Feel The Burn

So, yeah… where was I?

I’m kidding, of course, because I don’t know what else to do.

To reiterate: I didn’t know what else to do.

What would you do if you were standing behind a bar, and your mother was brandishing a broken bottle, raring to wound one of your friends?  Okay, maybe now that I’ve been “scared straight,” I would react more rationally than lighting the place on fire.

Immediately after it happened, I remember feeling like I left my body and was slowly returning to myself.  H.L. grabbed my arm and pulled me out from behind the wall of flames.  I didn’t see my mom or Kilgore anymore.  And Hank tried to extinguish the blaze with a soda gun.

Hank, let the professionals take care of it.  They’re already here.  H.L.was an exercise in calm.  It was like he had been through it all before.

As we reached outside, an ambulance and a fire truck pulled into the parking lot.  Kilgore tended to my mom by her car.  She was crying.

How did they get here so fast? Hank wondered allowed since I was unable to speak.

Again, H.L. had all the answers.  I had a hunch and called them twenty minutes ago.

Fire fighters rushed in.  Their hose drew a line between me and my mom.

That was fucking stupid, you know.

Hank didn’t have to tell me twice.  But he did anyway.

That was really fucking stupid.

When the police arrived, they asked for everyone’s story.  And who knows what they said besides them.  Every tale has more than one version, and the elusive one is the truth.

As the cops placed me in the backseat of their car to be taken away, I felt an extreme calm.  Then I felt extremely clammy.  It all started to sink in.  Everything.  The breakup.  The hook up.  The knock up.  The fuck up that was setting Marlin’s Inn on fire.

Prior to departure, Hank nudged the officer guarding me so he could talk to me.  The officer obliged and opened the passenger door so Hank could take a seat.

Hey kid, he said, without tone or irony.

I sighed, ready to talk, but he continued instead.

That took balls.  And I’m not condoning your actions by any means, but you diffused a bomb.  Things could have went worse, I take it.

I couldn’t look him in the eye, and neither could he until he said this:

I’ll get you outta this mess.  I’ll personally see to it.

Without another word or gesture, he popped out of the squad car and shut the door.  At this point, everyone was leaving… the ambulance, the fire truck, the guys, my mom.

Just as Santiago was pulling up.  I watched him as he walked over to Hank, and from the looks of things, Hank explained everything to him.  Santiago appeared worried, and surprised.  He covered his mouth in shock.  And then Hank pointed at me in the backseat.  Santiago’s stare burned right through me.

I called out to the officer.  “Can we go now!”

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Catching Up And Catsup Bottles

Luckily, less than a handful of patrons frequent the Marlin’s Inn, so I doubt anyone’s noticed that it’s been closed for two weeks.  The reason being?  I will get to that in a moment.

Since my last posting occurred awhile ago, I feel I need to catch you up on things.  The reason I haven’t been writing?  I will get to that in a moment as well.

The day: a couple Saturday’s ago.
The time: early evening.
The occasion: Santiago (in my mind) was seeking out the love of his life.
The problem: I was left in charge of watching the bar.
The bigger problem: it was my mom’s birthday and I cancelled our plans.
The biggest problem: Mom didn’t like that.

As she burst into this safe-haven for drunkards and old men, neither group being mutually exclusive, Hank was berating me.  In reality, I overstepped my bounds with him by bringing up the possibility that his girlfriend, Grace, left him.  Not one to recoil from a slight or a fight, he became angry with me just as my matriarch walked in.

She said to Hank: If you ever threaten my son again, you’ll be leaving in coffee cans.

To which Hank replied: You must have me confused with Maxwell House.

I’ll still admit that was a pretty good comeback, and at the time, I laughed under my breath.  I didn’t dare let either of those titans hear me.

You’re coming with me, Aiden, right this minute.  Mom remained firm in her place and firm in her decision.

Sorry to inform you, but Aiden ain’t going nowhere.  He’s got work to do.  Hank slammed his beer and handed the mug to me.  Of all the times for him not to do it himself.

Do you work here, Aiden?

He’s filling in.

Why don’t you mind your own business?

This place is my business.

I turned to Kilgore and then to H.L. for any sign of confirmation.  Each of them shrugged.  Did Hank own Marlin’s Inn?

Mom hurried into the adjacent room, grabbed a pool cue, and held it like a weapon.  H.L. did something similar to me one time.

Son of a bitch, you let my son go.  As if I was being held hostage.

Hank must have been hankering to say this:

Funny you should say “son of a bitch…”

This is when things get a little fuzzy.  From one of the tables, Mom grabbed a catsup bottle and crashed it over the top.  And it triggered something in me… like in that one movie where the director throws a garbage can through a window.

