“I don’t think there’s anything left in me Jerry ” he said as he leaned into the bar sliding a pint of beer forward with his hand as he did so. The speaker was Charlie Higgins. Every Friday for the past twenty-four years the evening moved along in the same fashion. One might say that the same conversation took place between Charlie and Jerry the bartender week after week, varying only slightly in accordance with the minutia of common chat, such as weather, sports, and politics. No subject however, was ever dwelled upon long enough for any substantive interaction. Charlie was a man of about fifty-eight with grey, shortly cropped hair and a part to the side. His suit was slightly old and at the moment disheveled, and his face was deep with lines and the bushy grey eyebrows which sat above his eyes seemed always to be knit with worry. He hung his head down, closed his eyes tight, and continued.
“I just don’t know if I can go through this shit one more year.”
Charlie looked up at his old friend on the other side of the cherry wood-stained bar with that same worrisome look, as if it was his expression asking the question and not his mouth. He gripped the glass of beer with both hands, looked absently down into its dark, little waves lapping up at the sides, and took the last remaining gulp down his gullet.
“A lot of people hate their jobs,” began Jerry, grabbing the glass before it even had a chance to touch the bar. “Would you really throw twenty-four years down the drain?” Charlie moved back in his chair and eyed his friend for a moment while taking a swig off the newly poured beer. He sat for a few moments more and then spoke.
“I thought I already did. Anyway, I’m getting too old to make such a big change.” Jerry glanced quickly around the dimly lit bar at the dozen or so patrons to see if anyone needed refills. He picked up an empty glass that a man had set there and began mixing another drink. After pouring it into a clean glass and dropping a mixing straw in it, he slid the drink to the waiting man and turned his attention back to his distressed friend.
“What’s goin’ on Charlie? You seem more troubled than usual. Your wife didn’t find out about that eighteen-year old mistress of yours, did she?” Both men laughed and Charlie responded. “No, no, we’re still goin’ at it.” He laughed again, took another large swig off his beer, and continued. “I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with me tonight. I guess it’s just dissatisfaction. Like things should’ve been different, ya know what I mean?”
He looked up at his friend, who was wiping down the bar with a rag. Jerry was a tall, thin man in his late sixties. His jet-black hair was meticulously combed in a jellyroll, and the sunken cheeks of his weathered face showed that he had seen hard times. “You’re not gonna give me the ‘I’m leaving Mary’ bit again are you?” he asked Charlie with a sarcastic bite to his tone of voice. Charlie downed the last gulp of beer and spoke.
“Give me a scotch, neat.” Jerry could tell his friend was becoming irritated with what he’d said, and after pouring the drink and handing it to him, he apologized.
“Shit Charlie, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to sound—” before he could finish his sentence, Charlie interrupted. “No, man, you’re ok. I guess I’m pretty predictable, huh? I don't know what it is. I can't really put my finger on it.”
“It’s not that,” Jerry started, crossing his arms as he spoke. “I just think you need a break. When was the last time you went away for a vacation?” Charlie took a sip off his drink and looked up towards the ceiling in contemplation before answering. “Three years ago. Mary and I went to Mexico for two weeks. I got food poisoning and was sick as a dog for the whole trip. The only memory I have of it was the toilet.” Jerry refilled another patron’s glass and shook his head. “Jesus, Charlie. You really are quite the cheery one tonight. Next your gonna tell me you’ve got cancer.” Charlie smiled, took another sip off his drink, and rubbed the back of his head as he responded. “I’m sorry. I do need to lighten up. Maybe some music will help. Wanna hear something?” Jerry nodded at the jukebox and replied. “She’s all yours. None of that metal shit though. I’m trying to run a respectable place here.”
They both laughed and Charlie made his way to the jukebox. As he approached, a woman caught his eye. She stood with another woman by the entrance. They seemed to have been scanning the place for seats as they had just arrived. It would not be a difficult task however, as the bar was fairly sparse that evening. The woman glanced around and her eyes stopped on him for just a few seconds. She was quite pretty, with long blonde hair and legs that never seemed to end. A simple black dress showcased her taut, athletic body. Charlie quickly slid a dollar bill into the machine and made his selections. Walking back to his chair, Charlie’s eye seemed to be trained on this woman who, by now, was sitting with her plainer companion at a small, round table in the middle of the bar. Noticing his distracted friend, Jerry broke him out of his spell.
“Like what ya see?” Charlie jumped slightly, took a look at his friend, and then took a long drink.
“I wonder if this old dog still has some bite,” he said, winking at Jerry and wearing a devilish grin. “I mean, ya know, if I still got it.” Jerry continued wiping out the various glasses behind the bar, responding without breaking stride in his duties.
