The Prompt: Write a story about what happens when a nun in a wimple, a man in cowboy hat and boots, and a bartender with a handlebar mustache wearing a red and white polka-dot bow tie meet in a tavern on a rainy night.
Let's back up. The gender restrictions in this prompt are tying me in knots. My girlhood dream was to grow up and be a cowboy. I have known many lady bartenders in my day, none with handlebar mustaches (that I can remember). And in our freshman year production of Marat/Sade (it was the 60s) the role of the nuns was played by two men, one of them a six-footer with luxurious chest hair. So a little re-casting is in order.
The Regent bar is conveniently located between two theaters: an old vaudeville house, now home to the local professional company, and the much-newer concrete cube that houses the Syracuse University Drama department. Before and after performances, the Regent is packed with theater goers, a mix of students attending the university shows, and well-dressed patrons of the more traditional fare at the appropriately-named Regent Theater. In the hours between the opening and closing curtain, though, the bar is nearly empty, except for the bartender and whichever actors wander in to kill time between scenes. In the years before cell phones, it was the assistant stage managers' job to retrieve actors from the bar in time for their entrance.
On this particular night, both shows were about to close and it was pouring rain outside. The audiences had dwindled to a hardy few, and the cast and crew of each production were already looking forward to the night party and a few days off. Donna, the bartender, wearily dried the last of the glassware from the evening rush, when in strode a tall nun in full traditional habit.
"Hey, Mike", Donna said. "How's it going?"
"Lousy," complained the nun, removing his wimple and laying it on the bar. "The audience is comatose and we are all sleepwalking through the script. Probably the only zombie production of Marat/Sade ever, complete with a zombie audience. Give me a scotch in the rocks."
"In a tea cup?" Donna grinned. Mike laughed at the old punchline, and nodded.
"Howdy!" A voice boomed from the doorway.
Mike and Donna turned to welcome a cowboy in gaudy rodeo finery, his spurs jingling as he strode to the bar and settled his ten-gallon hat next to Mike's wimple.
"Intermission already?" Donna asked, as she drew opened a bottle of Genesee cream ale and poured it into a glass.
"We're galloping tonight; can't wait to be done with this piece of crap."
"Watch your language, Dick. There's a lady present", said Mike.
"Two ladies", snickered Donna, winking at Mike.
"The worst thing is that all I do in the last act is stand and watch the mayhem", Mike complained.
"Yeah, at least you might be reacting -- a little facial twitching even. I get knocked out in a bar fight and spend the rest of the show on the floor."
"God, I would give anything to spend a few minutes lying down right about now," Donna shook her head wearily. "I could use a rest before the rush."
Dick eyed her up and down. "You're about my size, Donna. How would you like to make your show biz debut tonight?"
Donna's eyes popped. "You're kidding, right?"
"Naw! All you have to do is walk through the saloon doors, get hit over the head with a breakaway chair and collapse on the floor. Skip the curtain call, and you'd be back here before the first customer."
"W-e-l-l", Donna said thoughtfully. It was pretty tempting. "But what if someone comes in the bar in the meantime? I can't just close up."
Mike chuckled. "I've tended bar during summer breaks. And it would beat going back to zombie Marat/Sade." He turned to Dick, "That is, if you think you might be feeling a temporary vocation, Sister."
Minutes later, they looked at themselves in the mirror behind the bar. A cowboy with curly red hair and great cleavage. A nun with a handlebar mustache, wearing a habit about six inches too long. A tall guy in his undershirt.
"Not quite right", said Donna. "Mike looks nothing like a bartender."
"Here", said Dick, painfully peeling off his fake mustache. "There's probably enough adhesive on it to stick for a while."
"Better", nodded Donna, "But take this." She rummaged under the bar and brought out a large red and white bow tie. "Some clown left it here. Literally."
They all laughed until their knees were week. Suddenly, the door opened and the two assistant stage managers rushed in, practically on top of each other.
"You're on!" They yelled, simultaneously, then stood and gaped at the three strange figures.
Dick, Mike and Donna looked at each other and smiled.