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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A Touch of Memory

Why I can never let go?
Is it because your invisible grip
remains on my memory,
that guilelessly smooth
expanse where the world
has left ridges, whorls
and smudges to mark its passage
through the my library halls?
Despite the Hands Off signs
I’ve scattered, the mess
everyone left has rendered
any of my reflections
impossible to grasp.
Except where you’ve left
your glancing caress.
I keep that hidden
so no onecan mar where
your fingertips will linger
upon my face whenever I look
on this space I hold dear.
And where I hold you, dear,
never to let go.

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.

Wherefore and Why

He thought he’d search today
for that old photograph.
And he was not sure why.
They never talked anymore,
the bloom off that rose like
the youth off that old image.
But still he rummaged,
through notebooks and pens,
books and file folders,
memories and other memories,
real and imagined.
And he was not sure why.
Until then he found it,
dogeared and scuffed,
within a spiral bound
remembrance he’d created
when he wasn’t looking,
not even thinking of it.
And he was not sure why.
But there was the smile
that lit so many dark days
and darker nights, like
the sun continues to glow
in its recalled place
behind his closed eyes.
And then he knew why.
With one smile he knew why.

Run Aground

Allegheny morning
© Diana Matisz, 2019

I still see your reflection
whenever the river slows
in its infrequently placid way,
kicking out sparkles here and there
just to make sure I notice.
Then a tug will push a barge past,
always laden with the weight
of the world someone’s mined,
all the time arguing
with underlying currents,
unseen snags and shallows,
whining of rusted steel on steel
and the strain of tarred ropes
that bind. And the wake
of their passage slices your image
into slivers of memory, emanating waves
that buoy and ground me as I list
in this spot, unable to move on.

With thanks to my dear friend Diana Matisz, who’s images have inspired me for years and I hope still will for years to come.

The Halo By the Door

Your face doesn’t register
where your memory resides.
It got lost in my mind’s
last three moves.
Your halo hangs on a hook
by the door and rattles
with each recollection’s
coming and going.

It still glows when the light
hits it right, but the light
doesn’t hit much anymore.
That’s what happens
when you get old
and memories tarnish,
tear and disappear in the dust
of an old man’s mind.

Sometimes I think I hear
the rustle of your wings
in the dark, but we both know
you never left the ground.
You just left, leaving behind
this silly halo I made
that you never wore,
just posed with, holding it
above your head to humor me,
always with one eye on the door.

Sometimes I wish I could remember
the face I thought belonged
wreathed in this ring.
Then I realize I’m better off
with a faded figment
of my own device
than the memory of a fallen angel
who finally learned how to fly.

The World Has Grown So Small

The world has grown so small
from within these four walls,
even with the windows open wide.
I’ve pulled aside the curtains,
cast my hearing and vision
as far as they can go and yet
still the world confines itself
between front and back,
left and right.
But what are directions,
when up is down, down is beneath,
out there is in here and
you are found beside none of them?
What is beside, too?
My world has grown smaller
since I first wrote “The world.”
It’s crowded in here by myself,
when even thoughts have no room
to even shrug their dissatisfaction
with their surroundings and mates.
The light is suffocating now,
unable to radiate upon a world
so insignificant it can’t cast a shadow.
This world has grown so small
that I have only sufficient space
to exhale, to only express
– not hold – blood and love
from this constricted
chamber, these four walls,
this space within no space,
this Universe of one and none.
Yet still, I’ll always keep
room enough for you.