I grabbed the cheapest liquor and splashed it across the lacquered bar.  From the glass full of matchbooks, I plucked one out and lit it.  The fire spread quickly.

From what I’ve ascertained, Kilgore escorted my mom out of the Inn; H.L. and Hank lead me.

So to answer the first question at the start:  repairs have kept Marlin’s Inn closed for two weeks.  

To answer the second: I’ve been behind bars…

…you know what kind I mean.

The Birthday Surprise

I was standing behind the bar a full half hour before anyone stepped foot into Marlin’s Inn.

H.L. was first.  He dropped a five on the counter in front of me and dug in his pocket for change to use in the jukebox.  Of course, he selected some Warren Zevon and proceeded to the MegaTouch.  He paid no mind to me; he was lost in a myriad of puzzles and games.  I filled a clean ashtray with quarters and put it next to him.  Eventually I remembered to fix him a drink.

Within another half hour, Kilgore arrived.  He hung his coat on the rack, whistling all the way to his bar stool.  I made sure he had enough napkins earlier, and sure enough, out came his pen and after a click, scribbling ensued.  I also poured him some spirits without being prompted.

Another half hour passed, and someone unexpected dropped in.  He took his place in front of the spigots, and without hesitation I held out an empty mug.

Thanks, Hank said, and he poured himself a beer.

I leaned against the back of the counter and smiled. 

Everything was smooth. 

Everything was cool.

Everything was how it should be.

Holy shit!  What the hell are you doing here?  Hank shouted in reference to me, as if I had been invisible, or– I thought you were Santiago.

Kilgore and H.L. pried themselves from their distractions to acknowledge me.

I wondered why there were so many napkins, Kilgore said.

And I didn’t have to pick up my coins off the floor, H.L. added.

Where is that refugee anyway?  Hank would never have said that to Santiago’s face.  Nor his back.  To Santiago’s fist?  Definitely.

“He went out to find Ms. Barkley.”

They all howled at that response.

I clarified, “Well, that’s just my guess, anyway.”

With great authority, Hank had this to say:

If anyone’s learned anything in this joint, it’s that a woman ain’t worth the trouble.

I foolishly responded: “Why?  Did Grace leave you?”

Hank stood up on the rungs of his stool to tower over me.  If it weren’t for these other pair of fools needing service – cuz I sure as hell don’t – grace would be leaving me, and you’d be leaving in a trash can.  You understand me, Puss N’ Boots?

I had gotten so used to Hank, that my fear of him had left me.  Guess what came back in a hurry.

Oh, and guess who walked into Marlin’s Inn at the exact moment to hear that.

If you ever threaten my son again, you’ll be leaving in coffee cans.

Hank returned to his seat and turned around.  The other guys faced the fragile woman in the doorway.

All I could think to say was, “Happy Birthday, Mom.”

The Gross, Bloody Anchor Analogy

It was a Saturday afternoon, and I only planned on stopping by Marlin’s Inn for a brief visit.  It was my mother’s birthday, and I was taking her out for dinner to celebrate in the evening.  Didn’t want to get too tipsy, or even tip a little bit, so I didn’t even start at all.

Then why go to a bar on a Saturday afternoon?  What else am I supposed to do?  Or maybe I should have answered, “to visit my friends.”

Aiden, it’s beginning to seem to me that you spend an awful amount of time at that establishment.  Because it’s close to your home is no excuse.  Mom, always looking out for my best interests.  And what does Ashleigh think about all this?  She can’t approve of her future husband’s visits to a bar on a Saturday afternoon.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that I’ve yet to mention recent events to her.  Like the fact Ashleigh and I are broken up.  And the fact that Ashleigh is already engaged to another guy… our old high school teacher, as a matter of fact.  That’s a lot of facts for her to factor in.

Dare even I mention the pregnancy scare I went through, albeit alone?  Dumb me thought Ashleigh was, well, and it was, well, maybe mine.

In truth, that’s why I went to Marlin’s Inn.  That’s why I wanted to drink.  And good ol’ Mom was why I wouldn’t.

But because I didn’t, Santiago did.

None of the other guys were up there.  The bartender we knew and loved and feared was watching golf, leaning against the counter.  The daylight spilled inside as I entered, and exited quicker than I ever could.

I nodded as I approached Santiago, and he readied a beer.  “A cola, please.”  It was as much an order as a plea.

So from the fountain he readied me another glass, low on ice.  He kept the beer for himself.  I wanted to ask him if he was supposed to do that, but as I’ve already hinted… it’s kind of scary to ask him things like that.

