Steamy ice cubes chinked inside ribbed glass. Liquor waterfalled, engulfing the squares in a sparkling wake. The familiar bouquet beckoned clear down to Clare’s bones―a sweet-tart hedonic pleasure leading up the pathway to heaven, only to veer off course every time just shy of pure hell; a most excellent seduce.
Hard rock bounced off the walls in an adjoining room. Bass and treble on the juke jacked to the max rendered the song undecipherable from a hundred others. A booming throb overpowered everything, pelting its excess onto those who hadn’t fully succumbed to the slow, downhill slide.
Youngest of the just-legal were loaded and loud, paired off and playing without benefit of privacy. Seasoned patrons pretended to ignore these overt displays. Still, necks swung back and forth like curious cat tails. Between the alcohol and brazen deuces shadow dancing in dark booths, the air grew laden with erogenous energy. Even the gray geezers seemed to squirm in reminiscence.
In the drink’s short journey to her lips, melting ice chips tinkled a cheery likeness to miniature Christmas bells. Clare rolled her wrist and cocked her head for a closer listen, let her mind fall to a happy holiday before she was alone in the world. The repose lingered in faint “I love you, Daddy” echo before a last swallow dissolved the long-ebbed scene.
Most of the bar stools were occupied by a parched herd indulging thankful fill after a laborious journey. Hardened drinkers leaned heavy atopt the counter, staring blindly into the mirrored wall behind the cash register―captive images reflected in amber bottles refracting strings of cheap pin-lights.
Unconcerned at the time with the dolls in tight jeans and skimpy bra-tanks, men made love to their addictions until such reason was forgotten or forsaken, then slurred last call come-ons to any dregs still standing―sloppy sallies with melted mascara and rum breath; beer-goggle beauties willing to swap regrets.
A refill meant shimmying up to one of the weekend regulars. Clare scanned the bar, wanted to pick one that didn’t look too far gone or too disgusting. She wasn’t nearly ready to give over to just anyone. Choosing the right man at the right time guaranteed a free round, and much more.
Knowing full well taking on a stranger opened the door to anything, Clare culled the least repulsive of the loser smorgasbord. Bachelor #1 hid behind a far-off, wounded look, the mask of someone trying to drink away something worse than bad. Divorced, weekend-dad men wore this look to the brink of distinction.
His head listed a couple of inches―only one sheet to the wind. Good. Timing was paramount when paired with animal instinct. Clare’s breast pressed his arm as she hailed the barkeep. Subconscious reactors don’t dull with drink, still prickle when provoked. Broad shoulders leaned in and his gaze fell into her cleavage, leaving a burn mark. She ordered another shot of acceptance, turning to meet him coming up for air, and offered her sweetest free-of-charge smile. He responded with a grin―part grateful, part greedy―ahead an invite to join him.
They moved to a corner table and drank for a time, made incidental small-talk while Anheuser-Busch weaved its wonders. Unexpected, he stopped working the angle Clare was working on him and half-rose, reached to a back pocket for his wallet and asked if Clare wanted to see a picture of his daughter.
A fumble of plastic―Driver’s License, Union, Amoco, Visa―spilled across the thickly shellacked tabletop. Both grasped at once, hands colliding, and bunched the cards together in the center. He searched the empty wallet folds and fingered through a slew of twenties, saying his ex took the girl, Missy, to the west coast and he hadn’t seen her in five years.
Producing a tattered grade-school photo of a pixy in a yellow dress, he admitted he was alone and there was nothing in this world, or even the next, he could do about it.
“She’s pretty, has your eyes,” Clare said, silently figuring Missy’s present age, calculating how many big events of Missy’s life he had already missed, how many big events her own dad missed.
His story raked hard across her heart. There was no decision left to make, Clare knew this one would be on the house. For as many hours as it took, she’d make him forget he was alone while he made her forget she was alone.
Wanda Morrow Clevenger lives in Hettick, IL. One hundred thirty-five pieces of her work appear or are forthcoming in online and print publications (yes she keeps count). Her debut book This Same Small Town in Each of Us, a collection of prose and poetry, released on October 30, 2011. Find Wanda Morrow Clevenger here: http://www.edgarallanpoet.com/Wanda_Morrow_Clevenger.html.