I came back to myself sitting under a streetlight, staring out at the empty road. It was nearly eleven o’clock, and I was alone. So many times before, I’d been in the same situation. Only now it was different.
Only two weeks ago, eleven o’clock on a Friday night meant partying with my boyfriend. We would stay at the bar until early in the morning, then take it back to his place, which soon became ours. Sex happened, but it wasn’t just that. It wasn’t as important to us. Love was our relationship —love, not sex. I lost my virginity to him, but so much more than that. He helped me deal with college, he was always there for me, and ultimately I gave up my profession and goals for him.
A deep sigh, and I picked myself up from the bench, turning around. There, hidden between two buildings, was a tiny bar. It was the laziest nightspot in the whole city, but my favorite nonetheless.
A minute later, I pushed open the door and stepped into the dim lights. This place was never open, except for Friday and Saturday nights. It would probably close down soon. The bartender —an old man who’d lost all his hair— ran the place by himself. He wiped the tables down every hour or two, prepped the one pool table, and constantly poured the drinks.
“What for ya?” he asked as I sat down in one of the bar stools.
I shrugged, and he nodded in understanding. He turned away to grab the same bottle he had last weekend, and the one before that. Pouring one shot with a deft hand, he set the strong drink back in its place.
“You seen Mike as of late?” he asked, turning to me.
“No” was my frank reply.
“You, um…” He bit down on whatever he’d been thinking and put the glass in front of me. “Here. Whatever you need, it’s on the house tonight.”
I smiled at him, genuinely, as the kind old man gave me a knowing look and turned away to the next customer.
There were only four of us at the time. Me and a middle-aged woman sat at the bar, while two men in factory uniforms occupied a table. From the corner of my eye, I saw the woman give me an interested look, then turn back to her phone and beer.
She was wearing a neatly pressed, dark outfit, something a lawyer or therapist would wear. Judging from the briefcase beside her stool, I guessed the former. Downing my shot, I turned in her direction.
“I haven’t seen you before,” I began. “Come here often?”
Her eyes flicked up from her phone. After a moment, she shut it off and gave me her full attention. “You lesbian?”
“Not in the least.”
She pushed the power button back on.
“You a lawyer?” I asked, wanting to confirm my suspicions.
“You must be working a tough case to be this down.”
She granted me a quizzical stare. “Who are you? Sherlock Holmes?”
I shrugged. “Just wanting to talk.”
“I don’t have time to talk.” Hopping off the stool, she snatched her briefcase and slammed a ten on the counter. “See ya.”
Walking briskly, she disappeared into the night outside.
“What was that about?” the old bartender asked. He was wiping the insides of a glass as he approached me.
“I don’t know. She’s…” My voice faded and I held up the empty shot glass. “You sure you don’t want me to pay for this? I’ll be in here a while.”
He grinned widely. “Fine with me. It gets lonesome anyways.”
“What time you closing up?”
“Whenever you leave.”
A few seconds later, he set the glass down in front of me. “I hate selling drinks to people like you.” He sighed.
“I’m not buying, so you’re not selling.”
“All the same. Makes me feel bad. That woman who just left… I don’t care about her. But you… It’s different.”
I shrugged. “Can’t say I understand.”
“All the same.”
I heard a pitter-patter from the rain blowing against the glass windows at the front of the bar. Looking out on the downtown street, I saw lightning in the distance. A few seconds later, thunder roared and shook my stool.
“Nasty storm out there,” I muttered.
“I’ve always thought you should get a piano in here.” I gestured to the empty space behind the pool table. “Maybe over there.”
“I’ve always liked sad piano music.” I downed the second shot.
“Don’t ask for another.”
I nodded. “I do.”
As he picked up the glass, he set his phone down on the table and pressed a few buttons. Melancholy, soft piano music began to play through the speakers. I looked up at him, feeling suddenly very emotional. He smiled and set the glass down, now full.
“I’m deciding whether to cut you off at five or not.”
I shook my head. “Please don’t.”
“You’re gonna feel it tomorrow,” he warned.
“I’ve drank before.” I closed my eyes, remembering the long nights and bad mornings of the past week. “Not as much as now, but still.”
Disappearing into the back for a few minutes, he reemerged with a wet cloth. “If you wanna wipe the tables down, I can pay you something. I’m guessing you don’t have much.”
I nodded. “Nothing. Right now, I’m at my mom’s. Mike didn’t leave me anything, and whatever I left at his house probably got set on fire.”
“So you wanna wipe some tables?”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
He held the cloth towards me. “All the same.”
“Nope.” I took a deep breath and downed the third glass. “Go wipe ‘em so you can fill me up again.”
He grunted and walked around the counter, heading over to where the two men still sat. I followed the bartender with my vision and noticed the two workers were getting ready to leave. Maybe I should follow suit and head to my mom’s. It wasn’t really a home, but at least it was a bed.
