Polly’s Broken Pieces

Submitted into Contest #74 in response to: Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.... view prompt


Drama Romance Sad


            In the time it took to unplug the old jukebox, Polly pushed her empty glass to the floor then she chased it with a shot of bourbon. -That time she made Pete walk home from the gas station because he refused to go in and buy her peanut butter cups and a pack of Camels, that time she locked Pete out of his house in a towel because he received a text from Maddy who sometimes worked banquets, and that time she tossed his wallet in the lake because the poem he read her mentioned hurting himself and it scared the shit out of her, all these regrets made the back of her throat burn with shame and where was Pete to hear her apologize?

He was just here.

            Polly had, “kept the wine and threw away the rose,” sang Hank through silenced speakers. The TV over the bar was being turned on. A pizza was over salted while another one received twice as many red pepper flakes from a tipping motion followed by a soft palm slapping the ridged bottom of the shaker. One of the mice overlooked by the health inspector because of the shirt worn by Annie, the manager, on inspection days, braved brief exposure because a particular crumb, still warm, was worth it.

            Pete was no writer, not a musician, never played on a team, but he would have been great at any or all of them. He didn’t go to the gym, buy new clothes, or care about his hair, but he was Olympic-fit, turned eyes when he crossed rooms, and usually wore a hat. He cried at Christmas movies and always asked the owner before petting a dog on the sidewalk.  How did she fuck up a thing so right? Could there be a unit of measurement for her kind of ruin? Selfish all the time, Polly knew she was built hastily by an unloving goddess from a series of short fuses and quick-to-flip switches. Her passion was one of the things Pete always said he loved about her when the moon was rising, and they were walking together, just to walk. Now her passions were causing bad scenes for the patrons—causing the bartender to look up, nod at Annie who then nodded at the door guy. The busser approached with a broom.

            Laying out an old striped Navajo blanket across a pair of foam sleeping pads, Pete had planned her the perfect night for the Pleiades. In one of the second hand shops Pete often haunted for great finds, a picnic basket sat on the counter with a blank paper price tag hanging on a white string. On his way to acquiring the basket at any cost, Pete asked how much, and twenty-five bucks was just fine for the evening he had planned for Polly. He had told her every detail of the basket’s story. She recalled this as her cheek landed on the bicep of her outstretched arm. Pete’s honesty, unbridled, guileless, and pure, earned him all kinds of rebuke from her that night beneath the meteor sky. He had placed the basket beside the blanket and made sure the neck of the bottle stuck out a little, as he had seen in every old-movie-picnic.

            A hike to the top of a mountain, dusk, a meteor shower, and a nice perch from which to watch the whole thing unfold. Pete had no way of knowing that another bad thought would go through Polly’s mind, that she would jerk herself from her rotating hell horse of obsessive thinking with a hard and fast extension of both her legs at once. Her choosing flight over fight from her available instinctual reactions would send that basket and its good cheese, bottle of wine, and that jar of pickled olives from the store that only sold pickled things over the precipice. The romantic cliff held her up and hosted Pete’s quiet, calming effort, to bring her back to their now—where he had promised that it was going to be alright and she had believed him.

            Tables one through thirteen filled the ground floor of Swilling’s, where folks came in for just one drink after work and left hours later in search of somewhere that served past midnight. Table C was given a letter because it was in the far back corner, next to the broom and mop closet, halfway beneath the stairs to the second floor where families listened to live music on weekends. Polly’s hand was stretching out for the point where it had just lost contact with the shot glass that she had released in search of the beer stein that she sent out to make a cursory exploration of the space just past the edge of Table C. The stein fell, the shot dropped, but the picnic basket had opened its flat, hinged wooden covers in an effort to slow its decent. She and Pete had watched its attempt to sail on the mountain winds, alter its course, and steer for a belly landing, possibly preserving the expensive preserves within its wicker form. 

Un-slowed in its decent, the stein hit bottom first. Just as its sides shattered, some of the last sips of beer encountered the jagged base, and, no longer contained by intact walls, the dark drops named for some town in Belgium splashed across the shards now impacting the floor. The basket had hit the crown of a tall pine not yet felled, limbed, and dragged helpless and paralyzed to the mill. The basket’s flight path disruption was catastrophic, it inverted its position mid decent, the bottle within, incapable of the kind of aerodynamics that comes naturally to baskets, fell at a blitzkrieg’s speed, and shattered into itself, spouting California Pinot like a Vegas fountain. It left a splattered red stain on the granite below like a push, jump, fall lesson in coroner school.

            Before the patron’s heads had time to turn away from the shattering sound in the corner, beneath the stairs, table for one, table C—before Hank’s last notes from the jukebox had ceased their sounding in the waxy ears of the onlookers seeking the game on the one working TV above the bar just as its black screen filled geometrically with pixels of light—before the lids of Polly’s brown, almost black eyes, could seat themselves in their slightly closed, fuck-it-let’em-come position, a hand landed softly on hers. Pete felt the stickiness of the bourbon she’d just drained from the shot glass with finality, he felt the warmth of the woman beyond the bourbon, and his hand closed around her, sheltering her from every way she was feeling right now. Pete’s other hand reached out blindly, but with great accuracy, for the broom held by the busser who was relieved to release it and take two sliding steps back, standing at an appropriate, humble remove. 

Beneath the heavy, staring eyes of the bartender, Annie, and the approaching door guy, Pete swept up Polly’s broken pieces. He let the broom fall back against the waiting busser and walked Polly through the sea of dilating pupils now focusing on the game illuminating the TV above the bar.

December 28, 2020 16:36

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