Sitting at a bar on the corner of Hastings and Veil, a bar named “The Spitdown”, he hovered, staring at the russet countertop, his eyes tracing the patterns within the wood, and wondered how, why, who would’ve named an establishment something like that.
It took two-hours, trapped in a darkened car in the freezing rain, to convince himself to go in. Maybe the name fit, he thought to himself. The bar was rough, to say the least. Two double doors hung, half-rotted, below a blinding sign that read “T-e S-it-own”. The smell of liquor and furtive sweat permeated the room; it whisked itself across the bar through columns of stale smoke, angry at the trespasses of forlorn feet. There were small booths and an open floor area for dancing, multiple drunks attempting to give it purpose as best they could. Lights chased each other over walls and a pounding music, rap, he supposed, blared so loud it was a wonder this place hadn’t been shut down. He sat on a swivel chair with the back snapped off, a cracked cushion under him felt like he was sitting in a pool of blood. He was wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt, sunglasses and a beige hat from his job, the stockroom at Walmart. He hated his job. But his job was safe, secure. His life had been the same, by design, always safe, always self-preservation above everything else. His wife, Barbara, was one of the safest women he had ever met. Unattractive, almost completely devoid of personality, faded blonde hair that never glimmered like the models’ on T.V. Loving a model was perilous, loving Barbara was like a fortress that was not only impenetrable, but one that nobody wanted to penetrate. He winced at the sexual pun he had accidentally made and thought about Dr. Freibowitz.
Freibowitz had been a staple in his life for years now, and for years he had always harped on the same thing. “You have to take a chance,” he would say, “You have to live, Adam. Living and merely existing are terribly different things.” Adam liked his doctor, respected him, but disagreed. Until today’s session, when Dr. Freibowitz issued an ultimatum. “Either go do something out of your comfort zone, or don’t come back to another session, Adam. And I’m serious.” The fact being that the doctor was the only reason Adam was even half-way stable mentally, he reluctantly accepted to do something out of the norm. He would have a drink at a shitty bar in a bad part of town. He never drank and never went out (unless it was with Barbara to a well-lit restaurant) and so he decided that he’d drive his Chrysler Pacifica to “The Spitdown”. Freibowitz agreed, thought it was a wonderful idea and that it would improve his mood drastically. Adam didn’t understand how risking your life was living. He could never sympathize with soldiers, firemen, police officers, fighter pilots. How idiotic were they to pick a life like that? He picks his head up and looks down the bar to see a man in a powder blue seersucker suit, staring into the bottom of a half-empty glass as if it held some answer. As if the glass could tell him why he had given up. That is the visage of the risk takers, Adam thought, and he shuddered and turned away. “Ay, stab a mothafucka today, today…” echoed from the scratchy speakers. Behind the garbled curses of the rap a softer, much more amicable sound reached his ears. When he finally looked up and across the counter, two soft-pink lips, and then two hazel eyes stared back at him.
“I’ll be damned, sunglasses inside and no jacket on a night this cold? Somebody’s a badass,” she said, her red curls bobbing up and down just above her shoulders. Of course, she was wrong.
“I’d like-“ he stopped, looking behind him and around the bar, then lowering his voice, “I’d like a whiskey on the rocks, please.”
“I don’t know if you know, Mr., but it’s awfully loud in here. You said something about rocks?”
“Whiskey. On the rocks,” he said again, raising his voice, but just barely.
“Whiskey! We have a lot of that. Do you know what kind ya want? We have Jameson, Jack Daniels, Crown Royal, oh, and some real fine-aged stuff, real expensive. I can’t remember the name,” she laughed, “and we have Dewar’s. My dad always drank Dewar’s.” She stopped and her lips curled back to show her teeth, a small gap between the front two. A flash of silver shone from back corner of her mouth.
“I’ll have Jack Daniels, I guess. I’d just like a glass of whiskey please.”
“Well! Mr. Touchy. One whiskey on the rocks coming right up. Keep the tab open?” Something in her voice had changed the answer from no to yes in his head, or maybe it was something in her countenance.
“Sure, keep the tab open, uh..”
“Mindy,” she smiled again, and whirled around to the rows and rows of drink.
Adam watched her grab a glass, polish it with a torn cloth held in a slender hand, and move toward the ice. He thought of his house. The two-bedroom, one and a half bath on the corner of a winding road. It was a muted gray outside, eggshell white inside. Carpet covered the bedrooms, cedarwood flooring for the living room and kitchen. Those areas were most likely to have spills, as he and his wife never ate in their room. They had recently sold Adam’s collection of board games and renovated Barbara’s Beanie-Baby room. Barbara was three months pregnant; it was the second time they had had sex.
