“Yeah!” they all cheered, as Hank stumbled in Bar 13.
In a snowstorm like this, only the diehards came out. Tina had just three customers since 3 P.M.: twitchy Speed; Ringo, the bald biker; and Carolyn the crack whore. And now Hank.
“The more the merrier,” Tina said.
And meant it. She was sick of these clowns. Hank was the nicest of all her regulars.
Tonight, he looked like the Grim Reaper, the hood covering most of his worn-out face. He’d been sick a long time, with all kinds of shit. Cancer, for one. When he pushed back the hood, his eyes looked haunted.
“Hank?” Carolyn said, in her nauseating way. “Buy me a shot?”
“Jeez!” Speed said. “Let him take his fucking coat off, first.”
Tina smirked. She’d been thinking the same thing.
“Sure,” Hank said, wearily.
People used him for drinks, a loan, even his last cigarette. To clean his house nude, Carolyn charged him a bundle.
Too cold to strip tonight, Tina thought. She wondered if the go-go bar in the next town was closed. For all she knew, Bar 13 was the only bar open, period.
She opened the back door. Outside, it was a winter wonderland. Snow falling like mad, coating trees and tops of cars. The soft, fun kind it was great to stomp through. Like when you were a kid. Nights like these were so peaceful.
“Yo, bitch!” Ringo said, clearly to Carolyn. “That’s my fuckin’ five.”
Oh, jeez, Tina thought, and shut the door.
“Think I’m a thief?”
“I know yer a . . .” Smirking, Ringo didn’t finish.
“Hey, hey!” Even Hank’s voice was thin. Like it was lost in the blizzard. “Knock it off. I’ll give ya the five bucks.”
“Why should you?” Speed demanded.
“Outta here. Tina . . .” The twenty shook in Hank’s hand. “And drinks all around.”
“Malibu Bay Breeze,” Carolyn told Tina.
‘Cos Hank’s buying, Tina thought. Since 6 P.M. Carolyn had been drinking the cheapest beers.
As Tina reached for the Malibu , Carolyn added, “A double.”
Tina froze. User, she thought. Fucking lying, sneaking . . .
Oh, Felix, she thought, suddenly.
Last July, when it hit 90 some nights, Felix was still alive. In County, sure, but above ground. Walking, breathing, eating jailhouse food with white bread and gravy.
But thanks to Carolyn, he was dead.
At the register, Tina forced back tears. It was Carolyn who’d gotten Felix locked up
. . . for jewel-theft! Then torn to pieces by some asshole who’d thought Carolyn was his. All over crack.
The guy got life, Tina heard. But . . .
Felix still got death.
“Whoa!” A blast of cold air brought Tina back. “It’s still comin’ down!” Ringo said, from the doorway. He tried to light his cigarette, but the wind was too strong.
“So smoke inside.”
“Yeah,” Tina said, eyeing Carolyn, who looked shocked.
Dumb fucking law: no smoking in bars. Tina wasn’t a smoker, herself, but she knew all about addiction.
“Mamita,” Felix had told Tina, at County. “Didn’t mean to play you dirty. It just . . . happened.”
As Carolyn grabbed his cigarettes, Hank smiled sadly. “You . . .” he told Tina, “are a very nice girl.”
I’m not, Tina thought. I’m just . . .
Lovesick. Still, six months after seeing Felix in that box. Stiff, dark curls she still found on his clothes—she just couldn’t bring them to the Salvy. Oversized brown eyes seemed to follow her, everywhere, though they’d been sewn shut, long lashes on cold, hollow cheeks.
When Hank’s lips gripped his cigarette, the oddest feeling came over Tina: that this would be his last smoke ever.
“Someone,” Hank said, “should . . .” He looked around, like he was confused. “I mean, there’s lots of . . . love in this world . . .”
There was, Tina thought.
“No,” Ringo said. “There’s not. It’s a cold-ass place. Even when it ain’t snowin’. ” He blew smoke in Carolyn’s face. “Hell on ice.”
There was dead silence. Then Hank said, “I wouldn’t say that.”
You, Tina thought, of all people. The closest to a dirt nap. He looked ready to keel over.
“I would.” Ringo stabbed out his cigarette. “And don’t tell me there’s a God.”
“There might be,” Hank said. Weakly, he waved for another round.
