“One more, Linda.”
Linda poured one more cheap beer from a tap that hadn’t been cleaned in who knows how many years. You could taste it in the beer. But this was the only place in town that was worth a damn or that wasn’t crowded with a bunch of college students. This was the only place you could have a beer in peace without some kid leaning over you trying to get a look at the game with some girl pulling on his arm trying to get him to buy her a vodka soda or something. This was the only place you could walk outside and smoke a cigarette and actually look up and see the damn stars. This was the only place in town worth drinking a beer in, so it didn’t much matter what the beer tasted like. I would never go so far as to order a whiskey there, though.
Linda passed me what I assumed was a lager, and I took a drink off the top and made noise of confirmation. Linda smiled at me; she knew I was worth a reasonable tip. Half of the guys in there had tabs they were never going to pay off. She was happy to pour a beer for someone who would pay at the end of the night—and leave a tip, to boot. She looked at Harvey and asked, “One more for you, too? Or you going to close out?”
Harvey looked at me quickly and grinned. “One more, I guess,” he said.
She poured him a big one—she left a couple of the big frosty mugs just for Harvey. He was a regular, and so was I, but he was the big tipper. Linda liked it when we came in. We came in often.
“One big beer just for me,” Harvey said, with actual pleasure in his eyes. He then drank about half of the beer in what seemed to me to be one gulp.
Harvey had the kind of young beauty about him that I can only imagine John Keats had. The kind of beauty you know has to be fast and quick but you pray it never ends, and everybody can see it and feel it and everything about every moment of that person feels fast and quick and you can’t make it stop and you don’t want to. If John Keats lived to be thirty-five, he would look like Harvey. Harvey didn’t look like John Keats, John Keats would have looked like Harvey.
He leaned back from his pint of beer and looked around the nearly empty bar. James was in the corner. James was probably Jesus Christ. I don’t know what his last name was. I’m not sure his first name was even James. It was probably Jesus, for all I know.
Harvey looked at James and then around the rest of the empty bar, and then he finished what was left in his giant frosted mug and slammed it down. “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
“What?” asked Linda.
“My name is Harvey, beer of beers.”
“You want another?”
“Jesus Christ, Linda. Have some culture.”
“I caught that once,” said James.
“This place, I’ll tell you what,” laughed Harvey. “I’d get out of this town if I could.”
“We’d miss you,” said Linda. “We missed you before. We’re glad you’re back.”
“I bet you are,” Harvey winked. “One more and then let’s call it quits.”
Linda looked at him while pouring his beer from a few feet down the bar. “I’ll keep it open until you’re sure, just in case.” She grinned. Not malicious. Just happy. At a certain point, I really think it didn’t matter if we paid our tabs or not. I think Linda was glad for our company. James wasn’t a big talker.
“I caught that down in Tijuana!” James yelled and laughed.
“Caught poetry?” I asked.
“Christ no. The clap!”
“You have any idea what he’s talking about?” I asked Harvey. We were both drinking heavily, but we knew what we were doing. Still got it. It seems after so many years of our kind of talent, it goes in reverse, and you get James. I guess we’ll see.
“Not a clue,” Harvey laughed. “Yeah, I got a rash,” Harvey yelled back at James. James giggled and put his hands up. “Well stay away from me!”
Harvey sipped off the top of his big beer and looked at me softly. His eyes were beginning to age, but the rest of his face was youthful. “You want to step out back? Have a smoke?”
“Yeah, and I heard the Pope isn’t Catholic anymore.”
“I don’t get it. You’ve been spending too much time with James.”
Harvey said, “Well, that’s certainly true. Nothing beside remains.”
“Sometimes I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about either,” I said, and I drank from my beer and followed him outside. I had a degree in English, so I knew the poem. I sure as hell didn’t know what it had to do with anything, though. We had been talking about women. It was a Friday, we hadn’t seen any, and we were young men. Or kind of young men. What else are we supposed to talk about? Poetry?
