Torrent by Chris Deal

Hollow chest. Eyes of glass. His hands shook from the drink and his stomach churned a brew of acid and rye. The bar was a cacophony of attempted sex and with every sip the volume was turned down to a rolling hum. Two gladiators tried to maim and kill the other on most of the televisions lining the walls. The broadcasts on the others had been interrupted for updates on a bombing. No smoking allowed inside anymore. The itch of the craving moved behind his eyes. The tender stopped charging him hours ago. A body filled the empty space above the seat at his right, her form reflected in the mirror behind the bar and the bottles. Blonde hair with black roots and a toddler’s face. Inches of make up and a fake ID, her low top pouring out of her jacket and all but pressing against his arm. “Buy me a drink?” The impulse had been to ignore her until she lost interest. The shock of her words betrayed him. “What do you want?” Give her a drink and she’ll go away, he hoped. “A beer?” New to the game, she had to be. Stout would take her down. Go with the basic and run her off. “April,” he said, summoning the tender forth like a beast from the ether. Her eyes too sensitive for the world and a crooked smile. A scar was blurred at the corner of her lips. “The special, please.” Cheap beer and the baby will disappear. April glanced at the girl and back. The apathy in his slouch enough to convince her. He’s a regular, in every chance. Face marked with weeks of growth and clothes not fit for a bum, he’s a scarecrow gone to rot. Flashes of maternal love rang through her being whenever he walks in. “Coming right up,” she said. He lifted the bourbon to his cracked lips and it danced across his tongue and burned down to his core. The baby watched him, her eyes like insects on his skin.

April brought over a bottle. She paused like she wanted to say something before putting the beer down. She always does that, looking at him like something wanted to be said. He does what he can to keep their relationship formal, drunk and tender, the way it should be. She goes to school and plays the piano with slender fingers that hold his drinks like something precious. Her words never make it past her lips and she nods and goes to another customer. He slid the bottle towards the baby and she took it with trepidation, unsure. “Just take it and go away.” She grabed the bottle with fingers like worms but remains in her seat. The vent exhaled cool air over the heaving crowd but her forehead was moist. Her body was tense. Familiar.

Finishing off his drink, he left the baby as she took a hesitate sip and he went through the crush of bodies towards the bathroom on the other side of the bar. On his feet, the world was right and solid and he resented the suddenness of the sobriety, the way his mind was sharp and those things inside were in focus. The bathroom was empty and as he stood above the trough relieving himself he wanted to slam his fist into the beige bricks of the wall again and again until the flesh or the concrete gave. His chest ached and there was the taste of salt pouring down his face. He bit hard on his lip and held his breath deep in his chest until bight sparks danced before him. When he relented, his exhalation was shaking with the effort of bringing up what was broke on the inside. Turning on the sink, he pooled the warmth in his palms and spread it over his ragged face, not bothering to dry before slamming open the door and squeezing back through the mass, past the bar and to the side patio.

The air outside was as cold as a hooker’s crotch and hurt inside as he leaned on an empty table and tried to light a smoke. Through a series of large windows he could see the disorder inside, the baby still sitting where he left her. The first stick was gone in a few burning breaths. He saw April talk to the other tender and walk towards the door, towards him. She came out as he pulled another smoke from the pack and placed it between his lips. A moment passed like a glacier as she tried to give voice to what was inside of her, but instead lit her own cigarette. “Thought you jumped out on your bill.” Her words floated like smoke between them. “Nah,” he said. “Wouldn’t do that too you.” Her inhalations were slow, methodical. “How long have you been coming here?” The shaking of his breath had calmed with the winter air. “Few months, I think.” The thick glass of the windows muffled the crowd. “Yeah. Now, you know I don’t want to scare you off.” Inside, the baby was glancing around the bar. “Why is that?” The baby held something like a pen in her fat fingers. “You tip pretty well.” April’s smile was larger opposite the scar. “You pour well enough to warrant it.” She was like a star trapped in a seashell. “Sometimes I think you could use it, a little more.” She was something divine profaned by humanity. “Sometimes, yeah,” he said as he tossed away the cigarette butt. “Sometimes I really need the drink.” He was old in his bones, older than his years. “Why is that?” He could feel the heat radiating from her core and he didn’t answer. “Why do you come in here all the time looking like a lost kid?” His breath was poison. “You’re like a dog who lost his scent in the rain.” His tongue was a dead slug in his mouth. “What was her name?”

The baby pressed down on the pen in her hands and he could feel the world go wrong, taste the electricity in the air and feel a shift in his guts. The window behind April cracked like a spider web the rippled out to the panes. There was a shock of blue inside that gave April a halo. Moving faster than he had in a long time he took April by the hips and her crooked smile grew uniform, thinking a kiss would come until he pulled her to the ground as the window fragmented, the splinters of glass like diamonds in a hurricane, colliding with the wall as the explosion sent fingers of flame out above them, scorching his hair and back as he covered her body with his own. The world was silent save for the pitch in his ears. His eyes were squeezed shut and the April’s halo was burned into his retinas. She moved and groaned beneath him. The air burned, alive with the concussion.

3 thoughts on “Torrent by Chris Deal”

  1. Some really nice lines in there. Love the tone and imagery, and the characters come through right away. As always, wanting more.

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