Today’s short story comes to us from guest author Frank Martinicchio.
Frank is a Melbourne-based writer. He has developed his craft while studying an Associate Degree of Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT University. He has also had a short story published in the Tincture Journal.
The bar is becoming crowded; people are seeking shelter and warmth from the rain. A group of office workers sit in a booth eating chips discussing the needs of a difficult client, while students debate the merit of drinking before homework.
Allen sits at the bar, alone amongst the crowd. He sips his scotch, its stinging taste warming his bones. It’s his second drink and he has every intention of ordering a third. His fringe keeps falling into his eyes and he has to constantly brush it aside. He has avoided going to the hairdressers lately as they always like to comment on how the greys are beginning to outnumber the brown.
The entrance bell chimes and a young blonde man enters the bar and takes a seat on the stool next to Allen.
‘A scotch,’ the young man says to the barman, who nods and begins pouring.
A family of four sit across the room eating dinner. A Mother and Father with their son and daughter; the children barely old enough to wield a fork. The young man’s eyes linger watching longer than they should as he attempts lighting a cigarette with his trembling hand.
The barman sets the scotch in front of the young man, who picks it up and drinks quickly. Comforted, he sets the glass down, his hand a little more steady.
Allen smiles at the young man, the lines becoming more prominent in his face, and raises his glass. ‘Helps forget the troubles of the day, doesn’t it?’ he says.
The young man glances at Allen and replies with a tight smile and nod.
‘Thought I’d squeeze in a quick one before I head home to the family,’ Allen continues, the young man’s reticence not discouraging him. ‘Between work and home this is the only second’s peace I get. As soon as I walk through my door, they’re jumping all over me.’
The young man chuckles and takes another mouthful of scotch. ‘How old is your family?’ he asks, the scotch loosening his tongue.
Allen produces a photo from his wallet. ‘This is the most recent picture I have.’
The young man takes the picture. In the photo, Allen stands smiling with his wife and two daughters, the lines in his face not as deep.
‘You have a beautiful family,’ comments the young man.
Allen nods proudly. He takes the photo back and offers his hand. ‘I’m Allen.’
The young man releases his grasp on his glass and shakes Allen’s hand. ‘Lewis.’
‘So, do you have a family, Lewis?’
Lewis shakes his head. The entrance bell chimes and Lewis looks to the door. An old man enters the bar and hangs his coat in the entrance. Lewis grimaces and checks his watch.
‘Are you expecting someone?’ asks Allen.
Lewis doesn’t answer, so Allen changes the subject. ‘What line of work are you in?’
‘Advertising,’ says Lewis.
‘You poor son of a bitch,’ laughs Allen.
The entrance bell chimes and Lewis’s attention is hijacked again. A woman stands in the entrance wearing a dark grey coat. She takes it off revealing a red dress that hugs her petite body like an extra layer of skin. The red is illuminated by the dreary decor of the bar. She passes Lewis and takes a seat at a table close behind.
Lewis turns back to Allen. ‘What do you do?’ he asks.
Allen begins to tell Lewis about his profession, manufacturing conveyer belts, but Lewis is distracted and keeps glancing over his shoulder at the woman in the red dress.
‘I’ve been doing it for almost ten years now,’ finishes Allen.
Lewis nods understandingly, as if paying attention. He then abruptly stands and excuses himself to the restroom.
Allen remains seated but soon feels the scotch moving through his veins, so he too makes his way to the restroom.
The bathroom is cramped and the smell of urinal cakes floods his nostrils. One of the cubicles is occupied.
Whilst emptying his bladder, Lewis’s voice sounds from the cubicle.
‘I’m not sure what time I’m going to be home tonight,’ he’s saying, his tone gentle but forceful. ‘Things are really hectic here at the office.’ There is a pause before he continues. ‘Well, keep giving him his medicine and I’m sure it will clear up. No, don’t put dinner away. I’ll have something here at the office. Okay dear, you too.’
Allen zips up and leaves the bathroom just as the toilet flushes. He takes a seat back at the bar and glances over his shoulder at the woman in the red dress seated alone. Lewis returns and takes his seat beside Allen, but keeps his head forward.
Allen finishes his scotch in one rough mouthful and stands. ‘I best be off,’ he says, deciding against ordering a third drink after all. He sets a twenty-dollar note on the bar. ‘Another for my friend,’ he says to the barman. ‘He’s going to need it.’
‘Cheers,’ says Lewis, keeping his head forward.
Allen picks up the coat off the back of his seat. ‘A word of caution,’ says Allen as he swings an arm into his coat. ‘We can’t always rely on it to forget.’ Allen sets his business card next to Lewis’s drink. ‘If you ever want to have another drink and talk about it.’
Lewis doesn’t turn but gives a curt nod.
Allen exits the bar. Walking down the street, he pauses by the window and watches Lewis a moment.
Lewis remains seated, swigging his drink and stealing glances at the family across from him. He then stands and turns, his eyes watching the woman in the red dress. From outside the bar, Allen watches, his nose almost pressing against the glass, as Lewis marches over to the woman and speaks affably with her, and then fills the empty seat across from her.
Allen turns from the window, shaking his head and walks down the street. The entire journey home, he thinks about Lewis. He had seen the mark of his wedding ring on his left hand, but that was only confirmation of what he’d already suspected.
Allen arrives at his apartment door and slides his key in the lock. He pushes the door open and is greeted by a cold, silent apartment. His cat, which sits on the couch, pokes its head up for a moment, then puts it back down and continues sleeping.
Allen shuts the door and prepares himself for another night alone.