Mustard’s Bar – 5 Jan edits

It was Tuesday afternoon at Mustard’s bar. A Three Stooges clip played on the local radio station from a small radio the bartender kept on shelf next to a picture of Bukowski taped to an empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. Larry, Curly, and Moe announced the time in own their inimitable way; 3 o’clock Bolonia watch time. Roderick sat in his usual spot and ordered his usual beer. The place was empty, except for Roderick, and the bartender, Joe.

 

The stale air smelled faintly of beer, cigarettes, vomit, and piss, tinged with a healthy dose of self-loathing. The bar, like the city of Columbus itself, dreamed of better tomorrows from a bed of failed yesterdays. Joe squinted at his cell phone, cursed under his breath, then plugged it into a charger on the counter behind him. Rod held his beer in his hand and slowly rotated it. The soggy silver label flipped and flopped against dark green glass with every turn. Rhythm found form; form found function. Turn, turn, drink; repeat.

 

Half a bottle later Rod pulled out a crumpled pack of unfiltered smokes from the pocket of his flannel and tapped one out. He placed the straightest end in his mouth, lit it with matches he found on the bar, and took a slow drag. He stared at the dissipating smoke in the bar mirror. White grey faded into dark shadows.

 

“I had the weirdest weekend, Joe. Like… I’m talking some seriously fucked up shit, man.”

 

“The bartender’s expression didn’t change when he looked up from the paper, “Yeah, kid, we’ve all had those. Did it involve women, booze, or both?”

 

“Both, of course. I got a call from a friend in Reynoldsburg. Pete drank himself out of college. He has a new girlfriend. She’s got a good job and rents a nice little place near 270. You can hardly hear any traffic at all. We’re not great friends, you know. But he’s alright. It’s not like I don’t like the guy. We used to hang out a lot until… we didn’t.” Rod scratched his arm absentmindedly.

“Oh, yeah. I see that all the time,” Joe said, and pulled a bottle out from under the bar. “I refer to them as friends of convenience.”

 

“Exactly. I knew you could relate. Well, he calls me the other day… hey,” Rod looked at his beer, “give me another beer, man, this one tastes like shit.”

 

Joe lifted an eyebrow and looked at Rod, but said nothing as he grabbed another bottle from the cooler. “OK, but drink it a little faster. They tend to go bad after an hour.”

 

“Thanks.” Rod said taking a drink, “Anyway, Pete tells me they solved the food crisis. I didn’t know what to say. I never heard of no food crisis. He didn’t sound drunk. He sounded serious. Have you heard about a food crisis?”

 

“No, I haven’t,” Joe said while pouring Rod’s old beer down the sink before tossing the empty into a large grey plastic trash can. The bottle landed a sharp clatter. “Then again,” he added, “I don’t keep much food at home. I generally eat when I’m here.” The bartender pulled out a bottle from under the bar.

 

“Yeah, me neither. I hadn’t heard about it, but I congratulated him ‘cause I didn’t know what to say. He asked me to stop over for dinner Saturday. I looked at my schedule, found two beers and a moldy package of hot dogs, and told him I looked forward to catching up on old times. Food is food, right?”

 

“A man has got to eat,” Joe said while filling his shot glass.

 

“So, I went over. The place looked nice, like a blue-collar Hallmark card. Pete’s happy to see me. There’s a game on tv. The inside is also nice, real nice. His girlfriend, Tammy, was in the kitchen making a salad. I brought a twelve pack. We put it in the fridge, grabbed a few, and walked into the living room. Pete sat on the couch. I sat in a recliner. The Indians were playing the Tigers. Kluber was having a great game. The food cooking in the kitchen smelled good. They looked happy, and there was a good vibe about the place. We spent the first couple of innings catching up on old times. Pete then said something about the president, and something about immigration. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I never listen to none of that shit. That stuff bores me to death.”

 

“They say talking about politics and religion never ends well,” the bartender said, setting his empty shot glass down on the bar.

 

“I don’t know nothing ‘bout that. I’m a nobody. There ain’t no one in Washington who’s gonna do anything to help a guy like me. They always screwing us in some way. It don’t matter what they say. It don’t mean it’s what they gonna do.”

 

“That’s how it goes. It’s been that way for as long as I’ve been alive. You’d think we’d learn, but we never do. Not really. If politics were like drinking we’d have far fewer problems in the world.”

 

“Yeah, that’s why I never give them no mind. What’s the point? Anyway, we’re enjoying the game, drinking some beers. Tammy comes in, grabs one, and sits next to Pete. She said dinner should be ready in about 20 minutes. I thanked her and Pete for having me over.”

 

“It sounds like your friend is doing well,” Joe said while placing freshly cleaned glasses on old stacks that looked like they had been there a very long time. The glasses near the bottom had turned a dull brownish-yellow.

 

Rod looked at his beer, and decided he preferred drinking from a bottle, and dammit if he didn’t need another one. He tipped his empty towards Joe and continued. “She’s a stripper, and takes good care of herself. Her body is tight. Her legs are tanned and toned. They looked great in that mini-skirt. Her face was OK, but something wasn’t right. I think she would look better without all the makeup.”

 

“Sounds like she is a looker,” Joe said and set another beer on the bar. He then grabbed a package of peanuts, and peeled off the tinfoil wrapper. The vacuum pop sound momentarily filled the emptiness.

 

“Yeah, she’s fine, but I knew something had to be wrong with her to end up with a guy like Pete. And then things got really strange.”

 

“Strange how,” Joe asked. “It sounds like a normal weekend to me.”

 

“Well,” Rod said, “Pete kissed Tammy, and then says to me, ‘You know, Tammy’s got needs. She really gets turned on if someone watches us doing it, you know what I mean?’”

 

“You’re joking,” Joe said. “She likes it when other guys watch her having sex?”

