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.
Denayra paused as a faint sound caught the corner of her ear. It was gone now, and did not repeat itself. What was that? Some sort of soft scratching, like insects in the walls.
Mystery noises were in Denayra’s top ten pet peeves, but she knew there wasn’t really anything she could do about them. She hoped that time would fade the chill down her spine.
She opened her closet and rifled through the collection of bright tops and bottoms. Tonight was her sister’s bachelorette party, and Denayra wasn’t close to ready. Finally, her fingertips grazed a blouse she’d nearly forgotten about–the deep red would look amazing next to her freshly colored dark mane. Skinny jeans and strappy heels–in gold leather, of course–would complete the outfit, plus accessories.
Denayra smiled to herself as she stepped out of her sweatpants, amused by the thought of her baby sister getting married, but her face fell when the small noise repeated itself.
Of course it waited until I’ve given up listening, she thought to herself. That’s what scares people.
It took a much larger effort this time to move past the recurrence, but she made it as she moved on to her dresser to pick through her jewelry box. She smiled again, remembering the family friend who had gifted it to her when she was a teenager: she always had sunflower seeds, she only wore Birkenstocks, and she laughed too loudly. Denayra had always admired the woman’s self-confidence. It radiated from her like stink from a wet dog.
She bowed her head, concentrating on the search for the elusive black opal earrings. Another chill washed over and through her; Denayra froze, amethyst in hand. Again she heard the sound–the whisper-soft marching of a thousand tiny legs, the bloated-belly feasting of a thousand tiny teeth, the paper-thin tickle of a thousand tiny fingers.
The party wasn’t even a vague memory anymore; nor was her sister, the family friend, or her jewelry box.
The whisper cleared into words:
“Come to me, Denayra,” it caressed the inner workings of her ears with its velvety richness.
“Come to me now. My soul demands it.”
20 minutes writing, 8 minutes transcribing and editing. And I pick #42.
They reached for each other’s hands at the same time. Touching blindly, they clasped firmly. As the sun set, the darkness blanketed them in its soft sadness.
“Do you think we should have made it back to camp yet?” she asked, managing to sound mostly unconcerned.
He continued to lead them forward for a few more moments before answering, “yes.” But with a slight squeeze of her hand, he held the rest of his answer inside, fearing that if he said it aloud it would become a lie. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. She didn’t need him to feed her fear.
They trudged in silence again until she could take it no longer.
“Honey,” she began.
“Not sure where we are,” he admitted, interrupting her.
She stopped suddenly, releasing his hand as he continued on.
“Is that a light up ahead?” He saw nothing, but there was too much hope in her voice for him to deny her this.
“Let’s go find out.” He reached back for her hand and picked up their pace.
After only a few dozen steps, the ground smoothed beneath their feet, and he was the first to notice that they were now walking on concrete instead of the forest floor of leaves and dirt.
“I see it now,” he whispered, forgetting that he hadn’t told her that he didn’t see it before, but she’d already forgotten as well.
She stopped again, pulling on his hand to keep him back with her, urgently squeezing his fingers.
“I-I can’t,” she said.
He furrowed his brow in confusion.
“Come on, we’re almost there. This is where the pavement ends.” He tried to tug her forward, but her feet were solidly planted.
“Come on,” he repeated, and gently pulled once more.
She shook her head, slowly at first,then faster and faster, whipping her hair into a tangle around her face. He dropped her hand and took a step back. She was mumbling something, but he couldn’t quite make it out. He inched back a bit more, then stumbled, falling off the pavement, and he finally understood what she was so upset about.
The gates of hell.
22 minutes by hand; 8 minutes transcribing and editing.