As they left, both men tipped their ballcaps at me. I fired piercing glances at them, which they promptly ignored, heading outside into the storm. Now, it was just me and the old man.
“Lazy night?” I knew the answer.
“One of the laziest.” He wiped filth from the newly vacated table into his hand.
“You think this place will ever kick up again? I remember it used to be really booming.”
He ran a hand over his face. “Doubt it. What you remember wasn’t that great. It was better, but not great.”
“You know how you could really pick this place up?”
“How?” he asked, looking amused.
I nodded towards the phone still playing orchestral music. “Get a piano.”
“Unless Billy Joel’s willing to play it, I doubt it would make a difference. I’d be out of a few hundred bucks.”
He threw the dirty cloth into the back room and dumped the contents of his palm into the trash. “They don’t sell pianos at Goodwill.”
As he walked back over, I gave him an expectant look. He understood and grabbed the glass, filling it up. Then he handed it back and I immediately downed the fourth shot.
“How do people get by without alcohol?” I wondered out loud.
“Religion.” He chuckled to himself.
I felt a gust of wind and turned to the door. My heart sunk as Mike and his new girlfriend walked in, arms wrapped around each other and sharing a soaked umbrella.
“G’day, Mike,” called the bartender. “Have a seat. I’ll be right with you.”
Mike gave me a devil’s smile, which I returned with hatred. He led his new lady to the table farthest away from me, over against the wall and by the window. This wouldn’t end well.
It was the same table we used to sit at every Friday and Saturday night. The same one where I confessed I loved him, and he confessed he loved me more. The same two chairs that we’d always scoot so closely together, until I could lean on his shoulder as I drank the weekends away. We were young and foolish, but I missed it dearly.
“Will you be alright?” the bartender asked me, filling up my glass quickly.
I nodded as he handed the fifth shot. With hurrying footsteps, he went over to take their order. He ordered the same as always, with the same tone. Except now he was staring at her, and glancing at her lips, and holding hands under the table like secret high school lovers. None of us were in high school, but we had enough drama and malice to pretend like it. Maybe adults aren’t so mature after all.
Tears welled up in my eyes as the same feelings returned. When I’d seen him with her before, I lost my mind. I started screaming and crying and ran out of the library —I always went to the library, and now he did too.
My heart was being stabbed, and my throat felt dry. All the air escaped me as it fled across the room, fogging the windows. Soon, I couldn’t even see the outside storm. The glass was covered in that annoying, semi-clear, gray, dense, unexplainable fog. It was like being trapped in a sauna, my mind overwhelming me. If not for the bartender, I might have grabbed the stick from the pool table and beat Mike. To death.
I drank the fifth shot and grimaced as it burnt my throat, trying to enjoy that moment.
“You sure you’ll be okay?”
I hadn’t noticed the bartender returning, but instinctively nodded that I would, in fact, be okay despite the horrible man sitting only a dozen feet away and the dozen knives being stabbed into my heart a dozen times each.
“I’ll take a dozen shots tonight,” I said. “You can just get them all ready now.”
“That’s… You won’t be able to walk. I don’t know if that’s even safe.”
“All the same.” I grinned at my own irony, and that turned into a stupid laugh which brought their attention to me. I thought about whirling around and shouting at Mike, but that thought died down as I took the sixth shot.
“What should I do if you pass out?” the bartender asked me, fumbling with the bottle of vodka.
“Leave me here.”
“I can’t do that. I’ll get… somebody will sue me or something.”
“But that’s what I want!” I demanded.
“Want something else,” he said.
“All the same.” He sighed and leaned heavily on the counter, watching me take the seventh. “Please don’t die on me. You’re one of my best customers.”
“You’re losing a lot of money tonight,” I muttered. “Wouldn’t call me a good customer in that regard.”
“I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about friendships.”
I looked up and saw nervousness and worry all across his face. I knew I was hurting him through what I did, but I couldn’t stop. I needed to drink, and I needed to drink lots. I just wanted the weekend to end. I wanted to pass out and wake up the next Friday, ready to do it all over again.
I took the eighth shot to steel my heart against compassion.
The piano music grew louder on his phone, reaching the deepest part of the symphony.
“To me, piano music is so much better.” I brushed my hair behind an ear, then rested heavily on that hand, propped up on the counter. “It just… it’s truly emotions turned into music. There are no words to describe it. It just flows; it just makes sense. Not everyone understands it, and that’s why it’s best.”
He nodded. “I like rock and roll. Sixties, seventies, that type. Not the new crap.”
I smirked. “Of course you do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I just don’t agree.”
“All the same.” He began to tap on the counter, in rhythm with the piano and violin blaring.
“Hey, will you turn that down?” Mike asked loudly, directing it more at me than the bartender.