 

“I wish I was joking. She said it really gets her going, but that it was hard to find someone to watch. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say nothing.”

 

“I would have said that I’m a virgin and premarital sex is a sin against God,” Joe said and laughed while grabbing a handful of peanuts and unceremoniously shoving them into his mouth. While still chewing he asked, “So, what’d you do?”

 

Rod’s eyes grew wide, “I was frozen, like a deer in headlights. I didn’t say nothing. Kluber struck out the side. The game cuts to a commercial break. They put down their beers and started making out. After a few minutes Pete starts screaming, ‘You whore, you fucking whore,’ and rips her blouse open. Buttons fly everywhere. One hit me in the arm. She begins to moan. He slaps her once… twice, then kisses her deeply. She grabs a handful of his hair and pulls his face to her neck. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable… but I can’t look away. Pete pulls up her skirt. You know what? She wasn’t wearing any panties. Tammy ain’t got no tan lines. She lets go of his hair and Pete shoves her down to the couch. They get busy. Real busy. I didn’t know what to do, so I drank my beer.”

 

“They started fucking and you just sat there?”

 

“Well… kinda. Tammy looked over to see if I’m watching, and then starts losing control. She’s writhing on the couch like a wounded snake. Pete’s shirt is drenched. He starts shouting, ‘Take this you bitch,’ and really lets her have it, if you know what I mean. She fucking loves it.”

 

“Talk about uncomfortable. I’d recommend never going to their place for family game night,” Joe said. He burped, and set the container of peanuts down on the bar.

 

“As weird as it was, yes. She’s stripper hot. Her legs start shaking real bad. Her hips start jack hammering the couch. I tell you what, Joe,” Rod says tapping another smoke from his crumpled pack with hands that trembled slightly. “I thought she was having some sort of seizure. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. She cries out and goes completely limp. Pete laughed darkly. He didn’t stop.”

 

“She passed out and he kept doing it? You’re right, you definitely had one fucked-up weekend.”

 

“Yeah, man. He didn’t stop, but he had to hold on to her hips ‘cause her legs started to slide apart. About 5, maybe 10, seconds later she starts moaning, and saying his name, but it’s a real low, guttural sound. Pete kisses her gently. I ain’t never seen nothing like it. They finished with a flourish. She didn’t move for a few minutes, then walked to the bathroom on rubbery legs. Pete grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge, hands me one and says, ‘Thanks. That was great. I owe you big time.’ He then went to the bedroom to get another shirt.”

 

“No shit,” the bartender asked slack-jawed. “What happened next?”

 

“Well, the Indians scored. The kitchen timer goes off, and my appetite returned. She called us to the dining room. The table was covered with food. There were mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, a large salad bowl, and the main dish. It looked like a huge roast. She grabbed a bottle of red wine from the fridge. It looked delicious and smelled even better.”

 

“I guess they planned to reward you for their hard work,” Joe said, and laughed.

 

“When I sat down I got a good look at the roast, and noticed what looked like a joint on one end. I asked Pete if that was the neck, and he says, ‘It’s a joint all right. It’s a knee.’ A knee, I asked, like you know, a human knee, and he said ‘Exactly.”

 

“He said your roast was really a human leg,” the bartender asked, taking another drink from the bottle under the table, not bothering to fill his shot glass. “Wait, let me get this straight. They fuck in front of you, and if that’s not weird enough, they then want to serve you roasted thigh? They’ve got to be kidding.”

 

“Yeah,” said Rod, “I thought he was joking. Ain’t no one gonna eat another person. That’s beyond fucked up, but Tammy… she said she’d been working on a special glaze for it based on some French recipes. She fucking marinated it overnight. If someone said that to you, what would you think?”

 

“I would have thought they were pulling my leg, so to speak. There’s no way I would have believed either of them,” the bartender said.

 

“That’s exactly what I thought,” Rod exclaimed, and laughed. “So I says to them ‘That’s a mighty fine slice of thigh you’ve got there. It looks like my favorite cut. Give me a big ‘ole piece.’ Pete cuts me a large piece, and we begin eating. You know what? It wasn’t bad. Pete suggested trying it with Tammy’s gravy. I did, and it melted like butter in my mouth. Pete looked me and said, ‘I like it better than chicken, and pork chops, but it’s not quite as good as a well-cooked filet. Nothing beats a filet.’”

 

“That’s true. It’s hard to beat a good filet. So was it, exactly, you were eating,” Joe asked, “I’m guessing some locally sourced cow. Maybe one that had been in an accident and couldn’t be sold through normal channels.”

 

“I figured I was eating some kind of roast,’ Rod said. “I had a second helping. It was good. After I finished my plate I relaxed with another glass of wine.”

 

“Wine? I’ve never seen you drink wine, before,” Joe said.

 

“Well, it tasted alright. I prefer beer, but it was better than water,” Rod said, and took another drink. “When they were done I asked them if this had anything to do with the food crisis, and Tammy said, ‘It sure does. We got a month’s worth of meat from just one teenager.’”

 

“One teenager?”

 

“Yeah, that’s what she said. I thought I’d heard her wrong, so I asked her what she meant, and she said they’d found a hitchhiker a few weeks ago. His name was Marco. He came over from Puerto Rico ‘cause of the hurricane. Tammy said she was real excited about having a new playmate.”

 

“They found a hitchhiker and wanted him to watch them have sex? I don’t think drinking was the only reason your friend dropped out of school.”

 

“Well… he was kind of crazy,” Rod said. “Maybe his drinking kept him sane, cause none what happened that night was normal. Tammy said Marco watched them do it for a few days, but when they asked him to join in, they found out he was a transgender.”

 

“So, he was the wrong kind of playmate?”

 

“Yeah, I guess it was a case of circles and squares. She said that by this time they’d grown tired of him, so they slaughtered him, and fed his innards to their dogs, and put him, her, ummm… whatever in the basement freezer.” Rod finished off the last half of his beer.