“If it’s just to see if you still got it, that’s one thing. You’re better off not knowing then getting in a whole pile of trouble you can’t get out of.” Charlie grimaced, took another big sip off his scotch, and spoke.
“I’ve been looking at the same damn face every morning for over twenty-five years. I don’t think I ever loved her. So what’s wrong with a little flirting?” Jerry lit a cigar and looked intently at his friend.
“It’s not my business. But still, maybe you shouldn’t take your dissatisfaction out on your wife. After all, you may not love her, but I’m pretty sure she loves you.”
“What she calls love ...” began Charlie with an almost venomous tone, “is not necessarily how I’d define the term. It was always just a marriage of convenience. So don’t give me your bullshit, Jerry. I’m in no mood.” Jerry puffed on his cigar and replied.
“No need for the attitude old boy, do what you want. My advice would just be that you may not like the outcome, that’s all.” Charlie sighed heavily and turned round in his chair to view the woman again.
“Buy her a drink,” he said, finishing off his own. After sending one of the waitresses over to the table with the drink, Jerry leaned over the bar to get close to his friend without anyone else being able to hear what he was about to say.
“Listen, Charlie, we’ve known each other a long time, right? I’m the one on the other side of the bar, listening to everybody bitch and moan about their lives. That’s my job, I have to listen. But I consider you a friend more than just another customer, so I think my advice counts. A lot of guys are in the same boat as you. If you’re so dissatisfied, do something about it.” Charlie stood, swaying somewhat as the booze coursed through his heated blood. He squinted at Jerry and placed the palms of his hands flat on the bar. Leaning in to his friend, he spoke in a slow, monotone voice which, ironically, was his way of emphasizing his point.
“If I could live one day as a free man, I'd gladly die the next.” Charlie sat back down in his chair, his face hung low for a moment, the gnawing thoughts in his mind like ravenous rats trapped between the walls of his head.
“Like I said Jerry, there’s nothing left in me. I can't fight back now. I guess I’ll have to learn to acce—” before he could finish, Charlie was interrupted by the tall blonde he bought the drink for.
“I take it you’re the one I should thank for that drink?” she asked. The woman smiled sweetly as she placed her elbow on the bar, holding her drink with the same hand.
Now that she was closer, Charlie could see just how beautiful this woman was. She could not have been over twenty-five, though she carried herself with a confidence and self-assuredness usually gained with experience. Her dress also displayed her ample breasts as the neck line came down quite low. Charlie’s face brightened and his demeanor suddenly became more cheerful as he sat up and took notice. He replied.
“Well, yes, I guess I am. And what is your name?”
“Samantha. And your name?”
“I'm Charlie. I saw you girls like the music.”
“Yeah, you saw me dancing. That’s embarrassing,” she replied, blushing and covering her face with her hand. Charlie laughed, quickly looked over at Jerry and winked before resuming the conversation with Samantha.
“Not at all! I have to say, you’ve got some moves,” he said, tapping his foot and standing up. Jerry refilled Charlie’s scotch and continued watching the scene with amused interest. “Yeah, it keeps me fit, ya know. Just don’t get me too tipsy, I might get a little crazy,” she responded with a laugh, brushing her long hair behind her shoulder. Charlie moved his head a little closer to hers, hunching over a bit to be closer at eye level.
“Really?” he exclaimed, smiling and nodding his head to the music. “Well, we’ll just have to see about that, huh?” They were silent for a few moments when the song on the jukebox ended and the next one began. It was “Psycho” by the Sonics. Samantha's face flashed with excitement.
“This is one of my favorite songs! Come dance with me,” she belted out, grabbing Charlie’s hand and stepping out into the open space. The singer screamed out the lyrics as the heavy drums pounded out the beat and a saxophone wailed in wild fervor. Charlie did his best to keep up with Samantha, her body twisting to the rhythm and her hips thrusting from side to side. Every so often, she’d lean in toward Charlie and shake her upper body, squeezing her shoulders together so that her cleavage showed more than usual. Charlie grabbed her around the waist with one arm as he twisted and leaned back and forth, responding to the rhythms of her body. He could feel her muscular, lean waist and it excited him. As the song built into a feverish crescendo, the singer shouted intensely at the end, “Psycho! Psycho! Psycho!”
They stopped as Charlie panted heavily, trying to catch his breath. Samantha fanned herself with her hand while also pulling down her dress on the sides. They both returned to the bar.
“Now that’s a work out,” she said, sighing now and then and sipping on her drink. Charlie inhaled deeply, wiped down his forehead with a napkin, and took a long drink from his scotch.
“I think I need water,” he replied laughingly. Samantha looked at him for a moment and gingerly placed her hand on his arm.
