Triptychs – Chapter 34
Tuesday night, the second night after the fire, and all I could feel was numb, as I pushed through the doors of the bar. Not fear; not anger, not dread. Just, numb.
And maybe because of the numbness, maybe because I couldn’t feel anything . . . I noticed things. I noticed, everything; it was like I was stuck in ‘record’ mode, somehow, a red light blinking in my head, somewhere. Everything around me, vivid; hyper-real. Surreal, maybe.
The worn, green linoleum, at the door; the streaks where it was worn completely away, and the neat, little hexagonal white tiles underneath, showing through clean, and bare.
The bartender; red-faced, gray ponytail, cheerful and half-drunk; leaning in close, as he talked to a shadowy figure at the far end of the bar.
The smell of piss and beer; stronger than ever, stronger than I remembered it, even; I swear, I could have found my way to the bathroom, blindfolded, by smell alone.
The dark, heavy wood of the bar; the sickly-green-lit glass shelves on the back wall. The half-empty bottles of whisky and vodka and god-knows-what, sitting on those shelves; glowing, like dead things, like corpses of bottles.
My dad; sitting on his usual stool.
As it turned out, I was lucky; the guy to his left was just getting up, off his stool; he stood a second, adjusting his pants, and then he slowly weaved his way past me to the door, not looking at me, not looking at anyone.
I dream-walked my way to where he’d just been, and I sat down on the bar stool next to my father.
Unreal moment. Surreal moment. On a bar stool; next to my dad.
He didn’t look over, he didn’t see me; he was looking off to his right, at some bullshit sports show on the flatscreen TV, mounted up on the wall. Something about basketball, anyway; flashing graphics, talking heads, swooshing, animated basketballs, bouncing, coming at us from out of the screen.
I looked down. The guy who’d been sitting there, had left his glass; a highball glass, filled with half-melted ice cubes; the smell of scotch, or bourbon, or something, wafting up from it. I recognized the smell, and it made my stomach lurch, some.
“Hey, dad,” I went.
Surreal World. Words I’d never expected to use, together, again. Not like this.
His head came around, eyes focused on me. And the way his head moved, the time lag – it told me how much he’d had to drink, told me exactly what stage of ‘drunk’ he’d gotten to, tonight; I could read him, from long experience.
“What the fuck are YOU doing here - ?” from him, at last.
Not that drunk; not yet. He knew why I was here. What made me come here, anyway. I could read that, in him, too.
I took a breath.
“You need to stay away from my mom and me,” I said; my voice low. Looking down into the highball glass; at the translucent ice, the sheen of melt-water puddling in the bottom of the glass.
I should be feeling something, I thought to myself. I should be feeling something; this is weird.
“You need to know. If anything happens to my mom or me, or if anything happens to the Morrisons, upstairs, my uncles are going to come for you. All three of them. And it doesn’t matter where you go, or where you hide, they’ll catch up with you, they’ll have help.”
Me, saying it, mechanically. I’d scripted this part out weeks and weeks ago, I’d rehearsed it in my head, hundreds of times. For this moment. This was my Plan, this was why I’d searched for my father, this was why I’d chased my father down, here. To this place.
Me, numb; that feeling of unreality. Why wasn’t I feeling anything - ?
“And when they do catch up with you, they’ll take you out onto the Delta, in one of their boats. And, they’ll put weights on you; and they’ll put you over the side.” Another breath. “And, no one will ever find your body.”
Long seconds of silence, from him. I wondered if he was going to hit me; I wondered why I didn’t care.
“You lie,” from him; in a kind of a ghost of the sneer I’d grown up, with. I could feel him sitting up a little straighter, leaning back, a little. “You’ve always been a liar.” I could hear stress, in his voice. Then, a breath of air, a kind of forced laugh, from him. “You are such a fucking little liar.”
Me, looking down at the highball glass. The ice; the water. The rings of wet condensation, on the dark, polished wood of the bar.
I should be feeling something; I KNOW I should be feeling something.
“Look at the door,” I said.
Nothing from him, for a long moment; then I could see him glance back, over his left shoulder –
“Oh, Jesus,” he went. He flinched, big, he flinched, and sagged way over, halfway over, onto the bar; wincing, moving his head. “Oh, Jesus, oh, fuck, oh no – ”
I didn’t have to look back. I knew they were there; my three uncles, just inside the door; my Uncle Patrick, my Uncle Ryan, and my Uncle Dennis, side by side, tall, broad, strong, and grim and still as death. Looking right at us. The half-drunk bartender had already seen them, he was looking sober, now, and scared.
“Oh, fuck no . . . ” My dad looked up again, face all pained. “Jesus . . . I didn’t mean to hurt anybody, I didn’t want anybody to get hurt - !”
He stopped, as he realized what he was saying; in public. He blinked a second, and went on, voice lower, anguish on his face. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody, it’s just that she didn’t pick up when I called her, she fucking wouldn’t PICK UP when I called her, and all I needed was just a little money, just a little loan to hold me over until next week – ”
My fault. Her cell phone battery’d died in Stockton, she was always bad about keeping it charged . . But worse, the real sin, I’d unplugged the home phone, for my weekend with Noah. Not wanting to worry about my dad.
Well, now I was paying.
“She fucking wouldn’t answer me! And I just needed, just a few dollars – ”
He looked at me . . . and, fuck, if his expression didn’t change. Shame, and rage, and ugly; yeah. But, fuck-me, if I didn’t see, something like, hope . . .
Another, surreal pause.
“There is no money,” I said. “There’s only debt. Most of it’s yours.” I slid off the barstool, backwards, slowly; keeping my front to him, not turning my back on him. I looked at him, for the last time, for just a second. “Stay away from my mom and me.” And I turned, and walked back to the door, and to my uncles, and to the night air.
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