By David Duenas
The pain begins in the right arm. It’s probably there for no reason. And even more likely, just a figment of his imagination. All things considered, it is as real as anything else. And, to be specific, it starts at his wrist. He thinks to himself that perhaps it has something to do with his pulse, which would imply that there is a problem with his artery, and thus his heart. If this is the case, he is dying. He is sure of this by the time she arrives at the words he knew were coming.
The funny thing is that he hadn’t really heard a thing she had said at all. He looked up and saw that there were no stars on account of the clouds that had moved in so quickly, blown in by the Santa Ana winds. She’s gone but the feeling isn’t. And the feeling isn’t heartbreak. He’s convinced it’s more of a heart attack.
If the blood isn’t getting through, then more beer will help. He comes to this conclusion having heard once that alcohol thins the blood. In his mind he sees that there is a thick vein connected to his physical heart. He doesn’t know a thing about anatomy, but this vein must be important. And standing in the way of the blood that should be pumping blood through his heart, and then the rest of his body is a little man. He imagines that this little man is morbidly obese, bearing similar but not identical characteristics of himself. By the third beer, the heart attack begins to subside. And by the glory of God, he will be able to see the night through.
He’s not drunk, but certainly not sober when he decides to drive to the bar. The bar is in Pomona, and that really isn’t too far if he’s careful and sticks to the side streets. At the bar he orders another. It’s the waitress he had hoped would be working the shift. In the back room a band is playing, but no one seems to be paying attention. He thinks about this and looks around. In fact, besides himself at the bar, there are only a handful of clientele, none of which, besides the two girls who are obviously romantically involved with the shitty folk musicians, give a damn about the music. At the end of the song, he applauds.
“Applauding from the bar, huh?”
“Sure,” he says. “It’s better than nothing. And I know what it’s like to be the opening act.”
“Are you playing tonight?” she asks.
“No. And I don’t think I would if I could get the gig.”
“Why is that?”
“Because all the interesting people are either drinking at the bar or serving them drinks.”
That had shut her up for a while. So she moves up and down and across the bar, which appears to be made of good wood if you knew anything about it. Normally they would share minor witticisms, but this was the first time he was so bold. The heart attack and the drinking had certainly done the trick.
And isn’t she beautiful. He could never quite make out her chest tattoo but this only excited him more. She never seemed to mind her hair as she served her drinks. She was a dirty blond with green eyes. And today she’s wearing a man’s wife beater. It’s a bit big on her but looks good as it appears to flow with every turn she makes, from bar to liquor, from liquor to beer and then bar again. As the crowd thickens, so does his inebriation.
“Another,” he says. “The same.”
She hasn’t yet responded to his remark, but serves him his drinks. After the fourth drink he puts down two dollars beside his drink, which is his customary tip, despite the amount of drinks he has been served, and steps out for a smoke. Half way through the cigarette, and just as the rush at the bar ends, she finally works up the courage to give her number to a complete stranger. Something she has never done before. And just as she places it beside his customary two-dollar tip and his half-drunk beer, he decides that it was foolish to have been so bold, and what was more foolish was thinking he ever had a chance.
An hour passes before she finally allows an impatient patron to take his seat at the bar, where the two dollars and the number hastily written down on the back of a business card and the beer still remained. Finally, she empties the beer, pockets the two dollars and throws the number away. At the liquor store, no longer in Pomona, he purchases a six pack, considering it a preventative measure against what he was sure are early signs of heart disease.