This story is by Josh Sparrow and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A bomb goes off and I do nothing.
Well, not “nothing” in the sense of nil, zero. I try to escape the blast and take cover by barricading myself in a cave.
Well, not “a cave” either, in the sense of a cavern, underground chamber. This cave is fragile, flimsy, weak like a wet tissue, constructed mostly from some alternative facts I made up and a handful of conjectural accusations.
Why couldn’t I just apologize?
Her tears have subsided now. I hear the soft buzz of her suitcase zipping shut. The clack of the long, plastic handle extended. A whirr as the small, rubber wheels roll gently across the scuffed laminate planks.
I need a reason to not face the door. I sit down and turn on the TV. There’s a report of a shooting yesterday at Millwood High School, no casualties.
Strange, I thought there’d been one.
The front door opens behind me. “So that’s it? You’ve got nothing else to say to me?” Her voice rises, then cracks. I can’t bring myself to speak, to look at her. I want to, but I’m steadfast in my cowardice. The door slams. I’m all alone. I need a drink. No, I want a drink.
When will I ever learn the difference?
I head to Lucky’s. It’s a hole-in-a-wall, the kind of place where thin layers of yesteryear’s spilled beer blankets the floor and bright blue duct tape stretches across the dusty, torn pleather seats.
There won’t be a beautiful, dark-haired women in a strapless, black Vera Wang dress here. The kind who catch you in a moment of weakness when that round, golden promise you made is sitting idly on your bathroom counter while you try to drown your anger in poison.
The kind who forget their damn pearl earrings on your wife’s nightstand.
The mistakes that happen in this kind of bar are much more fleeting than the places I usually grace with my stupidity.
I’m surprised when I walk in. It’s packed. Packed with people laughing and toasting, hugging and celebrating. It’s like they’ve all won the lottery.
I walk past two dark-haired women snuggled in a booth drinking champagne. I count three open bottles as I walk by.
There’s a family sitting around a high-top table in the corner. Grandparents, a mother, a father and young boy, probably no older than 15.
What type of bar is this, again?
The adults looked misty eyed, but smile widely at the kid. He lifts a Coke bottle and proclaims, “To second chances!”. The table erupts into a roar, the grands nearly choke from their excessive laughter, the mother bursts into tears as the boy wraps his arms around her in an anaconda-like grip.
The boy looks familiar. I think I saw him on TV yesterday.
I plop into one of the few empty stools at the bar and order three shots of house whiskey, neat. The family is still celebrating behind me. I avert my attention to a small Panasonic sitting behind the bar. A drunk judge drove his car off the road on Lincoln St. and into a couple’s living room. A woman who lives there had only just left her couch after a call from her wife.
An interview from earlier with the almost-victims is on now. “I guess we just got lucky” one of them says, her dark hair flowing as gently down her face as the tears.
They look familiar too. I know I’ve seen them before…
Before I place their faces, the bartender slams three glasses on the bar in front of me and fills them liberally. He bares at least a passing resemblance to the Abominable Snow Monster from that old stop motion Rudolph movie. My wife and I watch it every year.
I stare at him as he pours. There’s a crazy, mad scientist look about him. Thick patches of tangled white fur sprout in a semicircle around the top of his head and all across his chin and upper lip. The eyes behind his thin black frames are a striking aqua, giving him a look of deceptive youthfulness that his weathered cheeks and sunburned bald spot contradict. A half-torn patch on his black and green, dragon-inspired bowling shirt tells me his name. Lucky.
“Down the hall, last door on the right,” he says, passingly.
I down the first shot. It burns.
“What?” I reply, more aggressively than I mean to.
“Down the hall, last door on the right,” he repeats.
“Sorry man, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He smiles at me, knowingly. What he knows, I’m still not sure. “First timer, huh?” he asks, laughing softly to himself. I finish the second and third shot before letting out an audible huff of whiskey-infused breath. “Uh yeah,” I say, “Needed a place to drink. Thought it’d be quiet here.”
“Right, right of course you did.” There’s a twinge of mockery in his voice, as if there’s some secret I’m not privy to about this place. But his expression has suddenly turned intense and sincere.
He wrings his hands together and looks down at me. He seems to be choosing his next words very carefully. “Look friend, this isn’t a… regular bar. It’s not a place for drinking your troubles away.” .
“Oh yeah, so what’s it for then?”
He stares intently at me, before answering. “Second chances.”
What the hell is he talking about?
“Look pal,” he goes on, “there’s a room down that hallway, last one on your right. The people that come in here know about this room because it’s… let’s call it special.”
“Oh yeah, and how’s that?”
“Well whenever someone walks through it, they get a second chance, at life, at a mistake, whatever. They go back to yesterday. Time travel sorta thing. Maybe, it’s time you check it out and fix whatever fuck you made to get you here.”
I pause for a moment, then laugh, uncontrollably. “Wow man that is good. Original!” I say, getting up from my seat and slapping a twenty down on the counter. I continue cackling on my way down the hall of the bar. I need the bathroom anyways, so I decide to check it out for fun.
What’s this gonna be? A broom closet? No no, the women’s room I bet.
I go to the last door on the right and open it.
Just a bathroom.
I walk in. I need to use it.
Then… it does.
Images come to my mind. The women in the bar booth, talking with reporters about narrowly escaping a tragic accident. A boy’s photo on TV yesterday, the victim of a school shooting. That same boy laughing, drinking Coke with his family tonight.
A tingling starts to rise up my body. A drum begins to beat mercilessly behind my eyes. My insides contort into a pretzel-like position circus acrobats would marvel at. Beads of sweat turn to streams. My eyes water.
Something’s happening. Something’s actually happening.
And then it does…
Three shots of cheap whiskey launch themselves up from my stomach and out throat before I pass out on the grimy floor.
A glimmer of moonlight peeks through the blinds, waking me up. My eyes creep open.
Where am I?
I’m home. I’m in my bed.
I sit up and take in my surroundings. I’m naked. I check my phone. 10:49 AM, Friday June 22… holy shit.
It’s yesterday. No, it’s TODAY. I’m back.
Am I dreaming? Was I dreaming?
The thought is immediately driven from my mind when I hear her voice.
“My Uber’s here, so umm, I’m just gonna head home,” she says, zipping up her black dress. “Maybe I’ll see ya around.”
I hear her strut out of the room and down the stairs. Each click clack of her stilettos feels like a knife to my heart.
I couldn’t change things. I still screwed up.
I look over to the opposite nightstand. Her pearl earrings are there, taunting me with their inevitability.
I know what I need to do.
I scoop them up.
My wife arrives home in the morning. All signs of my deception are gone. She gives me a kiss as she throws her things on the bed.
“So, did you miss me?” she says.
My heart races. My throat is dry. I smile at her.
“Yeah, of course I did,” I say, tightening my grip on the small white spheres poking into the soft flesh of my sweaty palm, “but honey, there’s something I need to tell you.”
I open my hand and show her the pearls.
“I’m so sorry…”
A bomb still went off that night. But this time, I did something about it.