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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Auld Lang Simian



      
      He came in that night, same as any other. Sat down on that green stool in the corner, the one with the big tear right down the middle that exposes the white fluffy stuffing inside, wisps of it sticking out like the hair of an elderly clown. He likes that one stool in particular. Says it suits him.
     “You made it just in time,” I said to him with a smile. “Fifteen minutes until the ball drops.” As ever, my smile was not returned.
     “Just give me the usual,” he grunted, scratching the top of his head. “And spare me the ball talk.”
     I grabbed a frosty pint glass from beneath the bar. As I raised it, tiny pinpoints of light twinkled along the surface, reflections from the multicolored Christmas lights still strewn around the bar. There was no point in taking them down until January at least; hell, I thought, I might just leave them up all year ‘round. Might brighten the place up. I filled the glass to the brim with the cheapest beer we had on tap, a bit of white foam oozing vomitously over the edge of the glass. I placed the glass in front of the customer, then turned to complete his usual order by pouring a shot of banana-flavored Schnapps.
     “So, you, uh, have a good day?” I asked him as I scooted the shot across the bar to him, leaving a wet trail like a slug.
     He grasped the shot and threw the liquid down his throat in one swift motion. A bit dribbled from the left corner of his mouth, and his tongue oozed out to collect the errant booze. “What do you think?” he groused, his gaze never leaving the shot glass. He shook a finger at it. “Another.”
     I tilted the bottle of Schnapps and an ounce and a half poured into the shot glass while my customer watched intensely. “You know,” I said, “I didn’t even know they made this stuff until the first time you requested it. You should have seen how thick the dust on the bottle was.”
     A bang echoed through the bar from outside, and my customer’s head whipped around to stare dumbly at the closed front door. “What the hell was that?” he said as he slowly turned back to me and took a sip of beer. He smacked his wet lips.
     “Probably fireworks. You know how kids are this time of year. Or maybe a car backfiring,” I said with a shrug.
     “Bah. Yeek-yeek,” was his alternately low and shrill reply. He guzzled his shot and took a deep gulp of beer. This left nothing remaining in the glass but scattered white foam remnants, floating down the sides like ghosts descending into hell. He belched and clapped his hands twice before jabbing his finger at the shot glass. I guess he was a little overzealous, because his finger hit the bottom of the glass with a dull clink. He yanked the finger out and stared at it like he was trying to unravel some great mystery. “One more of each,” he mumbled.
     “I wonder where everybody is,” I said as I poured a fresh beer. “You’d think there’d be more people out tonight. Maybe it’s the weather.”
     “Maybe it’s your bar,” he said with a hoarse chuckle. He then blew air sharply with his mouth closed, and his lips vibrated with a rubbery purr. “It’s just as well. I wanted to give you your belated Christmas present, and it’s probably better that no one is around to see it.”
     “Uh,” I droned as I placed his beer before him and tilted the bottle of Schnapps. “I don’t know about all that.”
     “Get your mind out of the gutter,” he said. “As if I would ever lower myself to lay a hand on you. My wife was the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen. Don’t disgrace her memory by making base insinuations.” He was scratching himself. I don’t know where; the bar was blocking the sight of his hand. But the raking of nails against his flesh was unmistakable. He pulled up his hand and sniffed it, then stuffed it into his pocket. He withdrew something wrapped in a crumpled brown bag, which he placed on the bar, right in front of me. “Anyway, here you go. From me to you.” He nudged the bag towards me with his knuckles.
     I tried to get a read on his intentions from the look in his eyes, but they were the same as always: dark-rimmed and dour, cloudy black marbles. I hesitantly picked up the package and, relieved to find that it wasn’t moist, began to unfold it. My customer leaned forward ever so slightly. His heavy breaths reeked of artificial fruit flavors. Before fully opening the bag, I sniffed it. Detecting neither decay nor feces, I put my hand inside. The object within was cold and heavy, and not even the faintest hint of a smile crossed my customer’s lips and I withdrew it from its ecologically-sound packaging. The bag drifted slowly back to the counter top and began to darken as it soaked up tiny puddles of stray alcohol. I found myself standing there frozen, holding a gun. I could tell by the tarnish that this weapon had been around the block a few times, as it were.
     “Well, don’t you like it?” said my customer. He leaned in even closer, his grave countenance revealing little as his eyes flicked back and forth between my face and the gun.
     “It’s, uh, nice,” I said, torn between the desire for more customers to show up and cut through this tension and the fear that any additional customers might get the wrong idea from my apparent gun-wielding. I searched desperately for something to say, as my life to this point had not prepared me for this situation. “Yeah, second amendment, you know?”
