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Next to the Last Stool - Short Story by Jim Meirose

Yes; went in, sat a while, had a few—and this guy came and claimed the last empty stool. It’s really okay and nothing to sit close, rubbing elbows with strangers, in a place like this. Just pay no attention, don’t hear what he orders, just sit thinking. As quick as he came it’s like he’s all gone, but then, after having a few, and some more, to get settled, he opened his mouth and spewed and overflowed out of his personal space.

—so, okay. Here goes; I know that—hey bartender. Straight vodka—

Straight vodka? Sure. Drank straight vodka long ago, right from the bottle. Not ashamed to say it. Blackouts were just, well, things that happened once in a while in the environment. That time and place way, way back. You know—the place brought me up. Taught mind your own business, too. Most times, the hard way. But, suddenly, his words stopped the thoughts that had come from last night. Yes, twenty four hours back, about. Why this place, not home, was right tonight. The thoughts swirled inside, and struggled to go on being heard, but here surged this stranger’s voice again. A wave over a brand new summer sandcastle, which, since finished, must now be eaten all away.

—he always comes back, but if this is the time that he finally does not, I’ll have died in my sleep peacefully, like anything ever born ends up wishing to finally do!

His shot glass rapped down. The sound came in settled and lay deep down. Didn’t come in the place to chitchat or meet anybody or whatever, you know, just came to think. The guy seemed done talking. Three shots poured out before him. Yes, sure; they’d shut him up, shut him up good. As he downed them one by one, the thoughts of why it was so important to get drunk tonight spiraled up from below, all fumes of alcohol, that chemical, rising, and here came the thoughts behind, but; he spoke loudly again, blowing the fumes away sober.

—in there, all of it, into your mother’s mouth, the way you treat me bad, so bad, so dog fucking slimy asshole pile of shit bad, into your mother’s big round white ceramic mouth, caked with pubic hair in your stinking failing pothole of a restaurant, you dare call the El Sabor!

And right then he threw back the third shot, and swung the glass slamming back down, jarring everybody around with a bolt of fear, but quiet flowed all around from behind. Sure, he wasn’t actually dangerous. Sure, the words weren’t even him, probably. The liquor shouted out from in him, sure. Before us, stretched a wide mirrored wall. Every bottle in the row before the mirror was two bottles. One real, and one not; funny. Every person in the place was two people, one real, and one not; yes, and still funny. But, he must have been listening hard to something past his mere reflection, because he shouted back at someone not there, some special third person behind the two there already. A third person in the mirror no one else yet had seen.

—he leapt around and around and around, and the empty house he had been in was gone, as big as if it never was!

Well now, how about that. Each condensation wreathed glass sitting in their perfectly round bar top puddles absorbed every word, but not a customer heard. No use trying to remember why this place, tonight, had been chosen. It was chosen to pull up cool thoughts around the raw core of what had happened last night, but, every time the tip of it all showed from the black, black water, this rapidly becoming annoying guy shouted out some more emptiness that drowned everything back down.

—in, through, and out all windows—

Give up. Okay. Say uncle. The liquor was to blame for this big waste of time. Drunk liquor, was to blame, solid as rocks. You know drinkers don’t actually get drunk. The liquor is drunk, and comes to fill them up. All the time they’re sober. Just don’t know. So, so what he came again shouting even stronger now, coarse, loud, mixed with all the liquor. What the hell, he’s just temporary. The time to leave will come. So what the hell; relax, settle down, listen.

—the TV then passed me a little pill that slid down in me, and conked me out for the night, like I was some kind of prizefighter who just got all beat up half dead, or suchlike like that!

Funny, funny—but back to business; got to shake it off, get clear, and start ignoring this gasbag of vodkafumes. This morning, yes. Start there, moving in the dark without even deciding to, tossing back the covers, letting in the air. The air pressed; always something pressed; always some air some voice some talk, pressed. Then it came. The words that were said last night; last night loud and clear to the one still lying sleeping at the far edge of the bed, right next to emptiness. So, now the time came to do everything done every other day, after the covers toss back in the back of waking. No light came around the drawn window shade edges. So it must have been early, sure, yes, maybe too early to get up now, right—but now here came the next wave sucking the morning away, forcing everyone near enough, to look up, gasp, and swallow down his words. Everybody’s hands were wet and cold around their glasses.

—Johnny was back to never was, where every single living thing on the planet ends up!

That’s it? That’s actually it? Well, no, not, no; back to the morning and stand up from the bed, again only deciding to after it’s been done. Getting up in the morning’s a lifelong addiction, a fix a day is needed. We’re all addicted. But there’s hope all the time. Death will make everyone clean and sober. The time, what’s the time; there’s a glow in the dark clock across the bed past the sleeper, on the other side, can’t quite see, lean, peer, yes the clock said it was, but; but drunken words from the next stool ripped across, swiping away the time, which had been this morning but again was just now.

Now, he is just a dead man.


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