Wednesay's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are abandon, gradual and precise.

Anniversary
The old wooden bar has been wiped down, leaving a sour-smelling trail of wetness where the bartender sets up shot glasses in front of one guy who rests his forehead in his palms.
The bartender says something, low and just for him, and he lifts his head and gives a nod, yes.
She goes for a bottle of bourbon, the cheap shit that rests in the metal well that’s ass-level to the servers, and begins to pour 11 precise measures.
The bartender’s pouring number eight when the dude picks up the first one, turns to me, raises the glass and downs it with a grimace.
“Birthday, new job, or just thirsty?” I say.
“Something like that.”
He pours back glasses two, three and four with abandon, the kind of serial drinking I haven’t seen since my time at university.
By number six, his face has a crimson tone to it, bright at the neck where thick veins push blood to his brain, and goes gradually less pink toward his forehead, which is sickly white and covered in a sheen of slick sweat.
The bartender keeps her distance, reading a dog-eared paperback and clicking her thumbnail against her front teeth.
Seven and eight go down tough, with a scowl and he lands a fist-pound on the scarred wood, enough to send ripples across the surface of my pint.
I stare.
He stares back.
“It’s an anniversary celebration,” he says.
I roll my eyes. It’s an old bar with red vinyl booths and dark corners; it's the kind of place that sells simple drinks to people who want to want to get drunk quick.
Thus forgetting the world outside those glass doors, painted black to deter the sunlight from telling someone that noon was too early a time to set one up.
Everyone here’s got a story that no one wants to share.
I’ve asked for it.
He takes his index finger, cocks it and digs at his eyes with the knuckles. The digit comes away wet.
“Eleven years ago, I paid for my girlfriend to have an abortion,” he says above a whisper. “Paid for it with MasterCard. I think I’m still paying interest on it.”
“Shit happens,” I say, lifting my beer to my lips.
He raps his knuckles hard on the lip of the bar, a strip of beat-up brass, which draws blood.
“Think so?” he says, picking up glass number nine, tosses it back, splays his fingers above the glasses, watching tiny drops of blood blossom across his knuckles.
“Look, buddy, none of my fucking business.”
“Yeah, and you asked,” he says.
Number 10 goes down.
And he launches into a monologue, which feels rehearsed, but I’m stuck. I settle my ass in the worn cups of the barstool and listen politely.
He spares no gory detail, down to their last fight before he packed up and left her for good, after she made him clean up a blood clot she dropped from her wounded body on cool, white subway tiles in front of the can.
He digs again at his eyes with his fingers, lets out a small belch, and gives me a long, sad look.
“So I mark the anniversary with a shot,” he says, finally. "One for each fucking miserable year since."
I lean my head in my palm, scratching an itch across my cheek, sigh.
“What happens when you get along in years and that much booze becomes toxic?” I ask.
He smiles, picks up the 11th shot and lets the amber liquid cascade slowly down his throat. He smacks his lips, sets the glass on the bar, upside-down.
And winks.

42 comments:

pia said...

Wow Thom. First it reads like regular wonderful pulp. Then it goes into something more. Something I can't quite explain. Then the last paragraph brings it back, in a good way to pulp

As usual I bow to you, and know one day I will say "I knew him when."

I forgot which were the words--the ultimate compliment as it was seamless

anthonynorth said...

That's one perfect scene.

Andy Sewina said...

Very nicely recorded sketch!

fiona glass said...

Excellent writing - very strong atmosphere. I could practically smell the stale beer in that bar!

Leo said...

nicely written.. a shot for a year.. sounds intriguing...

Stu Pidasso said...

Well woven fabric of a story. Unfortuantely I can see this here plenty in America. And left with a ead scratcher at the end! What happens? Hmmmmmmm......

Hal Johnson said...

Whoa, Thom. Damn that packed a punch. It's still morning here, but I suddenly want a beer. Or three.

Thomma Lyn said...

Dang, what a story. What Hal said about packing a punch. I want a beer now, too. And heck, I don't even drink. :)

Greyscale Territory said...

This rattles the sobriety chains! A bristly drama with a hint of satiric mischief at the end!

Linda Jacobs said...

Yours is like the only prose I read and look forward to! I'm not disappointed! You have such a raw way of writing that sucks me right in!

Tammy Brierly said...

I really enjoy your stories Thom. :)

b said...

