It began with a wrong number. My cell ringing, three or four times, maybe more, before I woke and realised it wasn’t a dream. I couldn’t be sure how long I had been out. All I knew, was my head felt like Babe Ruth had used it to hit a home run at the top of the ninth; and my body, I wasn’t sure how my body felt — I couldn’t even be sure I had brought the right one home with me. I felt as if my arms and legs had been ripped off during the night, but a quick examination confirmed they were all present and correct, only I wasn’t sure they had been put back in the right order. Had I been in a fight? It wouldn’t be the first time, and certainly not the last — but as my head began to clear, I remembered the divorce papers, served while I grabbed brunch at my local Diner. Recalled the feelings of loss, regret and no longer belonging to anyone and then a beep from my cell as I looked down at a large, legal looking envelope doing its best to outstare me as it lay on the table’s surface. The screen yelled back at me — Ava it cried. Beautiful, sexy, caring Ava. Two out of three ain’t bad, but for me, it was never enough. Her texting at that precise moment was no coincidence; I knew her too well for that, but she would argue otherwise — yet another battle to lose. There’s a limit to just how many you can forfeit before running out of ammunition and finding yourself physically and emotionally battered to a pulp, before having to surrender and ultimately lose the war. This envelope was my white flag, my ‘Treaty of Versailles’ moment.
She had to be close by, to have picked this precise moment? I cast my eye around the Diner. Neither large nor small, it was like the food, average. Seated at my usual vantage point — trade learned from years on the force and now part of my DNA — gave me a view of each and every one of the Diner’s customers as they sat at rectangular tables randomly scattered over a worn and stained parquet floor. Stains, that if you looked long and hard enough resembled faces, or perhaps countries; maybe those of customers, many of whom were immigrants that contributed to the district’s transient population? It has a name, seeing images that don’t exist — pareidolia. The sort of information you come across on the net, only I read it in a newspaper — I don’t do computers, you can’t slap a fly with a laptop. I had been in the waiting room of the Department Medical Examiner’s Office — a notable day, sat waiting for my fitness to serve to be assessed. It was a column about the ‘76 Viking mission NASA had sent to Mars. In some of the pictures sent back to mission control, there were large rocks that appeared to have faces on them. Some fruitcakes saw this as a sign of a long-lost civilisation. Apparently, research in Tokyo had established that people who did this had high levels of anxiety, suffered from negative thoughts and were inclined to be unstable. Glass half-empty characters. I’m more of a glass empty type myself — the reason I was sitting in that particular room.
I saw no sign of Ava, just ordinary Joe’s taking onboard the fuel that would help them grind out the long, relentless hours of another dreary working day. I would have seen her enter. From where I sat I could observe all who came in or left by the slowly revolving door that hoovered up its customers, before processing and spilling them back out onto the dirty sidewalk, this morning wet and icy from an overnight snow shower. Most of my fellow diners were men, seated alone — perhaps waiting for their white flags. For my drama to reach its conclusion before, one-by-one, their turn came to grace the stage?
After I had left, I had walked — walked for hours, confused and without any sense of direction until I found myself in a bar. The type that always had one of those sour-looking barmen — like a teetotaler with an inferiority complex. I needed warmth. I needed solace. I knew the direction I was taking, and it was downhill all the way.
I had ordered a couple of shots of Blackbush, downed them in quick succession, slipped the barman a fifty, and asked for a bottle. He took one from below the counter, placed it in a scruffy brown paper bag and handed it to me as if he was saying “you dirty northern bastard”. Years ago, while still on the force, towards the end when I bathed in the sauce, I had been on the Lower East Side to meet a snitch. It had started to rain, and I slipped into a run down Irish bar to escape the deluge. I never went into a bar without craving for a drink; two would lead to three, three to four and four to seven. You can do the math.
Beside me, sat a worn out barfly — balancing on a stool, while at the same time spilling against the bar rail — defying gravity. He noticed the Bushmills.
“That’s a Proddie drink you have there? He said, in an accent as thick as the clouds on an Irish summers day.
He took a long, slow slurp of his drink, most of it running down his chin, his neck as it headed due south. This jerk was hydrating and showering at the same time and had multi-tasking down to an art form. I watched as he took a long slow swig of air; he looked like a drunken toad trying unsuccessfully to snare a passing fly. He continued, “Jameson’s. Now that’s a Fenian drink”.
If I had a dead president for every New York Paddy, who had given me the same advice, I would no longer worry about the safe police pension I had flushed down the John. The result of my dishonourable discharge from New York’s finest.
Usually, I ignore barfly’s, especially those in such an advanced state of maceration. But on this occasion, I was on auto-pilot. I had turned toward him.
“Yer man, Mr Jameson, … John”, with an emphasis on the first two words, “was a Presbyterian Scotsman. That pint you were trying to drink — well his friend, Arthur was also a Protestant.”
Were they contemporaries, let alone friends? I wasn’t sure, but I hadn’t told him that.
“He started the fucking brewery with money inherited from his godfather, a Church of Ireland Archbishop.”
I picked up his glass and emptied what remained of its contents over his head.
“That’s the wash finished, ‘fraid I don’t do blow-drys”. I had got up and walked out, back into the rain.
Tonight, I hadn’t the time or the inclination for fun and games with this particular asshole. I just got up and left, walked the short distance to a nearby rank, and took a cab back to my building. And that’s another thing that always bugged me, why the fuck is it called a building when the damn thing is already built?