I looked up and down the street: next to no one around. I need a crowd to get lost in. The last time I felt this way I ended up three states away and missing six days of my life, but I was alone. Maybe if I surround myself with people something different will happen.
Different is good. I guess. But whatever happens, happens. I’ve learned to deal with it.
Fugue state. That’s what the doctors say. I don’t think it really matters what you call it, since it screws up my life no matter what.
I turned the corner and saw a group of maybe six people heading into a bar. See? I can’t even concentrate enough to count to six. I followed them in.
Not really my kind of place, but it’ll do for now. It’ll do.
The music pounded in my chest like I was having a panic attack. I liked it. I stepped up to the bar and leaned forward to find the bartender.
He was at the other end, pouring drinks for the group that led me in here in the first place. That’s fair; I don’t mind waiting my turn. He met my eyes and nodded once, acknowledging me. I pulled up a stool and sat down, lacing my fingers together and resting my arms on the bar.
The door opened behind me and a cheer went up. I turned to see who was the cause of a ll the ruckus, but I didn’t notice anything special about her.
She was with the people I’d followed in. I overheard her name: “it’s good to see you, Bernice.”
I’ve never liked the name Bernice. It reminds me of the Berenstain Bears, and The Spooky Old Tree gave me nightmares as a child. Funny the things that come back to you when you get older, isn’t it?
The bartender made it down to me, not waiting on Bernice. I ordered a Crown and Coke, and he poured it and set it in front of me. I slid a twenty across the bar and asked him to keep ’em coming. He nodded again. I don’t know if he even speaks. Isn’t that a requirement for tending bar?
My head was starting to feel fuzzier, and I hadn’t even taken a sip. I reached down to feel my pocket to make sure it was still there, and traced the outline of the handy blade I liked to keep with me.
I don’t think Bernice is going to make it home tonight.
I’ve found the secret to staying on track with my time is to write my OLWG posts right before dinner, so I have to pick up and put away when my time is up. Fifteen minutes tonight.
Richard stumbled into the bar and nearly knocked three chairs over trying to get to his spot.
“What’s up, old man?” the bartender called. “Am I gonna have to cut you off before you get started?”
Richard shook his head to clear it a bit. “No, no, I’m alright now. I just had a close shave in the street outside. Make it a double, eh, Steve?”
Steve eyeballed Richard a moment, then slowly nodded. “Alright.” He poured the drink and set it gently down in front of Richard. “Now tell me what happened out there.”
Richard knocked back the whiskey like an old pro. “Another, please?”
Steve nodded again and poured another, not having set the bottle down in the first place. He’d been bartending far too long to not know when to keep a bottle in his hand. “Start talking.”
Richard spun the glass a bit before taking a deep breath. “I don’t know what’s going on in the world anymore, Steve. They’re burning books out there. Kerouac, Steinbeck, Twain, you name it. Not the normal stuff that they always claim leads to Satan worship or whatever.”
Steve poured a single shot for himself. He loved to read in his off time. “Who’s doing this, old man? Some crazies or some church or who?”
“Kids!” Richard shouted. “Looked to me like college kids, maybe dropouts, I don’t know. I tried to stop them, and they laughed at me, Steve. They laughed. And then they pulled out hot dogs to roast over their book bonfire.” He drank his second drink a little more slowly than the first one, a little less shakily.
“People. This one’s on the house, old man,” Steve said, pouring another into Richard’s glass, shaking his head sadly. “We’ll never learn, will we?”
The neon flashed in the window to the right of the door–open-open-open. I pulled in and parked next to the handicapped spot and just sat in my car a minute after I turned the ignition off.
I hadn’t been to this bar in probably eight months now, but I decided I’d stop in there tonight because I got some bad news. My ex-wife’s cancer was back, and she wasn’t going to shake it off like she did last time. I knew I had to call the kids, but I couldn’t face it without a drink or two first.
The brass handle was cool and comforting, exactly the shape my hand remembered. Did Jake still work the bar? I wasn’t sure, but I was about to find out anyway. I pulled the door open and stepped inside.
Where was everybody? I could have sworn there were at least half a dozen cars out in the parking lot, but the only person I saw was the new bartender, swiping the top of the bar with a dirty dishtowel. He looked up and nodded to me before returning to his work.
But a drink’s a drink, and it didn’t really matter if Jake or this guy poured it for me. I took the seat to the right of where he was wiping.
“Can I get a 7 and 7, my man?” I asked, digging in my back pocket for my wallet.
He nodded and dropped the towel behind the bar. Pretty quiet guy for a bartender, but I guess they can’t all be chatty. He fixed me up and help up five fingers. I slid him a twenty and told him to keep ’em coming. He nodded again and went back to swiping.
As I watched the bubbles make their way up through the ice cubes, I reminisced about my marriage to Margot. I’d like to be able to say that the good times outweighed the bad, but if that were true, I guess we wouldn’t have divorced. The bad times were just more meaningful, I guess. They counted more.
I finished my drink in a single long swig, the ice pressing coldly against my top lip. The bartender had another ready and waiting by the time I set the glass down, and this time I was the one to nod. I guess his reticence was rubbing off on me.
I wrapped my fingers around the second glass and laced them together at the back. The bubbles looked the same; they always looked the same. They looked like failure. I failed my wife, and I failed my sponsor. But hell, medical science failed my wife, too. My ex-wife. I still loved her, though. I still loved her.
Just not as much as the drink.
TBP’s On-line Writer’s Guild #5
18 minutes writing and editing: first time participating directly on Harriet, my laptop!
I pick 29.
The lady who sat at the bar
Clearly ignored her car
She drove it to town
While wearing a gown
And left the poor door ajar
When the time came to leave
Too much booze made her heave
She puked for a bit
And then threw a fit
Because she got yak on her sleeve.
A Rabbit, a Virgin, and a number 7 walk into a bar. It’s okay, though. They’re actually people, not concepts. The Rabbit is Sarah, the Virgin is Jessica, and the number 7 is numerology aficionado Michelle. They’re just here to have a drink, not to be a punchline.
Sarah’s sound counsel serves them well in their selection of a table in a corner, rather than seats at the bar itself. Seconds after they arrive, a fight breaks out at the bar, and an innocent bystander is knocked to the ground when a rowdy fellow patron tries to pick up the stool she was perched on.
Michelle notes that if everyone were as spiritual as she, we could all elevate ourselves above this petty physical argumentativeness.
Jessica’s compassionate self is only concerned with the wellbeing of the bystander, and she is relieved to see the poor girl rise, dust herself off, and order another drink.
Michelle points out that they’ve been at their table four minutes now, and she is just about to rise to fetch a round of drinks when the waitress appears. They order Bloody Marys all around.
When the drinks arrive, the trio is deep in conversation about that day’s work. The office that employs all three has been suffering from a deplorable lack of morale lately, and they decided that it was time to rectify this situation.
Michelle stands firm in her belief that an office-wide workshop on teamwork would change things drastically.
Jessica honestly thinks that everyone gets along fine; it’s the work itself that’s bringing everyone down. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about selling gimmicky mail order items. Maybe a weekly drawing for a massage would get the office going.
Sarah debates strongly for a fresh coat of paint on the walls. More restful colors are exactly the solution they need.
They argue passionately yet politely for and against each point of view.
The waitress brings another round.
An hour after arriving, the three agree that each idea has merit. They vow to approach their boss with these plans the next morning.
As they ask the waitress for the check, she hands each of them a flyer.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she says, “but I overheard some of your conversation, and it happens that I’m a masseuse married to a painter, and our church is hosting a team building workshop next month. I hope to see you there!”