by John van Vliet
Illustrations by Jennie van Vliet
Buffalo, the old sot, swilled his drink; the fifth drink, he figured. Having pigged on bread, his wooly gut could withstand the poison, as could his blood and, worse yet, his mind.
He sat alone in The Old Town Bar, a dimly-lit wooden hall ensconced in the crag of a mountain. If you could muster the power to scale the rocks, a just reward of your liquor of choice at a bargain awaited you. On the other hand, its steep locale encouraged patrons to moderate their imbibery.
Buffalo sat at his table, in his preferred seat, located in the furthest corner of the hall. His dusty brown satchel, much like his own appearance, laid next to him. A dozen tables hewn from the mountain were arranged tightly, adorned with candles and hand-made coasters. The bar was to the right, cluttered with colourful glass bottles of liquor atop the wooden barrels of lager and ale brewed from the region.
Pawing the empty silver mug, Buffalo released a hoarse sigh. Advancing in years yet retaining much of his youthful strength, he reminisced of yesteryear. “What a year it was,” sighed Buffalo. Such was always the case when, after a few of his favourite drinks, reflecting on the past that he would wince with shame. Such a proud and boorish creature as he should not mope or fawn for what used to be. He knew how to suppress this feeling.
“Peccary,” Buffalo barked, “another.” From beneath the bar, up popped the bartender. Peccary was young but well trained in the arts of bartending and counselling. The laconic bovine was never cowed by unruly patrons, despite being an eighth of the stature and girth of ones such as Buffalo.
“Alright,” squealed Peccary, heel-kicking a buffed silver mug high into the air, catching it with his other hoof before pouring fresh golden lager into it. The feat always impressed Buffalo – one of the few things that summoned a smirk from him.
“Add it to your tab, I presume?” Peccary asked. “It’s mounting quite high, you know?”
“Yes, yes, fine,” Buffalo said. “I always pay you back, Peccary.”
“Yes,” Buffalo said gruffly.
Peccary wore a waiter’s cloth across his back. After topping the mug off with perfect head, he mounted the drink on his back and trotted down the bar table on all fours, hopped across three stone tables, and presented the fresh lager to Buffalo. Buffalo took the new and replaced the old on the vacant spot of Peccary’s back.
Peccary hopped and trotted back to his post, this time nearing the sink. He heel-kicked the dirty mug into the air, catching it with the other, and quickly scrubbed and dried it.
“Proost,” said Peccary. This word culled the accent of his farming forefathers from the far-southern lands.
“Aye,” Buffalo raised his mug, “to the good times.” He slurped the lager, leaving the foam brushed across his curly brown fur.
“Then, and now,” Peccary cheered, sipping on an ale he had prepared earlier.
“Then, yes! Regarding the now, I cannot agree,” Buffalo said.
Peccary said, “Times are changing, true, and our city is new, but it does not mean it’s so bad as you say!”
Buffalo shook his head. He sipped, and sipped again. An old painting to his right caught his attention: a globby portrait of his beloved village as it was when he was a child. Simple, familiar, rooted in tradition.
The swinging front door flung open. The evening sunset burst in, alighting the hall. Bursting in yet stronger was Goose, the village psychiatrist. Goose trotted in, his wings raised above his head and his webbed feet lightly skimming the floor as he pranced his legs high in the air. With a wide grin, he nodded a greetings to Peccary.
“Good evening, Mr Goose,” Peccary said.
“Good evening, Mr Peccary!” belted Goose. “A greyhound for this gallinaceous and parched fellow!”
“Right away,” Peccary said.
Goose’s theatrical promenading continued to the end of the hall. Buffalo laid disgusted eyes on his neighbour Goose as he selected a seat near him. Goose gave a final flap of his arms, creating a gust of wind that sent foam on Buffalo’s beard aflutter.
“Mr Buffalo, good evening!”
“Why do you walk like that?” Buffalo asked, sipping again.
“It’s my gait of the day, don’t you know?” Goose said.