Pulp yes...but it made me remember that men may regret abortions too. Sometimes necessary but alway very very hard.

b

Jay Thurston said...

I am not sure which was more troubling: his self-destructive regret, or, the bartender's apathy.

You again add those nice touches to the painting of the picture. The color of the door... the red vinyl booths... the bartender tapping her fingernails on her teeth.

Fantastic!

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Nice details, as always. At some point, though, a shot for every year is going to kill him.

rdl said...

wow, interesting and intriguing!
you must've been a bartender by your apt description of the bar. I just came back out of retirement again and started a new gig last fri. just moonlighting.

Americanising Desi said...

perfection reached in 3 words :)

bluepapercranes said...

quite perfect. like watching a good movie.

i can still smell the bar.

Carlos said...

Very nice! So easy to visualize the setting.

Thanks for dropping by my blog the other day. I'm going to try to get back into 3ww again!

Timothy P. Remp said...

Hi Thom,

I was drawn in and forgot about the three words. The atmosphere and dialog were very well written and the characters believable.

-Tim

Jane Doe said...

Such a powerful piece. For a short story the characters and scene are very well played out. Great ending too!

gautami tripathy said...

You create such wonder with your words..

undefined paths

Matt Merritt said...

You put me in the bar with this one. Great atmosphere.

And …

“still paying interest on it.”

Nice.

Sulci Collective said...

Lucky it wasn't twins.

I think Bukowski's "Barfly" is a new archetype to add to the canon. I know I've used it as well, why these complete strangers open up the most intimate details about their lives to us...

You nailed it here.

marc nash

Stan Ski said...

Well written - a sad slice of real life.

peggy said...

Thom,

I don't know who had more impact; the anniversary celebrant or the dispassionate listener/narrator.

Kick-ass details grab the reader by the ears and force the read.

Fantastic, bitter ending. (now go fix the typos and send this one out into the world)

quin browne said...

Whoa. No more need be said....an respectful, shaking the head in deep amazement--Whoa.

Dee Martin said...

This is so very good Thom. sorry I haven't been around - packing up the computer lab to move to the campus is taking every last drop of energy - one more week and summer vacation and maybe I will be a human again.Kept hearing "paint if Black" in my head as I was reading this. I love that this looking back with regret is told from the male perspective. I'm with Quin on this one.

Scott Bechler said...

I propose that they bartender in this story is the girlfriend that had the abortion... ?
Very good story.

Diandra said...

People who don't really care. Wrapped up in a nice way.

Tony Noland said...

Quietly brutal scene here. Sooner or later, he's got to move on, y'know?

Jen Brubacher said...

This is a fascinating scene. There's a lot beneath the surface, and I'd like to know more... but then, maybe not. Maybe it's just perfect.

Vivek said...

"Everyone here’s got a story that no one wants to share."

True True :)

Gracie said...

You sketched this scene so well, I feel like I was there. Gritty and punchy. Everyone's got their reasons.

Really great story.

John Wiswell said...

I don't see why the years since have been so miserable. Pushing her to get an abortion could be an iron curtain, sure, but it's been a decade. Be a big boy and break things off. Let her get her own floor cleanser. Drinking until he's old enough for it to kill him is cowardly, if common. God willing the next guy he complains to for drinks will drop some truth on him - or figure out why he winks.

Lilibeth said...

It doesn't matter that he should have gotten over it etc...he hasn't. People are haunted by what's in their past and your story mirrors real life in that way. The ending is amazing.

Deanna Schrayer said...

I love this Thom! The little details you slip in are what makes the story, in my opinion. I especially like how he rubs his eye. Great work!

And John, who's to say the guy really is grieving the abortion? Maybe he's been asked so many times he's made up a fantastic story for those who dare to ask. Forgive me Thom if I'm going too far here....

Peaceful Pandemonium said...

I often wonder what is going on in your mind.

Sam said...

There's a great atmosphere to this piece which sucks you right it. I love how the tension builds towards the end. Sad story of a mistake that will eventually kill the character, if he lets it. Bravo!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I don't know that I could handle this sort of gritty atmosphere for an entire book, which is a testament to how well you've drawn it. This poor guy. So stuck and unable to move, cope, or live...

Cathy Olliffe said...

Nice work, Thom.

Angel said...

Death by alcohol. Loved the emotion in this piece.

Daily Panic said...

regret is a drinking game that has no end. great story.