 

Joe slid another towards him, and poured himself another shot, the sat down on the stool behind the bar. “Let me be the first to say that you have the most fucked up friends I’ve ever known. Were they high, or tripping on something? It sounds like they really messed with you.?

 

“I didn’t believe them. Sure, they like having people watch them have sex, but this was just to much to believe, so I asks her, if you killed and slaughtered a teenager, even if it was a he-she immigrant, you just committed murder. Pete said, ‘No, that’s just a moral taboo society places upon itself; the ultimate hypocrisy against humanity. It is a denial to the reality of human nature.’ I was like, ‘but it’s still murder, Pete,’ but Pete said that America’s rich military history reveres those who have ‘murdered’ the greatest numbers of our enemies. I admitted that he had a good point, but that this wasn’t an enemy. It was just a kid. Pete said Marco wasn’t a kid according to the Bible.” Rod laughed. “I figured they were just fucking with me, pulling out the Jesus crispy crap.”

 

“Whenever someone starts referencing the bible, I know they’re full of shit,” the bartender said.

 

Rod lit his last smoke, and tossed the crumpled pack over the bar into the grey trash can. The sun began its descent. The shadows from the windows along the far wall began sliding towards the bar. “I told them I wanted to take a look at Marco, if he was still around, and they said he was still in the basement freezer.”

 

“Let me guess, the freezer was empty,” Joe said.

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New Year

Another year has come and gone. The only thing we have to show for it are a few more wrinkles, aches, and pains. The myths of aging gracefully are a lie. Every decade of life adds another layer of quiet misery that slowly, silently, and without any sense of decorum snuffs the life from the living. Time is the choking hand of the reaper tightening his grip around our throats.

And on that uplifting note, Happy New Year Everyone!

Mustard’s Bar: Finished 2nd Draft

It was Tuesday afternoon at Mustard’s bar. A Three Stooges clip played on the local radio station from a small radio the bartender kept on shelf next to a picture of Bukowski taped to an empty bottle of scotch. It was 3 o’clock. Roderick sat in his usual spot listening to the same shit he’d heard countless times before. He ordered his usual. The place was empty, except for Roderick, and the bartender, Joe.

 

The stale air smelled faintly of beer, cigarettes, vomit, and piss, tinged with a healthy dose of self-loathing. The bar, like the city of Columbus itself, dreamed of better tomorrows from a bed of failed yesterdays. Joe squinted at his cell phone, cursed under his breath, then plugged it into a charger on the counter behind him. Rod held his beer in his hand and slowly rotated the bottle. The soggy silver label flipped and flopped against dark green glass with every turn. Rhythm found form; form found function. Turn, turn, drink; repeat.

 

Half a bottle later Rod pulled out a crumpled pack of unfiltered smokes from the pocket of his flannel and tapped one out. He placed the straightest end in his mouth, lit it with matches he found on the bar, and took a slow drag. He stared at the dissipating smoke in the bar mirror. White grey faded into dark shadows.

 

“I had the weirdest weekend, Joe.”

 

“The bartender’s expression didn’t change when he looked up from the paper, “Yeah, kid, we’ve all had those.”

 

“I got a call from a friend in Reynoldsburg. Pete drank himself out of college. He has a new girlfriend. She’s got a good job and rents a nice little place near 270. You can hardly hear any traffic at all. We’re not great friends, you know. But he’s alright. Sometimes people just hang around and you don’t really know why. It’s not like I don’t like the guy. We used to hang out a lot until… we didn’t.” Rod scratched his arm absentmindedly.

 

“Oh, yeah. I see that all the time,” Joe said, and pulled a bottle out from under the bar.

 

“I knew you could relate. Well, he calls me the other day… hey,” Rod looked at his beer, “give me another beer, man, this one tastes like shit.”

 

“OK, but drink it a little faster. They tend to go bad after an hour.”

 

“Thanks.” Rod said taking a drink from the fresh bottle, “Anyway, Pete tells me they solved the food crisis. I didn’t know what to say. I never heard of no food crisis. He wasn’t drunk. He was serious. Have you heard about a food crisis?”

 

“No, I haven’t,” Joe said while pouring Rod’s old beer down the sink before tossing the empty into a large grey plastic trash can. The bottle landed a sharp clatter. “Then again,” he added, “I don’t keep much food at home. I generally eat when I’m here.”

 

“Yeah, me neither. I hadn’t heard about it, but I congratulated him ‘cause I didn’t know what to say. He asked me to stop over for dinner Saturday. I looked at my schedule, found two beers and a moldy package of hot dogs, and told him I looked forward to catching up on old times. Food is food, right?”

 

“A man has got to eat,” Joe said while filling his shot glass.

 

“So, I went over. The place looked nice, like a blue-collar Hallmark card. Pete’s happy to see me. There’s a game on tv. The inside is also nice, real nice. His girlfriend, Tammy, was in the kitchen making a salad. I brought a twelve pack. We put it in the fridge, grabbed a few, and walked into the living room. Pete sat on the couch. I sat in a recliner. The Indians were playing the Tigers. Kluber was having a great game. The food cooking in the kitchen smelled good. They looked happy, and there was a good vibe about the place. We spent the first couple of innings catching up on old times. Pete then said something about Trump, and something about immigration. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I never listen to none of that shit. That stuff bores me to death.”

 

“They say talking about politics and religion never ends well,” the bartender said, setting his empty shot glass down on the bar.

 

“I don’t know nothing ‘bout that. I’m a nobody. There ain’t no one in Washington who’s gonna do anything to help a guy like me. They always screwing us in some way. It don’t matter what they say. It don’t mean it’s what they gonna do.”

 

“That’s how it goes. It’s been that way for as long as I’ve been alive. You’d think we’d learn, but we never do. Not really.”

