Written by Joel Alas
“Will God remember you after you’ve taken your last breath…!?” he cried out, “Will He…!?”
Under the faint streetlamp light, he searched for any eyes that dare look back into his. My eyes crossed his unexpectedly for a moment after he whirled around from about ten feet in front of me, so that he was now facing me. His eyes were open so wide I could see the red under his quivering eyelids. They were shadowy dark eyes, bulging and bloodshot. They contained an unmistakable look of agony, as if the question he’d been screaming out at anyone and everyone within earshot on the busy street that night was part of his own excruciating inner dialogue turned inside out.
He stood about six feet tall with a slight build, dark thinning hair, a sunken unshaven face, and a general look of waning health. His grey woolen blanket, darkened with dirt, was strewn haphazardly over right shoulder, one end dragging on the ground behind him as he drifted along the sidewalk.
He focused his gaze on me as I approached at a moderate, measured pace, and looked as if he was about to say something, but instead he spotted a half-smoked cigarette on the sidewalk there, quickly scurrying down to pick it up. As I moved past him, I caught a whiff of his stale stench, urine mixed with cigarette smoke. I felt a tinge of compassion for him, or perhaps just pity.
It began to rain.
I arrived at my destination and turned right into the narrow alcove which led to the bar entrance. “Will God remember you after you…” bellowed out again from around the corner as I stepped through the doorway into Spec’s Museum Café.
I recognized a couple of the regulars from my last visit sitting near the door. One fellow had straggly grey hair and wore a black coat, black cowboy hat, and donned a black eyepatch over his left eye. Another, a disheveled looking weathered old man of about seventy, sat at the stool next to him sporting a green corduroy blazer with holes worn through the elbow patches. His face had a pained look on it, with deep wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes mapping the years he’s displayed that same labored expression.
Before I could decide which barstool to claim, the bartender emerged out of the dark corner behind the far end of the bar with an affable, “What can I get you hon?”
She had a friendly face with piercing blue eyes, a softly faded complexion, and long platinum white hair. She, being a woman of roughly sixty-five years, was disarming due to her kind, no nonsense demeanor. She quickly wiped down the end of the bar opposite the door. I took that as my cue to sit there.
“I’ll take the beer and shot special please” I said.
“One Lucky Lager and a shot of Powers Whiskey coming up!” she declared.
As she prepared my order, I glanced over at the rain coming down, catching both regulars studying me indifferently. Rather than acknowledge my presence there, they each took a deep swig off their drinks then stared straight ahead as if looking into a great distance. I was clearly a stranger in their home away from home.
“Here you are hon. That’ll be $10” she said as she placed the beer and shot in front of me.
I gave her a ten and a five and thanked her. I was feeling generous. She smiled as she scooped up my payment, then turned and pressed the keys on the old-timey cash register behind her, popping it open with a cha-ching! She placed the $10 bill in the till drawer and dropped the $5 bill vertically into her tip jar, an old beer pitcher resting beside the register.
Next, she carefully placed a record on the phonograph behind the bar. The music began to play. It was French café music from the ‘40s, atmospheric, dreamlike. I settled into my environment, wading through the décor of the bar. The walls displayed various artifacts and keepsakes from around the globe, small taxidermy, photos, portrait sketches, newspaper clippings, and old school bar signage with cheeky sayings. A bumper sticker over the centerpiece mirror behind the bar reads, “NOT FOOLED BY THE GOVERNMENT.” Another reads, “THOU SHALL NOT WHINE.” That’s why I like this bar, I thought, it has both character & characters.
The steady rhythm of raindrops intensified. I watched for a moment as they splashed down onto the smooth pavement outside the door, savoring each gulp of beer as I did so. The sight of it, coupled with music and general atmosphere of the bar transported me to another place.
Just then, with hurried footsteps she came rushing through the door in a heap. She was sopping wet.
“It isn’t supposed to rain tonight!” she protested playfully with a hint of a smile on her face, while attempting to shake the water from her clothes.
Despite her discombobulated entrance, she was clearly relieved to be out of the heavy rain. She carried no umbrella. She wore a flimsy jacket with a hood. What she did have was a presence that changed the feeling in the room. She was alluring, even in her tousled state. Maybe because of it?
Her red lipstick and dark mascara lent her a mysterious appeal. I realized I was borderline gawking when she looked over at me. She glanced my way inquisitively, as if she might know me, while methodically squeezing water out of her medium long black hair. Her almond-shaped brown eyes scanned the room, searching for a place to sit.
