When The Man with the black forest on his face stepped inside, it was one-thirty in the morning. The bartender, a cow-faced woman with arthritis in her hips, was wiping down the tables and flipping the chairs, turning the place off for the night. The Man walked heavily to the bar and sat down. The fan above him lethargically stirred the stale, burped air.
“Gettin bout’ ready to close,” she said.
The Man didn’t say anything; he only waited. There were figures in the dark corners of the sweaty room—dark faces, with bloody, wet eyes that glowed like psychopathic owls in the night. The bartender sighed and walked back around the bar.
“So what then?”
“Scotch. Anything.” The Man said.
She grabbed a bottle, hardly looking. She grabbed this bottle often. She poured a double shot and The Man threw it back. He tapped his fingers. She poured. He threw it back. He tapped his fingers. She poured. He threw it back. He tapped his fingers.
“What’d your dog die?” She poured again. The Man lifted the glass and thought for a moment. Then he gulped it down and tapped again. One of the figures emerged from the shadows into the piss colored light and sat down next to the man. He had an oily red mustache and pale, tired skin.
“Name’s Bernie,” he said. He sucked on a warm Miller Light.
The Man tapped his empty glass for the second time and didn’t reply. The cow-faced woman hesitated, then poured. The Man drank.
“You from around here?” said Bernie. “You’re built like a semi.” The words fell out of his mouth in sloppy piles. “Knew a guy like you once, had these hands.” He lifted his own sweaty palm up to his face, and opened his eyes real wide. “Big as a pizza pie.” Bernie grinned manically and the line of thinking was gone from him as soon as it had arrived. “Hey, you ever seen that one movie with—with the robot man from the future? Judith what’s the name of that damn film?”
The man tapped his fingers and Judith paused for a moment once again.
“Terminator,” Judith finally said, her eyes never leaving The Man who was soloing a bottle of scotch like it was chocolate milk. She poured another shot. The Man drank it. He fiddled with a wedding ring. A small television fuzzed at them from the end of the bar. The young reporter spoke into a microphone, drenched in the red and blue swirl of sirens.
“Terminator! There it is, boy, I’m tellin’ you, Hollywood shoulda’ dropped the mic on that movie. Ain’t never been a movie better than Terminator, and frankly I’ll kill any man who says otherwise.” He suddenly smashed his bottle on the corner of the bar and wielded a makeshift blade, staggering wildly, laughing as one who had drunk himself backward into childhood. The Man turned and grabbed Bernie by the collar with one hand, lifting and dropping him violently on the top of the bar. He whispered in a muted rage into Bernie’s ear.
“Another word from you and I’ll cut your tongue out through your throat.”
The dark figures on the perimeter of the room bristled but didn’t move from their tables. The Man let go of Bernie’s shirt, traded a fifty-dollar bill for the whole bottle of scotch, then slipped into his own vacant darkness. Bernie rubbed his neck and recovered a smile, the moment passing from his memory like water through a sieve. Judith, unaffected in the way that a barwoman must be, looked to the television while she wiped a glass with her soured rag. “Looks like some kinda accident on the ten, just about a mile from here,” she said to no one.
She turned and considered his silhouette, rising and falling, now nursing straight from the liquored nipple of his bottle, and she was struck with an obscure heartache that vibrated inside of her like a minor string plucked in an empty room.
“Poor thing,” she said, but she didn’t know why.
—Derek Baril studies Creative Writing and English Literature at the University of Arizona. As a native Tucsonan, he finds Mexican food to be on par with oxygen in terms of substances he needs in order to survive. He has been known to write poetry and short stories on occasion and has even gone so far as to threaten his parents with the idea of becoming a writer.
This is the fifth of five installments from this collection. Click on the author’s name above to see the others.