The back door opened, with some difficulty. Al, the owner.
“And there He is, now!” Speed joked.
“Fucking snow,” Al said, “and wind.” He struggled with the door. Inside, he kicked snow off his galoshes. “Bad for business. No customers.”
“The fuck’re we?” Ringo said.
Al ignored him. “Call ‘Last Call,’ yet?” he asked Tina.
“ ‘Last Call?’ ” Speed said, horrified.
“It’s only midnight,” Carolyn said.
“S’ almost one.” Al said. “Check yer watch.”
Tina cringed. She knew what was coming.
“Oh, that’s right.” Al snickered.
It got stolen.
Felix, Tina thought, for the zillionth time since he died.
Slow night or not, Al was as hot to close up as the regulars were to stay drunk. He wouldn’t let Speed and Ringo play pool. Took away their unfinished beers.
“Fuck you!” Ringo said, on their way out.
As Carolyn slid money in the jukebox, Al shut it off.
“Hey!” she said. “You owe me five bucks.”
Al’s smirk vanished when he saw Hank. “Teen,” Al whispered.
Tina looked up from the cooler. Hank’s face was ash-gray. His hood was back up. More than ever, he looked like Death took a snow day.
Then Carolyn was back, hanging on him. He opened his eyes, but didn’t seem to see any of them.
“Want a ride home?” Al asked him.
“He ain’t leavin’!” Carolyn hovered over Hank’s money.
“You’z all are, real soon. Close out,” Al told Tina.
As Tina ran the register, Al gave Hank his arm, but Hank shook his head.
“I only,” Hank whispered, “live . . . a few blocks . . . away.”
Tina collected her tips, which sucked. Usually Hank tipped the best. But tonight she got nothing from him.
She pulled on her jacket. Felix’s: battered black leather, with a zipper that stuck, sometimes. Even since last winter, his smell was still on it.
With the jacket, an unbearable sadness came over her. But not just for Felix. She kissed Hank’s cheek, which was cold.
“Bye, Angel,” he said, without looking at her.
Bye, good buddy, she thought.
“You don’t want a ride?” Al said, but she hurried out the door.
Outside, the sobs came, from deep inside her. Loud, hiccupy sobs, that probably woke up everybody on the block.
The snow had stopped, finally. The wind had died down, too. But the snow was so deep, she could hardly walk in it. With each step, snow crept into her boot-tops. Soon her socks would be drenched, and cold.
Last winter, they’d had only one storm. Felix was their building’s super. Early that morning, he was outside, shoveling. In this same jacket Tina had on. In the doorway she stood, in her pajamas, shivering, holding the hot coffee she’d made for him.
Mamita! he’d said. Drink it, yourself. Or you’ll catch cold. Baby, don’t die on me, now!
Somehow, she wound up on Hank’s block, which was out of her way. But she didn’t turn back.
In the distance, near Hank’s house, someone was already out, shoveling.
Tina pulled the jacket tighter around her. As she got closer, she saw it was Hank’s walk that was being shoveled. By somebody who couldn’t work fast enough.
A teenager, she thought. Out to make money. ‘Cept Hank wasn’t home to pay him. Hank . . .
Again, tears came.
Tina watched the young guy work. He was lean, curly-headed. Though it was freezing out, he wore no jacket. But he didn’t seem to feel the cold.
Shivering herself, she got closer.
As he scooped up the snow, muscles tightened in his arms. He hurled it behind him. Over and over, without a break. Like he was super-human.
He didn’t look at her.
She got as close as she could without getting bashed with the shovel.
When he looked at her, she smiled. His brown eyes were huge, long-lashed.
They looked right through her.
Still smiling, she turned and headed back down the block. Stomping, like a kid . . .
Home to coffee and dry socks.
Cindy is a Jersey girl who works in New York City & who talks like Anybody’s from West Side Story. She works out 5-6 days a week, so needs no excuse to drink or do whatever the hell she wants. She loves peanut butter, blood-rare meat, Jack Daniels, and Starbucks coffee (though not usually in the same meal). She’s been published in the usual places, such as Hardboiled, A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter, Mysterical-E, Media Virus, and The New Flesh. She is the editor of the ezine, Yellow Mama. And she’s still a Gemini and a Christian.