“Come sit here sweetie. It’s warmer on this end of the bar” the bartender suggested, motioning her over to the stool next to me, farthest from the door. “What can I get you?”
“One shot of Jameson…no two shots of Jameson!” said the mysterious woman as she glanced my way.
“I’m good. I already have a drink here but thank you.” I said politely.
“Who said one was for you?” she deadpanned, staring back at me. After an awkward half moment of silence, she began to laugh. The bartender and I joined her in laughter as her shots were poured into two big shot glasses.
“Cheers…” she said lifting one of the filled shot glasses up.
The bartender and I quickly joined her, tilting back our drinks simultaneously as she made short work of her shot.
“Talia, here you are! I was waiting outside. I thought I’d get here first” he said as he entered the bar, approaching the end of the bar where she and I were seated. He looked older than her, had a round, bearded face, and wore round-rimmed glasses too small for his face. He had a wet umbrella in his hand.
Talia explained, “I ran over here from the restaurant because it started pouring as soon as my shift ended. I got pretty drenched.”
They embraced. Then they kissed. The intrigue I was feeling evaporated and was gone.
“I can move over for you guys” I said as I slid my beer down one spot, taking the next barstool to my right so they could sit together.
“Thank you” she said, touching my forearm then reaching out her hand to introduce herself. “I’m Talia and this is my boyfriend, Todd.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Talia. Nice to meet you, Todd. I’m Nigel.”
I gazed outside at the rain falling again, as Talia and Todd huddled close together, conversing privately. Both the regulars by the door were looking at me again, only this time with wide smiles on their faces that seemed to say, That’s a tough break for you buddy ha-ha!
I could hear sirens wailing in the distance. A citrusy aroma of burning cannabis terpenes wafted into the bar. I pretended not to be disappointed. The sirens increased in number, getting nearer and louder now.
“Are you going to have another beer hon?” the bartender asked, snapping me back to the moment.
“Sure. One more round.”
“Another Lucky Lager with a shot of Powers?”
She brought the beer and bottle of Powers Whiskey over to me and poured my shot, then with a knowing smile said, “The shot’s on me. Just $5 for the beer.”
I downed the shot and slowly polished off the beer. I left a five for the beer and two more dollars in tip, then made my way out the of the bar. Surprisingly, it stopped raining in the time it took me to finish my second round. I exited the alcove the bar is tucked into, turning the corner and heading up to the busier intersection where I could hail a taxi more easily. I could see a crowd of people gathered around the crosswalk, as well as police cars, and an ambulance. There was a firetruck in the middle of the intersection diverting traffic around the accident.
Not in the mood to rubberneck, I made my way through in such a way to avoid the busy scene and cross to the other side of the intersection where I could find a taxi. As I stepped off the curb, I saw a police officer photographing a blanket in the street. It was lying just outside the crosswalk close to where the crowd gathered. After looking more intently I could see it was the same grey, woolen, darkened with dirt blanket. The first responders were talking to each other in a hushed, somber manner. I doubled back to get an even closer look.
There the victim rested, surrounded by EMTs and firemen. It was him. His eyes were wide open like before, but they weren’t quivering anymore. They were perfectly still. Blood leaked from his ears. His head and neck were contorted in a strange, unnatural position, with his left cheek resting on the asphalt, while his shoulders and body twisted more to the right. I peered into his eyes once more. There was no look of agony there. In its place was a cold, vacant stare that was, in this case, finality. The coroner’s van pulled up to the scene as the yellow tape was unrolled around the perimeter.
I heard one bystander say, “I don’t know what he was doing? I saw him crossing the street then he stopped all of a sudden and reached down–he must’ve dropped something and went to pick it up.”
He pointed to a black Prius sedan double-parked and straddled by police cars approximately one hundred feet farther down to the right from where the body lie dead in the street.
“That car right there came speeding around the corner and baaaaam! When I heard how loud the sound was, I knew it was gonna be bad. I doubt he saw it coming. That’s a fucked-up way to go out.”
I turned away, a little shocked at how sinister the night had become. I crossed to the other side of the intersection continuing on my way. I walked for blocks, forgetting to hail a cab and in a kind of strange, withdrawn haze. A tepid wind whipped up sweeping through everything around me, leaves and debris, scattering it all along the now dank, empty street where I wandered.
A taxi with its roof-light lit sped by me without slowing down. I didn’t see it until it was already gone. I just kept walking—didn’t really care. His words repeated in my mind:
Will God remember you after you’ve taken your last breath…!?
Raindrops began to fall.
About the author
Joel Alas recently completed his Creative Writing Certificate from CCSF.