     “I’m glad you approve,” he said, leaning back from the counter once more. “And now that I’ve given you a gift, I feel I am entitled to one in return.”
     “I don’t really have much,” I said, scanning the bar as a bead of sweat tumbled sloppily down my forehead. “But hey, uh, this shot’s on me! I don’t know, does that work?”
     “Don’t give yourself an aneurysm by trying to think,” he said, rolling his eyes. He then slapped the countertop and let out a truncated shriek before hunching down in the stool again. He snatched up the shot glass and downed the booze within, his teeth clinking against the glass as he did so. He gurgled and lolled his tongue around, then looked me dead in the eye. “I already have the gift in mind. And it won’t even cost you a penny.”
     “Well…what is it then?” I suddenly realized that I was still pointing the gun at my customer and hastily put it down on the counter. Somewhere in the background, the television squawked about “three minutes left.” The sounds of jubilation behind the announcer roared like the audience at a gladiator battle.
       “You hear that? Three minutes,” said my customer. He grasped my hand with steely fingers and raised it and the gun off the bar so that he was once again directly in the weapon’s path. “Here’s what you’re going to do for me. When that countdown reaches zero and we hit the New Year, right at that moment I want you to pull the trigger and blow my brains out.”
     I gasped and felt stomach acid bubbling furiously up my esophagus. Swallowing hard, I wheezed, “You’re kidding.”
     “Do I look like I’m kidding?”
     “No.”
     “Then I’m probably not kidding. I’m not much of a kidder.”
     “But I can’t do that. It’s murder. I would never do something like that.”
     “First of all,” my customer said, before interrupting himself with a sip of beer, “it isn’t murder. It’s animal cruelty, which is several degrees lower in severity. And you can always claim self defense, so if the legal ramifications are what’s holding you back, don’t worry about it.”
     “Self defense? But you’re just sitting there!”
     “Maybe I am right now. But I could very easily leap over this bar and tear one of your eyeballs out with my teeth. I could mutilate you beyond recognition. Or I could just take that gun from your coward hands and shoot you for being such an ingrate.”
     “You-you w-wouldn’t,” I stammered, my grip on the gun tightening.
     “Again, not much of a kidder,” he said. He took a several seconds-long slurp of beer, suds dribbling down his chin.
     “You’re crazy. I can’t do this. You’re crazy,” I said. It came out whinier than I intended.
     “I won’t let you ruin this for me. I’ve put a lot of thought into it,” my customer said. “Look. My distant uncle was a snub-nosed monkey. He’s dead now. This is a snub-nosed revolver and I’m going to be dead soon. It works pretty well thematically, if you think about it.”
     My mind reeled and my heart pounded as if trying to escape my chest. My customer guided the muzzle of the revolver until it was resting against the clammy flesh of his forehead. “It’s almost time,” he hissed. “Remember: if you don’t pull that trigger at the stroke of midnight, I will rip you apart until you have no other choice.”
     I mumbled a vague apology for nothing in particular. My body hummed with one long, wet shiver as I became conscious of a steady numerical chant emanating from the television.
     Ten. Nine. Eight.
     My customer gnashed his teeth in a grimace of triumph.
     Seven. Six. Five.
     “Remember,” he whispered.
     Four. Three. Two.
     “Do it.”
     One.
     I yanked the gun away from his face just as the televised crowd erupted in squeals of “Happy New Year!” Numb, I laid it down softly on the counter and stumbled backwards against a shelf of liquor. A particularly cheap bottle of vodka fell to the floor, bouncing slightly on account of the plastic bottle with a thumping glub. With his black eyes fixated on my quaking form, my customer picked up the revolver and pointed it at me. He closed one eye and tried to hold the gun steady in front of him. Then he sighed.
     “I knew you wouldn’t do it.” He pulled the gun away as his arm dropped limp to his side. He then guzzled down the rest of his beer, threw a few wadded dollars on the counter, and headed for the exit.
     “So that’s it?” I said, despite myself. “That’s all?”
     “Like I said, I knew you wouldn’t do it,” he said wearily. “That’s why you’re my best friend. And I hate you for it. Yeek-yeek.” He shoved the door open and stepped out into the frosty night.
     As the door swung closed behind him, I took a few deep breaths to try and steady my heart rate. I dunked my client’s sticky, empty glasses in a basin of soapy water and began to scrub them clean. A sudden sharp bang rang out from somewhere outside that briefly rattled the bar, but rather than investigate, I methodically toweled the glasses dry. It was probably just fireworks. Or a car backfiring.

Ring in the new year by picking up your very own copy of Joey Marsilio's novel Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior.

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