“Selling his soul to a fairy?” said Charlii pinching her lips. “That’s ridiculous. Artists are such quacks.”
Balder leaned on the bar cleaning a glass and smiled. “The Green Fairy doesn’t interest you?”
Charlii turned her gaze away from the glass of Absinthe to look at Balder. “Bah! What does the Green Fairy have that I want?”
“She asks for nothing but adoration and gives us such a dance.” Balder picked up the glass,.holding it in front of his face. Light twinkled through it, giving his face a green tint. “Misuse her, and she turns fierce. But let’s find another story for you.”
Charlii shook her head. “It’s just a drink. I’ll go as soon as the rain stops.”
“Ah,” said Balder, his eyes twinkling. “A fairy of gold. There are many here. Which will tell you a story?”
The front door opened and two walking cane beckoned in a man as round as he was tall. Long, gray locks, wet with rain, drizzled down his face. A second man, younger and tired, stepped from behind him to take the older man’s elbow.
“I’m not an invalid, Alexander,” the round man said, pushing Alexander away from his arm. He placed his right-hand cane in his left hand and grabbed the railing to the steps with his right. “There are still some things I can do without your assistance.”
Alexander walked two steps in front of the round man and stopped to watch.
“Well,” growled the old man. “What are you waiting for? Get me a table. I can’t keep standing.”
“Yes, chef,” replied Alexander shaking his head as his long legs strode the last of the stairs and the space to the closest table. He turned back to look at the chef, then moved one more table away from the entrance where he pulled out a chair and waited.
“Bon,” said Chef puffing for air. He heaved his massive form to stand with his back to the chair, then leaning on the two walking sticks, lowered himself into the chair. He ran his fingers across his face to comb the long wet hair from his face. “Bartender, s’ill vous plait deus Benedictine.”
“Chef, you’re not in Paris anymore,” said Alexander shaking his head. “Let me order -“
Balder interrupted him. “A la fois, monsieur.”
Alexander walked to the bar, pulling out his wallet. “Thanks,” he said. “You have Benedictine?”
“The spirits of Benedictine are dancing all around us.” Balder laughed as Alexander’s shoulders slumped. “Don’t worry, Alexander. All good things come with time. We’ll settle up when you’re ready to leave.”
Alexander put his wallet away and left to sit beside the chef.
“Oh, Alexander,” began Chef. “You’re in such a hurry. You’re a good baker, but if you want to be a great baker, you must learn to slow down.”
“Yes, Chef,” replied Alexander without looking at Chef.
“Even now, your mind is elsewhere.”
Chef stopped talking as Balder arrived at the table with a silver server and two glasses. He placed each glass in front of the two men, and with a bow, he presented the bottle of Benedictine. Chef’s smiled widened across his face as his pink cheeks changed to a joyous red.
Balder poured golden liquid into each glass and stood back.
Chef picked up his glass, holding it in front of the candle on the table. Gold shimmered and danced through the glass and his face. His eyes, tired and dark, sparked to life. “Deo Optimo Maximo,” he said. “La perfection.”
Alexander picked up his glass and took a drink, cringing.
“No, no, Alexander,” said Chef. “One does not drink Benedictine. One savors it, the spices, the sweetness, the long labors of the farmers, the diligence of the distillers, the mastery of the mixers. In this saffron glass taste the honey and love. Anyone can blend, but only love can make the fairies dance.”
Alexander sighed and nodded. “I guess it’s just not my thing.”
Chef set his glass down and shook his head. “I’m an old man, Alexander. My successor must be great, not just good at his job. All my recipes, all my techniques, all my skills – these I can teach anyone. Do you want no more than what everyone has?”
Alexander lips frowned. He opened them to speak, but a glimmer in his glass caught his eye.
“You see,” said Chef. “When you take the time to look, you can see golden fairies dancing. They are laughing at you because you are in such a hurry. Enjoy their dance and learn.”
Alexander lifted the glass to his nose. He breathed in the scent. He touched the glass to his lips, tilting the glass. A drop, perhaps two, passed his lips. He closed his eyes as his mouth puckered and straightened. “There’s good honey in here. I didn’t recognize it earlier.”
“What else to you taste?”
Charlii watched the gold from Alexander’s glass wash across his face. “Dancing fairies,” she said and jumped when she realized she’d said it out loud. She turned to find Balder once again leaning against the bar, polishing a glass and smiling at her. “Your fairies turn men into drunks. What kind of baker will Alexander be if he drinks all the time?”
“What kind of baker can’t taste the yeast from the spice?” replied Balder.