How do you do it? he asked softly, as if he was standing on the golf course televised behind him.

I wasn’t sure what he was asking exactly, so I took a sip of my soda to by me more time.  Maybe he’d add more to the question…

When someone submerges their anchor into your soul, how can you allow them to leave without taking a bleeding chunk of still-beating heart?  He slammed the full mug he held in hand, and immediately filled it again. 

How could you release that chain, and permit it to permeate your lungs, your ribcage, your muscle, and your sinew?  How can you survive with a gaping hole in your chest cavity, dripping all that remains of you, all of your remains, onto the once already stained linoleum floor?  Bleach only cleans so much.

Ms. Kat Barkley That’s who he had to be talking about.  In the time it took me to ponder an explanation, Santiago pounded another mug of social lubrication.

It was then Santiago made his request: She cannot leave me again.  Will you watch the bar tonight?

For some reason, I replied, “Yes.”  It probably had something to do with the blood and guts analogy he described, or because he was so eloquent and heartfelt, it freaked me out.  Either way, it wasn’t like I hadn’t watched the Inn before, however short a period of time.

I pulled out my cell phone, and hit redial.

Mom,” I started in that questioning tone…

Santiago dropped the keys on the counter in front of me and pointed.  It will be better if you stand back there.

…I continued into the phone, “Do you mind if we adjust our plans?”

The Origin Of Pizza Night

At work, I received a call before quitting time.

Aiden, the voice on the other end said.

“Yeaaaahhh,” I responded taking as long as I could.  It was almost 5 o’clock.

It’s Kilgore.  Pick up a pizza on the way in.

“Why don’t you have it delivered?”

Not missing a beat:

We are.

And that’s how pizza night at Marlin’s Inn began.

By 5:05pm I was in my car. 

At 5:07, Ellis was waving at me from his car, trying to get me to roll down my window.  He even honked for my attention.  Gregory, another coworker of ours, probably thought it was because Ellis likes boobies.  That’s what the bumper sticker on Gregory’s car says to do if you like them.  But I figured, why bother?  All he was going to say was I’ll meet you at the Inn.

When the numbers 5:22 blazed from my dashboard, I was pulling into the parking lot of Moveable Feast Pizzeria.  And you’ll never guess who I ran into there…

Esme.

The Princess.  The better looking half of the couple we call the Lovebirds.  I almost didn’t recognize her sober.  I mean, me being sober.  Nothing against her.  I hadn’t seen her since St. Patrick’s Day.

She noticed me first.  Aideeennnn, she responded taking as long as she could.

“Hey Esme.  How are you?”

Hungry.  Hence waiting for some pie.  And you?

“I wouldn’t say I’m hungry.  But I’m sure I will be eventually.”  Well that was dumb.

That’s cool.  So, you heading up to the bar?

“You know it.  I live there.”

You actually live there?

“No!  No.  I meant it feels like I do.”

She laughed and pressed on.  Oh, because you know, there are some people that live in bars.  Like in the back, or upstairs.

“There’s no upstairs.”

I know.  She paused to nod.  It’s too short.

The cashier finally called her name and an end to my miserable attempt at small talk.

She pointed toward the counter.  That’s me.

Why I did what I did next I do not know.  I extended my hand.  To shake hers.  It’s weird right?

She laughed again.  I’m still not sure if it was at me or at the situation, but I was beginning to grow fond of it.  She shook my hand.  It was nice seeing you again, Aiden.

“Likewise.”

Back at Marlin’s Inn, the brood swarmed the pizza box like they hadn’t eaten for days. 

I never really got hungry, but Ellis made sure to inform me, I was trying to get your attention to say I’ll meet you here.

The Obvious And The Oblivious

As quickly as Hank had stopped frequenting the Marlin’s Inn – and as quickly as he had started again – he suddenly stopped again. 

But I was going to take it in stride; he set my worrying free.  Ashleigh wasn’t expecting, so no longer was I expecting that call: Hey, you might be the dad.

My guess is that outside of what family I know (that being Ryan and Steve), Grace has another granddaughter whose gas tank is full… that’s how Kilgore put it one time.

He said:

“Knocked up” is such a violent sounding term.  It’s like a boxer’s move, or the way to explain a failing automotive engine.  Why don’t we say a woman’s “gas tank is full?”  Or she’s “getting a new car seat?”  Heck, let’s stick with the car thing and go with “her brake lights are on.” 

Hank was still around at this point, and he had his own idea:

You could say “her headlights are getting bigger.”

He was always good for a line like that. 

As I recounted the story to Ellis, who I guess was becoming a regular at the Inn, H.L. started on about his car stool, and the way its engine knocked up sometimes.  That’s when I give it a shot of whiskey.  Cleans the works right out.

