“I’m getting sick of him coming in here on Wednesdays,” Rich said.
Mary looked down toward the loud end of the bar where Mick stood, entertaining all of the other after-work drunks. He was one of those neighborhood Brooklyn types: loud, talked with that pseudo-thug accent, had probably never been to Manhattan, and his voice was a high-pitched whine making the elongation of vowels and consonants a painful endeavor for all around. He had to be the center of attention no matter what was going on that night. He had to be the big, tough guy, the king with a cast of cronies hanging on his every word. The only adjective and adverb that Mick knew was “fucking,” as in “I’m here at the fucking bar. Yeah I had to fucking run down here from work.”
“I wonder why he started coming this night?” Mary asked.
“Probably because he got kicked out of wherever he usually went.”
Mary looked at Mick again. He wore the same kind of clothes, usually some tight sweater with no shirt underneath, tight jeans, and these boots that clicked when he walked around the bar shouting and yelling. Mick was a fit guy. You could see the muscle tone under his sweater. But he wasn’t attractive by any stretch. You could have the body. Add that voice, that obnoxious tone, and Mick was as ugly as anyone else. Plus he had these piercing bug eyes that could rip through you.
“I just hate him.” Rich paused to take a quick look at the end of the bar, and then went back to his beer. “He’s the type with that fake tan, and that fucking low-grade mafia, slicked back comb job.”
“I wonder why he started coming this night?” Mary asked again.
Rich shrugged, finished his beer. Mary finished her beer too. They always seemed to finish a draft at the same time. The bartender appreciated this. He joked with them that they should go into business as synchronized drinkers. It was the same joke every Wednesday night, until last week, when Mick started showing up. Then the jokes stopped. And tonight the bartender just filled the drafts for Rich and Mary with little more than a cursory hello, then went down to the other end of the bar where Mick was holding court with a conversation about his woman
“I mean the bitch is out of her mind,” he said, to end the story. Everyone laughed. “Marone!”
“I swear it’s the same goddamned story every week,” Rich said.
Mary touched his arm. “I know. Look, why don’t we forget about him? We got a night planned, right? Our Wednesday usual, right? A few beers at the bar, some pizza and wine at home; I was thinking tonight might be a good night to watch that movie...you know the one,” Mary snapped her fingers trying to get the title right, “uh, that one with Wells.”
“Yeah. We bought that like how many years ago? And we haven’t even watched it.”
“You wanna watch Citizen Kane?”
Mary shrugged. “Sure. Anything’s good tonight.”
“You got the wine?”
“Right under my seat.”
Rich nodded and took a fresh pull on his beer. “Okay. Anyway so how was work?”
“You don’t want to know,” Mary began. “The bosses came in today. It was just a routine check of the storage room, right? But then Darren has to shoot off his mouth about us not having enough help and blah, blah, blah, and the next thing I know I’m in this fucking all-day meeting with my bosses and their bosses, and everyone telling us how much of a lousy job where doing over there.”
“Didn’t you read my email?”
“I read it,” Rich said, “I must not have been paying attention.”
“No, not really. Well, you remember James?” Mary nodded. “James and I came up together at the job. I don’t know. Today I get this email about this new buildings committee, and so I read the thing thinking whatever, until I get to the bottom and see that James is co-chairing the committee with Bob Braxton. Bob “fucking” Braxton.”
“So?” Mary took a pull on her beer.
“So, James and I came up together. We’ve been to the same meetings. We’ve done the same goddamned jobs. So how in the hell does James end up co-chairing a committee with Bob Braxton?”
“He probably asked to co-chair the committee.”
“Get out. Things don’t work like that.”
“Sometimes they do.”
“Who’s Bob Braxton again?”
“Christ.” Rich rubbed his forehead and leaned in. It was going to be a lecture, Mary could tell. “I told you this already. There’s like a chain of command at work. Me and James and some other guys are the newer ones, the lackies. We work under guys like Braxton, you know, helping them with whatever projects they set up. We do the grunt work and they get the payoff. But, see, guys like Braxton notice the hard work. They keep an eye out. And a good way to advance in the place is to get in good with guys like Braxton and....”
“Marone!” Came the shout from the other end of the bar. Everyone laughed. Glasses clinked. Rich stopped his story and looked down the end of the bar where Mick was standing there, erect, looking like a proud duck.
“I hate that fucking guy.”
Mary turned Rich’s face toward her. “Forget him. Why don’t you finish the story.”
“It’s not important. But, Christ, that guy’s nothing but a fucking distraction. ‘Marone,’ ‘Marone.’ What does that even mean?”
“I think it’s Italian.”
“Yeah? Well it stays in my head for hours after we leave here. I think I hear it in my sleep.”
“You get too hung up and worried about everyone else all of the time.”
“But this is our night.”
“What do you want me to say? It’s a free country,” Mary said. She had more of her beer while Rich let his sit. “People can come and go as they please.”
“I don’t want you to say anything.”
“Here.” She took a dollar from the pile and handed it to him. “Why don’t you go and play us something on the jukebox.”
“What do you want to hear?”
“I don’t know. Something good.”
