This story is by Matthew Plumb and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
The bar had a dingy old look to it. Like it had been open a hundred years and hadn’t had a cleanup or any renovations whatsoever. The patrons of the bar were rugged and blue collar. Smoke filled the room as he walked in. His name was Jake. He stood around 6’ 1” or 6’ 2”, who knows. He had an aging beard and shirt that was said Marines on it but it looked to be from the Civil War.
He surveyed the patrons and took his usual seat at the bar in front of the drafts.
“How ya doin’ Tess”, he asked the bartender. The bartender was a young woman with no frills or flair.
“Hey sweetie. Will it be the usual?”
“You know it.” She poured a tall draft and filled a rocks glass halfway with whiskey and placed it in front of Jake.
“Thank ya ma’am.”
“What have I told ya old ass about that ma’am shit. I’ll be havin’ none of it.” Jake began to size up the man sitting next to him.
“Not everyone can have as good an ass as you Tess.” The TV above the bar was blaring news about the Iraq War and George H.W. Bush. Jake paid no mind.
“Miss, may I have another”, the man sitting next to Jake asked as he shook his glass out in front of himself. He appeared to have been crying.
“Will it be the same thing”, Tessa asked him as she leaned forward to give the man a view, but he couldn’t care less.
“Yes please”, the man wimpered. Tessa grabbed his dirty glass and refilled it and handed it back to him who drank it with haste.
“What’s got ya down Spencer”, Tess asked the man.
“Can’t be nuthin’. Gotta be somethin’ get you wailing here like this drinkin’ like a fish that done been outta water.” Jake studied the man. His youthful features were hidden by his worn and overgrown facial features.
“Nuthin’ that can be changed.”
“Well then, guess get to drinkin’ or get out of my bar. Don’t be wastin’ a good chair on cryin’ over nuthin’.”
“Yes ma’am.” Tessa poured Spencer a shot of whiskey and placed it in front of him and walked away. Jake noticed the man had a chain around his neck that held dog tags.
“What branch you in”, Jake asked.
“Army. 29th. You?”
“Marines.” Spencer turned and looked at Jake. “Should have looked.”
“That’ll be alright. Name’s Jake Winston.” Jake extended his right hand.
“Spencer Bodie”, Spencer shook Jake’s hand timidly.
“Strugglin’ from over there man”, Jake asked pointing to the television showing war images.
“Nah, she got diagnosed with the cancer. Real bad.” Jake turned himself toward Spencer to open himself up.
“Sorry to hear that man.”
“Doctors gave her days to live.”
“Why’s your dumbass here then”, Jake questioned. “Shouldn’t you be wit’ her in the hospital?”
“She’s asleep. Got tubes in her. She’s in a coma. Doctor says they ain’t no comin’ out of it. Been sitting in the same room for a month. Thought I should step out of the room and chill my nerves.”
“Good ol’ Jack will do it.”
Jake folded his hands together. “Ya know, I lost people too. People pretty close to me.”
“Close as your woman?”
“Almost. Friends o’ mine. Some in my arms.” Spencer looked over his shoulder at Jake.
“Losin’ my woman makes me want to leave this place with her. I got nothing left.”
“Don’t be talkin’ crazy boy. Life will knock ya down. Crazy shit will happen in your life. Gotta rise above the shit.”
“I don’t think I can.” Jake looked at Spencer.
“Son, I lost many friends in ‘Nam. I lost my best friend in the world. I was a medic back in ’73. In some shithole jungle in the ass crack of the world. Fightin’ a war for people who had no hope in it. My buddy.” Jake took a pause.
“My buddy John. He saved my life. I was takin’ care o’ this other fella name Todd. He had a wound the size of a fist in his thigh. I was pinchin’ his femoral tryin’ to get the blood to stop but that motherfucka wouldn’t stop gushing.”
“This some lecture?”
“No it’s a fuckin’ story asshole. While I was helping Todd, we was next to the brush. On the other side of a hut, hidden from the rest of our platoon. John came over lookin’ for me. That’s when a fuckin’ zip fuckin’ tossed a ‘nade our way. It landed in the opening of the hut. Fuckin’ John jumped on that shit. My best friend jumped on that shit. Now, here I am, I got two people, one of them my closest friend, dying in front of me. John had been blown to shit. I’ll spare ya the details.”
“Both die”, Spencer asked interested.
“Both of ‘em”, Jake muttered as he sipped his beer. “Not a thang in the world I could do.”
“Got a Medal of Honor from the bastard Nixon for tryin’ to save them under heavy fire. My point is, I was in your shoes for years after that, drugs, alcohol, the whole nine. Ya gotta realize that the world done do some fucked up things and you can make it through. I’m a walkin’ example.”
Spencer chugged the rest of beer. “Thanks for the good words sir”, he said to Jake.
“Gotta look out for a fella serviceman.” Spencer got up and walked to the door. “Mind I askin’ what your lady’s name is?”
“Jane.” And Spencer left the bar. Jake went back to drinking his beer.
Two days later, Jake reading through the morning paper. Headline reads, MAN SHOOTS SELF NEXT TO GIRLFRIEND IN HOSPITAL. Jake skims the story and reads, “Spencer Bodie died next to his girlfriend Jane Cunningham, who had cancer. Jake looked up at his wall.
“Damn. Lost another brother.”