”
“Your wife takes full control. She’ll take over your consciousness, you could figure out the rest.”
The barkeep led my head to the sink. Shoved a rubber hose into my throat and pumped the contents of my stomach. I vomited everything I had in my gut. Or should I say I vomited every part of my wife? I could see parts of her in my puke. I vomited her eyes, bits and parts of her torso, her jaw, and the hardest was her limbs. And when I thought I had the worst, the barkeep gave me some laxatives. I had to stay with the barkeep for three months.