A glass was slapped down with a thud in front of him, the haze over his eyes clearing to focus on the liquid inside. When he reached out and felt the condensation on his fingers he saw the face of his brother. He saw a mid-Summer day and joviality. He heard applause for the fish he had caught. He saw a lake and a coffin. He finished the glass in one long gulp, fleeing from a memory that was far too hazardous. The alcohol scorched his mouth and tore down his throat, slamming into his gut so hard that his face contorted.
“My goodness,” the words broke into his mind, cutting through his thoughts, but light like a blade of grass. Adam set the glass back down, making sure to use some nearby napkins for coasters.
“My goodness,” she repeated, “no wonder you wanted the tab kept open. That looked like it hurt, you want some water or something?” The man at the end of the bar guffawed.
“I’d like another drink,” Adam replied.
“The night’s young Mr. Touchy, and you need some time to recuperate. So, what’s your story?”
His vision went muddy and a whirring like underwater pressure came against his ears. Heat crept up in his cheeks. He picked the glass up again and crunched on two cubes of ice. Mindy put her chin in her hand and raised an eyebrow.
“Are you alright?” She asked, her voice as warm as the swell in his cheeks.
“I never do this. Ever. So, please, I need another drink,” Adam replied.
Mindy frowned slightly and rolled her eyes, or maybe he imagined that. She grabbed the glass and turned around, her movements calculated and rehearsed. There were reasons to be safe. One more drink, he thought to himself, and I’ll be out of here. Back inside a place he was accustomed to. Why hadn’t he left yet? When she came back to him she held the glass above her head and smiled.
“You aren’t getting this until you tell me just a little bit about yourself,” she said.
A thousand responses surged across his mind like water from a broken dam, and it felt like hours ticked away in the time it took him to settle on one.
“I work at Walmart,” he said. The words drained the color from his face as they left his lips. Her white teeth shone again, and she ran a playful tongue across the top row.
“Oh, you don’t just wear that hat for fun?” She asked, setting the glass down carefully on the napkins Adam had previously designated as a coaster. “What is it you do over at Walmart?”
Adam’s face was still pale, “I…stock.”
There was a pause, a silence that only they noticed, a void that held them motionless. Mindy broke it when she laughed.
“Wow, Mr. Touchy, I gotta tell ya. That sounds boring,” she said.
“Boring is safe,” he replied, and took a drink.
“No, safe is boring. Ya know, this place isn’t safe. Lots of baddies come around here. So why’d you come?”
Adam finished his drink and stared into the bottom of his glass. The pools of liquid rippled from the thump of the speakers. He heard a cry for help, splashing. He saw the ultimate end-game to taking risks. His brother’s arm disappeared under the brown waves and a drop of sweat fell from Adam’s forehead into the glass. His shoulders moved themselves into a shrug.
“I came to try something. I don’t think it’ll work,” he finally replied and motioned to his glass. “I’d like another please.”
“I think we’ll be able to make it work,” Mindy winked, turning once again to the racks of liquor. She looked back and added, “I gotta say I like the combo. Touchy and mysterious is a unique mix,” before refocusing on the glass.
There was a new yet all-too-familiar voice that found his ear for an instant, praising mystery. It told Adam that that’s what people liked, especially ladies. Mystery was risky, don’t be afraid. The voice was muffled and dim; the advice obscured by a constant gargling. Mindy hurriedly set the newly filled glass on the napkins and ran to attend a howling woman a few feet away, but Adam didn’t notice. He was straining to hear this phantom speak, blocking everything else out. He heard what sounded like his name and then nothing.
It was hours before he and Mindy spoke again. She stole occasional glances at him and vice versa. At one point she kissed her palm, curling her fingers around the gesture and playfully throwing it at him. A shout for last call came over the speaker system. The people in the bar let out a collective moan and shuffled toward the exit. Adam finished his, what was it, sixth drink? He slid the glass down the counter and stood up to walk out. Mindy was drying cups she had meticulously been cleaning. When he began to walk away she shouted at his back.
“Wait for me out there, Mr. Touchy! We’re gonna make your little experiment work!” She beamed.
Adam looked back over his shoulder and replied that he would. He was almost positive she had noticed already, but he slipped his wedding band into his pocket all the same.
The air outside was icy and the ground was wet; Adam thought about his doctor. He was feeling uncomfortable and spontaneous. Yet the feeling in his stomach hadn’t changed. It bubbled and tossed, reminding him that this is dangerous, for no reason but flattering his ego with a girl. The meaning behind it all was like the deep end of a kiddie pool. His heart yearned to cast off from the shores of safety and swim. Swim! a holler repeated in his mind. Mindy approached unnoticed and pounced on his arm, smiling again. Adam couldn’t remember the last time he saw someone that smiled so much. She reached up and as delicately as she could removed his sunglasses. He felt a twitch in his hands, but her voice singing praises of his murky eyes calmed them. She put the glasses in her purse.
