by Chris Milam
The bartender with the plastic smile asked what I wanted. A glass of Her. Can you pour me a second chance? Told him I wanted something dangerous, a drink that would singe.
The India Pale Ale with its ABV of 7.5% arrived and I drank. Hard. Dylan was crooning about a rolling stone from the jukebox. Guys in white tank tops and loose jeans tried to impress their girls with a trick shot on the beat-up felt. I suppressed a primal scream.
The bartender wiped off the polished wood with a practiced swipe. Could he pull that maneuver within my mind? A lazy stroke and all those memories of Her are cleansed. Can I borrow your rag, man?
Emptied the glass. Didn’t find any solutions at the bottom, just backwash and a thirst unquenched. Rapped my knuckles on the bar: Bring me another round of bitterness. He obliged.
The lady with a tattoo of a fractured, black heart on her neck drank shots and blew smoke rings.
“What’s your name?”
“Rita. You married?”
“The documents tell me I’m divorced. You?”
“Available but scarred. You live close by?”
“You know why. Two lost souls with festering wounds drowning in alcohol. Do the math.”
Rita chuckled and turned to her left and asked the guy in flannel what his name was. Frank, he said.
The bartender was telling a sad story to the young bohemians in matching turtlenecks. Part of his job. Be a good listener for tips. Repeat their tale of woe to others. For a tip. An auteur in a Led Zeppelin shirt and jean shorts.
Bruised another drink with rage-filled swallows. Glanced at the mirror behind the bar. A reflection of Her running her delicate hand through my hair. A flash of white. Burgundy lips. Emerald smoke in her eyes. I slammed my lids shut. Peeked and blinked again. Go away. Or come back.
A man in a red hoodie with eyes of a similar hue asked me about the game last night. Asked if I was a Red Sox fan. Only if She played second base, maybe. Or if the stadium was filled with melancholic bags of popcorn. No, I didn’t watch the game.
I jostled Rita on her inked shoulder.
“I did the math, let’s go.”
“Sure, baby. Can Frank join us?”
I’m game for anything that distracts the razor for another night.
The bartender eyes me like I’m a schoolgirl in a plaid skirt with knee-high nylon stockings. “You mind if I come too?”
Only if you bring your tip jar. And a rag.
Chris Milam is an obsessed baseball fan living in Hamilton, Ohio. He is a voracious reader, with an affinity for the prose of Donald Ray Pollock, Dashiell Hammett, and Cormac McCarthy. His stories have appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Firewords Quarterly, Dogzplot, and others.