The door closed and the window opened and the
wisp of air slides in on top of the smell of lavendar and pine trees. Reed
watches the door of the bar come into focus—covered in the red and blue neon
light from the Miller sign next to it, the pamphlet announcing hunting season
knocked slightly to the left. He doesn’t notice the air slide in. Daryl had a
way of closing doors so that everything around it vibrated for a few seconds,
erasing everything in the world but that vibration. This bar, even now, in the
middle of a sunny day, is dark—the booths in shadows, the tables black polka
dots, the people fading in and out depending on where they are in relation to a
neon beer, sign, the jukebox, the pool table.
Reed listens. The door mumbles under its breath,
crabby. He hears the chairs around the tables gossiping to each other, the
jukebox philosophizing. Reed works his eyes along the floor to the bar where
he’s sitting, where he watches the previously unnoticed wisp of air morph into
a woman who is now sitting on the stool next to him. Reed hears the glasses
behind the bar giggle, the stack of coasters laugh. He closes his eyes. Opens
them. She is still here, her hands around the pint in front of her. She’s
spinning it around slowly, like pottery on a wheel that’s moving in slow
motion. Reed readjusts himself, accidentally kicks the bar. The bar reprimands
him. He apologizes.
“What?” The woman says.
“What did you just say?”
“Nothing. Sorry. I said sorry. To the bar. I
“The bar is easily offended,” she says.
He nods. The bar tsks.
He doesn’t know what to say. He never knows what
to say. That’s why Daryl stormed out earlier. All kinds of questions and no
answers and Daryl got angrier, more demanding, wanted to know why, why, why,
what happened, what happened to Smith, he’s my brother. Might as well be yours
too you known us so long, and Reed knew he needed to say something, at the very
least try to give Daryl some peace, but he couldn’t find the words, they ran
away from him, hid in the shadows, and Reed could only sit there, silent,
pointing at the dark corners where the words were hiding, like that would help,
and that pissed Daryl off to the point where he was about to smash that
Budweiser bottle into Reed’s face, but something stopped Daryl, and he let go
of the beer, it rolled across the floor. Then the door closed and the window
opened, and the room started talking to Reed.
She taps the back of his hand with her finger.
Her face is all soft round, no sharp edges. Eyes like ponds, color swaying from
blue to green, back to blue. Hair long, curly, dark. In the light of the bar
her hair swims down her back. At the point she touches the back of his hand
with her finger, there is a red dot. She watches his eyes, follows them to his
hand. “I’m a leaker,” she says more to herself than to him. “Hard to keep it
inside.” She points at the pint in front of her. He sees vaguely smeared red
stripes where her hands once held the glass. She grabs a napkin, quickly wipes
the smears away.
“I can hear the room talking,” Reed whispers.
“Really? Like how?”
“Like, the floor groans and swears when we walk
on it. The walls complain about how heavy those beer signs are. The napkins in
this stack are fighting with each other about who should be on top.”
“Bet they wouldn’t be fighting about that if
they knew first one up is gonna have to stop my leaking.”
Reed waits a second. Looks at the stacks of
napkins. Looks at her. “You’re right.”
She laughs. Reed smiles.
Reed sees his memory now, it’s slowly piecing
together like a jigsaw puzzle. Daryl barreled into the bar earlier, marched
over to Reed without waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark. Didn’t sit.
Knocked Reed’s shoulder. “What the fuck, man?”
Reed couldn’t look at Daryl. Tried to look in
his face. Couldn’t do it. Tried to look at his chest. Couldn’t do that either.
Settled for looking down, at his shoes.
“Tell me what happened,” Daryl said, voice
shaking. Daryl’s voice never shook. In the thirty years Reed knew him, he never
heard Daryl’s voice shake.
Daryl huffed. Ordered a beer. Still didn’t sit.
Mickey brought the bottle over to him. Daryl chugged. Slammed the bottle on the
bar. “You don’t even go to the hospital? Smith’s in a coma, you know. We don’t
know what happened. You could at least tell us what happened.”
Reed knew this. Daryl and Smith? Reed knew them
so long, he was like their brother. Reed closed his eyes, wished that time
would rewind. Instead he saw fingers grasping the edge of the roof, slowly
sliding off, then, just the roof. Reed snapped his eyes open. Daryl’s face was
there—so like Smith’s Reed for a second thought it was Smith—eyes red, lines around
his mouth, a day of growth clustering over his chin. The anger rolled off Daryl
thick as fog. Reed moved his mouth, tried desperately to say sorry, wanted
desperately to be a bigger man than he was, but his mouth wouldn’t speak.
Daryl grabbed the beer bottle, held the neck
like he was holding a knife, glared at Reed. An eternity passed. Daryl took a
step back, dropped the bottle. It rolled across the floor. Daryl walked out.
This was the last time Reed saw him.
She’s grabbing bunches of napkins and pressing
them to her left ear. Reed watches the stack get shorter and leans down the bar
and grabs another stack. Sets it in front of her. “Thanks,” she says.
“Sometimes, you know, the leaking, it’s worse than other times.”
As she says this, Reed watches a thin red line
appear at the base of her right ear and snake its way down her neck. Another
one appears on her temple and rolls down her jaw. He grabs a napkin, wipes the
lines away. But they keep coming.
The walls start whispering, something he can’t
make out. The bar starts in. Then the mirror over the bar, the ceiling fans,
the bar stools, the football schedule tacked to corkboard next to the men’s
bathroom. The whispering grooves into a hum, then slips into volume, then
coalesces into words. Do something. Do something. Do something. Everything in
the bar, all of it, telling him—do something.
Reed gets up, walks to the end of the bar, grabs
every napkin he sees, walks back to her and as he does grabs the towel. He sits
back down on his stool, turns her face to him, then grabs the towel and presses
it against her temples and holds. He can feel her blood pulsing, like it’s
struggling against strangulation, but he holds tight. Her eyes are wide and
knowing. She doesn’t smile. The blood pulses, beats against him. He removes the
towel and grabs at the stack of napkins, holds them against her temples. The
blood pulses in one last gasp and then he feels it rest. She smiles.
Reed and Smith were at work—construction, on
that huge mansion outside of town. On the roof. Smith goofing around as always.
Doing some dance. Reed concentrating on the shingle in his hand. Then quiet.
Abrupt and menancing quiet. When Reed looked up, he saw Smith’s fingers clutched
on the edge of the roof. Smith not making any sounds. Reed froze. Stared at Smith’s
fingers. Hands he watched since they were little. And now they were slipping.
One by one Smith’s fingers disappeared and Reed couldn’t move, felt like he was
encased in concrete.
There was a thud and then someone yelled, “Call
the ambulance,” and for Reed the world went black until the moment when he was
sitting in the bar and the door closed and the window opened.