by: JL Shockey
“I get up and look to see how much of myself I left on the ground. There’s a portrait made up of my bodily fluids and a tooth. Thick red dominates the watery yellow. Both flow around a point of crescent white that shines like an unmarked canvass.” Welcome to The Maverick…
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Fuck my tooth hurts.
“The courage to change the things that I can.” Is she checking me out?
“And the wisdom to know the difference.” I just need to get this asshole to sign my paper. I need a drink, too.
I approach slowly from his side and concentrate on walking straight. He has a thick neck and a bald head, and always wears dress shirts with jeans. His name is Jimmy, or maybe Johnny? Or was it Robert? For the past nine weeks he has signed my form and talked to me for half a god-damned hour about me needing to want to make a change in myself. And he’s real big on the idea of me finding a sponsor too. The thing is though, I don’t need one. I tell him every week, “Drinking’s not my problem. It’s everything else that I have trouble with.” This wear’s his patience thin pretty quick and I can hear it in his voice, a certain metallic anger, like his teeth are brass knuckles bashing against each other.
Jimmy or Johnny or whatever has one leg hiked onto the chair next to the new girl who’s been undressing me with her eyes throughout meeting – and so I don’t say anything, I just give him the paper. I’ve seen enough of these lifers pounce on newbie girls at meetings to know that he won’t bother with his speech tonight. He doesn’t, just scratches his name after the X in the final empty box.
He shoves the signed form back at me dismissively, but instead of leaving I say, “Hey” to the new girl. She says, “Hey” back. I give her a smile before turning to leave. “I’ll be at The Maverick,” I say without looking back.
When I get outside, the air isn’t crisp like they’re always saying it is in books, but warm and heavy. It makes me want to drink until I’m light enough to float through it. I want to be able to glide as if on a magic carpet, not having to worry about how much the heavy of it all makes me want to stop and lie down. Across the street, I go to the back alley of The Maverick to take a piss. I then head in the place with a zip and grab a stool at the bar.
I like drinking at The Maverick. It has a safe, unceremonious feel, like drinking in someone’s garage or basement. There are bowling trophies on the shelves and the walls are covered in brown carpet and faux wood panelling. The place isn’t just dirty; filth is half the atmosphere. After I trade my dead president for a Dead Man Ale, I listen to some college kids arguing about the validity of art. “Anyone could have done it. It’s a fucking toilet on a wall,” one of them says. Then the other, “Yeah, but it’s not that it can be done, but that it was done, idiot. The vision he had. Did you think to ever do it?” “Nobody thought of anything, that’s my point,” the first one counters.
I jump as someone sits next to me and grabs my thigh. “Hey,” she says. It’s the first time I’ve gotten a good look at the woman from earlier. She’s wearing a black tank top with one purple bra strap hanging down below her shoulder. Her hair is up in a greasy ponytail held together with a faded pink scrunchie. She was probably cute four or five years ago, before whatever mess led her to that meeting. Chances are she was never actually pretty, but cute. Probably. But now, she’s a mess of a woman. But who am I to judge, right?
She’s smiling, and looking right at me without saying a thing, trying too hard to be sexy. “I don’t mess with dry girls, no offense,” I say. And this is the truth. I don’t. They remember too much come the next morning. I can barely function the next day.
The woman scoffs in mock offense, then dips her finger into my beer, swirls it and slurps it clean. “Is that wet enough?” she asks.
Not even close, I think. But instead I say, “It’s a start.” We slam back four shots of tequila and shoot the shit. Of course, she goes over the tale of woe that got her here. The deadbeat ex, the unsupportive family, the feeling of loss of self and mourning the life that should’ve been. Then she moves onto just how much she misses companionship, having that partner in crime, so to speak.
She’s rubbing her hand up and down my inner thigh by this point, and I’m thinking again how she must have been cute once. Maybe not even years ago, maybe as recent as months. I can start to see it more and more the longer I look at her. Then, as I suck the juice out of the seventh lime wedge, she drags me into a stall in the bathroom. I lean against the stall door and let her go wild. And wild she goes. By the end of it, I’m in a half squat and she’s over me and we’ve busted the toilet seat clear off.
Afterwards, she gets another round and it strikes me as a little funny. Given the situation, another drink’s as close to a cuddle as she’s likely to get. Or maybe that’s just pathetic. Who the hell knows anymore?
I go to piss in the back alley again, dropping the toilet seat off with the college kids as I leave. They think I’m a fucking genius.
I want to test that heaviness again, see if I’m floating yet. But it grounds me. I unzip and let it flow, and over the sound of my piss I hear crinkling paper. Or maybe someone chewing chips? Then I realize it’s the muffled sound of feet crunching gravel. I turn to see who it is, and a fist catches me hard in my left eye socket. My face is driven into the brick wall with a simultaneous crack and flash, like lightning run right through my fucking skull.
His voice rings with metal anger as he stands over me. “I don’t want to see you around here again,” he says. “You hear me, you piece of shit? You got your signatures, now leave us the fuck alone.” He leaves, and after about ten minutes I get up and look to see how much of myself I left on the ground. There’s a portrait made up of my bodily fluids and a tooth. Thick red dominates the watery yellow. Both flow around a point of crescent white that shines like an unmarked canvass. I leave my tooth – that one hurt anyway – because I’m afraid to pull out the focal point of my first Dadaist masterpiece. I leave the woman at the bar, that loneliest of bedsides.
I fly through the night. I am light now.
In the park, I sleep under the stars atop a spread-out newspaper – my new carpet – knowing that now I’m ok. Now, I have a reason to be this way.
I am an artist.