Kilgore was sure not to miss a beat: Sounds like Horselover’s car stool can handle its liquor better than you, Aiden.

I used to be able to drink the hard liquor, but until recently the my innards aren’t too into it.

Ellis tried to get in on the humor.  Yeah, Aiden, I bet the car stool could drink you under the table.

No one laughed.  I was about to insult him in the same way that Hank used to rip into me, until Santiago snorted.  He actually snorted.  Then he couldn’t breathe.  Tears filled his eyes as he tried to regain composure.  His browned leather skin turned a red I didn’t know it could. 

Ellis looked worried for Santiago, but us others were simply perplexed.  We knew his laughing was uncontrolled, but we simply did not get the joke.  And the more confused we appeared, the further he descended into hysterics. 

He gasped to explain.  We couldn’t understand.  I firmly believe Ellis didn’t even get his own joke.

What it is, Santiago?  What the hell is so damn funny? Kilgore demanded.

Santiago grasped the counter and wiped his face with the bar rag.  He inhaled deeply:

A stool goes under the table!

It was so ridiculous that it spread to us all.

Except Ellis.

Of course.

The Truth Sets You Free

Despite my nostril-burning whiskey shot move, I held my own at Marlin’s InnSantiago wouldn’t bring drinks to Hank and Grace, so on occasion, Hank had to approach the bar to refill his pitcher.  And since I sat where he used to, right in front of the beer taps, he had to hand the plastic pouring device to our bartender and wait.

It’s nice to see you’ve manned up and stopped being a pussy.  Hank – the proprietor of pleasantries.

“Yeah, since I’ve gained some distance and perspective on the situation, I thought I’d head back up here.”

Santiago handed the holder of hops to HankIt’s not Ashleigh, he said.

“What?” I barely managed.  I said it so slightly, I might not have said it at all.  Armed with his supply of suds, he stepped away in silence.  I spun in my seat, but Hank was already striking conversation back up with Grace.

He said it’s not Ashleigh.  Ellis had to put his nonsense in.  Looking over his shoulder, he continued.  I didn’t think she was that old anyway.  Ashleigh, I mean.  I didn’t know you were into GILF’s.

I only smiled in response to what Hank said.  Ellis interpreted it as a conversation between us, and I let him keep talking.

Not that I’m knocking grandmothers and their ability to be, um,  sexual.  I would assume they’d know a lot of tricks from all their years, you know.  And they might even have more in their repertoire because they can’t move like they used to, due to brittle bones.  Like how when a person that can’t smell has heightened senses.  Or when a person doesn’t have great balance, they find ways to adjust.

I returned to facing the spouts before me, and the spouting beside me.  “What the fuck are you talking about, Ellis?”

The Warm Whiskey Shot

I returned to Marlin’s Inn feeling like a new man.  If time can mend a broken… who am I kidding?  I was still a mess, but I wasn’t going to show it.

The day’s were longer now, so it felt strange to enter the bar and have my eyes adjust from leaving the sunlight.  I blinked at the coat rack, and looked at it twice before remembering I wasn’t wearing one.  Spring was finally here, or at least it was close enough.

Hank and Grace were seated at the same table.  I wondered if it was “their table,” but instead of making a meaningful exchange, I nodded as I passed them.  Grace raised her glass; Hank just looked at me.  Whatever that meant.

My eyes weren’t fully adjusted until I reached the bar and discovered Ellis was sitting in my spot.  I could have asked him to move, but I was in good enough spirits not to let it grate on me.  So I sat in Hank’s old spot.

Thank goodness you’re here, my co-worker began.  There’s so much I need to chat about that we can’t chat about at work.

There was probably more of a reason that I didn’t chat with Ellis than simply being at work.

My girl’s left me.  Again, Aiden.

Instantly, I’d had it.  New Aiden wasn’t going to put up with this.  “Which girl, Ellis?  Huh?  Which girl left you?”

The love… the love of my life.

“Did I ever meet her?”

I never brought her in here.

“Then pardon me when I don’t give a damn.”  I threw a look at Santiago, and he handed me a shot of whiskey.  It was warm, and while I was hoping for a beer, I slammed it anyway, down the gullet, over and onto the counter.

Ellis nodded beside me.  Understanding?  Perhaps.

I barely looked over at Kilgore.  He waved his pen.

I barely looked over at H.L.  He was lost in his game on the MegaTouch.

I didn’t look back at Hank.  But I’d like to think he would have gestured, too.

As I sat in my self-congratulation, the warm whiskey chilling in my throat decided it didn’t like being there, and it shot back out through my nose.