Note: The events of this piece are entirely true, but names have been changed.
It’s the tail-end of the wedding. The bride and groom have already left for their honeymoon, driven away in a low, black BMW that took two wrong turns getting out of the venue. For the staff, things should be getting easier as the evening winds down. But within the hour, I will have been punched by a drunk twice my size, and my co-workers will have a concussion and multiple cuts from broken glass. We won’t call the police. No, part-time jobs that accommodate shifting university schedules are hard to come by, and we won’t want to jeopardise these ones.
Up on the dais, a cover band is playing a song by Mumford and Sons, slowed down until the original’s anger turns meditative. I am clearing champagne flutes and tumblers. As I slide along the edge of the dancefloor, I sing along to the chorus under my breath. The bridesmaids are dancing in a circle, singing much louder than me. One of them catches my eye. I hold my tray with both hands so I can bob along to the song with her. When the chorus finishes, I fill my tray with their empty flutes. One of them calls out, you’re doing a great job, love.
The band is playing Daryl Braithwaite’s ‘The Horses’ by the time I come back with fresh champagne for the girls. All the guests under thirty are on the dancefloor, and plenty of the older ones too. It’s crowded. Holding the tray up and behind me, I circle back to the bridesmaids. The best man makes a grab for one of the flutes. Before I can say anything, one of his mates takes his shoulder and shouts above the music, they’re not for you. I don’t catch the best man’s name, but he looks like a Macca, and he’s one of the taller men on the floor. His leer makes me uncomfortably aware that he’s got nearly a foot of height on me.
Now the guests are leaving and the bar is closed. The cover band is packing up, but the MC connects an iPod to the speakers—90s favourites, it sounds like. It’s about eleven o’clock.
Please sir, can you step away from the bar. There’s a note of panic in the bartender, Jess’s, voice. Macca is looming over the bar and he’s got that frightening single-mindedness that angry drunks get. He shouldn’t even be drunk, not at a wedding, but I’m willing to bet some of his less responsible friends have been giving him drinks after he was cut off at the bar. That, or he’s been sneaking drinks from a flask. I’m the supervisor, so it’s my job to handle him. It’s not like we have security, not at a wedding. I step up beside Jess.
We can get you some water or another coke, if you like. I try to keep the tremor out of my voice. But we’re not serving alcohol anymore.
He doesn’t answer. Instead, he tries to open the bar fridge himself. Jess steps in the way and he pushes her. It looks exactly as bad as it sounds; he’s got an easy forty kilos on her, and there are rows and rows of glasses stacked behind her. I catch her and pull her behind me.
I need some assistance here. This time there is a tremor in my voice. One of the other bartenders, Brad, comes around the other side of the bar to stand just in front of me. Maybe it’s the sight of another man, or maybe just the timing. Macca swings a punch. Brad hits the slate floor. One of my ears is ringing but I still hear glass smashing. For a few seconds I’m not sure what’s going on or why half my field of vision has gone that way it does when you look at the sun too long.
It’s because I’ve been hit, too. It’s the first time in my life I’ve screamed for help.
I’m still reeling when two of Macca’s mates drag him outside. Brad is sitting on the floor with his head in his hands. Jess must have put her hand on the broken glass but she’s too stunned to do anything about the cut on her palm. I try to press a cloth on her hand and put my arm around her at the same time. We’re both crying, and the remaining guests have clustered together to watch uncertainly. I sit Jess down away from the broken glass and pull myself together—deep breaths, chin up.
Are you all right? I’m directing it to Jess and Brad, and I get two shaky responses. I tell Brad not to get up if he’s feeling dizzy.
Are you all right? The mother of the groom—and the best man—has tears in her eyes, too. I am devastated. I am so sorry. He’s never done anything like that before. But this can’t be the first time Macca’s done that, no, that felt practised. He can’t say ‘beer’ without slurring, but he can still knock a man down. I just nod, because I know my voice will give way if I speak.
We don’t call the police. I want to, but Brad says no, and because he was the one who took the brunt of it, I agree. I’m too shocked to think sensibly about it. I keep rubbing my hands down my thighs to stop them shaking. The guests start filtering out, and some of them apologise as they go. The bride’s brother stops and puts his hand on my forearm.
I’ll fucking kill him. There’s the slightest slur in his voice. I’ve only met him tonight, but I’ll fucking kill him. You don’t do that to people just doing their jobs.
I manage a weak smile and tell him thanks. My voice does break this time and he squeezes my forearm, which doesn’t help because he’s got a man’s strong grip. But it’s sort of nice to hear.
If I see him again, I’ll kill him, he says again.
He leaves, giving me a firm nod. Jess, Brad and I gather around the bar. We’re too shaken to start cleaning up the glass yet. Brad still doesn’t want to call the police. As the adrenaline fades, I’m not so sure about it either. We’ve got a good profile as a wedding venue; I don’t want to cause trouble. I can see an article circulating on Facebook: Bartender Sues Best Man. I’m embarrassed, and wary about the questions to come: well, why didn’t you have security? Why was he allowed to get that drunk?
It’s fully dark now and the band need escorting back to where they parked their van. Neither of them say anything as I take them out past the kitchen to the back carpark. I think they want to, but aren’t sure what the right thing to say is. When they’re safely delivered, I cut across the lawn to lock up the chapel. Usually, it’s a job I hate; the lights that need to be turned off are right at the back of the building, and once they’re off I have to walk the whole length in the dark. But tonight I’m not worried by my imagination. I lock up, then sit on the low wall opposite, legs splayed. My hands are still trembling slightly.
It’s not the first time I’ve had an uncomfortable experience at work. Last year, I was bartending, and because it was near Christmas, I was wearing a headband with antlers. A middle-aged man pushed around my side of the bar. I bet you’re horny, love, he said. He trapped me between the wall and the bar until one of his friends told him he was on the wrong side of the bar. Of course, I didn’t complain about it. What was my boss going to do? Ensure it wouldn’t happen again by taking me off the floor? With rent to pay, that wasn’t an option. I told my friends about it later, phrasing it like a joke. Guess what happened to me at work last night?
In my mind, I go through what will happen if I do call the police. I don’t have a clear idea of the procedure, but I imagine giving a statement and getting a doctor’s certificate to say, yes, there’s swelling on my neck and jaw. My boss will be sympathetic, will say that he should have been there instead. He’ll think he’s being compassionate when he makes sure I won’t have to work those late shifts anymore, but with university and another job, they’re the shifts I can work, and I need them. In the end, I go back inside the hall and we sweep up the glass in uncomfortable silence.
The author of this piece chose not to be identified. When she’s not at work, she reads, writes, and studies creative writing.
Image supplied by author.