His heartbeat echoed in his head. Alden drank gin, over ice and no mixer, so his eye lids hung partially open. There was no pain, only the lethargic reality of a dehydrated brain. His body was thin and his skin hung from the bone. He rolled over his shoulder and strategically placed each foot one at a time on the floor. He stood. Then dragged his feet across the carpet, out to the patio. Pushing aside his writing, he grabbed a look, Truth at First Light, the fictional memoir of Hemingway. Alden’s thoughts wondered from the apartment, smelling the wild plains and the dangers lurking outside the imaginary camp. Why did I have to be born so late? God! I wish I could have been there. Alden took notice of the sun’s location, the shadows casting over his balcony. The temperature was dropping. It would get cold soon.
He pulled his legs off the table and felt the sting of blood rushing back into them. The fog of his alcoholic coma subsiding, Alden glanced at his watch. His prospects of writing dwindled into defeat. He tried to not think about Dominic’s bar, but the idea of drinking in a large, unlighted place eventually won.
Alden looked up with a cracked smile of thanks. Dominic had not yet walked away. Yes? he asked meekly.
Dominic was an average sized man with thick, well groomed hair. His presence loomed with a barreled chest and filled stomach. I was wondering, you have been coming in on a regular basis for some time now and I’ve never seen you with company. Are you here on lunch break? Without waiting for a reply, I would think not. It is much too late in the afternoon. You DO work don’t you?
I’m sorry. It’s quite rude. We have a wager at the bar.
Alden laughed. I tend bar. I am trying to get published, but I guess I’d have to write for that to happen. I come in before I have to earn rent.
Well it looks like Guy get’s the money.
Dominic, I’m surprised. I thought you, if anyone would get it.
Believe it or not I was close. I said some sort of a writer. Maybe a screen writer.
How did Guy know?
Good question. I wish I knew. The problem is he is always right. I have to say that man is a little too good at reading people. I like to think he has someone who tells him these things, Dominic raised his shoulders in mock disgust, or he just gets lucky.
Point taken. And Dominic turned and walked back to the bar.
Alden looked down at the pages spread among the soot and dust of the dingy table. He started to gather them together when a voice from the bar roared through the quiet.
I told you! A bartender! I swear I’m good! The voice belonged to Guy. He was an obnoxious drunk. Guy was much shorter than Dominic and about the same age and built in a similar fashion. Often when Alden was at the bar, Guy could be heard making absurd statements and hateful rhetoric. I bet the only thing he’s published were poems in some worthless college review. Probably something like Tennessee or the California School for the Blind.
Aden leaned back in booth and took a long pull from his glass. He stared at the corner of the table, focusing on the laminate and the way it wrapped around the ends, the chocolate brown color on top that blended with the darkness of the room, and the aged cracks that gave it it’s nineteen-sixties style. His face burned with embarrassment. As he did this he took deep breaths.
Jesus! Do you have to be so loud? The intense interjection also came from the direction of the bar counter. The voice belonged to Frank. Unlike the other two men, Frank was paper thin and pale with deep eye sockets and dark set eyes. He slumped over his drink and his clothes draped over him. He was the complete opposite of Guy. The people three blocks away care about as much as I do about your opinion. He paused. Then, sensing when Guy would speak again he continued, Or about you at all. You are as self-indulgent as Susan Sontag, as overrated as British humor, and about as useful as the French Army.
Don’t even get me started! Guy stood up from his stool.
Boy’s, not today! Sit down! Dominic yelled.
Heads popped up among the various vagrants and darkened corners, stricken from their self-imposed stupors.
Frank, give Guy his money. Dominic handed over a roll of bills and Frank followed suit. Guy, now sit down. There will be no trouble today.
French Army, Guy mumbled. That’s why they sent you to the Pacific. You weren’t even man enough to stand next to the ambulance drivers. Even your own unit wanted you caught by the Japs.
Shut up Coast Guard.
That’s it, busted in Dominic again. One more peep out of either of you and I am sending you both home. You can buy your own liquor and argue over the phone.
Guy I mean it.
Half the kids that ditched Vietnam wouldn’t have gotten away if Guy hadn’t given so many examples of AWOL. Frank’s words were a shining rebut behind rotted decaying teeth.
Leave Frank. That is enough.
