Our bartender just died, the gap-toothed woman told me. Do you think you can hop in for a few days.
Well, I said. How did he die?
What does it matter? Beer glasses are over there.
I had just gotten into town. I needed a new carburetor. I guessed this was how I was going to get it.
I asked the old guy at the end how the old bartender died.
I don’t know, he said. I think he smoked.
You’re smoking, I said.
Bored. Dying sounds good, he said.
So for two days I worked. I poured flat beer horribly. It all went down like Communion. I got wrinkled dollar bills. I shoved them in my shirt pocket.
I found out the mechanic couldn’t get a carburetor in for a week.
So Amazon Prime it, I said.
Amazon Prime don’t come out here, the mechanic said. Tobacco juice dribbled onto the buttons on his denim shirt.
Fucking do something then, I said. I’m not a bartender.
But I poured. I listened. God, did I ever listen. War stories from pacifists. I dreamed of my past world. I had been a taxi driver in Chicago. Drove around showladies with cum in their mouth, day traders with pizza grease on their clip-ons. I’m not saying I enjoyed it. But it made sense.
I started to get cheated on pay. I went to the gap-toothed lady.
I’m being stiffed, I said.
Then quit watching so much porn, she said. And laughed. It smelled like garbage.
I slept with a crooked neck in the backseat of my dead machine. I wanted to amble on, sway with the grass and not think about the showladies. That night, I dreamt I was a smoky pile of cum in the gap-toothed lady’s mouth. When I tried to escape, I choked her, which I admit brought me a laugh.
After the week was up, I found the mechanic.
Got my carburetor?
Ah shit, man, he said, smacking his head like a cartoon character. I forgot to order it.
You forgot to fucking what, I said.
I knew I was forgetting something.
I have every right to kill you, I said. You son of a bitch.
Look, man, I’ll do it now. I’ll get on the phone. I will. I’ll get on the phone.
Motherfucker, I said, as he swayed away.
Maybe the old guy in the bar was right. Maybe dying was the thing to do. It made me think of the bartender, the one no one would tell me about. Maybe he died like a friend of mine did. I won’t say where we were or what we were doing. But it was kind of gross. Sad and spectacular. It reminded me of how water dries up on hot macadam.
Kevin Richard White‘s short fiction has appeared in various places such as Hobart, Rejection Letters, X-R-A-Y. He is responsible for the literary podcast No Edit. He lives in Philadelphia.
image: MM Kaufman