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