 

“Yeah, that’s why I never give them no mind. What’s the point? Anyway, we’re enjoying the game, drinking some beer. Tammy comes in, grabs one, and sits next to Pete. She said dinner should be ready in about 20 minutes. I thanked her and Pete for having me over.”

 

“It sounds like your friend is doing well,” Joe said while placing freshly cleaned glasses on old stacks that looked like they had been there a very long time. The glasses near the bottom had turned a dull brownish-yellow.

 

Rod looked at his beer, and decided he preferred drinking from a bottle, and dammit if he didn’t need another one. He tipped his empty towards Joe and continued. “She’s a stripper, and takes good care of herself. Her body is tight. Her legs are tanned and toned. They looked great in that mini-skirt. Her face was OK, but something wasn’t right. I think she would look better without all the makeup.”

 

“Sounds like she is a looker,” Joe said. The bartender grabbed a package of peanuts, and pealed off the tinfoil wrapper. The vacuum pop sound momentarily filled the emptiness.

 

“Yeah, she’s fine, but I knew something had to be wrong with her to end up with a guy like Pete. And then things got really strange.”

 

“strange how,” Joe asked.

 

“Well,” Rod said, “Pete kissed Tammy, and then says to me, ‘You know, Tammy’s got needs. She really gets turned on if someone watches us doing it, you know what I mean?’”

 

“You’re joking,” Joe said.

 

“I wish. She nodded and said it really gets her going, but that it was hard to find someone to watch. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say nothing. I was frozen, like a deer in headlights. Kluber struck out the side. The game cuts to a commercial break. They put down their beers and started making out. After a few minutes Pete starts screaming, ‘You whore, you fucking whore,’ and rips her blouse open. Buttons fly everywhere. One hit me in the arm. She begins to moan. He slaps her once… twice, then kisses her deeply. She grabs a handful of his hair and pulls his face to her neck. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable, but I can’t look away. Pete pulls up her skirt. You know what? She wasn’t wearing any panties. Tammy ain’t got no tan lines. She lets go of his hair and Pete shoves her down to the couch. They get busy. Real busy. I didn’t know what to do, so I drank my beer. Tammy looked over to make sure I’m watching, and started losing control. She’s writhing on the couch like a wounded snake. Pete’s shirt is drenched. He starts shouting, ‘Take this you bitch,’ and really lets her have it, if you know what I mean. She fucking loves it.”

 

“And you just sat there,” Joe asked. He set the container of peanuts down on the bar.

 

“As weird as it was, yes. She’s stripper hot. Her legs start shaking real bad. Her hips start jack hammering the couch. I tell you what, Joe,” Rod says tapping another smoke from his crumpled pack with hands that trembled slightly. “I thought she was having some sort of seizure. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. She cries out and goes limp. Pete laughed darkly. He didn’t stop.”

 

“She passed out and he kept doing it?”

 

“Yeah, man. He didn’t stop. About 5, maybe 10, seconds later she starts moaning again, but it’s a real guttural sound. Pete kisses her gently. I ain’t never seen nothing like it. They finished with a flourish. She walked to the bathroom on rubbery legs. Pete grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge, hands me one and says, ‘Thanks. That was great. I owe you big time.’ He then went to the bedroom to get another shirt.”

 

“No shit,” the bartender asked slack-jawed. “What happened next?”

 

“Well, the Indians scored. The kitchen timer goes off, and my appetite returned. She called us to the dining room. The table was covered with food. There were mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, a large salad bowl, and the main dish. It looked like a huge roast. She grabbed a bottle of red wine from the fridge. It looked delicious and smelled even better.”

 

“I guess they planned to reward you for their hard work,” Joe said, and laughed.

 

“When I sat down I got a good look at the roast, and noticed what looked like a joint on one end. I asked Pete if that was the neck, and he says, ‘It’s a joint all right. It’s a knee.’ A knee, I asked, like you know, a human knee, and he said ‘Exactly.”

 

“He said your roast was really a human leg,” the bartender asked, taking another drink from the bottle under the table, not bothering to fill his shot glass.

 

“Yeah,” said Rod, “I thought he was kidding. If someone said that to you, what would you think?”

 

“I would have thought he was pulling my leg, so to speak. There’s no way I would have believed him,” the bartender said.

 

“That’s exactly what I thought, so I said ‘That’s my favorite cut. Give me a big ‘ole slice o’ that thigh.’ He cut me a large piece. You know what? It wasn’t bad. Pete suggested trying it with the gravy. I did, and it was delicious. Pete said, ‘I like it better than chicken, and pork chops, but it’s not quite as good as a well-cooked filet.’”

 

“But it’s a roast, right,” Joe asked.

 

“That’s what I was thinking,’ Rod said. “I had a second helping. It was good. After I finished my plate I relaxed with another glass of wine. When they were done I asked them if this had anything to do with the food crisis, and Tammy said, ‘It sure does. We got a month’s worth of meat from just one teenager.’ I asked her what she meant, and she said they’d found a hitchhiker a few weeks ago. His name was Marco. He fled Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria because the government didn’t provide any assistance. Tammy said she was real excited about having a new playmate. Marco watched them do it for a few days, but when they asked him to join in, they found out he was a transgender. They slaughtered him, and fed his innards to their dogs. Tammy said they put Marco in the basement freezer.”

 

Joe poured himself another shot, and sat down.

 

“I asked her, if you killed and slaughtered a teenager, even if it was a transgendered immigrant, you just committed murder. Pete said, ‘No, that’s just a moral taboo society places upon itself; the ultimate hypocrisy against humanity. It is a denial to the reality of human nature.’ I was like, ‘but it’s still murder, Pete,’ but Pete said that America’s rich military history reveres those who have ‘murdered’ the greatest numbers of our enemies. I admitted that he had a good point, but that this wasn’t an enemy, just a kid. Pete said Marco wasn’t a kid according to the Bible.” Rod laughed. “I figured they were just fucking with me.’

