In Tennessee Whiskey Veritas

At Pete and Ginny’s cafe cum gin joint, the bar runs from the bright front window down to the shadows by the kitchen door. The light here gets progressively darker as you walk along the mahogany and brass path from our perky entrance to possible perdition, as if you’re diving deeper into the ocean.

Today, it looked like one of our regulars, Ben Frazee, was exploring the Marianas Trench of alcoholic melancholy. At the far end of the bar, Ben seemed to be sucking in darkness as much as booze, like he was hoping to suffocate — or drown — whatever lick of flame he still carried for his now-ex Kasie Dellasandro.

“Hey, Ben. What’s happening, brother? Pete been taking care of you?” I said as I came on shift. He merely raised his chin in greeting, mumbled something and then stared back into his glass, somehow deeper than the six inches of melted silica, Tennessee ethanol and frozen H2O that sat before him.

“Dude, if you looked any lower you’d be staring at the world from under those rocks,” I said.

“Does it matter? Maybe that’s what I need, a different point of view, like looking through the bottom of this glass. Even at six bucks a shot,” Ben said as he sucked down that last puddle of whiskey. Then he crunched on an ice cube and I shivered a little.

He pushed the glass toward me, saying, “Y’know? Things looked much better. Gimme another glass of enlightenment, Kenny.”

“Girl trouble?” I asked while shoveling him his Jack and Coke.

“Does it matter? All us birds perched on this mahogany are here for some sad reason, otherwise we wouldn’t start drinking at noon on a Tuesday. Now would we?”

“Well, that makes the boss glad. But even after five years of distributing liquid psychotherapy, sometimes serving the tail end of this early crowd makes me feel kinda guilty.”

“Don’t. I’m fine. We’re all fine. And no bitch will ever drive me to drink. Or that’s what SHE said. I can drive just fine on my own and if not, then there’s always Uber. Of course, then a bitch might be driving me FROM drink.” Ben, quieted for a second and then let out a laugh at his own drunk joke. But I couldn’t laugh at the poor guy.

“So maybe you might slow your roll for a while. Okay? Make me feel a little better.”

“Aw, okay, Kenny. You know, I always liked you. Straight shooter, good listener, you don’t overdo the ice , you don’t stick any fruity-ass fruit in my glass and you don’t chintz on the whiskey. You’re a saint, brother,” Ben said as he extended his hand to shake mine. When I let go, I noticed there was a ten-spot stuck to my palm. 

I told him the next one was on me, but that would be it for a while. I thought he was going to cry right there, but I wasn’t sure of the exact reason. Sometimes drunks are hard to figure out.

At my break I slipped away from the noise to call Kasie to tell her how Ben was handling their breakup.

“It doesn’t matter, baby. Don’t forget to pick up some milk on your way here after closing time. Gimme a call so I can…turn the on porch light for ya. Okay?” she said. Then hung up.

When I got back behind the bar, I noticed Ben was gone and never touched his last drink. I took a sip before I dumped it. That’s when I realized I forgot to ask Kasie what kind of milk she wanted. I decided it really didn’t matter. I’d go home to my place after work instead. 

Sometimes women are hard to figure out. Just like some drunks. Love is too. But what the hell does that matter, either?

 

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Crumbs

Photo by Jody McKinney

Becky loved her brother, Ben, but hated how he’d chase guys off from dating her.

“He’s not good for you, Becks. You deserve so much better,” he’d say.

So Becky would look for solace in the kitchen, baking — and eating — cookies and cakes that would drive Ben crazy with their seductive aroma.

“Oh, man, Becks, that smells incredible. Lemme have a piece,” Ben would say.

And Becky would slap his hand, replying, “It’s not ready yet. It needs time before I can make it pretty.”

“But, Becks, it’s pretty enough now.”

“Sorry. And Coach Babbitt will pitch a fit if you can’t make weight this week. Besides, it’s not good for you,” Becky would remind her wrestler brother.

After a match, he’d burst through the door looking for whatever Becky had made. “Did you leave anything for me?” he’d always say. But, inevitably, he’d find Becky had finished most, if not all, of her creation.

