Mark walked into Joe’s place and sat down next to nobody. Joe’s place was a dark bar on a small street in the part of Mark’s neighborhood most people didn’t spend much time in. It wasn’t the closest bar to his apartment or the cheapest place in the neighborhood, but it was the only place that still let him drink. He understood why he couldn’t go to the other places. He’d get drunk and start a fight and they’d kick him out for the night. The bartenders all are understanding but do that too many times and they can’t let you back in. So every night after work he’d walk down High street about two miles and turn right onto Delaware. He’d walk down that road for about half a mile and turn down Second for a few blocks and then turn onto Wright. He’d walk through the dark street still wearing his work shirt and boots for about half a block and then walk right into Joe’s place. The place was unmarked. No neon beer sign or open placard, just a red door, nicked and scarred by years of abuse. Mark could’ve walked down Delaware farther but he always wanted to avoid Wright and Delaware. He didn’t go down that intersection. He couldn’t go down that intersection.
Mark walked into Joe’s place and sat down next to nobody and ordered a beer and a shot like he always did. Joe, the owner and only bartender, put down his newspaper and slowly walked up to Mark with a bottle of Jameson and a shot glass. He put the shot glass down on the bar and held the bottle up about to pour. He stopped and looked Mark in the eye and said, “You can pay this tab?”
Mark shifted his eyes down the bar. “Yeah Joe, I can pay. Got paid today. I can pay.”
“You still got last night’s tab.”
“Yeah got that too.”
“It’s a big tab.”
“I got that too,” Mark said looking Joe in the eye.
“K,” Joe said and poured him a shot. He put the bottle away and grabbed a tallboy and slid it in front of Mark. He slowly walked back to his newspaper and started reading. He leaned back against the back bar folding his arms in front of his belly and held the folded newspaper with his right hand.
Mark drank most of the tallboy in one go and took the shot and chased the burn with a sip of beer. He pushed the shot glass up to the edge of the bar. Joe slowly put down his newspaper and walked up to Mark with the bottle and poured him another shot. He walked back and stood holding the newspaper at his side. “You gonna want a beer already?”
Joe grabbed a beer and opened it for Mark and placed it in front of him.
Mark stood reading his newspaper and Joe looked straight ahead at the bar with his drinks in front of him. The bar was empty. It usually was when Joe came in. The neighborhood wasn’t great and the bar wasn’t nice and the street wasn’t around much. But the people who didn’t want to be seen always seemed to find the place.
Mark took his shot and pushed the glass up towards the edge of the bar. His head waggled, swimming from the whiskey, looking slightly to his right. Lifting his beer to his lips he stopped suddenly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw blurry movement at the end of the bar. Something was standing at the end of the bar that wasn’t there a few moments ago. Mark whipped his head to the right. The room moved around him blurry, taking a split second to catch up with him. Waiting for the spinning to stop, Mark saw a small woman standing at the end of the bar. She wore cutoff jean shorts and a bright red tank top. Her shirt looked wet and sticky. She wore her blond wavy hair chopped short on the sides and cut in bangs in front. She stared at Mark.
Mark swung his head back facing front. He grabbed the shot glass in front of him and took the shot. He slammed it down hard on the bar. Joe jumped slightly. “Hey, careful Mark.” Mark looked up and held his hands up in apology. He looked to the right and she was gone.
“You know me, man. I just get excited is all.”
Joe looked at him skeptically but poured him another shot. Mark nodded deep in thanks. His hands trembled as he took the shot. His mind went to that night, driving his F-150 after drinking with friends. He loved that truck. He found it in an old beat-up barn made from rusted sheet metal and rotten wood. The truck was pretty strong, needed repairs because it had sat there for about 20 years, but the basics were all sound. He built it back up with his own hands, bumming rides into the city to track down spare parts at the junkyard. He loved that truck.
He hadn’t been drinking that much, really. He was in control. He dropped off his friend Ken and his other friend Maya and drove home.
The woman walked down the middle of the street. The road, paved with tar and asphalt, sloped off slightly from the center. It gradually changed to gravel and then ended in a deep ditch at people yards. When cars came she walked to the other side of the road. She walked on the gravel as far as she could without falling into the ditch. She walked this rout for almost ten years, coming home from work. She came to a hill she couldn’t see over. High beams shone over the crest of the hill pointing upwards into the sky. She moved over to the gravel.
Mark drove fast down the center of the road. He listened to the radio, 105.5, they played everything from when he was a kid. A song he liked came on and he reached down to turn up the volume. He took his hand off the wheel and swerved slightly at the crest of the hill. He felt a loud bump and looked up. The front left side of his truck ran red. He slammed on the breaks and jumped out the truck and saw a figure tumbled down the ditch.
Mark’s hand trembled as he brought the shot to his lips. All this time. He went away for it. Spent a lot of time alone thinking about it. When he got out he tried to pick up where he left off, but his friends didn’t come around much anymore. He couldn’t go to his old spots. And the one’s who let him in stopped after a while. As much as he could possibly drink was never enough to let him forget. That woman in the red tank top always sat somewhere in his peripheral. Sometimes he couldn’t see her but she was always there.