The simple wooden door opened, throwing light into the bar momentarily. The sunlight revealed the long bar. It looks old, but the counter top has a good sheen, as if lovingly taken care of.
There are a few people in the bar, most at the end, where some tables are arranged. It’s an odd-looking group; they seem to be wearing clothing from different eras, as if dressed for Halloween. All talk as if amongst friends. They may or may not be regulars, but everyone is welcomed here.
The closest occupied seat is taken by a man wearing worn out jeans and a flannel shirt. He is nursing a bottle of beer, but the sway in his posture makes it obvious that it is not his first.
He nods to the man that entered the bar, but says nothing. The newest arrival leaves him alone and walks back to the others.
Larry sighs heavily as he places his beer on the coaster on the bar. He twirls the bottle, lost in the motion. He sighs again. The others are worried about him, but as he requested, they leave him alone. His world fell apart recently, no one knows how, but they can still see his depression and anxiety. He wears them like a second coat.
The others in the bar like Larry and are worried he may do something terrible. He comes in here every day to A Bar Called Always. It’s his home now he says, though at night he does leave. He has a job, someone is sure, and he comes in every day looking beat, but showered. His fingers have grease under the nail, and sometimes there are bandages. He works with his hands. They believe he has a place to stay, and a job, but no one is quite sure.
Every day, between 4:30 and 5:15, Larry showed up. He sits on the same stool, orders beer and drinks until around midnight. He says little, but will acknowledge others when they say hello. A few, including Morton the bartender, have tried to get him to talk. He politely asks to be left alone. Knowing the nature of the place, and the nature of people, the regulars do as ask. For the moment, they will leave him alone. They can only hope that he will be all right.
Larry sighed as he sat down on his stool. He looked to the bartender and nodded. Morton nodded back, grabbed a bottle and slipped it over to Larry. It was a bit slow tonight, but that never bothered Morton. Slow nights meant longer stories. After making sure Larry was fine, Morton went to the back, to listen to Angela. She was telling her story, about how she found A Bar Called Always. It was a common theme. Most found it on accident, but once found, most came back.
Morton filled glasses, listened for a few minutes then went back to Larry. As Larry was handing him the empty bottle, the door burst open. Sounds of fighting came through the door. Two people fell into the bar, and one immediately slammed the door shut. The bar fell silent as the man looked around.
Larry stared at the people for a second then moved quickly. “Get bandages! I think they’re hurt.”
The man at the door fell to the woman’s side. She was on the ground breathing hard. Larry placed himself behind the woman and propped her up. The man and woman were both dressed oddly. They looked like they were wearing uniforms of some sort, but the fabric looked like nothing Larry had ever seen. It felt different, too. Smoother and softer than anything in his time. The man took off his helmet and tried not to look around.
“She’s in labor.”
“I know.” Larry reached out a hand to the man and looked him in the eye. “I can help, but I need you to tell Morton to get towels and hot water.”
“Morton’s the bartender. I’m Larry.”
“Shana is my wife. I’m Bert.”
“Bert, talk to Morton.”
He nodded and went to the bartender. Larry looked to Shana.
“Are you feeling the urge to push?”
She nodded as she gritted her teeth.
“This your first one?”
“Yes.” She relaxed a bit as the contraction passed. She caught Larry’s eyes. “We weren’t supposed to get married. We weren’t supposed to have a child. They’ll kill us.”
Larry responded in a calm voice. “They have to find you first. Even if they were right on your heels, they won’t be able to find the door.”
She looked around a little. “Where are we?”
“A Bar Called Always. But I think what you might want to ask is ‘when are we’?”
She frowned. “Did we time travel? That was outlawed after the war broke out.”
“This place doesn’t listen to the laws. The door opens, people walk in and that’s it.”
She stopped talking as a contraction hit her. At Larry’s urging, she didn’t push yet. They needed to get the towels. He looked up and Morton was coming around the end of the bar with towels and water.