 

“They were, weren’t they,” the bartender asked.

 

Rod lit his last smoke, and tossed the crumpled pack over the bar into the grey trash can. The sun began its descent. The shadows from the windows along the far wall began sliding towards the bar. “I told them I wanted to take a look at Marco, if he was still around, and they took me to the basement freezer. They opened it up. I looked inside and dead blue eyes stared up at up at me. Sure enough, there he was… well, most of him, minus dinner. His eyes were open, and so was his mouth. His tongue was frozen against his lower teeth by a pink puddle of ice spit. The walls suddenly started spinning, and so did my stomach. There was a large wash sink in the basement, next to the washer and dryer. I threw up into it for a long time. I was weak and shaking and drenched in sweat when I stood up. I told them I had to leave, but Pete stood in front of the steps and wouldn’t let me pass. I tried to shove him out of the way, but he punched me in the stomach and I doubled over, and began to dry heave. I grabbed him around the waist with my left and started punching with my right, but he wasn’t moving. He grabbed me by my shoulders and straightened me up. Tammy then grabbed me by my hair and yanked my head back. She then began kissing me, and slipped her tongue into my mouth. She tasted like cheap wine and onions. I tried resisting, but she grabbed my right hand and slipped it under her skirt. She was drenched, and began rubbing my fingers against her slit. I couldn’t believe it, I started getting hard. She felt me through my jeans, unzipped my pants. I had forgotten about Pete. I looked up and he was standing on the third step with his dick out. I bent Tammy over the bottom step and we started doing it. Pete joined in. When we finished I walked upstairs to the bathroom and washed off the sweat and sex, and drank a handful of cold water. When I walked into the living room they were sitting on the couch, and there was a beer sitting next to the recliner. I sat down, drank it, smoked a cigarette. The Tribe won. I got up and left. Pete thanked me for stopping by, and Tammy said to give them a call anytime. I walked to my car, and drove home.”

 

“Have you called the police,” Joe asked. The bartender’s eyes were round and filled with fear.

 

“No. I couldn‘t call the cops on ‘em. They took me in. I’m like part of their family. It wouldn’t really be right for me to call the cops now, would it?”

 

“You asshole. They committed murder, and worse. Now you’re a part of it. I can’t let this go.”

 

“Why not? It’s not like they really did anything wrong, did they?”

 

Joe pulled out a Smith and Wesson M&P .40 from under the counter, and pointed it at Rod. “You just stay right there, pal. I’m calling the police.”

 

“Joe,” Rod said, “This isn’t necessary, man. I’m just fucking with you.”

 

“What, you mean this is all bullshit,” the bartender asked.

 

“Yeah, man. Tammy’s not a good cook. The roast beef came out looking like charcoal, so we ordered pizza and wings, and watched the game.”

 

“Did they have sex. Was that real, or just more bullshit?”

“It’s all bullshit,” Rod laughed. “She’s a stripper, and smoking hot. I whacked off when I got home thinking about her, but we didn’t do it. That’s just guy talk.”

 

Joe lowered his gun, and shook his head. “You really had me going there. Hey, sorry about pulling the gun on you. The next couple of beers are on the house.”

 

“Thanks, and don’t worry about the gun thing. More guns means more safety, right,” Rod asked and smiled. “I should write this shit down. It must be pretty good if I can get you to believe me. Do you got a pen?”

 

“There were so many details. It’s still hard to believe that you made it all up.” Joe tossed Rod a pen while he turned on the tv at the end of the bar with a remote, and switched off the radio.

 

A local reporter was filled the screen. “This is Sandra Berger with WBNS on the site of a grisly discovery. Residents found the head of a missing teenager, who went missing a few weeks ago. Details are still coming in. Back to you, Marty.”

 

Joe’s face froze. He looked at Rod, and then turned to pick up his cell phone. Rod grabbed his bottle and hit Joe behind his ear. The bartender dropped like a sack. Rod jumped the bar, grabbed a plastic bag, cinched it around Joe’s head. He waited and watched for movement.

 

Five minutes he picked up Joe’s phone, removed the battery and SIM card, put them in his pocket, and locked the front door. He called Pete and Tammy, then sat back down and drank his beer. He stared into the bar mirror and watched the encroaching darkness.

Mustard’s Bar

It was Tuesday afternoon at Mustard’s bar. A Three Stooges clip played on the local radio station from a small radio the bartender kept on shelf next to a picture of Bukowski taped to an empty bottle of scotch. It was 3 o’clock. Roderick sat in his usual spot listening to the same shit he’d heard countless times before. He ordered his usual. The place was empty, except for Roderick, and the bartender, Joe.

 

The stale air smelled faintly of beer, cigarettes, vomit, and piss, tinged with self-loathing. The bar, like the city of Columbus itself, dreamed of better tomorrows from a bed of failed yesterdays. Joe squinted at his cell phone, cursed under his breath, then plugged it into a charger on the counter behind him. Rod held his beer in his hand and slowly rotated the bottle. The soggy silver label flipped and flopped against dark green glass with every turn. Rhythm found form; form found function. Turn, turn, drink; repeat.

 

A few revolutions later Rod pulled out a crumpled pack of unfiltered smokes from the pocket of his flannel and tapped one out. He placed the straightest end in his mouth, lit it with matches he found on the bar, and took a slow drag. He stared at the dissipating smoke in the bar mirror. White grey faded into dark shadows.

 

“I had the weirdest weekend, Joe.”

 

“The bartender’s expression didn’t change when he looked up from the paper, “Yeah, kid, we’ve all had those.”