“You ain’t so bad a dancer yourself,” she said. Charlie smiled and responded.
“I could cut a rug in my day. But you! damn! I bet you could keep that up all night!” He eyed her as she slipped into her seat.
“Wouldn't you like to know?” she asked, grinning at him mischievously. Well aware of the obvious innuendo being exchanged, Charlie excused himself to the bathroom, his step tweaked with a little more pep as he walked.
Splashing off his face with cold water, Charlie glanced in the mirror. His mouth sprang into a wide smile as he moved his head with the jazz music now playing in the bar. He adjusted his tie and ran his hands through his hair. I still got it, he thought, smoothing out his brown tweed blazer. As he ran his hand down the front and past the pocket, a finger caught hold of a thread which had come loose. Both ends were still sewn into the seam of the bottom so that it made a loop. After plucking it a few times, he turned to walk out, more concerned with what await him.
Stepping back out into the bar, he glanced around and noticed a significant increase in the patron population. People were up dancing to the music, the bar was crowded, and the tables were beginning to fill up. Charlie scanned his seat but did not see Samantha.
His wide grin fell fast when he spotted her on the other side of the room. Her arm was locked with another man’s. He was a tall, muscular man with dark hair and finely carved, youthful features. They both were laughing and giving each other kisses intermittently, as though they had been together in such a joyful mood the entire time. Charlie walked back to the bar and waved to Jerry to come over.
“What the hell!” said Charlie, a look of perplexity drawn across his face. Jerry shrugged his shoulders as he walked over.
“Apparently she’s got a boyfriend,” he said. Charlie looked around and saw Samantha and her boyfriend, swept up in what appeared to be a wild party. At that moment, the group of women that were with them looked over at Charlie and laughed. He looked back down at his drink. “Flirty bitch,” he muttered underneath his breath, sucking down the scotch. His face burned with humiliation, and now he wanted nothing more than to shrivel up and dive into a bottle of forgetfulness. “I'll take another one, Jerry,” he said, shoving the empty highball glass across the bar.
* * *
The early morning was humid, as if the atmosphere itself was retaining its water like a dam, ready to burst open at any moment and cause a torrential downpour. Jerry locked the door to the bar and turned to his now thoroughly pickled friend. “You’ve taken rejection well,” said Jerry, patting Charlie on the back and ushering him towards his car. Charlie stumbled in an intoxicated stupor.
“Rejection is my life, Jerry. Only it is not life that rejects me, it is I who reject life,” responded Charlie in a slurred stutter. Amused with what he had said, Charlie chuckled to himself. Jerry stuffed his friend in his car and got in behind the wheel.
“Words of wisdom from the drunken sage himself,” replied Jerry, starting the ignition and driving off.
“No wisdom,” began Charlie, placing his head against the window. “Not by far is there any wisdom in me. Life first rejected me, now I reject it. It’s the natural reactionary response. When women like that can deflate your ego, it just reinforces the one truth that you knew all along. You were never accepted.” Jerry looked over at him and shook his head and started to speak.
“You philosophize everyday I see you, and all its gotten you is self-pity. You know what your problem is, Charlie?”
He hesitated a moment and then replied, “I need a new philosophy?”
“No, Charlie, you need to act! You need to stop analyzing, stop theorizing, and just do what you think will make you happy. You’ve lost all ability to take risks.”
Charlie sat for a minute staring out the window, watching house after uniform house pass by. The words that Jerry said finally clicked in his brain and he bolted upright. As if on a delay, he now began to agree.
“You’re damn right Jerry! I can’t let another day of my life go by without putting an end to all of this shit! Just walk away, right? I cannot spend another decade pretending, right? No more philosophy, just action.” With that simple exclamation, he looked back out the window. The night was winding a pathway right to his doorstep.
As he slowly stumbled up his walkway, a feeling of change began to swell in him. His mind began to clear, and his confidence broadened. Like a rehabilitated muscle that slowly grows stronger and stronger as it is used more, he began to feel things could change.
But his demeanor fell as he reached the door. His smile of self-assuredness disappeared as he turned and looked at Jerry, who waved at him. Charlie slowly raised his hand, his facial expression now displaying a look of dread. The anxiety that crept in his bones could be seen in his countenance, which was now contorted and morbid. Jerry saw the despair in his friend’s face as he drove off. Never one to be sentimental, he couldn't help think that his friend was a lost cause.
Charlie turned toward the door as a shadow of resignation fell over him. Reaching for his house keys, he felt the loose thread that hung at the bottom of his pocket. Tugging it a few times, it began to unravel until it finally ripped a hole through the seam. It did not tear off but instead continued ripping the seam the more he pulled on the lengthening thread.?