Shana calmed down. “All right, when are we?”
“300 years in the past.”
The talk stopped as Morton and Bert arrived. Larry looked to Morton.
“I can help her. I’m an EMT, or used to be. Take my place.”
A thousand questions popped into Morton’s head, but he held his tongue and moved to take Larry’s place. Once Shana was comfortable, Larry looked to Bert.
“We need to take off her pants. I’ve been timing her contractions. She’s very close.”
“I had her in hiding. I had a hard time getting back to her.”
Larry reached out and grabbed Bert’s arm. “Clear your mind. She needs you here, not there.”
Bert took a deep breath and centered himself. He focused on the task and removed Shana’s pants. He loosened her shirt as well, to give her room to breathe. Larry plunged his hands into the bowl of hot water to sterilize himself as best as possible. He hadn’t done this in a while, but remembered enough. He cleared his mind of the memories and focused on the task at hand as well.
It took a while, some hours, but the baby was here. Shana was holding her daughter in her arms. The baby was crying. Shana looked terrible. She was still bleeding, but wanted to hold her daughter for a moment while Larry and Morton found the supplies they needed to help her. Someone else left to find the supplies in a medical shop, which were easy to find in their time. Bert was next to Shana saying hello to the child as well. He was holding onto Shana and the child. When Shana’s head lolled to the side, he called out in fear.
Larry came running out from the back. “We don’t have time, Mort! Grab what you can, now!”
Larry ran to Shana and took the baby. He looked to Bert. “Lay her flat.”
Once Shana was flat on the floor, Larry handed the baby to Bert. “Don’t watch this. Go sit with the others.”
Bert looked to his wife one more time and did as instructed. Larry took Shana’s pulse and found it week. He shut out the memories again and took what he needed from Mort. The door opened and Selna came back in with a bag of supplies. She and Larry looked at everything and Larry started to grab some instruments.
“This is insane. Things like this are only available in hospitals in my time.”
“About 150 years from now, things get…odd on Earth. I could go into it, but I don’t know if I should. Time line and all that.”
“Right.” Larry looked down at the instruments and used them with Selna’s help. He took Shana’s blood pressure without a cuff. The instrument also took her pulse and showed a multitude of other readings.
“If I’m reading this right, she’s hemorrhaging.” He looked to Selna and Morton. “I don’t know if I can stop this. She needs a hospital.”
Morton looked to Selna. “Can you get anything else to help her?”
“No. This is it. Can you sew her up?”
“I don’t know enough to do so.” He shook as he looked down. “Mindy went like this.”
Morton reached out. “Larry? Who’s Mindy?”
Larry looked to the bartender. “Mindy was my wife. Something went wrong during her seventh month. She hemorrhaged and died. Steven was too week. He died before being born.”
Morton reached out and grabbed Larry’s bloody hands. “Larry. Listen to me. You need to be in the here and now, not the past. See if there is anything you can do for Shana, Bert and their baby. I know you miss your wife, but you have to try.”
Larry took a deep breath, let it out slowly and nodded. It wasn’t lost on him that he had said something very similar to Bert at the start of all of this. Larry gathered his thoughts, pushed them to the side and tried to save Shana’s life.
Bert, Larry, and Morton sat at a both, near the far end of the bar. The door was locked and no one else was in the bar. Bert held the baby; Shana was by the door, out of the way, wrapped in a sheet Morton found somewhere. There was nothing that could be done. Larry had not been able to help her.
“I don’t know what to do. I can’t go back. We’re at war. I can’t take care of her. If my superiors find out I has a child with Shana, they’ll take her and strip me of my rank.”
“Was she the enemy?”
“Yes. We met about a year before the war, at school. We fell in love, and married, then a month later, war. A civil war of sorts. Our families were on opposing sides. We didn’t care; tried to stay out of it. Then I was recruited by the government to be a soldier. I didn’t have a choice.”