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. This whole thing.”
“What whole thing?”
“Everything. This town.”
This town was small, and we had both wanted to leave it for as long as we could remember. Here’s the thing, though—we had. And we both came back. Me, after getting a divorce from a woman I probably should have been in love with, and Harvey after a stint working at an airline desk for some budget airline pulling decent money at LaGuardia. He had family up there and should have been happy. I had moved back a year before. Harvey, only about two months ago. It was a relief for me when he came back.
“Why’d you come back?”
“Same reason you did.”
“I got divorced, Harvey. The only friends with couches were here. I didn’t have much of a choice.”
Harvey laughed and took a drag off of his cigarette. I watched him. “You want one?”
“Marbs. Bleh. Sure.” I didn’t, but I needed to do something with my hands. I wasn’t sure how this conversation was going to go.
“Yeah, but you like it here,” Harvey said.
“And you don’t?”
“I guess. I didn’t really want to come back. I had to, too.”
“What?” Harvey hadn’t mentioned anything like this before. I assumed he came back because he found a better job here. His old company wanted him back and offered him a promotion. Fewer hours, more money. Selling cell phones, to boot. Harvey was a natural salesman.
“I loved it up there, man. Just some weird stuff messed me up, man.”
“Weird? What kind of weird?”
“No Twilight Zone shit or anything, man. But weird. I think I fell in love. But this girl was weird.” Harvey was staring at the ground and smoking the whole time he said this. James came out just as Harvey finished speaking and put his cigarette to his lips.
“James,” I said. “Old Jim. What’s up?”
James giggled in response and began urinating off the side of the porch.
“Jesus.” I turned to Harvey and lowered my voice a bit. “Who was this girl?” I tried to hide that I was a little hurt I hadn’t heard anything about this.
Harvey just shook his head and continued to look at the ground. I heard James giggle, saw him walk over, then he looked at me and then Harvey and then back to me. He giggled again, then said, “You gotta watch out. The clap will get ya.”
“You ain’t kidding, Jim,” I said, with a bit of an eyeroll to Harvey. Harvey looked up with a grin and nodded his head to the side, indicating that we should step away from James. Linda came out the back and lit a cigarette as we started to walk away. James headed towards Linda mumbling something about the weed in Tijuana. Harvey and I sat down on the steps leading from the porch to the parking lot. It was warm, but there was a spring time feeling in the air. It was early May. Students should have been running around, but it must have been finals week. Maybe the semester had already ended. Either way, the town was mostly quiet, and as it was almost last call, it seemed unlikely anyone would interrupt us on the journey from the parking lot to the porch or the bar.
Harvey sighed and flicked his cigarette into the parking lot. I watched the smoke slowly stop rising and the ember sputter out. What seemed like an hour later, Harvey sighed again and lifted another cigarette to his mouth and lit it. He passed the pack to me. I reluctantly took one and lit it without inhaling.
“Who was this girl?” I asked again, hoping he couldn’t hear the aggravation in my voice. I drank what was left of my beer and immediately regretted that I would have nothing to drink for the rest of the conversation.
“Man it was nuts. I was working nights at the desk for the airline right? In between flights I would have some time, so I would usually take a walk through the terminal.”
“My gate was at the end of the terminal, and about halfway down the terminal was a coffee shop. The girl who managed it worked the same shift I did, more or less. Weekends, usually.”
“Okay, so you fell in love with a barista?”
“She managed the place. But yeah. And it isn’t that easy. So, I see this girl every time I work, right? We talk very little at first, and she learns my name, and…”
“You learned hers, too, right?”
“Naomi. Dick. Anyway, so I see her regularly, once or twice a night on my breaks. Beautiful girl with long dark hair. Always in loose braids. Huge smile and those eyes that just looked like they knew who I was. I don’t keep my visits too regular. I don’t want to seem weird. But it’s my break and I need a coffee, and she knows that. Not too weird.”