In April, Becky started seeing Art Linski. He was looking for some of Becky’s delights, too. Just not the baked kind.

“No, Art, I’m just not ready,” she said.

But Art wasn’t to be denied and violently took what he could.

In an alley the next night, Art Linski looked up with his one good eye at Ben Stenson, and whined through swollen, bloody lips, “I’m sorry. Please, please, no more.”

Then Art heard a girl’s voice from the shadows. “Thanks, Ben. Did you leave anything for me?”

“Just a crumb, babe,” Ben said.

A super-quick flash story in response to this week’s Thursday’s Threads friendly competition on novelist Siobhan Muir’s website.  The story was prompted by, and must include, the phrase, “Did you leave anything for me?” I’d say not too bad a first draft batter of words. Fluffy, bittersweet and ready for a little more to make it pretty.

I Promise

“What?!”

“I wish you’d not sneak up on me like that. It freaks me out and I lose the flow,” I said.

“What the heck does that even mean? Who’s THIS woman your main character’s talking about,” Jeanne said, her finger leaving a smudge on my computer screen. Her tone more accusatory than interrogative.

“She’s the angel who smashed the bottle on the bow of his Titanic of a life,” I said.

“The Titanic sunk,” she said. “So you’ve longed for some woman all this time? And you’re going to write about her for the whole world to read and talk about? I hate you.”

“She’s imaginary, like Queen Elsa and Olaf,” I said.

“Well she came from some somewhere inside you. You couldn’t have just made her up from nothing. Who is she, Eddie?” Jeanne said.

“Do you know how many books I’ve read over my whole life? Thousands. And all those characters are smushed together up here,” I said, pointing at the side of my head. “My imagination just picks pieces of those characters and builds a new one. That’s where she came from. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll put a big notice on the flyleaf that swears that. Okay?”

“Fourteen-point type?”

“Eighteen,” I said.

“Okay,” Jeanne said.

“Now can I get back to this? My deadline…”

“Okay. But please don’t work too late. We’re going to Mom’s tomorrow and you can’t be nodding off again.”

“I’ll be up soon. I promise,” I said.

When the door clicked shut, I returned to my keyboard, closed my eyes and that snowy day thirty years ago with Diana flowed back to me. And started I typing again.

This is a slightly lengthened version of my 250-word story for Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads flash fiction contest. I had to use a phrase from last week’s winning story (my own): “What the heck does that even mean?” If you’re a writer, a romantic or a romantic writer, you know what this story is about. If you’re not… Well, it’s about angels and magic.

Black, Two Sugars, Shhh…

“Why do you do that?” my girlfriend Sara asked.

“Do what?” I said, since I am a simple man.

“Why do you insist on using that cup every day? Even after you’ve washed it, it’s still a stained mess,” she said.

“Because,” I said, since I am a simple man and she probably wouldn’t appreciate my mansplaining.

“And that’s it? Because? What the heck does that even mean?”

“It means it’s more important to me than some shiny new cup. I’ve had this cup for twenty-some years,“ I said.

I stared into the coffee, black as the nights in the Arma Mountains, when to make any sound would offer Taliban fighters enough intel to blow you away, or even five of your buddies.

I was about to take a sip when Sara noticed more of the interior of the cup.

“I mean, look at that. It’s so scratched and stained, I don’t know what to say except ‘Why?’” Sara said. I’m sure she was just trying to plumb the depths of my male mind.

She was right, though. Its interior wore the dark scratches where thousands of turns of a spoon or field knife had stirred two sugars into it. If we had sugar.

Finally, I took a sip of my coffee and it scalded my tongue. Again.

“Damn it, Sara. I keep it because it’s important.”

“Gahhh,” Sara huffed and stalked away.

“If only…if I had held my tongue,” I thought. With Sara, too, for that matter.

Wrote this 250-words of less story for Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads feature. I was supposed to use the phrase “if I had held my tongue” anywhere in it.  Oh, and somehow think of a wee story in which to place it.  No idea where it came from.