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?”

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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.

The Escapists

H.L. and I are not cut of the same cloth.  I, on one hand, strive to fit into the machine, or at least find my place in it.  At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m trying to make sense of everything.  He, on the other hand, absolutely does not fit.

In fact, I always thought that if he could find a way to disable the machine, he would.  But he – like life – is full of surprises.

The last time I had any kind of social exchange with Horselover Fat, it didn’t go too well, in my opinion.  Since then, he’s offered to erase my memory possibly, and he’s rocked the mic on St. Paddy’s Day, so has my opinion of him changed much?  I’d say yes.  Bringing beer to my home just as I’m running out helps, too.

“I didn’t expect to see anybody, let alone you,” I told H.L. upon his arrival.  I had stayed away from Marlin’s Inn for a week.  I had my reasons.  And I had my reasons to turn him away, too, but he had twenty-four reasons to stay.  I invited him indoors and lead him into the kitchen.  There was no way that beer was getting warm.

I told you, those guys have been bumming me out lately.  Hank has his GraceSantiago has his Kat.

“So they are an item!”

An item is singular, so yes… they are singular.  Everyone’s mind is preoccupied.

“Don’t you usually occupy yourself,” I said, emptying the case into the fridge, making sure to hand H.L. a can and put one on the side for myself.

The MegaTouch runs on energy.

I waited for him to say more, but he didn’t.  He simply cracked open his brew and wandered back into my living room.

Is this that video game system where you can bowl and play tennis and box?

Having finished the aluminum transfer, I answered by handing a wireless controller to H.L.  “You bet your Wii it is.”

He had a ball.  And his glee was contagious.  I hadn’t touched the system for awhile now, but the absence in deed made the heart grow fonder.  We played every sport and every competition and every co-play on every disc that I had.  But I started getting sleepy, and I turned the regular game play over to him.

The last thing I remember him saying as I dozed off was:

What does it mean when your Wii glows blue?

It made me chuckle on my way to dream land.  The next morning I awakened on time for work, and early enough to the puttering of a go-cart engine outside.  H.L. was nowhere in sight in my living room, so I rushed to the window to see him riding one of these away:

barstool

I was surprised… but I equally wasn’t.

The Home Delivery

I’ve stayed away from Marlin’s Inn, oh, about one week now.  I’ve been coming home from work and cracking open bottles all by my lonesome.  I think it could be a bad idea, but it’s one that I don’t plan on sticking to for long.

As Kilgore once said:

It’s not a sin if you don’t sin alone.

I think he was talking about war, and the justifications that go on in a soldier’s mind, but not to take the heaviness out of it, I think it can also be applied to the thought process of a drunk.  Or an addict.  Or a whatever might be considered bad.

When Ashleigh cheated on me with Ryan, was it his fault for taking her away? 

Was it her fault for wandering? 

Was it my fault for not being there for her?

When Ashleigh and I had our quickie (yes, that’s the word I’ve been looking for) in the ladies restroom at Marlin’s Inn on Valentine’s Day, was it her fault?

Or mine?

Or Ryan’s?

The reason I’ve locked myself away in my apartment is because my good-old-buddy-old-pal Hank is dating Ryan’s grandmother, Grace.  And Grace announced to my world that she’s going to be a great-grandmother.  And since her other grandson Steve is a good friend of mine that doesn’t even have a girlfriend, I connected the dots and figured Ashleigh’s expecting.  And remember that bit about our quickie?  That’s why I’m running low on Lowenbrau, and wondering why the party store doesn’t deliver.

I never expected anyone to seek me out, and yet, someone did.

There was a knock at the door, and like the knock, my heart, um, knocked.  Who was it? 

Who did I want it to be? 

Who did I not want it to be?

When you drink alone on your couch while watching old TV shows on the retro networks, I think you get drunk a lot faster.  Is it because you’re not hindered by conversation, or is it because a sofa is way more comfortable than a stool?

I looked through the peephole, and it was the last person I would have expected.  For some reason, that made me laugh a little bit.  I cracked open the door to find the strangest little man I’ve ever known, Horselover “H.L.” Fat.

He said as he held up a case of beer:

It’s a sin to drink alone. 

Then he added:

Plus those guys have been bumming me out lately.  I figure you can’t be any worse.

The Mayor

I wanted to throw up.  Honestly I did. 

My body wanted to expel the lingering demons, too, but I think they already made it into my bloodstream.

So in the men’s room of Marlin’s Inn I gagged.  I coughed.  And I could shake the ill feeling for the life of me.

Ashleigh Hayes, the former reason for my existence and current bane thereof, was pregnant.  Possibly.  Her grandmother, Grace, said so… in so many words.