 

“I got a call from a friend in Reynoldsburg. Pete drank himself out of college. He has a new girlfriend. She’s got a good job and rents a nice little place near 270. You can hardly hear any traffic at all. We’re not great friends, you know. But he’s alright. Sometimes people just hang around and you don’t really know why. It’s not like I don’t like the guy. We used to hang out a lot until… we didn’t.” Rod scratched his arm absentmindedly.

“I had the weirdest weekend, Joe.”

 

“The bartender’s expression didn’t change when he looked up from the paper, “Yeah, kid, we’ve all had those.”

 

“I got a call from a friend in Reynoldsburg. Pete drank himself out of college. He has a new girlfriend. She’s got a good job and rents a nice little place near 270. You can hardly hear any traffic at all. We’re not great friends, you know. But he’s alright. Sometimes people just hang around and you don’t really know why. It’s not like I don’t like the guy. We used to hang out a lot until… we didn’t.” Rod scratched at his arm absentmindedly.

 

“Oh, yeah. I see that all the time,” Joe said, and took a drink from a bottle under the bar.

 

“I knew you could relate. Well, he calls me the other day… hey,” Rod looked at his beer, “give me another beer, man, this one tastes like shit.”

 

“OK, but drink it a little faster. They tend to go bad after an hour.”

 

“Thanks.” Rod said taking a drink from the fresh bottle, “Anyway, Pete tells me they solved the food crisis. I didn’t know what to say. I never heard of no food crisis. He wasn’t drunk. He was serious. Have you heard about a food crisis?”

 

“No, I haven’t,” Joe said while pouring Rod’s old beer down the sink before tossing the empty into a large grey plastic trash can. The bottle landed a sharp clatter. “Then again,” he added, “I don’t keep much food at home. I generally eat when I’m here.”

 

“Yeah, me neither. I hadn’t heard about it, but I congratulated him ‘cause I didn’t know what to say. He asked me to stop over for dinner Saturday. I looked at my schedule, found two beers and a moldy package of hot dogs, and told him I looked forward to catching up on old times. Food is food, right?”

 

“A man has got to eat,” Joe said while filling his shot glass.

 

“So, I went over. The place looked nice, like a blue-collar Hallmark card. Pete’s happy to see me. There’s a game on tv. The inside is also nice, real nice. His girlfriend, Tammy, was in the kitchen making a salad. I brought a twelve pack. We put it in the fridge, grabbed a few, and walked into the living room. Pete sat on the couch. I sat in a recliner. The Indians were playing the Tigers. Kluber was having a great game. The food cooking in the kitchen smelled good. They looked happy, and there was a good vibe about the place. We spent the first couple of innings catching up on old times. Pete then said something about Trump, and something about immigration. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I never listen to none of that shit. That stuff bores me to death.”

 

“They say talking about politics and religion never ends well,” the bartender said, setting his empty shot glass down on the bar.

 

“I don’t know nothing ‘bout that. I’m a nobody. There ain’t no one in Washington who’s gonna do anything to help a guy like me. They always screwing us in some way. It don’t matter what they say. It don’t mean it’s what they gonna do.”

 

“That’s how it goes. It’s been that way for as long as I’ve been alive,” Joe said. “You’d think we’d learn, but we never do. Not really.”

 

“Yeah, that’s why I never give them no mind. What’s the point? Anyway, we’re enjoying the game, drinking some beer. Tammy comes in, grabs one, and sits next to Pete. She said dinner should be ready in about 20 minutes. I thanked her and Pete for having me over.”

 

“It sounds like your friend is doing well,” Joe said while placing freshly cleaned glasses on old stacks that looked like they had been there a very long time. The glasses near the bottom had turned a dull brownish-yellow.

 

Rod looked at his beer, and decided he preferred drinking from a bottle, and dammit if he didn’t need another one. He tipped his empty towards Joe and continued. “She’s a stripper, and takes good care of herself. Her body is tight. Her legs are tanned and toned. They looked great in that mini-skirt. Her face was OK, but something wasn’t right. I think she would look better without all the makeup.”

 

“Sounds like she is a looker,” Joe said.

 

“Yeah, she’s fine, but I knew something had to be wrong with her to end up with a guy like Pete. And then things got really strange.”

 

“strange,” Joe asked.

 

“Well,” Rod said, “Pete kissed Tammy, and then says to me, ‘You know, Tammy’s got needs. She really gets turned on if someone watches us doing it, you know what I mean?’”

 

“You’re joking,” Joe said.

 

“I wish. She nodded and said it really gets her going, but that it was hard to find someone to watch. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say nothing. I was frozen, like a deer in headlights. Kluber struck out the side. The game cuts to a commercial break. They put down their beers and started making out. After a few minutes Pete starts screaming, ‘You whore, you fucking whore,’ and rips her blouse open. Buttons fly everywhere. One hit me in the arm. She begins to moan. He slaps her once… twice, then kisses her deeply. She grabs a handful of his hair and pulls his face to her neck. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable, but I can’t look away. Pete pulls up her skirt. You know what? She wasn’t wearing any panties. Tammy ain’t got no tan lines. She lets go of his hair and Pete shoves her down to the couch. They get busy. Real busy. I didn’t know what to do, so I drank my beer. Tammy looked over to make sure I’m watching, and started losing control. She’s writhing on the couch like a wounded snake. Pete’s shirt is drenched. He starts shouting, ‘Take this you bitch,’ and really lets her have it, if you know what I mean. She fucking loves it.”

 

“And you just sat there,” Joe asked.

 

“As weird as it was, yes. She’s stripper hot. Her legs start shaking real bad. Her hips start jack hammering the couch. I tell you what, Joe,” Rod says tapping another smoke from his crumpled pack with hands that trembled slightly. “I thought she was having some sort of seizure. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. She cries out and goes limp. Pete laughed darkly. He didn’t stop.”

 

“She passed out and he kept doing it?”

