American Historical Fiction Holiday

Ordinary World

By John Merino

           I haven’t tasted whisky in ten years. Warmth is reaching up from my insides, a pleasant burn that pushes against the late December air sliding across my bare arms. The flavor isn’t pleasant, but it’s a discomfort that’s all my own, a bitterness I’ve chosen to taste. This bar patio is my home for the next few hours. I don’t know where I’ll go or where I’ll sleep when they close, but right now this seat is mine, this drink is mine, the table and the ashtray on top of it and the cigarette smoldering inside the ashtray are mine, this warmth and bitterness and cold skin are mine. My name is mine. I can still feel its coat of dust, a decade of age collected from the bottom of a yellow file, but its mine again. In time it will gleam again. When the guard gave it back to me this morning, before slipping it into the back pocket of my jeans, I pressed it hard to my chest like a dear friend I thought was dead. The pretty bartender was kind enough to overlook the expiration date on my I.D. Chipped away print shows it as September 8, 1998.

           Nothing is the same. I shouldn’t feel this good because nothing is the same. My gums and hair are receding, dragging my beautiful city along with them into my head, shrinking them into memories to fit the small space inside my skull. The Manhattan skyline grins at me from across the water, a set of broken teeth too expensive to replace. The violence of age is everywhere. Nothing playing from the speakers is familiar to me. Sounds that feel made up the moment I hear them crash into others just as weird and fake as the ones before. They lunge at me too quickly, screaming lyrics too loud to understand. I hurt in places that used to propel me painlessly across sidewalks, through doors, over fences, and into the unoccupied arms of women. Fingers that once curled with luxurious ease around the handle of a gun now snap and crackle like old popcorn around my double bourbon, and the dark center of creation between my legs tumbles over uncomfortably inside my too-tight jeans, and around me people rummage in their pockets every few minutes and stare into little boxes of light that occupy them so completely it seems like nobody, not even someone with a pistol, will ever get their attention again. Everything creaks like the old boards underneath my shoes, wheezing under the weight of things heavier than usual.

           I hope this hope I feel is deeper than the booze in my glass, which is almost all gone. A swell of glass at the bottom of the tumbler pushes up through the sloshing amber liquid like a terrible new volcano. The wrinkled ten in my wallet should be enough for one more drink. Intoxication like I’ve never known before has set in, and I’m not even drunk. Please Lord, let me swing forever inside this hammock, this net of the new moment, this cobweb of the enormous present, the one I’ve struggled in from the moment of my birth. What I feel is all I have. No other school on earth will admit me anymore. My felon feeling is all I have left.

           Stumbling over to her in an unfamiliar new freedom, the pretty bartender, now more beautiful than I ever could have imagined, gives me a new glass of bourbon, one that I don’t deserve. People are leaving for home, opening new places for the night that is rushing in faster than the clock will permit, and the bar is growing bare, the backs of the tables and the legs of the chairs beginning to stand upright in the prison-bar hostility of a place closed to every respectable person. Will I be locked up again? I can’t go, won’t go, inside again. Whatever it takes, whoever I have to kill, I will make it back to the patio, back to my seat, back to my ashtray, back to my cigarette, back to my home.

           Sweet relief has come over me. The clock over the pool table in the corner says I still have a whole three hours left before the year two thousand and four can claim me. New wars may wage themselves without end, bombs may explode around me, newspapers may bleed with endless tragedy, but I have been given a second chance to move among them and live as myself inside this great city that I know will outlive the new century. As I plop back into my chair, guitars and voices I recognize are playing out of the old bar speakers now, tugging at the old century inside me, telling me things will be alright. I am truly sorry for the things I’ve done, sorry enough to cry, but the tremors of my distress won’t shake loose any of the knots now strangling the world.

           Whisky is going down my throat again. A long-dead author, in a book I’d snatched from the prison library, called it an “amber restorative.” How right he was. Old wooden boards fence in the patio, but the gate into the parking lot stands open, inviting me into the night, inviting me to live, inviting me to find a new home. Whatever change was left over from my wrinkled ten I left as a tip for the beautiful bartender. It wasn’t even close to enough, but I still gave to her as much as I could give right now. I used to always save a little something for myself, but I can’t any longer. Other people are what I need now. Someday when I am even stronger, I will come back, and give her the payment her deep, wounded, work-drained eyes demand. Now I’m staggering out of the bar and into the cold air coming in from the new year, and the wise old voices of the radio are shepherding me into the uncertain future.

“But I won't cry for yesterday

There's an ordinary world

Somehow I have to find

And as I try to make my way

To the ordinary world

I will learn to survive.”

December 31, 2021 11:00

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Shea West
03:10 Jan 06, 2022

Hitting us with that Duran Duran. This piece really captured that feeling of freedom while also being trapped in a state of what's next? The prose was quite visceral especially for a person like me who doesn't drink, I could imagine each of his steps and thoughts just by the way that you wrote this. I'm curious why you categorized this as Historical Fiction? Please don't tell me it's because of Duran Duran...my 39 year old heart will turn gray and eat all of the Werther's butterscotch candies LOL


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Ruby Urlocker
02:01 Aug 31, 2022

Love the narrative voice in this one. It's rambling in a good way, poetic, and authentic. Really reads well.


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Sharon Hancock
02:40 Mar 02, 2022

“I hurt in places that used to propel me painlessly across sidewalks,”= AGREED and felt! I knew getting older wasn’t pretty, but I was not prepared for the physical pain that comes with it. I also understand what he means about the music. I’m, “ I asked the neighbors to turn down the music” years old. Very thoughtful story!🙂


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Michael Regan
20:47 Jan 06, 2022

Loved the line "The violence of age is everywhere." Well done.


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Amara Campanini
22:47 Jan 05, 2022

This story was incredibly real—I could feel every moment coming off the page. Occasionally I got lost in the longer descriptions, but they were beautiful nonetheless. A true testament to your hard work.


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Bruce Friedman
15:10 Dec 31, 2021

Great work on this, John. Loved listening to the inner conversation of your protagonist. A story worth the "read" many times over.


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