I could probably manage to deal with that fact, if not for the face that we had our fling on Valentine’s Day.  If I didn’t drink so much on the day before, I might be inclined to think my pangs were sympathy morning sickness, except the night kind.

I was left alone for a comfortable stretch of discomfort.  Up until Hank came in.

Mind if I piss? he asked.

“It’s a free country.”

My back remained to him at the urinal, even though I stood up from a hunched over position.  Let it be known, I would never kneel to vomit in a public restroom.  The floors are disgusting.

So rather than awkwardly listen to what I thought would be a stuttering stream of urine, and in fact turned out to be completely the opposite sound, I started talking.

“Can I ask you a question?”

A free country, right?

With the flush of a toilet, things turned back to, well, not normal… just not as odd.

“Did you stop coming here because of what I did?”  I was referring to cheating with another man’s girl, who used to be my girl.

The world don’t revolve around you.  I thought you’d have figured that out by now.  Hank started washing his hands while I still faced my porcelain basin below me.

“It’s just that after what happened on Valentine’s, and the things you said to me… I thought…”

I thought you might stop being such a pussy by now.  He grabbed paper towels to dry his hands.  The girl moved on.  So should you.

“But it’s just that… what if the kid’s mine?”

Trash in the trash bin.  How far did things go?  I thought you just stepped up to the plate.

Why must I constantly clarify things?  And why don’t I know any good baseball analogies?  “Let’s just say, I did my half.”

Hank got blunt.  I missed blunt.  I thought you didn’t technically fuck her.

“Technically, I did.  It was just quick.”  First time’s a blast.  So to speak.

As I stared at the bowl of water at my feet and that drain to Shitsville, where I could one day hope to be mayor, I heard nothing behind me.  No pissing, no flushing, no washing, no drying.

It was the most uncomfortable sound of all.

The Bomb

To begin, I don’t know how I made it to work the morning after St. Paddy’s Day.  I awoke, feeling new and stone sober, and even at an earlier time than I do on any other given day of the week.  All without feeling sick.

Then lunchtime came.  And so did my hangover, but it was more in my head than my stomach.  I muscled through the remainder of the day, and I promised myself I’d go home and get a good night’s sleep, but curiosity was getting the best of me.  I wanted to know more about Ms. Kat Barkley, the proprietor of Marlin’s Inn, and possible paramour of Santiago.

I’d only go in for a drink, I told myself.  Or two.  Then I’d leave.

Upon arriving at the Inn after work, a surprise awaited.  There once was a time where I enjoyed surprises, but that time has long passed.

How’s it going, kid.  Hank had returned.  He was at least back at the bar, but instead of his seat in front of the taps, he now resided at the table where the Lovebirds usually nested.  And he wasn’t alone.

Hiya, Aiden He was with his possible paramour, Grace.  I still couldn’t believe he was spending time with my ex’s future grandmother-in-law, in any capacity.

I merely nodded at the pair and headed to my stretch of lacquered wood between liquored friends.  Santiago handed me a beer, but I couldn’t take it.  I couldn’t take any of it.  I mean, I no longer felt sick.  It was the situation that was wearing me down.

Hank abandoned this place.  He ditched us to play bingo and drink at some other dive.  And he was going to just come back in here without consequence? 

I looked at H.L.  His eyes were glued to what else but MegaTouch.

I looked at Kilgore.  He scribbled away without incident.

I took a swig of my beer as I looked at Santiago.  He merely raised his eyebrows.

So I slammed my mug down and walked back over to Hank and GraceGrace’s arms were flailing about, animating her most likely boring story.

“Excuse me,” I said.  I guess I’m even polite when I’m angry.

Oh, honey, I was just about to tell Hanky here my big news, so you can hear it too. 

Goodness, I thought, could this woman be anymore annoying?  Well, the answer was yes, because she grabbed one of Hank’s hands and took one of mine.  Shaking both of them firmly, she said:

I’m gonna be a great-grandma!

That’s when it all hit me.  “I’m going to throw up now.”

The Toasted (Addendum)

Before I get to the beginning of the end of my world, I had a few more things I wanted to bring up about St. Patrick’s Day.

  1. H.L. is a great singer.  I don’t think I made that clear.
  2. It seemed that Santiago wanted to talk about Ms. Barkley with me, but Kilgore was around the entire time.  The reason why it seemed like he wanted to have a word with me was because he said so.  Just that he wanted to have a word with me.  Not that it was about Ms. Barkley.  That’s my interpretation.
  3. Kilgore swore he saw a leprechaun come into Marlin’s Inn.  Here’s his unfinished doodle of it/him:napkinleprechaun
  4. And the last thing… The Princess made it a point to come over and talk to me.  I found out her name is Esme.