They decided to walk together, ignoring the lateness and potential peril of the city, her for whatever reason, Adam to try another risk. They meandered down streets that they didn’t care to catch the name of. There was a moment when Mindy wrapped her arm around his, and a pang of guilt mixed with some sort of sick relief dug into ribs. He pressed his arm closer into his side, trapping hers, and again she smiled, though this time at something deeper than just him. The moon was so bright it could be seen even through the harsh illumination of the cityscape. As they walked, their conversation ranged from life experience to the fear of death. Adam talked about the importance of being safe, Mindy spoke of travelling in Italy and tripping on mushrooms she picked herself. He gave her a nickname, Ms. Smiley, and she laughed so hard she snorted at the corniness of it. No mention was made of either’s age or place of residence. At one point she asked about his love life. “If ever a word exemplified unsafe,” he caught himself saying.
They had wandered through the streets speaking this way until an alarm began to wail. Adam reached into his pocket and grabbed his phone, hitting snooze on the flashing screen.
“It’s 5 A.M.,” Adam said to no one.
“It is? Time really does fly when you’re having fun,” Mindy replied.
He glanced around. There were no street signs, no recognizable landmarks. The air was sucked out of him as if he were trapped in a submarine, the city’s landscape just as suffocating. He began to glance around more panicked now, and Mindy’s usual smile was replaced with a grimace of worry.
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
“We’re lost,” Adam replied with a shaky voice, barely concealed.
Mindy laughed at this and grabbed his arms, “We aren’t lost. We’re just…exploring! If you want we can- “
Before she could finish, a yell shattered the frigid air like a pane of glass, and Adam spun around. Three men, in varying degrees of extremely worn dress, reeking, sat framed against the blackness of the alley behind them. Their eyes shone like sewer rats at the delight of finding something new to scavenge.
“Hand us what ya got,” one said, “the bitch too.” Mindy grabbed the back of Adam’s shirt and pulled it up to her face. Adam’s mind raced, and finally settled on an image of his brother.
“We don’t have- “
“Spare me that shit. You have, we want, those are facts. We will kill you by the way,” the talking one replied, his two silent henchmen sitting on either side of him, eyeing them. Eyeing Mindy.
The world imploded around him. Adam’s forehead ran with sweat. He felt the small hands of a pretty girl on his back. He watched the leader pull a long knife from underneath his grimy coat. It caught the moon and reflected an image of him, red-faced and ghostly at the same time. It showed her eyes beginning to water. The potential death in front of him starting to shout obscenities at ever-increasing volumes. Adam thought about his wife and their bed. The renovated baby room. He thought about the shallow risks people took, the look on his doctor’s face as he tried to explain just what risk was. Adam realized then that for all his learning, Friebowitz knew nothing about it. I never learned to swim, he thought to himself.
“Fuck you,” Adam said, interrupting the rat mid-tirade. He pushed Mindy back onto the edge of the sidewalk.
The trio laughed and the leader grew calm, almost stern, “You’re really gonna do this? You’re really gonna take a chance on life?”
Adam balled his fist and clumsily swung at the dirtied face in front of him. The blow landed against the rat’s cheek and sent him stumbling back. The shadows on his flanks sprang into action, swinging back at Adam, connecting scabbed knuckles with his face and ribs. They were clean hits. Adam brought his hands up to his face and attempted to hit back when he could. In a matter of minutes all three men went to the ground, rolling in the wet garbage covered alleyway. One of them pulled Adam’s leg up and across his back. A white-hot pain shot to Adam’s mind, accompanied by a crunch that echoed off the buildings around them. He screamed and another, hotter pain burned into the side of his back. Twice, then three times, the steel entered his flesh, slicing through it effortlessly and tearing on the way out. He watched blood begin to pour from the hole. He heard Mindy screech, and in his mind, he screamed at her to run. As his vision went hazy he saw her turn and sprint away. The overlarge rodents removed his pants, watch and shoes. They went scurrying back into the infinite darkness that spawned them.
Adam couldn’t feel the cold now. In the edges of the pitch black that blanketed his eyes, he saw his brother, holding up a fish. He saw his wife and unborn child. He saw Mindy holding him, thanking him for saving her, smiling and smiling. The cavernous dark took his eyes completely, and his mind projected a silent-movie, a young man sinking to prop him up onto a rickety dock. The frozen feeling gave way to a warmness. A warmth he hadn’t felt since Summer. A warmth that held him to its chest in protection.
“I’m sorry I forgot,” he felt himself say.
The gurgling voice was clearer now. It told him he was proud.