 

“Yeah, man. He didn’t stop. About 5, maybe 10, seconds later she starts moaning again, but it’s a real guttural sound. Pete kisses her gently. I ain’t never seen nothing like it. They finished with a flourish. She walked to the bathroom on rubbery legs. Pete grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge, hands me one and says, ‘Thanks. That was great. I owe you big time.’ He then went to the bedroom to get another shirt.”

 

“No shit,” the bartender asked slack-jawed. “What happened next?”

 

“Well, the Indians scored. The kitchen timer goes off, and my appetite returned. She called us to the dining room. The table was covered with food. There were mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, a large salad bowl, and the main dish. It looked like a huge roast. She grabbed a bottle of red wine from the fridge. It looked delicious and smelled even better.”

 

“I guess they planned to reward you for their hard work,” Joe said, and laughed.

 

“When I sat down I got a good look at the roast, and noticed what looked like a joint on one end. I asked Pete if that was the neck, and he says, ‘It’s a joint all right. It’s a knee.’ A knee, I asked, like you know, a human knee, and he said ‘Exactly.”

 

“He said your roast was really a human leg,” the bartender asked, taking another drink from the bottle under the table, not bothering to fill his shot glass.

 

“Yeah,” said Rod, “I thought he was kidding. If someone said that to you, what would you think?”

 

“I would have thought he was pulling my leg, so to speak. There’s no way I would have believed him,” the bartender said.

A well-oiled tongue can turn the grey skies blue

The greatest tool in any trade is a well-oiled tongue. There is no more effective way of explaining to a company that they’ve been spending an additional $2,000 a week to keep equipment running, and have been doing so for the past 3 months, 14 weeks, $28,000, simply because they refuse to repair a piece of equipment consisting of 6 wires, and a few plug-and-play modules.

Now, it’s true that being an hourly blue-collar laborer, I must deal with many indignities, the least of which being the small amount of attention paid to my grand observations, This is likely because my poor disposition, coupled with a less-than-stellar aptitude for all things learned, has prevented me from obtaining the vaunted pedigree from the local community college. If only I had the discipline, the drive, and the means necessary to earn my associate degree in HVAC the weight of my words would be heavy enough to demand their attention. It takes the weight of 1,000 words to move them as much as what the shop foreman – a heavyset beer drinking football fan – can do with only a handful of invective. He and his associates degree pedigree,

“Goddammit. that’s a lot of money. Get that fucker fixed now. If it ain’t working right by next week somebody’s ass is on the line.”

Drowning in a puddle of misery

Misery is what most people refer to as their lives. These lives we strain to build are illusory in nature; tattered butterfly wings hung on shimmering gossamer strings. They are the manifested misfortunes of childhood coupled with life-condemning failures we affectionately refer to as life lessons.

I was so overjoyed with my life that before I checked into the hotel I picked up a six pack of tall boys in the hope that I could turn back the hands of time and glimpse the shadows of my dreams, instead of living in the grey fog of hopelessness…

One beer down. No texts. No calls from loved ones. Nothing. The corners of my hotel room grew smaller, and a quiet sense of suffocation settled in for a time. Two beers later and images of my childhood began to flood my mind’s eye. I viewed these images as an aloof outsider: baseball games, bike rides, the smells of summer, and the magical flights of carefree bumblebees.

Two more beers allowed the darker images to bubble up to the surface and hover on the horizon of my thoughts: the woods, the screaming, the blood, and the smell of dead bodies under fall leaves.

We all make mistakes. It’s how we learn from them that defines our character. After the sixth beer I dared to dream again. I shoved the knife into my dollar store jacket pocket, and headed out into the night, into the world of 2nd chances, and the fleeting arms of hope. The hope that I’ll glimpse a glimmer of another’s lost dreams before they disappear forever from their fading eyes.

It’s good to have dreams, even if they’re not my own.

Chumly the Cat

Note: I’m using this story as an exercise. It will be continually revised for some time.

The human mind is an island of entropy in an ocean of ignorance.
– The Mentalist Creed: 1723

As Jen’s rotting corpse filled the bedroom with a noxious odor, she was busy in the kitchen cooking a scrumptious chicken noodle soup for dinner. This is the story of the not-so-recently deceased Ms. Deveroux, and her cat, Chumly.

Donna’s aging Volvo pulls into an empty parking lot. On the horizon the sun is momentarily resting after breaking through a veil of darkness. The keys in her hand jingle against a coffee mug while she punches numbers into the office security system. Lights flicker to life, shutters open, and the day’s first pot of coffee begins brewing.

Nervous fingernails tap on a formica counter as she glances at her watch. “Damn it,” Donna mutters under her breath. “If I knew she wasn’t going to show up I could have slept in.” She takes another drink of coffee, hoping the bitter caffeine will compensate for lack of sleep.

He carefully washes her blood off his hands and forearms, scrubbing all the nooks and crannies until his flesh screams at him to stop. The water in the basin looks like a melted pink rose, silently swirling into the drain’s welcoming darkness. The taste of nickel lingers, resulting in a sheepish grin, like a crooked cop at a shooting. In the hallway a black cat slowly licks a front paw, never taking his eyes of the man in black. The gems on the cat’s collar glow softly in the dark. “It’s for the best,” thinks the cat, “and now it’s time to get rid you, too.” At that moment the doorbell and phone begin ringing.

The sounds cause him to stop what he was doing. He turns off the water, silently dries himself, and leaves the apartment without bothering to close the front door. The sun has left the horizon and begins slowly ascending through a cornflower blue sky. The rush hour traffic is heavy at this time of the morning.

Jess is trying to maintain his bus schedule, and punches the accelerator when he sees the traffic light turning to amber. He’s already 10 minutes late, and the grumbling from the riders has become a white noise of angry bees buzzing around a nest of impatience. Some bees are louder than others. “I can’t be late again,” bemoans an anonymous rider. Beads of sweat begin forming on Jess’s brow.

