Sunday, October 31, 2010

Last Call

The clouds stretched lean and pink on the skyline and looked like the last layer before blood. The sharp, cold sting found his big toe again. Fifteen years in Minnesota and you’d think you'd learn. He had some decent boots, but he always grabbed his old ones out of habit. Catch your death a cold, his mother always said. He smiled at the thought of defying her. Mother Nature, too. Even if it was in some small way neither would ever know.

“Well, looky’ here. Thought you died, man.”

Jimmy’s voice was like a poke in the ribs. A regular’s regular with the kind of face police stuck in line ups just to throw you off.

“Hey, Jimmy.”

“Heard you was in the hospital or something.”

“Something like that, yeah.”

“Well, Rick got jumped the other night on his way home. Freakin’ stabbed, dude. Pete’s back in Club Med after he started another fight at Frank’s. What else. Oh. Jen. Remember that actor guy she was dating? Well, he knocked her up then took off. She said he moved to Hollywood. She’s been closing this place down pretty regular since. You’d think it was her first abortion or something.” Something small in Jimmy’s laugh said she had it coming.

“Huh. Dave know about it?”

“Dave.” Jimmy’s smile went limp. “Shit. Nobody knows, man. After Jen got pregnant he kind of lost it. Last I heard he moved to Portland. Became a preacher or something. A preacher. You believe that? Mr. T & A, himself.”

Somewhere in their collective imagination, the hardest drinker around was screaming fire and brimstone from the hood of his Mustang with a bottle of Jack in his hand.

“C’mon man. You got some catchin’ up to do.” Jimmy already had him by the elbow.

Pete in the penalty box, courtesy of the state. Poor ol’ Rick taking a blade in the dark. Jen filling the blank space with bad gin and cheap promises. And from the direction of sunset, the sound of an empty heart slowly filling with the love of God.

“You go on, Jimmy. I ain't feelin' too good. Think I’m getting sick. These damn boots.”

Jimmy shook his head in disappointment and disappeared into the bar and he watched the door a full minute before turning and heading down the alley toward home.

Inside Jimmy took a long drink of his beer and of the soft glow and noise all around him. Over that crowd he wouldn’t hear the struggle and muffled scream in the alley, just on the other side of the wall. The sound of another story waiting to be told.

“Preacher.” He snorted, ordering another before it was too late.