Rich got up and went over to the digital jukebox that hung on the wall next to a hunting video game. There were a couple of guys at the game drinking Jack and Cokes. They were both lanky with shaved heads, leather coats, earrings, and these well-sculpted goatees. They were laughing and slapping each other while they shot at the video ducks. They’d come in with Mick, and were just as loud as he was. Mary turned to watch them while Rich put in the dollar and started selecting songs. Then she turned back toward Mick, watching him as he upturned a fresh bottle of beer and drank it down in nearly a gulp. He put the empty bottle down and stared directly at Mary with those bug eyes. They were frozen for a second like that, but then Rich came back to the bar. Soon, the sound of a pedal steel filled the place.
“Good choice,” she said.
“Ryan Adams,” Rich said. He took a pull on his beer, and she finished hers.
The bartender came over and grabbed her glass. He gave it an odd look. “You guys off tonight, or something?”
“Rich was just playing songs,” Mary said. “You know he’s a lightweight anyway.”
The bartender laughed and went to fill her pint. “Wait,” Rich said. He stopped and waited while Rich upturned his pint and drank the rest of the beer. He leaned over the bar and handed his glass to the bartender. “Wouldn’t want to disappoint.”
“You never do,” the bartender said, filling the first of the pints.
“We drink because we care.” Rich said. The three of them laughed.
Then Mick shouted from the other end of the bar. “What is this shit?”
“What, Mick?” The bartender said.
“This fucking music! I mean, hey, come on? Who fucking played this shit?”
Rich made a move, but Mary held him still.
“Hey Guys!” Mick called down to his two buddies at the video game machine. “You guys fucking play this?”
Both turned up toward the bar and shook their heads.
“Marone!” Mick walked from his spot in the corner of the bar, and came down toward the jukebox with his boots clicking. He stood in front of the illuminated blue light and searched through his wallet. Then he came over to the bar and stood right next to Mary. “Kenny, come on.” He threw a five on the bar. “Gimme some ones or somethin’.”
The bartender, Kenny, took Mick’s five and gave him five ones out of Mary’s pile of money. He laid the five where the ones had been.
“Thanks,” Mick said, looking at Mary. He went back over to the jukebox and began selecting songs. When Rich’s choice ended the bar was filled with the sound of bass and hip-hop loops.
“God, I hate that fucking guy,” Rich said, after Mick walked by.
“I know you do,” Mary answered. She took a good pull on her beer, finishing nearly half the pint. Then she took her cell phone out of her pocket and got off her stool.”
“Where are you going?”
“Outside. I’m going to call for our pizza so we can go home and have a night.”
Rich looked at his watch. “It’s still early.”
“I don’t care,” Mary said. She flipped the phone open and turned it on. “I’ve had enough.”
“But it’s our night.”
“It’s still our night.”
She headed toward the end of the bar. Mick was there with a fresh new beer. The other drunks were talking to him but he stared at Mary the whole way, until she was outside. She stood in the cold a moment then looked back inside the bar. She looked at the back of Mick’s head. He had a bald spot beginning just at the crown. Then she scanned the joint for Rich. He was sitting in their spot with his head down almost to the top of his pint glass. Mary called the pizza shop.
“Ten minutes,” she said, when she sat back down.
“Marone!” Came Mick from the other end of the bar. Everyone laughed.
“Ten minutes?” Rich asked, finishing his beer. “Good. I can’t take another minute of this.”
Mary grabbed her pint glass. “Well, I still have beer left.”
“Oh.” She looked at his sad face then poured him half of what she had. “What’re you doing?”
“Come on,” she began, before downing her drink. Rich drank his beer too. “Let’s get out of here.”
They got up and put on their coats. Mary handed Rich the bottle of wine and the two of them headed toward the end of the bar, as the bad hip-hop music continued to blare from the digital juke and Mick’s two cronies got into a shoving match over the video game.
“Good night, Kenny,” they both said in unison to the bartender.
Kenny looked up from the bar. “Good night, guys. See you next time.”
“Yeah, yeah, good night,” Mick added. Rich just stared at him.
Outside the bar Rich buttoned his coat, and put an arm around Mary. She smiled at him and he smiled back, and the two of them began walking 4th Avenue toward the pizza shop. But it was at the next block that Rich tripped over the curb and hit the pavement, and went tumbling to the ground. He smacked his elbow and knee, but was fine. The wine bottle, however, smashed on the sidewalk sending a river of dark booze down to a gully in the pavement where it collected like a blood red lake.
“Rich!” Mary screamed.
“I’m fine,” he said. He sat up. “I’m fucking fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes...but the goddamned wine.”
She helped Rich up off the ground, and together they looked down at the mess. “It’s fine. Listen, you go and get the pizza. I’m going to walk down to the Stop and Go and get us a six pack of beer.”
“It won’t be the same,” Rich said. “Everything is a mess.”
“But it’s still our night,” Mary said, assuredly.
Then she turned and went the half block back to where the Stop and Go was located. Before she opened the door, Mary looked back to where Rich was standing, but he’d already gone off toward the pizza shop.