“It won’t be long now.” Bartender speaks to the empty stool beside me. He pushes a switch; a troop of tiny bar bots begins their rotation around the square surface of the countertop, collecting crumpled slips and discarded garnish sticks with half-eaten bits of stale fruit.
Digital clocks blink yellow and the few remaining patrons slur curses, sling on their jackets, and extend their wrists ready to be scanned, ready to settle their debts however steep they might be to gain exit from the den. But I’m in no hurry. This is long overdue, and besides, I have nothing left to leverage.
I’m a trail of smoke from a nonexistent cigarette. Nothing more than a coward. I’m shriveling. My frame dips to where I’m hidden behind the shoulders of the bottles, spirits with straight backs and long necks, their statures never waver. In fact, they may be the only lifeguards on duty, but the truth is, they can’t save anybody since the lights in the den switch from yellow to red.
The bartender pours me one all the way to the shot glass rim, senses I’m in the deep end. Looks both ways to make sure we’re alone, then leans over, whispers in my ear, “Pool’s deeper than it looks. “Sure you don’t want to chip in?”
A real gambler knows another gambler will always double down in the end. That’s when I do the unthinkable. Punch in my son’s 24-digit password and extend my wrist. He scans it, all the while cackling in the pulse of the red-light overhead.
“Heads or tails.” He holds a quarter, a real relic, but perhaps the only unweighted coin left in existence.
“Tails,” I call, ’cause I feel like a real ass. But, I could be the hero in my final hour.
“Tails, it is.” The bartender flicks the coin, and it spins on the countertop a fair amount before it lands in a fuck-you face-up. There goes my son’s life savings, gone on one crappy coin toss.
The bartender swats his dishrag at me. “Tough luck. Tough luck.”
“It won’t be long,” I rasp, and slide the cool liquid pool offered earlier down my throat into the empty cavern below.
Dive in, the impulses urged. Dive in. But I’m under so deep, that I have no choice but to stay. The red light intensifies accompanied by a siren, a sorrowful sound. I should be the one wailing for what I’ve done.
The bartender pulls out his mask from his back pocket, fits it over his face. He steps into the protective suit stored behind the bar and zips the front. We’re the only two bastards left in the den.
“How long can you hold your breath, brother?” He jests.
“Not long enough,” I tell him before smacking my head against the bar top, but it doesn’t work, I don’t pass out. “Not long enough.”
As the gas pours in from above, the chamber shrinks. Wet liquid fills the empty spaces. A tightening, my chest is claustrophobic.
At first, it seems to purify my thoughts. I am forgiven, I tell myself. I am free. But quickly the substance starts to burn, disinfects me from the inside out.
If I wake in the morning, I will have lost my memories as well as my debts. A true bottom out is what they call it. But memory is a disease, and as I cough a lungful of toxins, the tangy taste is familiar. I realize I’ve been sick many, many times before.
© 2022| K.Hartless