Peacefully Frank raised his arms in surrender, stood and headed for the door. Viva La France Dego, he saluted as the unwelcome-d, outside light intruded the bar.
You son of a b… Guy jumped from his stool just as Dominic grabbed a hold of his collar. Everyone, in their silence, heard the cotton stretch and Guy falling to the floor. Frank could be heard laughing in hysterics from the street.
Before Guy could compose himself Dominic raced around the bar and towered over the elderly drunk. Sit down. It’s on the house. commanded Dominic as he refreshed the drink.
I will kick his…
Guy. Dominic waited until his gaze met the injured man. Guy. Calm.
I’m fine. He turned toward Alden. Kid, get over here. Alden froze. Get over here. I have to have some one at the bar. Dom isn’t great company. He’s good to bitch at, but that’s about it. Come here and give me some words.
Sure, Alden replied as relaxed as he could muster.
That seat’s reserved. I hope the bastard dies on his way home, but I am damn sure you haven’t lived enough of your life to dignify his place. Guy pointed toward a closer stool, suggesting Alden sit next to him. Now sit. We need to talk. Guy’s voice reverberated a fatherly tone, rather than the normal drunken slander. So you’re a writer?
Well, I’m not sure.
WELL, either you ARE or you ARE NOT.
I write, but I haven’t published anything.
Well, I had some poems published when I was in college, but what I write lacks something.
I am sure you’re right, but it’s like. . . Alden tried to articulate something he did not truly understand. Guy sat in silence with a queer look on his face. Like it’s missing something intangible.
Maybe. When I read some one like Neruda I get this feeling of beauty pass over me. I have a real emotional reaction. When I read something I’ve written I don’t get the same satisfaction.
Have you ever thought about going further out?
Instead of poetry why not try a novel.
I have a few ideas, but I am waiting before I get to work on them.
Waiting to die you mean.
No, I just don’t have it in me yet. If I get a few things published then I could quit my day job and concentrate on writing well.
Don’t quit your day job then. Write or don’t write. If you want to be a novelist, a poet, hell anything, do it. Art isn’t like the rest of the world. That is why there is so much garbage. The industry tries so hard to compete with television they print anything that’s entertaining. It has no heart.
They can be both. Dominic added.
Yes they can be, but then that would mean there was a great writer out there. I have yet to see one since 61. Guy bowed his head.
Hemingway had books published in 1970 and 80 something. said Dominic.
Yeah, but it just wasn’t the same.
Oh yes, jumped in Alden, he realized Guy’s reverence and found it absurd, Islands in the Stream and The Garden of Eden. I read the first one, but I never had the chance to read the second.
Read it if you can. His son does a good job of getting the spirit of the work, but it is not the same. He was a great man and the last real one.
What about you? Don’t you consider yourself a great man? With all of Guy’s bravado and bantering he figured the man thought of himself as the inventor of fire.
Never trust a man who says he is. But even still, no. War made me a bastard and the better men than me didn’t make it back. Alden stared directly into the old man’s eyes, seeing a frailty he thought impossible, and believing the man’s words implicitly.
The spoke for another hour before Alden left for work. The discussion was dominated by Guy’s clear views on the Beatniks, surrealism, romanticism, and just about anything that was not Hemingway. Though he spoke highly of the “Lost Generation,” he adamantly hated Gertrude Stein because he read somewhere, that she made disparaging comments about “Papa.”
Alden too learned that they attended the same university, but wisely he remained silent as Guy embarked on an impassioned tirade; the class of ’49 thanks to the G. I. Bill for the veterans of WWII. He referred to the school as ‘filled by closed minded, liberal, tree hugging robots that regurgitated the elitist left of New York.’ Guy concluded that it was not the school’s fault since most people were not capable of a single independent thought.
Alden made a mental note not to bring up politics around him. It would probably be just as dangerous to agree with the man, he told himself.
When it was time to leave, Alden paid for the additional drinks. Dominic tried not to take the money, but Alden insisted. He was bartending and money would not be an issue. He thanked Guy for the conversation and left feeling good about his day. There is always tomorrow to write.
As he walked to work the wind was cold against his back and he watched as cars stuck bumper to bumper pass by; their windows rolled up listening to music and heaters giving them a comfort Alden could not afford.