He didn’t see the man in black walk out in front of his bus until it was too late; the screams of the passengers, the man in black’s calm demeanor 10 feet in front of a speeding bus, the squeal of brakes and smell of burning rubber, the eyes of the man in black not closing until his head explodes against the bus in a crimson halo.

>>>>>>>> (20 August 2014 edits) <<<<<<<<

At that moment the office bell rang out, letting her know that someone had opened the front door, which led into the waiting room. Donna tapped out her cigarette, walked through the office, and entered the waiting room with a formal, “Hello, may I help you”?

There was nobody there. Donna looked around to be sure, but the only thing she noticed was the time on the waiting room clock. It was 8:41. She opened the front door thinking that someone might have left a package or a delivery note, and stared at the “Welcome” mat on the door landing. There were no packages or notes on the door or landing. She was alone.

She walked back towards the patio. As she crossed through the examination room she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye. Along one of the walls was a large floor to ceiling mirror and for a moment Donna thought she saw her friend, Ms. Deveroux, sitting down the examination table.
Donna glanced at the table. Empty. “Ok,” she thought to herself, “get a grip, Donna, get – a – grip….” She walked out to the patio, and lit another cigarette. She didn’t seem to notice her trembling hands.

:::::
12 Hours Earlier

Ms. Deveroux was in the kitchen making chicken noodle soup for dinner. She’d been feeling ill the past few days, but had recently awoken feeling quite refreshed. Her fever had broken; the antibiotics had done their magic. She reminded herself to call her friend, Edith, after dinner to let her know she wouldn’t be able to mall walk in the morning. Ms. Deveroux wanted to sleep in, and see how she felt after her physical therapy appointment tomorrow morning before she committed to any more back into her. Then again, she figured Edith would likely stop by anyway just to see how she was doing. Ms. Deveroux’s cat, Chumly, happily chattered to her while rubbing both of her ankles in a never-ending figure eight, also known as an infinity symbol.

“Chumly sure is happy to see me,” She thought to herself, absent-mindedly reaching down to scratch her beloved behind one of his ears. He reciprocated by leaning slightly into her fingers, letting the nails scratch itches he couldn’t quite reach himself, well not without some effort, which went against the kitty cat code of ethics. Little did she realize that Chumly wasn’t merely talking to her, which of course he was, for that’s what cats do, but he was actually in the middle of a sacred feline ritual.

Between magical meowings Chumly was chiding his human caretaker, “I told you not to wear that windbreaker last week. You needed something warmer, you hairless ape. Now look at you. You’re dead, and I have to fix this mess if I want a nice dinner. Oh, the things I do for you. Have you cleaned my litter box yet? I doubt it. You never think of me. Yet here we are on another journey, and, as usual, you don’t even know what’s going on. Oh, why do I bother? ”

If one were to look into the kitchen they would have sworn that Chumly was conversing with a ghost, which cats do rather well I must admit. However, this Ms. Deveroux was in the kitchen making dinner, but there was one little problem, she was a ghost, and her physical body was still in bed.  In the corner of the kitchen a white light began to glow, and then slowly begin spinning in a clockwise rotation. As it did so it grew larger and larger, eventually becoming a large tunnel of soft white light. Violins could be heard emanating from somewhere deep inside the tunnel. Ms. Deveroux was at a crossroads. She could move on if she wanted to, and once she realized that she was dead, but Chumly wasn’t interested in being an orphan, and would have none of it. Chumly knew he had to work fast if he wanted a nice dinner this evening.

His meowings became louder, and his ankle rubbing more fervent. The gems on his collar began to glow. Slowly the music faded away. At the same time Ms. Deveroux’s spiritual being – the one that was currently making dinner in the kitchen –became a solid being. Blood began to flow through empty veins, flesh became warm, and all the while Ms. Deveroux continued making soup, oblivious to everything. The tunnel of light began shrinking, and a few moments later it was nothing more than a bright speck of light in the corner of the room. Then, it winked out. The corpse in her bed faded away. The blankets covering the body slowly drifted downwards until they were peacefully resting on the bed again. The smells of chicken noodle soup filled the kitchen, and it smelled delicious. Chumly’s stomach growled.

Chumly was looking forward to a good meal, and nothing beats chicken noodle soup. In another room, in another place the dead Ms Deveroux remained, along with a hint of chicken noodle soup that hovered in the air for a few minutes before fading away. That Brock never saw Chumly again.
The next morning, as Ms. Deveroux was getting ready for her appointment with Donna, she realized she had forgotten to call Edith the night before, and had subsequently missed their morning mall walk. She hoped to call her after her appointment with Donna, and perhaps take a walk in the early afternoon. When she left for her appointment Chumly was sleeping happily on her bed. He had been in such a good mood the night before, and boy did he love chicken noodle soup. Ms. Deveroux felt certain that he was glad she was feeling better. She looked at her watch as she walked into the office and noticed it was 8:01AM.

Donna looked out from the examination room, and exclaimed, “Ms. Deverouox, it’s so good to see you. I was starting to get worried about you. This is the first time you’ve ever been late.”

Ms. Deveroux looked at the clock in the waiting room, and was shocked to see that the time was actually 8:41. “Oh my,” said Ms. Deveroux, “I had no idea it was that late. I thought it was eight o’clock. In fact, my alarm clock, and kitchen clock are also off by twenty minutes. I'm so sorry.”

"That's quite alright, Ms. Deveroux. I'm just happy to see you. You can come on back now," Donna said. And with that, Ms. Deveroux began her new day.

Chumly rolled over, scratched an itch, sat up, and looked out the window. "I wonder if she realizes what a cross-dimensional time shift is? Oh, well, she'll figure it out," and with that he laid back down, fell asleep, and dreamed about chicken noodle soup.