The baby started to fuss, and he grabbed the bottle on the table in front of him. Larry had gone out to buy bottles and formula. He also grabbed some diapers and clothing. Bert held the baby in his arms and fed her. She sucked eagerly. He looked down at the baby with sadness in his eyes.
“Three years into the war, I hid Shana. The government knew her family was working for the Resistance and wanted to interrogate her. I hid her before they could find her. She was three months pregnant at the time. I did my best to hide her. I did a good job until today. They followed me. Some of the men found us. I grabbed her and we ran. I saw the door and went in without thinking about it. If I go out now, with the baby, I’m not sure what will happen. I don’t want to risk taking her back with me.”
He looked up at the others. “We’re still at war. I don’t know when it’ll end. I have to try to salvage my relationship with my superiors and get my job back. I can’t take care of,” he looked to the baby, “Shana. I can’t take care of Shana.” He caressed her cheek. “I’m giving you your mom’s name, little one.”
“Is there anyone you can give her to?”
“No. My parents never approved of the marriage. Her family doesn’t even know she was pregnant.”
“I’ll take her.”
All looked to Larry. Morton placed a hand on Larry’s arm. “Are you sure? That’s a lot of work.”
Larry sighed. “I lost my wife and unborn child a year ago. I’m drinking myself to death. I know this might seem like a bad idea, but the moment she was born, I felt my life was about to change. I need this, and I can do this.” He sighed heavily. “I still have the baby’s room. I closed it up when Mindy died. Couldn’t stand the thought of getting rid of any of it, but couldn’t face it every day. We started decorating it for a boy, but we only got as far as painting the room blue. The crib and furnishings are wooden and are unisex.”
Larry looked to Bert. “I can take care of her for you. I can help you. Once the war is done, come back.”
Mort stopped anyone else from talking. “That’s great and all, but how are you going to explain a kid?”
“Kids are abandoned all the time. We’ll say we found her. I’ll tell them right away that I want to adopt her. I’ll be all right.” Larry sounded sure of himself.
Morton looked to him. “There’s no dissuading you, is there?”
“No. She needs a father and I need a reason to live.”
Bert looked to Larry. “Thank you.”
Larry nodded. Bert handed Shana over to Larry.
“I need to go. I’ll be back when I can.”
“Of course.” Larry held baby Shana and fed her when she woke. It felt good, almost natural. He smiled down at Shana. Things would be odd for a awhile, but he had hope that things would work out.
The men stood and left the booth. Bert went to his wife.
“What are you going to do with her?”
“Unfortunately, I’m going to have to use her body as a way back into the good graces of my superiors. I’m going to lie and say she had me fooled. Say she tried to kill me.” He looked to the two men, then let his eyes stray to his daughter. “I don’t want to lie about Shana, but I have no choice. If I want to make a life for our daughter, this is what must be done.”
The men nodded, and watched as Bert hefted Shana’s body over his shoulder. He made sure she was secure, walked to the door, opened it and left the bar. The sounds of war lasted as long as the door was open. Once it closed, the bar seemed to settle around the two men.
“Are you sure about this, Larry?”
“Yes.” He looked down at Shana. “Do me a favor, Mort.”
“Don’t tell anyone about Mindy. And let them know I’m fine. I don’t think I’ll be back for a while.”
“Sure.” He paused for a beat. “Where are you going to say you found her? Police won’t be able to find this place.”
“There’s a hospital down the block in my time. I’ll take her there. Say I found her in an alley nearby.”
“They’re going to search the alley.”
“Got a paper bag? I’ll say she was in the bag with the stuff I bought.”
“Sure. Wait here.”
Larry nodded and Mort moved away. Larry took a moment and looked around the bar. This place had been home for a long time. He wouldn’t be back for a while, to give updates and the like, but he knew he wouldn’t be spending every night here. That was for the past. The future was Shana.