“It wasn’t. But sometimes, on my way there, she’d be on break, too.”
“Oh, I see where this is going.”
“You have no idea.” He would have been annoyed at my humor if he wasn’t on a roll. “And I would pass her on my way to the coffee shop. You know those big displays that have the incoming and outgoing flights on them?”
“Well, there was one in between my terminal and her coffee shop. And so one time I saw her standing there and looking at it. I said hi to her, and she ignored me. Just staring at the incoming flights.”
“Okay. So, did she notice you?”
“I stood there. Like a fool. And she just kept staring. I almost walked in front of her. I left and felt like an idiot.”
“Well,” I said, “That’s a little weird. Maybe she was having a bad night.”
“It happened all the time. I started trying to catch her there. It was always her regular breaks. She would never acknowledge me. It was like she was in a trance.”
“You were probably creeping her out, man. It sounds like you were being creepy.”
Harvey shook his head and looked at the ground. He lit another cigarette. He’d be running out soon. He didn’t offer me one, and I was thankful.
“I thought so, too. So I stopped trying to talk to her. Then I passed her on her way there one night. She talked to me like she would at the coffee shop. Like she had no memory of ignoring me a dozen different times. And if I saw her at the shop, she was totally normal. Flirty even.”
I was a little confused. And the story was weird. I didn’t really know what to say, and I told him so.
“I know it’s weird. But I asked her out.”
“She said yes.”
“Oh,” I said with some inflection this time.
“We went out three times. Two coffees and a dinner. We kissed after the dinner. Talked a lot. Texted almost nonstop. Then I asked her about the ticker.”
“The ticker?” I asked.
“The flights. Whatever you call it. I asked her about it and she stopped texting me. When I saw her again, she acted like she had no idea who I was or that we had ever gone out.” I expressed how weird I thought this was. “Yeah, weird. She eventually responded and asked me to drop it and leave her alone.”
“And you left?”
Harvey lit his last cigarette and finished his beer. I was grateful for this. I was in desperate need of one more.
“Yeah. I put in my two weeks. I stopped going to the coffee shop. But I saw her one more time. I was on my way to the bathroom. I walked past the ticker and there she was.”
“Did you say anything to her?” I asked.
“Yeah. I walked right in front of her. I asked her why she stopped talking to me.”
Harvey was quiet for what seemed like forever. He flicked the last cigarette into the disparate pile of butts in the parking lot. Linda yelled from the back door, “Last call, guys.”
“She was crying. Not hard. But definitely crying. And then she walked away. So I left. Weirdest stuff. I still think about her all the time. What the hell was going on with her. What the hell she was waiting for.”
I waited for a second before standing up and making my way towards the door for one more. “Man, she kind of sounds like a bitch.”
Harvey stood up and looked at me. His face was a little like how I imagined Naomi’s when he saw her the last time. Then I hit the floor.
My eyes cleared up and I wiped the blood from my nose. Linda came running over and Harvey was walking down the steps.
“What the hell?!” Linda yelled at Harvey who was almost out of the parking lot. He responded with a middle finger.
“I deserved it,” I said.
“I bet you did. Harvey didn’t close his tab. Remind him tomorrow.”
“I’m not talking to him.”
“Okay, hun. Remind him for me.”
I would remind him. I let Linda help me up, and I let James open the door for me. There was another local inside when I made it to the bar. He took a shot, looked at me, laughed, and left through the front.
“Dick,” I said under my breath. Linda heard me. She handed me my tab. “One more?” She asked.
“Yeah. Bourbon.” She filled a shot glass and slid it to me like a movie.
I looked around the empty bar. I had a strange feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. I slumped into the barstool, reached into my wallet, and threw cash onto the bar. Linda thanked me. I looked around the bar, boundless and bare. The sands stretched far away, and I very much wanted to go home.
Eddie Kilroy chases mountain goats through the Tennessee mountains and sharpens his pencil against rocks.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.