“Yes sir. Trotting. A fine kind of walk! Great for the hips – and you know that I pack extra pounds there! Normally, on a day such as this, I set my mind to the goose-step,” he winked at his own purposely intended pun. Buffalo and Peccary paid no heed to it, “but since I strained my calf a fortnight ago, I’ve had to abandon such a glorious gallop. But I do enjoy a nice trot, especially when venturing up the mountain to visit you, my ol’ friend Mr Peccary! You fine little bovine – add an extra kick to my greyhound, if you don’t mind! Mr Buffalo, you ought to give trotting a try. Your sturdy bones certainly can muster the strength for a mighty trot! It’ll ease your mind, I can assure you of this,” he prated.
“No,” Buffalo said as politely as he could. He sipped again, nearing the bottom of yet another mug.
“Come now, Mr Buffalo, it’s all in good fun!” He patted Buffalo on the shoulder.
“Please, just call me Buffalo,” snorted Buffalo.
“If you insist, my dear friend,” Goose conceded. “Formalities, where have they gone?” When this inquiry was made to no one in particular, Peccary arrived with Goose’s greyhound.
“Mr Goose,” Peccary said, “your drink.”
“You’re a good lad, Peccary. The finest! Your father would be proud of you. He built this hall with his bare hooves, yoking stone and wood all day and night! Of course, I assisted when on summer holidays from my studies.” Buffalo raised his half-empty mug for a round of cheers, and waited as Goose continued, “I was not much of a builder, as you can see. I was, more or less, there to hold hammers and collect astrewn tools and screws,” he laughed. “Not in the Gooses’ blood to perform such arduous tasks! Anyway, your father, Mr Peccary, was a good man and I am blessed that he would allow a bookworm such as myself the privilege of assisting him in erecting this watering hole! It is a sight to behold. In fact! I am told that the villagers on the adjacent mountain can see our great hall. Would you believe that?” Buffalo snarled, being impatient. “Yes sir, we villagers ought to be proud of this place and of the village itself! Wouldn’t you agree, Mister – er, sorry – Buffalo?”
Goose discovered Buffalo’s scowl. “My goodness! How rude of me! I do say, a hearty cheers to the evening, to the village, and to this hall!” Goose raised his drink, meeting it with Buffalo’s mug while Peccary raised his from the distance.
“Aye,” said Buffalo.
“Proost,” added Peccary. “Your words of my father are kind, Mr Goose.”
“May he rest in peace!” Goose sipped his drink. He cringed under the power of its alcoholic strength, but smacked his beak in approval. “Yow! Strong! What a punch. But, my goodness, that is mighty fine grapefruit juice. Like a battle medic coming to rescue after you take a hard hit to the flesh, am I right, Buffalo? Enjoy your lager.”
“Thanks,” Buffalo said. He sipped his drink, saving the last gulp for a moment’s later.
“By the way, what did you make of the town hall meeting last week? Highly unusual circumstances, if you asked me.”
“You think so?” asked Peccary quickly and loudly. Buffalo growled and slumped down in his seat.
“By all means, yes! Since when are we so concerned about this? A lot of hooplah and wasted energy, if you were to ask me yet again. Drivel, the lot of it!”
“Now, now, Mr Goose, it’s a bit too early to be discussing such a matter,” Peccary said. His eyes bounced back and forth between Goose and Buffalo. He did not like this topic.
“It ain’t right,” Buffalo torted, “it ain’t what it use to be. Too many things are changing; you can’t see our village the same anymore.” He slurped down the last of his drink and placed it on the stone table forcibly, but by way of his massive, muscular limb succumbing to gravity rather than wilful intention.
The thump of the mug startled Goose. “Heavens!” he honked. He studied Buffalo. “Thank goodness these tables are built to withstand your antics, my friend!” Goose laughed, Peccary smiled, and Buffalo grimaced.
“Aye,” Buffalo said. “I guess that be true. Peccary, another.”
“Right away,” Peccary said, engaging in his drink-making showmanship instantly. “Keep a mind on that tab.”
“Yes, yes,” Buffalo said.