A short story, 2018.
By Marcus Jonathan Chapman
I stepped out of the Vault. I could only stomach so many drinks on open mic night. I lit a cigarette and closed my eyes for the first inhale. The pure puff. I didn’t need a reason to drink but the first cigarette after wetting my throat was as good as any. I could feel the smoke coating all the way down to my esophagus. I held for a second then let the smoke waft out of my mouth.
I had gone out by myself. The feeling was exhilarating because I knew how others looked at the lonely guy at the bar. Going to parties or out with friends was predictable. Sure, I would laugh and make others laugh but there were so many other emotions. I flicked my cigarette and headed for the underground bar located two blocks away. I had only been there twice before. The crowd out front usually consisted of sun burnt felons with purchase stickers on their flipped-up baseball caps. The thought and the alcohol made my blood angry. I lit another cigarette to relieve the unwanted stress. Rounding a corner, I looked across the street at the entrance. A kid about 7 years old stood out front squatting down, tilting back and forth. After crossing the street, I saw it was a little girl. I was curious.
“What are you doing out here?”
She didn’t look up but responded cheerily.
“Waiting for my mommy.”
It was nearly midnight.
“Where is she?”
I became conscious of my cigarette.
“In the bar?”
I flicked my cigarette away from her.
I thought about being noble and telling her mom off but decided that getting rid of my cancer stick was enough.
“Okay, well be careful up here.”
“And don’t talk to strangers.”
It wouldn’t ruin my evening because nothing beats the excitement of entering a bar. It feels like waiting for the ball to drop at the roulette table. Except the odds are always in my favor. I walked up to the bar and placed my bet.
“A jack and coke, please and a pint of whatever.”
I pushed the chair next to me a few inches further away. I always got too restless at the counter. The barkeep came back with my drinks and grabbed the money I put on the table. I was a winner. What I did with my winnings was unpredictable. Often, I never knew how an evening would end. I finished off the jack and coke in three gulps. There was more beer, so it took a few more swigs. It was time for a cigarette. The trip upstairs was a little more cautious than the jog down. I had plenty of time to pad my fresh pack, rip the plastic, tear the paper and flip a fag up with my thumb. I pulled the cigarette out with my lips and stepped outside. A couple were doubled over laughing and trying to say…something. I smiled and raised my eyebrows as I fished for my lighter.
The boyfriend made his way to me.
“Dude, dude, dude.”
“What’s up?” I chuckled to be polite, but his laughter was contagious.
“We just saw this homeless man.”
This sent them both into a guffaw. I sent out an amused snort, realizing I was trapped, at least until he got to the punchline. The girlfriend composed herself.
“We saw this homeless guy walk by and his pants were sagging all the way down PAST his ass.”
The boyfriend picked it up from there.
“And he was pushing his cart in front of him and shuffling like Frankenstein.”
The two lost it again and I thought about correcting the boyfriend. Doctor Frankenstein was the creator of the creature. The creature had no name. A device probably used to further the creatures struggle with its identity. I realized I was boring myself and didn’t think the couple would give a shit about what I had gleaned from my literary criticism class.
The couple’s laughter died down and we talked.
“I’m Charlie, Cigarette?” I offered.
I don’t remember their names, but we talked. Where you from? What do you do? How long have you lived there? They were nearing the fork in the conversation where strangers either become friends or never see each other again. Then the boyfriend said something that really impressed me.
“Well now that the bullshit is out of the way, how about some weed?”
I thought about it for a few cigarette drags.
“I appreciate the offer, but I had an experience with a demon in a bathroom the last time I mixed.”
“Oh shit, you trip out?”
“You could say that.”
“I’m sorry bro.”
“No worries, now I mainly stick to spirits.”
“Then let’s get a drink!”
We hoofed downstairs and livened up the near empty underground bar. We ordered drinks. The couple would talk. I would talk then we would all laugh. Nothing would be remembered in the morning. We all spoke freely. The girl sat down while the boyfriend and I laughed and patted each other on the back.
The boyfriend was getting horny.
“Babe, you tired? You want to leave?”
“No let’s just get out of here.”
“She’s right.” I said, “This place is dead. Let’s go to the Vault. It’s a bar just a couple blocks away. I want a cigarette anyway.”
We started our final trek up the stairs and the boyfriend shouted out.
“Fuck this place!”
I laughed and high-fived him while his girlfriend looked mortified.
I was drunk. I handed out cigarettes and cut across the street toward the Vault. By this time all the amateurs would be gone. It was time to do some drinking. The boyfriend ordered us three beers. I was extremely grateful, but I ordered another jack and coke. I didn’t like to take chances.
We bullshit some more. The couple danced. I can never remember names. Then the girl danced alone. I was towing the line between drunk and insanity. I sat quietly responding on auto-pilot. The girl stopped dancing and the boy went to the bathroom. She sat across from me and stared into my eyes. She bit her lip. Leaning on one arm she slid her finger up and down her bra strap.
I watched the tip of her finger from the top of her shoulder to the top of her breast. Her leg touched mine and mimicked the motion of her finger. I looked toward the bathroom. I stood up somber and put a cigarette in my mouth.
“Cigarette?” I offered.
She didn’t take the bait and continued lusting. I looked toward the bathroom.
“I think I’m going to take off. Where did your boyfriend go? What was his name?”
“Why don’t you stick around. He’ll be in there for a while. He’s sick.”
“Oh, well I’ll give him a cigarette when he comes out and call it a night.”
I was intently staring at the bathroom and looked up. I wanted to get the fuck out of there.
“Here, why don’t you give him the cigarette. I’m in and out of consciousness.”
I handed her the cigarette. She continued to stare. I could feel her horny, cheating eyes following me out the door. I stepped out of the Vault and lit a cigarette. I closed my eyes, feeling the smoke coat my throat, esophagus and lungs. I exhaled. Alone again.