The old man winked at me and called back, “Nope.”
Mike stood up from his chair and walked over. I heard the chair push back and the footsteps, but didn’t look up. I didn’t want to see him, or for him to see me. But of course he already had, so that was stupid thinking. I felt a conflict growing, and hoped that Mike wasn’t too drunk already. When he was, things could get violent. Like two weeks ago.
Leaning down next to me, he whispered snidely, “How you doing, baby?” I heard his girlfriend chortle from back at their table.
“Get out,” I growled.
“I can be here as long as I like. Even if this old man won’t turn off the damn-”
“The music stays on. Just because you’re heartless doesn’t mean it’s not good music.” He crossed his arms dramatically.
Mike grinned. “If I remember correctly, you like rock and roll more?”
“I like people more. Instead of douchebags.”
My ex raised an eyebrow. “Are you talking about me?”
“Are you retarded, too?” The bartender reached down and turned the music up louder.
Seeing a lost battle, Mike leant down towards my ear. “Please don’t tell me this is where you spend all your time. With this crusty, old man.”
I didn’t answer. My eyes were tearing up and I thought my voice would choke if I tried to speak.
“Why are you sad, huh? Are you sad I left you? Did you realize just how wrong and just how stupid you really are? You know that every single problem in our relationship was because of you. I’ve realized that now, because I’m happy with her.”
I clenched my fist and my lips.
“I really don’t miss you, sweetheart. Not in the slightest. I don’t miss this dump, I don’t miss our dates, and I certainly don’t miss the sex. I swear to god you were the worst thing that ever happened to me. So I’d really appreciate if you didn’t come around here, waiting for me. I don’t want to see you, and if you think I’m gonna change my mind and run back to you then you’re dead wrong.”
Shakily, I reached for the ninth shot glass. He noticed.
“You an alcoholic now? A lesbian? Emo? Do you even know what you are?”
I took a deep breath and downed the ninth.
“Just go fucking kill yourself!” I screamed.
With a horrible laugh, he skipped away back to his table. I downed the tenth, and turned around to face him. What I saw, instead, was his girlfriend pressed against the wall. He was making out with her passionately, doing all the things he used to do to me —and right next to our table, too. Bile rose up inside as I clenched my fingers together. The bartender noticed and grabbed a broom.
“Out! Get out!” he shouted, running towards them and whacking through the air.
I swallowed the eleventh.
Mike and his new lady ran towards the door, both of them shooting nasty glances and names. I saw the single shot glass in front of me and thought that maybe if I drank it, I would finally die. I couldn’t walk, now. I was about to fall over. So I grasped the cup and turned towards Mike. How much alcohol until somebody died?
Everybody stopped and watched me, knowing full well what a dozen shots could do to me. I grasped it firmly and brought it even to my lips. Then I chucked it across the room, where it smashed against Mike’s forehead and soaked him in the fiery liquid.
He spat at me and turned away, shoving his girlfriend through the door and into the soaking rain. I could see he was dripping blood from where I’d hit him, and I hoped it ran into his eyes and blinded him. They had left the umbrella, and I hoped they drowned in the rain. Both of them. All of them.
“Take me home?” I begged, turning back to my only friend. My voice was slurred, and I was surprised he could understand.
He nodded, and grabbed his keys. “You did a really brave thing.”
I simply nodded and put my arm around him as the bartender led me to his car. He opened the door and helped me sit down. A few minutes later, we were driving through stormy roads and I was frightened that we were going to crash. Maybe I would die anyways.
“Should I take you to your mom’s?” he asked me.
I shook my head. “Not. Mom’ll get mad.”
“Because you drank?”
“Y-y…” I nodded.
“Where do you wanna go, then?”
I shrugged, and he took hold of the steering wheel. I leaned back in the seat until I realized we were stopped. Looking out of the window, I saw a blurry, rundown convenience store. He told me to wait and got out of the car.
As soon as he closed the door behind him, I fell asleep. Five minutes later, I was woken by the same door opening and my friend climbing back into his seat. The clock on the dashboard read 12:00 exactly. It was Saturday.
“I got you something,” he said.
I groaned and focused on the yellow plastic bag. It was probably full of medicines.
Instead, he pulled out a disc.
“Classical violin music,” he said. “I prefer it to piano myself, but the two are best when mixed.”
He popped it into the dashboard and the slow tunes began to drift towards me. I felt myself falling asleep as he drove.
“I’m taking you to your mom’s,” he said. “I know where she lives. Mike told me once.”
Mike. I’d forgotten about him.
“Is that alright?” he asked.
I nodded and began to fall asleep.
“I’m glad you didn’t take that last shot,” he said quietly, turning on the windshield wipers. “I think he deserved it more than you.”
I nodded again, my head lulling to the side.
He smiled, brushing away the words. “No problem.”